So my profile says that I'm a cult survivor, and that's true. My grandmother started a Word of Faith faith healing cult in the late 1970s. I was born (at home, with her as "spiritual midwife") in 1983, and grew up with her as our live-in childcare. I'm writing a book about all this and posting excerpts here. I've changed names in this posting, but real ones will appear in the final product. [EDIT: Names have now been restored. Whatever fear I still had, whatever concerns about staying anonymous, are gone by now, Jan. 2010.]
This excerpt begins with me watching 30 children for 3 days while their parents attend my grandmother's faith healing lecture, held in the clubhouse of a south Florida trailer park. This all happened in the fall of my Freshman year of high school.
Harrison Johnson was two years old, blond, quiet and sweet. He was one of the kids still in diapers, but he was the only one in cloth ones. I thought they were gross, messy, and more work; I was worried about sticking him with one of the pins.
Now that I have a young child, I know what a huge stress that weekend must have been for Harrison. He had never been left with anyone other than this grandmother before, and hadn't even gone to Sunday School with other children. He spent with 3 days in a strange mobile home, with 30 strange children, cared for by a strange teenager with purple hair who didn't understand his diapers. He did remarkably little crying for that combination.
Somehow I wasn't involved when the terms of my pay were discussed. Gig just told her followers to pay me whatever they felt was right, and these were not the kind of people who would fight over the honor of paying the check at IHOP. Left to the generosity of her followers, over the course of three days, for watching 32 children, I received a grand total of $40, or about $1.35 per kid (or an hourly per child rate of just 15¢).
Three months later Harrison's parents, Kelly and Wylie, brought him back to the trailer park, for a visit with my grandmother, and her ministry employees Van and Nicole. I wasn't there that day. I read about it the next day though, on the front page of four different newspapers. My grandmother was inside with Kelly and Nicole while Harrison, his dad, and Van were all talking outside, at the edge of the green belt - a swath of protected Florida woods running between the outer edge of the trailer park and a nearby water treatment facility. Somehow, Harrison fell onto a yellow jacket's nest in the ground. They swarmed and stung him, over 400 times.
The men took him inside Van and Nicole's red double-wide trailer, and my grandmother instructed them to give him a bath and make him comfortable. Gig later reported to police that Harrison seemed "fine", that he was watching television, and that he only asked for a glass of milk. Seven hours after Harrison Johnson was stung 432 times his parents called 9-1-1. Seven hours. Harrison wasn't allergic to stings, but the sheer volume of poison in his small body overpowered him, and his heart stopped. His parents, my grandmother, and her employees waited for over forty minutes between the time when Harrison stopped breathing, and when they called for help.
Even then, I still believed that my grandmother was good, and that she was right about medicine most of the time. A little boy I had known, a toddler with the kind of face that makes the news if he gets hurt, died a slow, painful death, in my grandmother's presence. And he didn't have to. It saddened me, and it worried me, but I wasn't ready to rewrite my programming just yet.
My son got stung by a yellow jacket recently. We were on a walk around our neighborhood and he stuck his hand into a hole in a light post. He drew it back out quickly, screaming. I carried him - running - a quarter mile home. As I did so, I called a med-student friend and left a frantic voicemail asking for help. Then I called my mother and asked her to look up yellow jacket stings online, and tell me how to treat my son's hand. The whole time he was crying in my ear, and I was panicked and running home. I got him home, cleaned his hand, removed the stinger, and put Benadryl cream and a bandaid on it. The total time between my son being stung by one yellow jacket and having that bandaid on him was less than 15 minutes.
Yet I am descended from, was raised by, and was brainwashed to follow, a woman who would sit for seven hours and watch a toddler die. Gig's own fourth daughter, my mythic aunt Natalie, died at six weeks old of a congenital heart defect. I can't help but wonder sometimes, when I think about the children she knew were dying because of her teachings, if she wanted other parents to suffer as much as she had.