Gretchen W.'s Story
Gretchen and most of her family benefitted from the two-week cult recovery program at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center. The quotations in italics are from a web article on Robert Lifton's eight criteria for a thought reform. See also Robert Lifton's Criteria for Thought Reform Applied to the Assemblies by Brian Steele, who also went to Wellspring.
Definition of a Cult
Milieu (Environment) Control
Demand For Purity
Loading the Language
Doctrine Over Person
Dispensing of Existence
Comments from Readers
My name is Gretchen W. This is my story about my 25-year experience in what I once thought was an exciting "New Testament" church in Omaha, Nebraska. This "church," I found out two years ago in 2003, turned out to be a cult. My experience there was so personally devastating that I will not give many details, but speak generally.
I found an article on the Internet that explains the eight criteria of a cult by Robert Lifton in everyday terms. I have used this article as a backdrop for my personal testimony, because my experience in the Geftakys Assembly fits these cult criteria perfectly.
I must explain that for 25 years I was totally committed and in support of this church. I gave my whole life to this group, and it is nothing short of a miracle that God broke the power of deception that held my family and me tight in its grip. We have gotten much healing, mostly through prayer, determination and professional counseling to deprogram us from the brainwashing that occurred.
My purpose in writing my story is that others may be helped and encouraged. If there is someone reading this that is still blinded by the deception of the Assembly, my prayer is that their spiritual eyes will be opened like the blind man whom Jesus healed. I also want to expose the leaders of the Assembly in Omaha, Nebraska, to the end that this group will never be able to prey on an unsuspecting public again.
A destructive group is a highly manipulative group or organization, which exploits its members and can cause emotional, financial and physical harm. It dictates, in an absolute manner, the behavior, thoughts and emotions of its followers. Coercion and manipulation techniques are used to transform the new recruit into a loyal, obedient and subservient member.
Destructive groups claim a special status, for themselves or their leader that usually sets them in opposition to mainline society and/or the family. Destructive groups conceal their real nature and goals from prospective members by adopting deceptive behavior in order to attract new recruits.
I was 18 years old when I met people from the Assembly, called "the saints", in Omaha. My experience with them has changed my life forever. I remember walking on the UNO College campus and seeing students standing by the stairs handing out tracts about the Bible. Later two young men came up to me and preached the gospel to me in front of the Student Center . I told them I didn't need what they were talking about, but I read their tract as I walked away. At the end of the tract were the following words, "He that has the Son has life and he that has not the Son has not life." Do you have the Son?" "No," I thought to myself, as I threw the tract away. But those words kept coming back to me over the next few months.
In December, Dave Zach asked my boyfriend, along with some of his friends, to come hear someone named Brother George Geftakys speak at a home located on 84th and Parker. They invited me to come along, too. I was nervous, because I knew God was pulling at my heart to accept him. I was pretty hard-hearted towards spiritual things - I knew I didn't have God in my life.
I was raised in a home by good Christian parents; I knew about God, but hadn't made a personal commitment to Christ. I knew I needed him and felt this was possibly my last opportunity to make a personal commitment to Jesus. I prayed that no matter what, God would save me the next day. I went to the Bible meeting with my friends and found myself laughing at George's strange words and antics. I thought he was ridiculous.
After the meeting, a few people came up to talk to me, among them Nancy Zach (now Cossette). They told me how I needed to personally accept Christ as my Savior. I knew that was true, but wasn't ready right then. Nancy said to me, "When you do commit your life to the Lord, give me a call."
Later that night when I was alone the Lord reminded me that I needed him and truly did want to believe and commit myself to him from my heart, not just acknowledge him intellectually. I dedicated my life to Him that night and it was an incredible experience for me. I knew for the first time that I was going to heaven, that Jesus was really alive and that He was my friend, Savior and Lord.
I called Nancy the next day and told her how I was now "born-again." She was very happy for me and this began a "friendship" where she trained me to think like this group of people I'd met at George's meeting.
Definition: Control over the members' flow of information and social interaction. In many groups, there is a "no gossip" rule that keeps people from expressing their doubts or misgivings about what is going on. Members are taught to report those that break the rule, a practice that increases dependence on the leadership. They are sometimes told not to believe anything they see or hear reported by the media.
The group's teaching on salvation through faith in Christ is right on. When I made a personal commitment to faith in Christ, I found everything, and am so happy that He is in my life now. But that is where I believe the Christian influence of this group stops.
When I was a brand new Christian, Nancy would spend hours with me on the phone, teaching me the "right way to think". After all, since the Assembly had led me to a personal faith in Christ, shouldn't they be the ones to lead me into even deeper truths? When I said something that she agreed with, she would say, "Praise the Lord."
When I said something that she didn't agree with, she would say, "'Hmmmnn, that's interesting." In this way, she was programming my mind to follow the Assembly teachings of George Geftakys and her brother, Mike Zach.
One of the first things that were taught in the meetings, which Nancy reinforced to me, was that the world is a very evil place. They quickly showed you how your family, your church, and the way you used to live were not truly scriptural. They taught that most churches are ‘worldly’ and not preaching the truth.
Even the Bible preachers on a local Christian College radio station were either ‘worldly’ or teaching watered-down Christianity in their eyes. I soon began thinking that the only people I could really trust to teach the truth to me were Nancy and the people from this group.
Because my belief system was changing into something quite different from theirs, I found myself unable to talk with my parents and former friends anymore. I began telling my parents that they were going to a heathen church and that they weren't really living for God.
I believe this first phase of what I experienced in the Assembly was the first step to mind control, called environmental control, where the group began cutting me off from my family, church, friends, other information and idea sources.
I remember asking Mike Zach once, "Now that I'm saved what is next?" He told me, "This is only the beginning; the best is yet to come. There's much more after this." Now this may seem like a legitimate thing to say, unless you understand what the "much more after this" really is. That conversation was a foreshadowing that my life was about to be dramatically altered.
Definition: The group attributes supernatural influences where none are present--attributing an accident to a member that left to be "God's punishment" --or manipulates situations so they appear spontaneous.--Members believe that their new feelings and behavior has arisen spontaneously because of joining their new group. The effect is enhanced by the milieu control because dissenting or alternative ideas are not present.
Now that I was being isolated in my thinking, the next step for me was to move into a group communal living type home with other "sisters" from this group. A member was placed in a home that was "best suited" for them, based on the decision of the main group leader, which in Omaha was Mike Zach.
In this sister's home, I was entering into the second phase of mind control, which Robert Lifton calls Mystical Manipulation. In this phase all aspects of your life are given divine meanings, which persuade you to believe that the teachings of the group are the only true way to live for God.
When living in a communal Assembly home, your whole life became immersed in the "group think" of this cult. Everything was done for a purpose and everything you did was either a sign of God's pleasure or displeasure with you.
We were taught that everything we did in the Assembly meetings reflected the dynamic life of the New Testament church in the Book of Acts. We were brainwashed to believe that most churches were missing out on God's blessing, because they weren't paying attention to the many details and high standards that we were being taught especially by George and other 'gifted Assembly leaders' like Mike Zach, Tim Geftakys, and Danny Edwards. This teaching was used to justify the very difficult life that a member of the Assembly lived.
We worked, discipled others or attended meetings constantly. In the group home, you were given duties called stewardships. These were tailored to train you to be a servant both in your new home and in the "work of the Lord". I was taught in this home that the place of a sister was to submit to the authority of the leadership, their wives, and also the authority of other "brothers" in the Assembly.
You were taught that your choices were constantly reflecting either a life full of God or a life full of the sinful person that you are. The way you cleaned your room, helped with meals, talked with your roommates, used your free time (the list was endless) all showed the state of your heart towards God.
Unreasonable rules and unreachable standards are imposed upon the members. The critical, shaming essence of the cult environment is gradually internalized by the members, which builds lots of guilt and shame, further magnifying their dependence on the group. Individuals easily feel inadequate, but are more willing to submit to this because the milieu control limits critical questioning, and the mystical manipulation validates the group's rules.
It was absolutely important that you did everything excellently, or at least with a good attitude, if you wanted to be an ‘overcomer’. An ‘overcomer’ would have the unique privilege of missing out on the terrible lake of fire and judgments that would come on all those (even sincere Christians) who didn't have special overcoming faith.
If you didn't live up to these unrealistic and often impossible Assembly expectations, you were quietly shunned as a person or as a family in this group.
If you were truly trusting Christ, then your life would reflect his perfection. They taught that things were not right with your relationship with Christ if there was any area in your life where God's standard of excellence wasn't apparent. The standard of excellence was whatever the leaders, i.e. George Geftakys and Mike Zach, believed it should be.
All your attitudes and actions came under scrutiny, first by your authorities and eventually by yourself. We were taught intense introspection and intense dislike of ourselves. We and our children were even taught to memorize negative affirmations as the only way to find victory over besetting sins.
Whole Children's Hour lessons would be devoted to memorizing the "Selfer's Prayer". This was when Stage 3 of mind control took a very strong hold of our lives.
In Omaha, the main leader, Mike Zach, would put intense psychological pressure on members to align themselves with Assembly protocol. He would also preach about the different so-called sins or struggles of the members, with an emphasis that if they had only done things the Assembly way or followed his counsel their lives would be different.
An example was a family who wanted to go visit family out of town for the weekend and miss Sunday worship. Mike Zach and Mark Sjogren would encourage them that they could do whatever they wanted, but that they were cheating God to miss worship at the meeting place "where we worship in spirit and in truth."
If they tried to tell him they felt badly about missing worship, but thought they needed to visit their family, he would tell them to stop worrying about family. He would insinuate that they were emotionally unstable.
Then when this family got back from vacation, he would preach about how the Israelites didn't just worship God in any old place. They went to a certain place and always worshiped there. He would then tell others that this family was not following the counsel of the leaders and was setting a bad example.
These kinds of breakdowns and power plays were endless and went on in a variety of different situations with everyone in the Assembly in one way or another.
Past and present behavior, and undesirable feelings are to be confessed. However, the information gained about you can be used against you to make you feel more guilty, powerless, fearful and ultimately in need of the group and the leader's goodness. This environment is set up by the unreasonable demand for purity.
There was a heavy emphasis on the sinful, terrible wicked state of the soul whenever it wasn't trusting Christ. Trusting in Christ was something that you could slip out of at any time. If your actions didn't line up with any of the perfectionist ideals of the Assembly, you were most likely not trusting Christ and were letting sin reign in your heart and life.
One family had a chronically ill wife and many children. They worked very hard to care for their family and home on a very small income. They did all they could do to be at all the Assembly meetings, but it was impossible.
A family who wasn't at all or most of the Assembly meetings (often up to 20 hours per week) was considered uncommitted or struggling, both by themselves and by the group. No matter how hard this family tried, their best was never good enough for the Assembly ideals and they were always "damned if they did and damned if they didn't".
In actuality, this family was doing an incredible amount of work, doing the best they could with the resources they had, and were not struggling or uncommitted to God at all. When someone is treated like they are second class citizens and taught that their sins keep them from pleasing God, it creates intense (but false) shame and guilt. This was how the Assembly treated anyone who didn't fit into their mold.
Instead of looking to God and living life to the fullest for Him, Assembly members were taught to turn inward. They were told to constantly scrutinize their inner thoughts, motives and actions. They were constantly shamed and humiliated to believe that they were worthless sinners and failures and were encouraged to pray Psalm 51 daily (a psalm of repentance and contrition). Repentance was taught as the major key to victory over sin.
It's true that the Bible teaches that men are sinners and that repentance is an awesome gift to restore our fellowship with our Creator. The Assembly took these ideas, as they took most other Biblical ideas, to an incredible extreme.
That is why someone who is in the Assembly mindset can look like such a strong Christian to those who don't understand the teachings and twistings of the Assembly. Some basic biblical truth was taught and then it was twisted and stretched to fit the ideology of the Assembly and the Assembly life and mindset for that point in time.
Bible truths were warped to further enslave members to the Assembly groupthink and to further alienate them from how healthy Christians live.
I got involved, at my husband's insistence and to the dismay of Assembly leaders, in organizing a home school gym class. The leadership was alarmed at the amount of time it took for me to take our children to these Physical Education classes and tried to shame me because I wasn't able to attend many of their meetings due to my broken down health.
The leaders would rather have my children be denied a good healthy activity, if I couldn't come to more meetings, than for our family to have time to be involved in healthy activities. They were more interested in controlling us than in our well being.
I quickly saw that the many different Christian families at this P.E. class had something that our family didn't, and I wanted the kind of relationships that those families had. The Assembly was very much against home schooling, because it strengthened the bond between parent and child, and because many of those who home school are healthy Christians. The Assembly wanted us isolated from mainstream Christianity. They didn't want us to see the truth in action.
My friendships from this gym class spawned some of the beginnings of my realization of what the Assembly really was. I found true Christians who accepted my family and me and appreciated the service that we gave at the gym class.
I had one friend in particular, who inadvertently showed me how to believe in my God-given abilities to succeed. This was something the Assembly annihilated in our lives. The rediscovery of my God-inspired gifts and talents was the beginning of a New World opening up to me.
Your service was never appreciated in the Assembly. The Assembly taught us that we were evil and that we were nothing but failures. That is how they kept us bound.
When I began new friendships in the larger Christian world, I found people who didn't look at other people as evil. That may seem simple; but it is a profound difference between a healthy Christian and a person caught up in cult thinking.
A healthy person sees others as made in the image of God (sinners, yes, but full of evil, no). A person influenced by cult thinking sees others and the world around them as evil. A healthy Christian sees the world as a beautiful, safe place created by God for the enjoyment and enhancement of the human race; full of challenges and some evils to be avoided, definitely, but full of evil and a place to avoid as much as possible, no.
One Christian researcher told me, after reading the Assembly Reflections website, that in it’s demonization of the world and people outside the group, the Assembly was closer in it’s thinking to the Taliban than it was to Christ and true Christianity.
The teachings of the group are viewed as the ultimate, unquestionable truth. The leader of the group is likewise above criticism as the spokesperson for God on earth, whose Truth should be applied to all humankind. Anyone who disagrees or has alternative ideas is not only irreverent, but also unscientific. Mystical manipulation often lends credence to the group's doctrine.
Mike Zach preached that to please the leaders was to please God. If the leaders weren't happy with you that was a sign that God was unhappy with you. You aren't brainwashed with this idea at Stage 2 of mind control, because you wouldn't accept it. The idea that your leaders are God's mouthpieces to you is introduced in Stage 5 of mind control.
Men were the leaders and women were called the under-rowers, i.e. the slaves that are chained to the bottom of the ship. Cheryl Zach, Mike's wife, always loved to share the illustration of the under-rowers as a picture of the duties the sisters actually did in the work of the Assembly. We were taught that without the work of the under rowers, the ship would actually not go anywhere.
This was especially true of the work that the women in the Assembly did as compared to what the men did. The women did the lion's share of the work, while the men preached and "gave direction". This was all justified by the teaching that when a sister lived under the authority of their leaders, they were safe and these leaders would protect the women from the terrible evils that were in the world and even more so from the terrible evil that was inside each person.
The verse, "God led the children of Israel by the hand of Moses and Aaron," meant that God would lead truly committed Christians by the hand of their leaders, which in Omaha were Mike Zach and Mark Sjogren. The bible verse that says, "Whatsoever is bound on earth will be bound in heaven", meant that whatever the elders and the leading brothers agreed on earth, was taken as law in heaven.
This was translated into, that the way to be pleasing to heaven is to obey the Assembly leaders and take their views as your own. Mike Zach once preached that whatever God's people think of you is what God thinks of you. If the Assembly excommunicated someone, they taught that this person was excommunicated from heaven.
The bible verse that says, "Some people will have their part in the lake that burns with fire," meant that some believers, because they didn't trust God enough to be ‘Overcomers’, would have their part (about 1000 years) in the lake of fire. Some children in the Assembly would cry and fear thinking that if they lied that they would go to the lake of fire. The list of verses and their twisted applications is endless.
This is the reason that some people who leave the Assembly and see its evil have trouble listening to scripture afterwards. In the Assembly, the leaders took the Holy Word of God and twisted it to break down people's souls.
It was a common thing for the brother preaching, especially George Geftakys, the founder, to skip all over the Bible, taking verse after verse out of context. When they did this, it appeared that they knew their Bible so well that they could tie it all together. In reality, the Assembly added to and took away from the word, which is an atrocity. They stole the word of God from many of their members.
The group's language serves the purpose of constructing their thinking and shutting down critical thinking abilities. "Groupspeak" forces members to censor, edit and slow down spontaneous bursts of criticism or opposite ideas. Soon members find it easier to talk among themselves than with outsiders, who are given derogatory names such as "of Satan," "unconverted," etc.
George Geftakys taught that the saints had a "heavenly language" that most of the world couldn't understand. There were words and activities that only someone in the group understood. The visitors who came out occasionally would see a smiling, rejoicing group of people with young children who were performing nicely. Everyone was nice to the visitors and they were lavished with love and attention.
If you met a person who was in the Assembly mindset you would see someone who was a hard worker and read their Bible a lot (and seemed to know it quite well!)., They seemed to have an exemplary family life, always be happy, able to handle it all, and to have it all together.
If you would get to know that an Assembly person better, you would find that they were someone who has been hurt very deeply. Their families had been hurt deeply, their theology twisted, they didn’t know how to apply the Bible in a healthy Christian way.
They didn’t know how to experience most emotions, and often living life in a whirlwind of activity or in the despondency of depression because they have had a hard time finding balance in their time commitments.
When you know someone superficially who is still in the Assembly mindset, his or her Christian language might seem to be the same as yours. In reality, you are seeing only the tip of the iceberg of what they believe.
A person was often broken down in the area of their strength and was told they were something they weren't for so long that they eventually believed it. The following are examples from the Omaha group: a beautiful talented woman was kept from marrying; an intelligent man who saw through many of the Assembly facades was taught that he was "mixed up in his thinking."
A handsome athlete was kept from marrying; an easy-going, fun-loving college student was taught to be Mike's heavy-handed assistant; a sensitive and intelligent boy was taught to be a male chauvinist; a fun loving adventure-seeking girl was taught to be a perfect child; a quiet, reserved professional was taught to be Mike's cruel hit man.
A fun loving spontaneous person was taught that life was full of rules and regulations that must be followed meticulously or judgment was certain; an outgoing vivacious girl was taught that she was socially awkward; an intensely devoted and sensitive individual was taught that she was rebellious.
A hard working, conscientious husband and father was taught that he should let others serve him and neglect his duties; a loving mother was taught that she had to use excessive discipline to help her children be ready for heaven; a successful entrepreneur was taught that he was an impotent Christian.
All this abuse and warped views of others was done to communicate that, "You ain't goin' to heaven in a rockin' chair,” and, "Not everyone who thinks they're going to heaven is going there,” meaning that you had to be perfect to please God and deserve heaven.
Insecurity and fears were propagated. The way to be ready for heaven was to live through boot camp now. Members were taught to welcome many exhortations because, “If you deal with all these issues now, you will be ready to meet God then”.
This low view of others was a key tool of the leaders, to break down the personality of members and then trap them in a negative identity. Members became dependent on the leaders and the cult for their existence. Satan would love to keep Assembly members trapped forever in a negative identity and keep them from living life to the fullest, enjoying God as the people they were created to be.
This disrespect and dishonor for the personhood of people, and especially for women and children, is a key way to know if an Assembly member has truly repented and changed their thinking.
As members rewrite their own personal history or ignore it, they are simultaneously taught to interpret reality through the group concepts and ignore their own experiences and feelings as they occur. Members learn to fit themselves into the group's way of life and individuals are valued only as they conform to group doctrine.
Our counselor said that the most hideous evil of the Assembly was that they didn't let people be who God made them to be. We were supposed to "rejoice always"! Feelings of anger, sadness, or other feelings that weren’t positive were considered unspiritual. We were taught to ignore our feelings and only follow "truth" as they taught it. Obedience, obedience, obedience was drummed into our heads.
Children were constantly taught to obey the smallest and most detailed commands and to ignore their feelings of frustration. Obedience had to be cheerful. Everyone was supposed to behave a certain way.
If a woman were more of a entrepreneur by gift than a cook, she was looked down upon. She might cook all day to bring some food to a fellowship, where she would see someone scowl at her food and throw it in the trash.
If some loved to work with their hands and didn't spend much time reading their Bibles and preaching, they were unspiritual. If a mother loved teaching her children at home, she was uncommitted to "the work of God." If someone liked to care for their home, they were distracted.
A child who was handicapped and learned in a different way from others, was looked on as rebellious and his parents not strict enough. If a woman was independent and outspoken, she was unmarriageable. When she hurt because she wasn't married, she was not trusting God.
People who were perfectionists and reacted slowly to situations were called unfaithful. People, who had their own creative ideas, were ridiculous. Children who asked ‘why?’ were rebelling.
There was no room for being the individual you were created to be. When someone didn't fit into the groups mold, they were shunned and secretly ridiculed. In this phase of brainwashing, the belief was that the only way to please God was to have the approval of the Assembly leaders.
It didn't matter how much a person loved God, their family or how much they followed and served Him with their whole heart. If the group wasn't pleased with someone, then that person wasn't pleasing God.
Whatever Mike Zach thought of someone became the Assembly opinion of that person. He treated people like they were his best friends to their face, but systematically and carefully tore them down behind their back.
When someone he had gossiped about went to him and told him that they felt others were looking down on them, he would by his innuendos and facial expressions communicate that they were mentally unstable.
Mike often used another Assembly leader named Mark Sjogren as his "hatchet man". Mike would act like he was someone's best friend. But when he wanted to put the muscle on them, he would send Mark Sjogren to deal with them.
When the person who was humiliated by Mark Sjogren would come talk to Mike Zach about his mistreatment, Mike would say something to the effect, "Mark will be Mark", as if he were saying, "Boys will be boys. You can't stop him."
He used this method to devastate the men in the group. Following Mike's direction, Mark was ruthless and vicious in his talks with others. The person Mike actually hurt the worst in these scenarios was probably Mark Sjogren. He made Mark into a cruel man, whom people feared rather than respected. But Mark wasn't a cruel man when he entered the Assembly.
One young man drew a comparison between the Assembly and communist tactics in China, which he was studying. He pointed out that the communist "struggle sessions," where they would spend hours talking with people about their faults with the goal of breaking them, was just like the Assembly talks where the goal was supposedly to bring a person to repentance.
Seminars and retreats were similar to struggle sessions. Members would leave these retreats overloaded with a sense of their supposed guilt, sins, and shame and with a renewed sense of dependence on the Assembly and it's teachings to dig their way out of these problems. They would tell each other what a wonderful time they had that weekend and how thankful they were that God had spoken so clearly to them and brought them under such conviction.
The group's totalist environment emphasizes that the members are part of an elite or special group. Outsiders are considered unworthy or unenlightened. This leads to the thinking that their whole existence centers on being in the group. If you leave, you join nothingness. This is an extension of doctrine over person. Existence comes to depend on creed (I believe, therefore, I am), submission (I obey, therefore, I am) and total merger with the group's ideology. This is the final step in creating members' dependence on the group.
We were taught that all other churches, Christian radio stations, many other pastors, and extended families were not enlightened with the ‘New Testament vision’. Therefore, the only people who could be trusted with spiritual truth were Assembly leaders and those they thought worthy of teaching. Assembly life became everything.
Holidays weren't celebrated; Assembly functions were substituted. Christmas lights were frowned upon. On Halloween, however, a new outreach emerged where the members lit up the night with Christmas lights in their front yard, handed out tracts, and had refreshments for the neighborhood.
Though nothing is inherently wrong with not having Christmas lights or lighting up your yard on Halloween; the purpose of not celebrating Christmas and then celebrating Halloween like this was to keep the members different and backwards from the rest of their neighbors and friends. The world of an Assembly person was vastly different than society around them.
Our families and parents were quite alarmed when we entered the Assembly, and had the group extensively investigated. Twenty-five years ago, all that was known of the Assembly was that it was a ‘fringe’ Christian group. Our parents now know that what they suspected about the Assembly being a cult was true. They, and we, are very deeply saddened by the loss of so many years together.
Our parents did everything they could to keep us connected during this long 25-year period. My parents did so much for us. They made our children's childhood much brighter in more ways than I can mention.
Living as an Assembly wife is a horrific experience; they brought me through deep depression. My husband's parents accepted us and were there for us with whatever needs we had. They were quite patient with our viewpoints through it all.
If there are any parents of Assembly members reading this, please know that you have an even greater impact on your children than you can imagine. Our families love, and stick-at-iveness throughout this time was probably the single greatest key to us eventually escaping the clutches of the Assembly.
Our children have been healing fabulously. One reason that they had much less to heal from was because of what my parents did for them while we were in the Assembly.
One family said that if they had it to do over again, they would have brought the police to the Assembly meeting, taken their teenage child away, and forbidden them to go back. This would have spared them many years of heartache. They just didn't know what the Assembly was and how destructive it became.
We now know the Assembly is a cult. Wellspring Retreat* has characterized it as a T.A.C.O. -- a Totalist Aberrant Christian Organization. Refer to the article, "Identifiying a Cult" for a good summary of cult characteristics.
The Omaha Assembly was led almost exclusively by Mike Zach. He still holds a strong influence over his immediate family, extended family and ex-Assembly members in Omaha.
Mike Zach, I need to mention, has never actually repented of specific wrongs as a leader in this nationwide cult, now known as the Assemblies of George Geftakys., He has made some very general admissions about his misconduct, but he has not apologized to people whom he hurt.
This is a sign of unrepentance for a man who has devastated hundreds of lives in very specific ways. He led many parenting classes and even taught us that someone hasn't truly repented until they've specifically admitted their wrong doing and changed their behavior.
I hold no ill will toward any Assembly members or to the Zach family in particular. I would love to see them truly repent and admit what they've done. I would love for them to find healing. Whatever they decide, it is very important to me that they don't hurt anyone else -- because of my silence. I feel it is my civil and moral duty to speak the truth about what I know after 25 years of experience with this group.
These men gained power over people, they gained money, and as many resources - including the children of the families - as they could gather. Personalities were subjugated, souls were broken down and raped, the light in people's spirits was put out, all the while the Bible and our own families were being used as weapons to destroy us.
The leaders usurped the provider, protector, and nurturer role of the husbands and fathers in the hearts of their members, especially the women and children. They created a dependent group over which they were powerful.
One youth pastor we spoke with, who knew our family, quickly referred to the passage in the Bible describing apostates, when we told him what the Assembly leaders did to us. He told us very simply that these men are apostates.
There are Assemblies still meeting in the U.S., and there are leaders of Assemblies not meeting, who would like to see the Assembly in their location start up again.
There are evangelical churches where ex-Assembly leaders, who still hold to false Assembly doctrines, are aspiring to be leaders in various capacities, such as leading Bible Study groups, acting as deacons and mentoring others. Most of them don’t see their own error, because on the surface Assembly theology appears the same as traditional Christianity.
Many of these unrepentant leaders, still holding the Assembly teaching that evangelical churches are weak and worldly, believe that they have something significant to offer from what they learned through the years. Often pastors don't understand the toxicity of these leader's theology and the effect it can have on church members, especially new converts.
The truth is that former Assembly members have decades of wrong theology to untwist. Assembly leaders who have repented have a moral obligation to their new churches to be honestly accountable to their pastors concerning what they've come out of and to not take positions of leadership for a long time. Rather, they should humbly learn from their new church what the Bible really teaches.
Ex-Assembly people should surround themselves with godly peers, be open about the situation they've come out of and be willing to be taught healthy biblical Christianity. It's very healing for recovering families to be involved in church and other activities in serving capacities. There are many opportunities for growth in these types of activities and relationships.
It's imperative for repentant Assembly leaders to be in an accountability relationship, where they are discipled by mature godly mentors or counselors in such a way that they learn real biblical Christian living.
Cult experts say there is no other tragedy as terrible and harmful as the damage a cult does to a person. In my opinion, this is 100% true for the Assembly. It takes lots of time, effort, and energy to go through the recovery process of healing from a cult experience.
It is something that you won't be able to accomplish on your own. It is almost impossible to grasp the idea that leaders you loved and trusted lied, abused, manipulated and purposefully attempted to destroy you and your family in the name of superior spirituality.
Deliverance and freedom are available for anyone who will reach out and take it. Effective professional help for deprogramming from a cult experience is available (some would say it is a necessity). Determination and prayer are powerful. Becoming immersed in a healthy Christian church is healing.
True freedom is there for each of us. Very possibly, as people from the Assembly heal, they will experience more freedom in Christ, than those who were never bound.
December 2004, Bob Franzese, an AK from Omaha: "I would like to commend Gretchen W. on her well thought-out and extremely well written article about the Assembly in Omaha and the major issues that surrounded it. It was flat-out spot-on accurate. I am sure it took a lot of courage to write and post that article. For that she should be commended. The thing that stands out to me most in Gretchen's article are :
- Her comments regarding former "Leading" Brothers who are still making themselves available for counsel.
- Leading Brothers and people who wish to see the Assemblies restarted in their communities
- Former members of the Assembly and Leading Brothers who have gotten involved in positions of leadership in other churches.
Simple reason would demand that former Assembly leaders have absolutely no business doing any of these things. They were trained by wicked and deceitful men, George and Tim Geftakys. These two men had absolutely no business inflicting their opinions on their own family, much less thousands of people across the United States. If you factor these thoughts and combine it with the fact that not one lecture George Geftakys ever gave made one bit of sense.....Need I say more?
How much more clear can it be that the former Leading Brothers are the ones who need the most guidance and counsel and under no circumstances should they be subjecting anyone to their twisted views?
I still wish that after returning from California in 1993 I had raised holy heck about what was so blatantly obviously wrong with the Assembly. All one had to do was take one trip out there and spend about 20 minutes observing the Fullerton Assembly to realize that manipulation, deceit, greed, nepotism, and dishonesty were the foundation the Assembly stood on.
From the time I was two until I was nineteen, I was subjected to the twisted views, teachings and ways of life of that god-forsaken place known as the Assembly. Outside of school, I spent more time there than anywhere else. I would love to just "get over it", but it just isn't that simple. The guilt and confusion that I felt while growing up in the Assembly and in the years after I left that place--there was just no reason for it. Once I am convinced that the Assembly system is dead forever, then maybe I'll get over it."