Local Church Similarities
We received an email from a web surfer whose story shows some of the similarities between the Local Church and the Assembly, particularly outreach methods and communal living.
"Hello....My name is Bill W. Just surfed into your website....I was browsing through the Rick Ross cultic research site and read an article concerning the George Geftakys group by Brent T....I was involved from 1972 to 1988 with the group known as the "Local Church" headed by the late Witness Lee. Some of the testimonials from those previously involved with the George Geftakys reminded me of what I experienced in the Local Church--"Church Life," the communal living situations, etc. I found your website quite informative and containing a lot of information. Very interesting reading. To help folks from groups like this I recommend C. H. Spurgeon's book, All of Grace, which talks about the infinite love of God in the Gospel."
I accepted the Lord at a Conservative Baptist family summer camp near Canby, Oregon in 1968 while I was still in high school, and became involved with the campus Youth for Christ club. After I graduated from high school in 1970, I became active with Campus Crusade For Christ.
In 1971 I joined the Navy and continued to be active with Campus Crusade while attending a Naval tech school in San Diego and fellowshipping with other Christians on base. I even went up to Costa Mesa with some of the guys on base to attend meetings at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, when that church was still meeting in a big circus tent with the place packed with surfer kids and hippies!
First Encounter With the Local Church
I first encountered the Witness Lee Local church group in April of 1972 while I was still stationed in the San Diego. That Saturday morning, I went to Balboa Park to spend some quiet time reading my Bible and other books, and perhaps pass out some gospel tracts, since it was a sunny morning with many folks visiting the park and San Diego Zoo.
Well, I got more than I bargained for that morning. As I was strolling along I noticed a big crowd with a lot of young people, some sporting white t-shirts with "Jesus is Lord," " Hallelujah," "Christ is Now." They were strolling through the park singing and playing guitars and tambourines. Many of the songs were sung to well know 60's pop tunes, with different words, as well as songs from the Psalms. Some were holding hands in group serpentine dances like the Israeli folk dances. They all look so happy and smiling, and I was thinking, "Who are these people??!" They can't be those Children of God people I was warned about, could they?
I started to talk a person in the group and mentioned who I was, and found out the guy I was talking to was also in the Navy. He just went on sharing about Christ and Church and how much he loved Jesus. I never heard a person speak with such excitement and passion about the Lord. I was almost stunned, like a deer in the headlights, like a spell came over me, so it seemed. All these people appeared to have such a glow about them.
It just so happened that Witness Lee was giving a conference at the Balboa Park Conference facility from the Book of the Songs of Solomon. I was invited to spend the remainder of the day with them attending the meetings. I was given a ride back to the base that night, and then given a ride to the park the following Sunday morning for the remaining meeting and lunch afterward at one of the homes.
The Local Church had just "taken the local ground" in San Diego at this time. They were all calling on the Lord in a chanting way, saying, "O, Lord Jesus! O, Lord Jesus!" over and over again. Everybody seem so happy and elated, and I said to myself, "Wow, this is like Heaven on Earth!"
A few weeks later, I was talked into going with the brothers and sisters to a training conference on the UC Berkley Campus, where hundreds, if not thousands, of Local Church folks ("saints") attended. On Saturday we had a gospel march through downtown Berkeley, with banners, singers, drum and bugle teams--hundreds of us, I guess. The news media was there. It was quite a scene and I couldn't believe I was actually participating! On the jetliner on the way back, everybody was singing with guitars, and jumping up and down, so much that the flight attendant said it was shaking the plane and told everybody to stop it immediately!!
Warned But Heedless
Later on that week, I shared my experiences with some of my Christian Navy buddies on base. At this point, they all seemed dull and dead to me as Christians after being around those radical Local Church brothers and sisters. One of them warned me that I was getting involved with a dangerous cult similar to the David Berg Children of God cult, and needed to break off all connections with them. But I was so far into it already, I told him he didn't know what he was talking about.
Visits Many Local Churches
A few weeks later, upon graduating from the sonar tech school, I received my orders to a destroyer naval vessel that was going to Vietnam. I kept in touch weekly with the brothers and sisters in in the San Diego local church via letters and audio tape correspondence while over seas in the far east.
They told me that the ship, the USS Dubuque LPD-8, which was home-ported out of San Diego, was going to be in port in Kaohsiung, Taiwan at the same time my ship was going to be there. The USS Dubuque LPD-8 had about twelve brothers from the Local Church of San Diego stationed on it. They invited me to go with them and spend a few days with the saints at the Local Church of Kaohsiung, as I had five days off.
It was a very interesting time! We slept in dorm facilities at one of the meeting halls. The entire church had daily prayer meetings at 5 AM!! I've never seen anything like it! I guess many of those sailors from the USS Dubuque were saved on board ship. These guys were so radical while at at sea--they had daily church meetings in the crew mess hall praising the name of Jesus. Some of the guys who were previously heckling the brothers and cussing at them became saved!
On my ship I felt like I was the only Christian, but before I was transferred a year later, when our ship was in dry dock in the San Francisco Bay area, a couple of young sailors came with me to the Local Church in Berkeley. They called on the Lord and got baptized.
I visited Local churches in various states and cities and overseas. My whole life at that time was consumed by the "Church Life."
When I got out of the Navy in June of 1977, I was discharged in Boston. I flew back to San Diego and moved into a brother's house there where I lived for a few months. It was kind of neat the first few weeks. The leading brother in the house had previously been a Baptist pastor in the early 1960s. He was married, with four children, and there were six single brothers.
We had our "morning watches", and we all had chores. After a while it got crazy--the carpet was being vacuumed every single day, the bathroom and bathtubs were being scrubbed four or five times a week when they were quite clean already. I said to one of the brothers, "Hey, we just scrubbed this tub last night!" and he said, "Well, we are being trained for the Kingdom."
On and on this went, day after day! I was not getting any time for myself. We were constantly having one type of home meeting after another. There were a lot of other issues in that commune living situation that just began to wear me down! I was also having a hard time finding work. I was starting to lose my joy in the Lord and began to feel trapped.
Mind Benders Book Frees Him
One day, the leading brother in the house and one of the elders in the San Diego Local Church came into our room in the house with a book that had just come out called The Mind Benders, by Jack Sparks. They told us that we were at war. It was a book exposing cultic groups, that had a chapter about Witness Lee and the Local Church. We all passed the book around and browsed through it, laughing at it and saying what a bunch of lies it was.
Well, I later on secretly got hold of the book and reread the chapter. I actually began to agree with some of the things I was reading and became extremely distressed. (The chapter resulted in a law suit against Jack Sparks and was later removed.) Anyway, a few months later, in late 1978, I packed up all my personal items into my car secretly and left late one night. I drove all the way up to Corvallis, Oregon, to my parents house.
To me it was sort of an escape, and yet as I was driving off, I felt awful inside, like I was turning my back on those I accepted as my second family, and God himself. I felt free as a bird, and yet I almost felt like Judas betraying His Lord. It took me months to get over it. At least my parents were very happy that I came home.
In 1988, I was working for Continental Airlines and living in Lawndale, California. I visited the local church in Lawndale several times out of curiosity. One of the brothers recognized me (oops!), but I told him I had been moving around. I was told that a lot of turmoil was going on in the Local Churches at that time. A few months later, I called this brother, and he told me that a big crisis had occurred in the Witness Lee Local Church movement and that he longer fellowshipped with the Local Church.
He told me that one of big elders in the Local Church in San Diego had left, and also the family I lived with in the brothers house. They had left the fellowship of the Local church, sold their home and had bought some property just south of Temecula. He gave me their phone number and I called them. They were pleased to hear from from me, and we arranged for me to come out and have dinner with them. We had a nice visit, and we all agreed that we all were deceived by Brother Witness Lee in the recent years of "the Lord's Recovery." They said they were going on with another ministry called the Open Door Ministry.
Having this fellowship with them was kind of a closure for me regarding the Local Church. From that point of time on, I never had any further contact with the Local Church. We all prayed together before I left his house, asking the lord for further guidance in our lives.