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Cautionary tale of a Charismatic cult

28 February 2012

Sarah Meyrick reads an extraordinary ‘misery memoir’

Call Me Evil, Let Me Go: A mother’s struggle to save her children from a brutal religious cult
Sarah Jones

Harper Collins £6.99
Church Times Bookshop £6.30

A DECADE or so back, a new genre in publishing took off and flew. The “misery memoir” became a sure-fire bestseller, as authors competed to share stories of their grisly child­hoods and eventual escape from an appalling past.

Call Me Evil, Let Me Go is certainly packaged to press the same buttons. The cover shows a young child looking soulfully over her partially visible mother’s shoulder. “Humiliated, ostracised and brain­washed by the people who were supposed to support her, Sarah lived in fear. Her spirit crushed,” reads the blurb on the back. The book is “the shocking, but inspiring true story of a mother’s desperate attempt to save her children from a lifetime of misery and abuse”, the cover promises.

It is certainly an extraordinary story. Sarah grew up in a comfort­able home, with apparently loving parents. When he was a teenager, her older brother developed mental-health problems and became extremely difficult to live with. Somewhere along the line, he found his way into a Charismatic church that seemed to help. His parents followed him there, and found solace and support from the congregation.

Not long afterwards, they began to worry about Sarah’s teenage behaviour — a relatively low-level rebellion involving cigarettes and alcohol. Their response was pretty extraordinary, if understandable, perhaps, in the light of their experience with their son. Advised by their pastor, they sent her away to a boarding school run by an extreme Charismatic church, where children were routinely brutalised and beaten. Cut off from her family, Sarah eventually capitulated to the regime, and, by the time she was 18, entered an arranged marriage with a fellow church member, with whom she had four children.

Much of the book is about the collapse of her world, as she recognised the same treatment doled out to her children for what it was. Eventually, she escaped from the cult and the marriage, into a world she was cruelly ill-equipped to deal with. Her story is well told, if not a literary master­piece. She is remarkably forgiving of her parents, though less of the pastor who controlled a decade of her life.

There is a useful appendix at the end on cults and support groups.

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