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Caught in the Middle


"Who were you talking to on that phone?" Jared asked.  I had been talking to Jeremy, but I had hung up quickly when I heard him enter the room.  The call had been about re-joining the community, but I had also been trying to haggle special allowances which Sheila had prompted me to ask for from the community.  She said that other members had studied nursing at a university, and so I should be allowed to go to university as well.


While explaining that there were no rules against university studies, Jeremy made it clear that he was not impressed by my requests at a time like this.  He reminded me that Reinhard was in the Intensive Care Unit, and that the doctors were not even sure if he would live.  He was shocked that my main interest at such a time would be about myself, and not about my friend, who was fighting for his life.  I began to see my selfishness for what it was, and backed off a bit.

Jared made it clear that I was not to talk to the ‘cult’ any more from the phone that ‘he’ had paid for.  I said nothing, but I disobeyed his orders once again some time later.  This whole business of him using his money to control me was becoming more and more obvious.  I had no food, and I was hungry.  I turned on the TV, hoping it would offer a distraction from my depressing situation.

Not long after that, Sheila entered the room.  She asked if I wanted to go back to the house in Long Beach with her, because she now felt that they did not have to hide.  (It turned out that Jared and Josh had sneaked back earlier, and discovered that there were no police watching the house.)  I accepted the offer, and we left together in Sheila's red "escape" vehicle.

I jumped on the computer when we were back at the house, while Sheila fried up some chicken in the kitchen.  I was anxious to check my mail, and see if any of my friends had written about me dropping out of high school ten days earlier.  I knew that would come as a shock for a lot of people.  I checked the Jesus Christian web page as well, to see if there was any news about Reinhard.  Then Sheila called me for dinner.

We ate together, and then returned to the hotel.  Though there had been no problem with police during that short visit, Sheila was not willing to spend the night.  If they were looking for her to return at all, they would probably check the house during the night.

When we arrived back at the hotel, I learned that Jared and Josh had been out doing weight training at the local YMCA.  It was strange, seeing them act like all was fine in the world, when we were all on the run from the police.

I went into my room, and made another phone call to Jeremy. He was in the hospital with Reinhard.  I asked once again for Jeremy's location, so we could meet back up, but Jeremy declined.  He feared me passing that on to my family. 

I asked again if I could be a Jesus Christian, and still go to high school.  Jeremy told me to ask God.  He could sense that I was wavering about my decision to join, and could see that going to school or not going to school was not the real issue.  He urged me to think seriously about what I wanted to do... particularly in light of the life and death predicament that Reinhard was now in.  He tried to get me to see how serious what had just happened was, repeating the fact that it was not clear at that point if Reinhard would even live.  I was coming across as being callous about Reinhard's condition.  After a few more questions and answers, we ended our call, and I hung up.

"Rinnngggg!  Rinngggg!"  I was surprised to hear the telephone ringing.  I had only made a few phone calls to Jeremy, and so I was anxious to hear who it was that was calling.

"Joe, this is Coach Sean Brandon." 

It was my old youth basketball coach, Sean Brandon.  Sheila was obviously hard at work down the hall, seeking to enlist the support of others to ‘deprogram’ me, even while we were on the run.  She had asked him to call and counsel me against staying with the Jesus Christians.  Sean told me that when he was my age, he had come very close to joining a group like the JCs.  Luckily, he said, ‘the Lord’ had shown him the error of his ways.  He said that one did not need to be poor to go to heaven, and that I could be a Christian and still play professional basketball.  He cited David Robinson and AC Green, two famous professional basketball players who claimed to be Christians.

I sensed insincerity in all that Sean said, as though he was just acting under duress from Sheila.  I could see that he was arguing something that he himself knew was not well founded.  The end result was that his efforts actually pushed me closer to the JCs. 

But I did think it would be good to get some advice from someone other than the JCs... just someone of my own choosing.  I called Dennis Nguyen, the assistant basketball coach at Serra High School.  I was actually closer to the head coach, Dwan Hurt, but thought that Dennis might be more sympathetic to my predicament.  Dennis had written a few emails to me while I was away from school on my ‘trial week’, and had come across as fairly balanced. 

"Dennis?  This is Joe, from Serra." 

Dennis suggested a compromise, i.e. that I return to school immediately, but join the JCs after graduation... if that was what I still wanted to do by then.  He went so far as to pretend that he wanted to know more about the group, like he was open to joining, as well!  His goal was much the same as Sean's (and Sheila's), but he was a bit smoother, and it was starting to work.  Surely, a delay of a few weeks would not hurt, and it would give me a chance to think things through more carefully.

I tried to explain my predicament.  I told him that my family had nearly beaten to death a member of the Jesus Christians, and we were hiding out in a motel in Gardena.  I shared that I wanted to meet back up with the Jesus Christians, but that they would not let me.  Dennis tried hard to hide his bias for my family as he listened, carefully wording his counsel in an effort to come across as being objective.  The bottom line was still "return to high school and leave the Jesus Christians"; but at least he listened to me.  That was something Sean did not do.

I ended the phone call with Dennis, and considered my next step.  I wanted to be with the JCs, but felt they were rejecting me.  I did not want to be with my family, yet felt they were the only ones welcoming me.  I was in a quandary.

Click here to read Part 3 of Joe's Story.
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