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I left the note on my dresser, by the mirror.  It blended in with other items up top; it wouldn’t be immediately noticed by someone walking in.  Still, if they came looking for a note after learning that I had left, they would easily find it.

I grabbed my luggage and took it out to the truck.  It was my habit to go to the gym each morning, on the way to school.  Usually I would bring a duffel bag with me for my school uniform, towel, and other things.  Taking two bags this time did not arouse suspicion if, indeed, anyone noticed it at all.  I acted as if it was just another day.  In reality, the day marked the start of a new life for me.  

I made sure to leave spot on 6:30, my normal departure time, so as not to attract any extra attention.  After grabbing my lunch from the kitchen, I turned to my parents to say goodbye.  As a family, we rarely hugged each other; however,knowing that I might never see them again, I wanted to give a proper goodbye this time.

I reached over and offered them both a hug.  They looked surprised, but otherwise did not take much notice.  I did my best to downplay the significance of the hug.

Out in the garage, I got into my truck, and started the engine; I let it idle a little longer than usual.  This could be my last time to ever drive this truck, I thought.  No need to rush it.

I knew things would never be the same after that day.  Whether I joined the Jesus Christians or not, I knew I wanted to make my life count for God, and to do that I needed to make changes which my family would not approve of.

On my way to the bus station, in Compton, I stopped near the courthouse to reflect. My auntie (Rosie) worked there. Parking so close increased the risk of her, or someone I knew, coming over to talk.  So I left quickly, before anything like that happened.

There was a large parking lot near the station, where I left the truck. Passengers would be starting to board the bus within minutes; I needed to move quickly.  I breathed deeply, sighing at the thought of leaving behind friends, family, and loved ones in order to follow my convictions.  There could be no looking back now.  The tiny doubts swishing around in my head were nothing less than attacks from the devil.  "Step out in faith and not fear," I repeated to myself for reassurance.

Though the truck had been given to me, like everything else that I supposedly ‘owned’, it really belonged to Jared.  So I left it behind, for them to find.  I hid the keys under the front seat before locking the door.  Jared had his own set of keys.  I would tell him and Sheila where I had left it, so they could come later to pick it up.

At the station, I put most of my luggage underneath before boarding the bus and taking my seat.  As we set off on our journey, nervousness gave way to excitement about the future. 

The ride to Albuquerque lasted nearly a day, with short stops at cities along the way.  I called Jeremy soon after we left L.A. to update him on my progress.  He said he would be praying for me, and encouraged me to do the same.  Jeremy suggested I turn my phone off, at least temporarily, saying that I would likely get a barrage of calls as people learned of my departure.  They would almost certainly be calling to broadcast and not to listen.  If I turned the phone off, they could still leave messages and I could deal with them as I chose, in my own time.  I took Jeremy's advice, and switched the phone off.

I had brought my Bible with me, so I read that throughout the journey.  Whenever I tired of reading, I would switch on my CD player, and listen to my Tupac mix-tape.  Throughout it all, I tried to stay mindful of my reason for being there.

We arrived at the Albuquerque bus station early the next morning.  Through the window I could see Jeremy and Reinhard sitting together, waiting to greet me.  They walked up and gave me a hug as I came through the door, offering to help with my luggage.  Their truck camper was parked down the road.  

Though I had often seen their vehicles during our meetings at McDonald's, I had never been inside any of them.  The lack of clutter inside the camper stood out immediately.  I had assumed their vehicles would fit the traditional motor home image: dirty, cluttered, and smelly. Reinhard and Jeremy's humble abode nicely contradicted that stereotype.  

After a few comments about features inside the truck, we drove toward our next stop, near the University of New Mexico.  Before we arrived, though, I had a question to ask.

I had researched the community before coming out for my trial week, in an effort to hear from both sides - critics as well as supporters.  It seemed the best way to get a balanced understanding of the community's faith and practice.  The group's teachings on sex concerned me more than anything else I read.  I had never heard of any church preaching that masturbation was a legitimate alternative to sex.  Were the JCs some kind of ‘sex cult’?  I needed to know more.  

I asked Reinhard if he and Jeremy masturbated together.  They laughed simultaneously, only slightly embarrassed by the question.

"No," Reinhard said, "we don't masturbate together."  He explained that masturbation for Jesus Christians was pretty much the same as it was for the rest of the world: a private matter undertaken in accord with one's own discretion.  It certainly was not a group activity. 

Of course, if I had not already been biased by what I had read on the hate sites, I would have seen it right there in their teachings.  The community simply taught masturbation as a legitimate alternative to help Christians keep God's real rules about sex.  It allowed one to deal with their sexual urges in a scripturally acceptable way, in order to keep from committing fornication or adultery.  It really was no different to what was happening in virtually all of the churches, except that the JCs were being honest about it.  Reinhard's explanation eased my concerns; I breathed a sigh of relief.  

It didn't take long for us to reach our next spot, on the Spanish side of town.  We parked behind the local supermarket.  Reinhard hopped out to distribute books, while Jeremy offered to stay back, and show me around the camper.  I just wanted to eat, and go to sleep.  

Jeremy introduced me to the ‘kitchen’ after showing me the bed up top where I could sleep.  I boiled some Ramen noodles, poured a glass of Kool-Aid, and then crawled into the bunk for a short kip.  The camper represented my new world, and I was happy to be settling into it.

Jeremy returned to the vehicle soon after I woke.  He had been out shopping, bearing in mind my food preferences.  He knew that I liked to eat meat, and that I had a big appetite.  He and Reinhard usually stuck to a vegetarian diet. 

Sometime during the day, Jeremy and I went for a walk, enjoying the fresh air.  We returned to the vehicle where we continued to share our thoughts and expectations.  Not long after, Reinhard returned from his distributing stint.  He had volunteered to cook dinner that night: boiled potatoes with mixed vegetables.  I looked forward to a hearty meal.

Over dinner, I shared with Reinhard and Jeremy about how things had progressed since leaving home.  Though I had turned off my phone early in the trip, I turned it back on every few hours to check my voice mail.  Sheila and Jared had left messages, along with some of my other relatives, and some high school friends. 

Jeremy suggested I check my email account too.  I had said in my goodbye note that I would be checking my account regularly while gone; he wanted me to follow through on that.

We went up front to the truck's cab, where Reinhard had connected an inverter to the slave battery.  I switched on the computer, then plugged in the wireless card.  Sheila had sent several messages in less than a day, although some other relatives had written too.  The letters mostly contained demands for me to go home, and return to school.  They included links to hate sites, which featured false allegations against the community.  They hoped to fill my head with fear so I would end my trial week early, and come back to live under their thumb.  I had already suspected they would react that way; their actions did not surprise me.

We discussed the best way to respond.  We all agreed that I should write back - the only question was how.  The situation, due to its delicacy, required wisdom.  I wrote, letting them know that I was fine, and restating that I had left to do missionary work - the same as what I had said in my goodbye note.  I said I would be home in just over a week; they needed to give me space to do my own thing in the meantime.

For me personally, it was clear that no matter what I wrote, it would not satisfy them.  The only way they would be satisfied would be if I returned to school, committed to a university degree course, and slotted myself back in as another cog in the system.  I had no interest in going that route.

After I finished my email, we drove to our camping spot, closer to a local university.  My trial week would start the next morning, a Friday.

The alarm woke Jeremy and me at 7:30am.  Reinhard was already up, and was boiling a pot of coffee on the stove.  He didn't need an alarm, having trained his body to rise naturally each morning.  Jeremy and I did not possess such powers; we used an alarm instead.

Reinhard served hot drinks, and then we started what was known as the 'morning meeting'.  Jeremy chose an article, from the Jesus and Money study-book, for us to read.  I brought out my Bible to look up the scripture references as we went along.

The article discussed working for (or serving) God, vs working for (or serving) money.  I found it eye-opening, and convicting.  Somehow the significance stood out more that day, even though I had read the article before.

The study quoted Jesus as saying one could not serve two masters at the same time: God and money.  Jesus said that we would either hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other.  He spelled out clearly that one could not work for God and money at the same time; if you tried, you would end up cheating or despising God.

When we finished the study, we each shared a lesson which we had learned from the article.  Then we moved into discussing plans for the day.

Trial weeks give visitors a look into life as a Jesus Christian on a 24/7 scale.  For one week, I would be living like the JCs, in an effort to get an idea of whether the lifestyle suited me or not.  Then, after a week, I would decide what I wanted to do, i.e. join the community, or just remain on the outside as a friend and supporter.

That morning, Jeremy started by giving me an introduction into what it means to distribute books.  It was one of the most common past-times of the Jesus Christians, all over the world.  We planned to go to the university and offer copies of Survivors to the crowd there.  Reinhard, who spoke at least seven different languages fluently, preferred to distribute in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods; he would drop us off, then make his way to the local supermarket.  We would meet back at the camper later that evening, for dinner.

As part of the trial week experience, I would set aside my own belongings for the week, using only the items Reinhard and Jeremy habitually used throughout that week (aside from a few toiletries, and other basic items).  Finding suitable clothes to work in was the first step.

Jeremy had a shirt and pants which he said would fit me.  The clothes were a bit tight, but were passable.  I dressed, then packed my bag.  Jeremy had loaned me his backpack, which featured a bunch of radical sayings painted along the back.  He showed me how to stack the books so they wouldn't fall while I walked.  I followed his instructions, then zipped the bag shut, ready to head out.

During our walk to the campus, Jeremy gave me a brief run-down on the ins and outs of distributing.  He explained that fear of what other people think would be the hardest thing for me to confront.  Once I overcame that, he said, the rest would come naturally.  It sounded simple enough.

Jeremy continued: "You're halfway there once you've got the book into someone's hand."  He pointed out that a smile helps, but, he said, confidence would ultimately be the deciding factor for whether or not someone took a book.

I needed to ask for a small donation while putting the book into the other person's hands - not after and not before.  If I waited to ask until after I had given someone the book it came across as a trick.  On the other hand, if I asked too soon, they would be afraid to even look at it.  I nodded in agreement.

Finally, Jeremy explained that there would be a lot of people saying they did not have any money.  Although it was often just another way to say that they were not interested, I needed to remember that many students carried cards as currency now, instead of cash.  There still remained a few ways to deal with this, though.

Firstly, he said, I needed to understand why the community asked for donations in the first place.  Despite the fact that it costs money to print and ship the books, the community had experimented with 'freebying' books on several occasions in the past.  Whenever they did this, they would find the streets littered with the literature before the end of the day.

The community came to understand that people value items they have paid for far more than they do things they have been given for free.  Even if they just gave a penny for the book, the fact that they had given something made them more inclined to read it.  The community wanted people to read the books; what they received as 'payment' was not important.

Jeremy suggested that I test people who rejected the book on the grounds that they did not have any money.  He suggested first that I make it clear they could give as little as one or two cents; they just needed to give something, to prove they had an interest in reading the book.  

If that failed, I could ask them for an item aside from money, as proof that they wanted to read the book.  Most students carried around pens and pencils.  If someone did not have money, I could ask them to trade one of those items for the book, to test their sincerity. 

Finally, if all else failed, I could give the book away for free on the understanding that they seriously wanted to read it.  That sounded easy enough.  

When we reached the campus, we located the student center, which was the most heavily trafficked area.

We sat our bags down, tying them around a tree.  Jeremy then grabbed a stack of books from his bag, leaning them against his forearm, from wrist to elbow.   I sat down on my bag, to watch Jeremy in action before giving it a go myself.

He made it look easy.  About one in two would stop, and about one in four would take the book and offer a donation.  My apprehensions faded with each person who took a book from him.  I stood up to join the action.

I grabbed a stack of ten books from my bag, then walked over next to Jeremy.  "Did you get one?" I shouted at people as they walked by.  I couldn't get anyone to stop. What was I doing wrong?

After a few more minutes trying to get someone to take a book, I gave up and returned to my bag for a rest.  Jeremy took notice and followed after me.  He wanted to hear from me how I felt.

I told him I just couldn't get the people to stop.  I had been trying for about fifteen minutes, and had only managed to get out one or two books.  Even that required a lot of effort on my part.  It felt like pulling teeth.  Maybe I wasn't cut out for this.  My lack of success made me feel depressed.

Click here to read part 15 of Joe's Story
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