by Gustavo Sassano, formerly the ICOCs top leader in Argentina
I know that it is difficult to realize what I was, a cult leader. Its a hard truth. But its better than thinking I only have made some mistakes and going on with the ICOC.
My name is Gustavo Sassano, from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was a full-time ministry leader in the International Church of Christ (ICOC) for almost 13 years, from March 1989 to November 2001. I am sharing my story because I want to tell people about the destructive practices that I committed and false doctrines that I taught when I was a leader in the church. I want to confess my sins and educate people about the danger of the organization that I believe is a cult. This is my story.
I was converted in 1988 (recruited) when I was 23 years old in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was studying Law at the University of Buenos Aires. A friend of mine, who was working with me, invited me to a Bible discussion. It took me seven months to get baptized. I was an idealistic person. I wanted to change the world, and I thought I had found that possibility through Jesus. I was innocent at that time. I entered in the ministry only five months after my conversion. I didnt finish at the university because at that time in the ICOC, you had to choose between the university or the ministry. I decided to enter the ministry. I was ignorant. Im ignorant today too!!! I devoured my bible every day. I dreamed a lot about conquering the world for Christ. I didnt know that I was advancing a cult.
I was a missionary to Chile in 1990. Ten months after the missionary team arrived to Chile, the lead evangelist, Andrew Giambarba had to return to Argentina and I became the leader of the mission in Chile. I was so young and ignorant to occupy that position. I was so stupid, arrogant and prideful. I preached like I was the big thing. How wrong I was. I spent a lot of time shouting, ordering, and criticizing other religions and other Christians.
I got married with Claudia in 1990 in Chile. I had to marry her in Chile. Only my mother came to my wedding. That was so bad, and I received a lot of letters of my family criticizing my decision to do the wedding in Chile instead of Argentina. It was radical to do that. It was a common ICOC thing: being radical and stupid at the same time.
I went to Mexico in 1992 to live there. The "church" in Mexico was growing a lot. At that time if you wanted to grow spiritually (It means growing in the ICOC system) you had to be in the ICOC of Mexico. There I learned the worst teachings and techniques. The lead evangelist was Phil Lamb and after him, Peter Garcia. For example, I learned in Mexico how to make people feel bad about their lives when they didnt follow the ICOC rules. I learned there how to put pressure on people. The purpose of every staff meeting was to make everybody or someone in particular feel bad (the staff referred to these meetings as "breaking sessions"). It was so common to hear shouting in the staff meeting, making the staff feel bad about their ministry, until some of them cried. Not a joke, that was real.
We started to talk a lot about statistics. Kip McKean, founder of the ICOC and Los Angeles church was applying those statistics and we started to do the same. Statistics about how many people every member brought. I remember very well how bad many in the staff felt about taking so many numbers. The lead evangelist measured all our lives with the statistics. That was the only way to measure a leader. It was so awful. Obviously, we couldnt complain. Some did and they were treated so badly. We started to get angry every time the statistics were bad. I shouted at my leaders meetings, I shouted to people in my zone of the church and I did everything possible to change and to have better statistics. Everyone around me behaved in the same way. I think that at that time I lost my love for God and the people and I started to look for success in the ministry. Every staff meeting, the lead evangelist made us feel bad about something in our lives, with statistics in his hand.
I learned how to control every person's life. We called it discipleship. Now, for me, it was control. We spread the sins of many rank and file members in our leaders meetings. Nobody had a private life, nobody.
In addition to the breaking sessions, we would have more casual staff meetings. During those more relaxed meetings, the men smoked cigars, drank tequila (a lot) and we talked about the most stupid and offensive things. We always were talking about the sins of people in the church, leaders or rank and file members. Gossip was the first thing in our mouth. Those times were so common. When a goal was achieved, such as meeting a monthly baptism quota, we went to the most expensive restaurant in the city. Man, we ate like lions. We spent too much money. A person in Mexico could live for one month with the money that I spent on my dinner. I feel ashamed about it now, because we used contribution money to pay for these expensive dinners.
The pressure to get the special contribution was so strong. I received a lot of pressure from above to collect special contribution. Because of this, I put heavy pressure on the disciples who were in my ministry to give money for special contribution. The leaders, including me, made everybody feel guilty if they didnt come up with the money to give.
The time I spent in Mexico was the worst in terms of learning the worst of the ICOC ministry: pressure, guilt, a lot of statistics, shouting, ordering and so on. The worst thing was the breaking sessions. If a member, or leader, or staff member was not doing well spiritually, we met with him/her. I said we, because we were 3 to 5 against the weak member or leader. We told him/her a lot of things, shouted if necessary, humiliated him, sometimes in front of his wife/her husband, until the person was broken (meaning that they cried and agreed to do whatever the breakers thought that person should do).They did that to me several times. I did that many, many times. We learned from the example of our lead evangelist and his wife, how to break someone. We did the same every time we could. They did that to me every time they could. People cried in their breaking sessions. My wife and I cried many times.
When I returned to Argentina in 1994, I brought all the things that I learned in Mexico with me. I started to lead the ICOC in Argentina. I applied the techniques and teachings I learned to my ministry in Buenos Aires. It was a nightmare!! I think that now. At that time, I felt good about what I was doing. My ministry began to grow, and I felt pride. How shameful!! But after a while, people began to get tired. The ICOC schedule was killing people. Every week, we had three church meetings (Bible talk, midweek and Sunday service) one discipleship time (an encounter between a member and his assigned teacher in the faith), plus daily evangelism and everyday contact with someone, like phone calls to others members, to report our evangelism, people to bring to church on Sunday, plus a lot of studies with non-members. Our week was full of activities. Someone could rarely visit his family.
One time we told people to put Mondays aside to get together with their families. What a stupid command! Only one day for the family! I was living only 10 minutes from my parents and I visited them only once in a regular week. I feel so bad. My family suffered a lot. One time, while I was single, my mom got mad about my schedule in the church. A doctor had to come to our house to calm her down. It was an extreme experience. I will never forget that day. And I used that experience to tell everybody that our family will persecute us for being Christians. But my mother was not persecuting me. She was just very upset about the way the church schedule was hurting my relationship with my family. Today I strongly believe that the ICOC destroys family relationships. Members take a lot of distance of their parents and become very judgmental about their lives. Im so sorry about how deeply I hurt my parents during my time in the ICOC.
With so many activities, many people began to complain. I accused them of not being committed enough. I shouted at them. I tried to kick them out of the church because they were not committed enough. We used to do that a lot. It was a common practice, to throw people out of church because they were rebels against the system or not fruitful, meaning they did not bring new people to church. I have talked with many ex-members and members about these episodes. They feel bad about those times. Imagine if you had to sit down with a leader in a room, and he started to ask you a lot of questions about your life. After that, if he found that you werent a good disciple, he could throw you out of church or give you some time to prove that you were a good disciple. Awful! Many people were thrown away. I hear that before I returned to Argentina, the staff threw away a lot of members.
I committed a lot of sins against God and the people in the church with my anger and pride and pressure. I am so ashamed right now. I caused a lot of damage with my bad temper. One time I shouted at my secretary and I threw away all the things she had in her hands. I fired her for stupid reasons and in a bad, bad way. Im so sorry about that. I was known for my bad temper and pride. Once I struck a wall in the middle of staff meeting, I almost struck one person there. I saw many of these episodes of shouting, striking things in many places and situations. I did the same.
The ministry in Argentina started to decline. Many people started to leave the church. They had reasons to do that. There were a lot of complaints from the rank and file about my bad leadership. At that time I fought with everyone to protect me. I hurt many.
In March 1999 I went to Brazil with my wife and my two daughters for six months to recover spiritually. It was another awful experience. They were doing a lot of statistics, in some meetings up to eleven pages worth!! Every action was recorded. For example, we had to take note of every daily quiet time that every member had each week. It was a nightmare. They were losing thousands of members a year and they needed to recruit a lot more to keep growing the cult. And when they achieved goals in Brazil, we did the same as we had in Mexico: expensive restaurants, a lot of alcohol and unfit-for-rank-and-file-members-jokes.
I lost the leadership of the Buenos Aires church in 1999 because of my bad temper and bad statistics. The church there was not growing. John Porter, GSL (Geographic Sector Leader) in our world sector, took me out of leadership. He was mad because he had to put one of his leaders in Brazil to lead in Argentina. He said that all was my fault. He talked with me with his angry eyes and voice. In the ICOC, letting leaders go to other places to lead was not a good idea. All church leaders wanted to keep their leaders in their area of influence so as to make sure that these leaders would contribute to their growth. I decided to stay in Buenos Aires because I wanted to show everybody there that I was totally committed to repentance. It was common practice in the ICOC that when a leader was taken away, it was better for him and the church that he went to another church to recover. I decided to stay.
John Reus took my place in the leadership in Argentina. But he stayed only six months and then Martin and Carmen Bentley came to lead Argentina in January 2001. At first, I thought that they would be mature leadership for Argentina. But I found Martin to be the most hard and close-minded person I had ever met. I said to myself so many times that year: I dont want to be like him. I dont want to have 30 years in the faith with a mind so closed.
He was the ICOC system in person. He represented the system in a very common and harmful way: the stealth way, gentle in the outside but a different person inside. He came to Argentina to represent the ICOC, to rescue Argentina from the division. In L.A, they didn't want another division in the ICOC. I found that most leaders in the ICOC were that way, one thing in the outside, but a very different thing in the inside. "Their words drip honey but their hearts are set on war". My wife told me that many times. She was tired of this behavior in the upper leadership. My wife said "behind the smiling face is a stab you will receive as soon as you turn around".
Martin Bentley started to preach the Only True Church doctrine from his very first message. He preached that we were the only people saved in Argentina. He said in many sermons when God sees Argentina, He only find his sons in this room. Many people in the church began to leave because of this teaching. Many didnt believe that we were the only true church anymore. They started to talk about it with other members and to denounce this false doctrine.
The staff started to mark people. They marked one ex staff member, because he didnt believe in the One True Church (OTC) doctrine anymore. After that Martin Bentley, the lead evangelist, started to mark a lot of people for the same reason. And many others, members and ex-members, seven or eight in one day, only because they began to criticize the ICOC. The criticism was always about the OTC doctrine, the contribution and the lifestyle of the staff. The other leaders started to think that I was a traitor to the ICOC because I began to tell the staff that we had to stop markings. One time I had an encounter with an ex-member that the staff marked. She talked with me about the ICOC being a cult. I mentioned to the staff and they didnt like that I had that conversation with her. They considered her and many ex-members enemies.
I began to read a lot of books from other Christians and preachers with an open mind, such as Lucado, Hybels, Yancey, Palau, and many others. They opened my eyes. I learned about grace, love, tolerance. I started to believe in my heart that they were my brothers. I realized that we in the church were like the Pharisees in the Bible. We were leaders without grace, leaders with hard hearts, without love in our hearts. In spite of what I was learning, I was still following the ICOC rules. I had faith that the ICOC could change. When I talked with the leadership about the mistakes and sins of the ICOC, they always told me the same: Things will change. Just wait. I believed that. I wanted that. That is the main reason why I didnt leave the ICOC before. But in my heart, I was a coward. I wanted to innovate and change, but not to lose my job. I knew that they didn't want to listen to me.
Around this time, I began to listen to a lot of the critics on the internet. I criticized them a lot. I sent horrible emails to them and to ex-members. But in my heart, my doubts started to grow. Im so thankful to Reveal, to the ICC Discussion Forum, and to many other websites, because they made me think. I didnt want to. It was like a war between my horrible pride and the truth. I didnt want to believe that it all was a big, big mistake. My life was a mistake. I threw away 15 years of my life in a big lie. It wasnt easy to swallow. I know about my good intentions to seek and to serve God, but these are not excuses to make so many mistakes and sins.
I began to listen to some friends who had left the ICOC. They told me that the ICOC was a cult. I began to read a lot about it. I couldnt believe that the ICOC was a cult, but I had so many proofs of it. I read a lot, I thought a lot. I fought with myself and with old friends. They told me the truth about the ICOC. Im thankful to all of them for their patience and love. Some of them were patient and some of them didnt want to talk with me anymore. I understand them now. I have hurt them a lot. I deserve their silence and distance. I was a bad, bad person.
I began to see things in the ICOC from another point of view. I was sitting there listening to other leaders preach the same every time. What boring sermons!! I started to understand why people were feeling bad about themselves. The messages were always about something that we didnt do well or something that we needed to do, like evangelism (I dont consider it evangelism now. It is recruiting).
I started to hate statistics. We had a lot of statistics! We collected statistics regarding visitors for Sunday services, visitors for bible talks, possible visitors for Sunday service, people studying the Bible, quiet times, discipleship times, contribution, and daily evangelism sometimes. It was a lot of information to ask every member. I realized that statistics made people feel bad. WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE A CHURCH NOT A COMPANY. But I began to think that the ICOC wasnt a church. It was a company. One time, a friend of mine who came to my home saw the ICOC statistics and he gave me a hard speech about the wrong of statistics in the ICOC and the useless and damaging way that we had to ask and read the statistics. He told me that we were a company instead of a church. And worst than a company, because he told me that no one in a company asks for statistics in that way and never weekly statistics because no one can evaluate something in such short time. One of my friends in the ICOC who left the cult told me the same thing. He hated the statistics and he saw the damage that we were doing to people. I didnt listen to him. I have big regrets about that. I apologized to him for this and many things that I committed against him.
I began to hate the special contribution too. It was a lot of pressure and now I was feeling that pressure.
I began to listen to all leaders in the ICOC, in a different way, and I began to understand a lot all the false doctrines and teachings. The KNN and the DPI books made me realize that the ICOC was wrong on a lot of topics. They were writing so many lies and stupid and non-biblical things. Rules, and more rules. Always making people feel guilty. Pride and more pride about our achievements and the McKean family's achievements. The McKeans were the Super family. It was so disgusting. I couldnt it believe anymore. One time my lead evangelist, married to Elena McKean's sister, told me about Kip: He never listens to anybody. It is always his way only. I knew that this guy, Kip, wasnt who all the leaders were saying he was. I started to read again (Kips letters) Revolution through Restoration 1 and 2, and the teachings in my church, and I began to discover the truth and the mistakes.
This a list of things that I began to not believe anymore at that time and why:
We were the only true church on Earth. I couldnt believe this anymore. I began to doubt that we were a church and I started to think that we were a cult. This kind of teaching was so common in cults.
We were the only people saved on Earth. No way! I started to see other Christians like my brothers in Christ. I have no right to condemn other people. I got tired of saying people were going to hell because they were not members of the ICOC. I have many regrets in this area. Many left the ICOC thinking that they were going to hell. They suffered a lot because of that. We called them fall-aways. Im so sorry about that. I have talked with some of them, they told me that they felt so bad at that time and it took time to recover.
If someone is not discipled by other disciple, (hierarchical system) you were not a Christian and you were not saved. The discipleship one over one caused a lot of damage to the ICOC members. Many became people who never thought for themselves anymore. This is one my bigger regrets, because I know many that have stopped thinking for themselves. The damage in this area is bigger than most of icoc members and ex-members, including me, can measure. We told people what to do, when to do it and how to do it. We controlled every area of their lives. We asked married people when the last time they had sex was, and we were asking these kinds of questions all the time to married people. We decided who would marry whom and when. That was disgusting. A lot of rules in dating. People were discouraged to date who they really wanted. We, in the staff, talked a lot about who should marry whom. We arranged many dates. We would prevent a member with leadership potential to date another member because he/she was not good for the leadership.
Disciple=Christian=Saved. That was a big lie. We had to baptize only people who went though all the ICOC studies. That was the conclusion Kip taught every time that I listened to him in every meeting or conference. For me it was something like Pharisee=ICOC member=Saved.
Kingdom of God = The church. I didnt believe that anymore. The ICOC taught this false idea to use Matthew 6:33 to push people to put first the ICOC.
Special contribution was taught every time in every meeting. It was all about money. People in my church were tired of giving and giving 15 or 16 times their weekly contribution every year.
If you have not baptized someone personally in the last year, then you are a bad leader or you are a lost member. I began to realize that John 15, a scripture that the ICOC used to teach that we have to be fruitful by bringing people to church, was applied in a wrong way. In John 15, Jesus was talking about the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, patience, etc.
Church autonomy. I did not agree with following the Los Angeles Church, the Super Church that all of us in the ICOC had to follow and obey. I didnt want to obey Kip McKean or any leader outside my church. I didnt want to follow the church in Brazil, our church above us in Argentina. This was subversive thinking in the ICOC.
Bringing visitors every week to church meetings. We werent saving people. We were recruiting people. We invited them to a service. It was not common to talk about Jesus. All was about the wonderful ICOC. The studies tried to conform people to the ICOC, not to Jesus.
Not to miss any church meeting. But we have a lot of meetings! I saw that it wasnt right to ask to people to follow the ICOC schedule. It was made for people in the ministry, not for rank and file members with jobs and family.
Lifestyle of the leadership. All of us leaders were earning a lot of money and all of us were living in nice houses or apartments. We were paid Health Insurance. We ate in restaurants (expensive ones sometimes) with other people and we got reimbursed, the same with gas. We went to conferences and we stayed in the best rooms at the nicest hotels. At those conferences we went to eat every day in a different fancy restaurant. I was earning $US 3400 a month in Argentina, plus Health Insurance, about $US 300. I know that my leaders above me were making US $7,000 to $10,000 a month plus many reimbursements.
The lack of preparation in the lives of the people in the staff. The staff in the ICOC was not prepared to lead churches. I started to lead a church with two years in the faith, without any professional training and with a marriage of only two months. It was stupid to put me in the leadership. It was a nightmare to me and to the people in the church. Many churches in Latin America are being led right now by young leaders without any knowledge about the ministry. They are right now leading churches, giving sermons, without preparation. They will destroy peoples lives. The ICOC is making the same mistakes all over again. They will never learn. We, the staff, were giving a lot of advice to people in every area, but without any real knowledge. All of it was our ideas. I gave a lot of stupid advice. I discipled marriages older than mine, I gave advice about how to raise kids when I didnt have any! I couldnt support anymore my lack of preparation. And I looked around in the leadership and I couldnt find anyone with real and deep preparation. WSL and GSL alike didnt have any preparation. Their teachings were so empty. Everything in the ICOC was improvisation. We played with peoples lives. Most of the leaders know how to run the ICOC system, but they dont know anything about REAL ministry. I listened to hundred boring sermons, empty messages.
The control of outside information. Typical cultic practice. We couldnt read any criticism or talk with critics. We called any criticism in the internet "spiritual pornography." I learned that this technique was so common in cults. I decided that I will read all that I found against the ICOC. When we marked people from the pulpit for being critics, we couldnt talk with them. Many families were destroyed by this. In Buenos Aires, the Henry Kriete letter was not allowed to be read. The lead evangelist in Argentina Flavio Uribe, who is making thousands of dollars a month for leading a geographical sector (a leader from Colombia said that He is making $US 10,000 dollars a month. I hope this is not true. Or perhaps, not true anymore), said that he didnt want to read Henry Kriete's (HK) letter. Many in the Argentina church followed him in that idea. He called a meeting for all members in the church in Buenos Aires. He wanted all members to confess their sins. He explained that the problem was not the HK letter and all the false doctrines but the sin in the members lives. Many decided not to go to that meeting. They said to me that they didnt want to be manipulated again. They wanted the truth. More than a hundred have left the church since that time because they wanted to read the letter and make real changes to the church. Now there are 80 or fewer members, when Argentina had almost 300 in 1999.
Complaints about weight. I listened to many messages and comments about our weight. Kip McKean said one time that we, the staff, were disgusting because many of us were overweight. It was very common that if someone was overweight, the staff didnt let him to participate in leadership, or singing or serving. It was pure discrimination.
In the middle of 2001, when I started to realize all the false teachings and bad practices of the church, I began to have a lot of trouble sleeping. I was awake until 4 or 5 in the morning. I had no peace in my life and I knew that I had betrayed my best friends in the ICOC (I will explain that better later) and God, preaching that the ICOC was the only true church (OTC doctrine) and we were the only saved people on Earth, for so many years.
I didn't want to do anything in the ministry because I started to think that all was a big mistake. I was hating the staff meetings. The staff meeting was always the same. Boring, and full of ICOC techniques. I was tired of all that.
I had already lost most of my friends. They left because of the OTC (One True Church) doctrine and many other things, such as the pressure to give contribution and the special contribution, etc. I missed a lot my friends but, at that time, I was very hard on them. I was defending the church in front of them but in my heart I was believing the same things that they were exposing. I feel very bad about that. Sometimes I want to travel in time to change so many things. Why did I do that to my friends? Why did I hurt them? I miss the people who don't want to talk with me anymore. Sometimes I have dreams/nightmares with them. Im so sorry. I destroyed so many lives. They have the right to not want to talk with me anymore. I deserve that.
And when I remembered my life as an evangelist, I found it horrible. I was an easily angered person, I learned how to put pressure in people's lives and I was living for statistics. It was an awful time. I hurt many. I was a big and horrible example of a cult leader. Nobody wanted to talk with me. All people were afraid to talk with me because of my bad temper. I was prideful, arrogant and not a gentle person. I was like a general, all the time giving orders. I saw the church like an army. I tried sometimes to raise a big family in the church, but I always followed the orders from above: getting more baptisms, filling the statistics forms, executing the plans from above.
I didn't leave the ministry; they fired me in November 2001. They told me that the reason was that my zone, the marrieds, was not baptizing enough people. But the real reason was that I told the lead evangelist Martin Bentley that I will never believe or preach the OTC again in my life. I told him that I prefer to sell food in the street rather than to preach the OTC again. In the past, I was a coward and I was trying to keep my job. But one day I couldn't keep my mouth closed anymore. Less than a month after that conversation I was fired.
When I got fired, Martin Bentley told me that the church would not to pay my severance if I began to criticize the ICOC. Those words shocked me. I couldnt believe my ears. It was one of the worst things that happened to me. 15 years in the ICOC, 14 in the ministry, and they treated me like a demon. But now I understand that they did to me the same that I did to others. I was receiving the same that I gave to others. But it was a horrible experience. I deserved it.
I called the World Sector Leader, Peter Garcia. I thought that he would understand my points. But he insulted me about losing my convictions about the OTC doctrine. He believed that we were the only true church. He treated me very badly. Since then most members in the ICOC of Argentina began to criticize me a lot, calling me bitter and many other things. I heard that at that time, after I moved to Miami, from the pulpit the staff began to say that I was weak with sin in my life and almost losing my faith and falling away.
I was convinced that we weren't the only church and that there were a lot of Christians everywhere. I couldnt accept anymore that singles have to marry only ICOC people. When I talked with singles I began to feel that something was very wrong. I began to suffer when I saw them - a guilty feeling. I was leaving church (cult) meetings to go to my home with my wife and daughters but the singles were leaving alone, without any hope about finding a soul mate. I couldnt support that anymore. They were staying singles for years, 13, 15 or more years. All because of an arrogant and stupid teaching that I taught, the OTC doctrine.
The OTC doctrine was dead in my mind and in my heart. I knew that a lot of people were suffering because of so many false doctrines and the lack of grace. I was the teacher of all that crap. I was a cult leader. I was like the devil, making my brothers feel guilty about their faults every time I could. I was preaching against God, because He is a merciful God. I was preaching against my brothers and sisters in other churches. Now I feel bad about that. Sometimes, when I go to a Christian Bookstore near my home, I feel bad when I look at the others Christians there. They dont know what I was. But I know, and that makes me feel bad.
After I got fired, I began to open my heart. I told the lead evangelist too that we needed to move from our houses because they were so expensive to rent. The lead evangelist was paying more than $US 2000 and in Argentina that is a lot of money. I was paying $US 700 at that time for my apartment and that was so expensive!! We were living an easy life with money from the people.
I have to say that Jaime De Anda, elder of our World Sector helped me when I got fired. He apologized for the things that Martin Bentley did to me and my wife. (By the way the Bentleys have never apologized to us for what they did to us). My best friend and former GSL Andrew Giambarba and his wife Mariana helped us a lot. We always will have a debt of love with them. They invited us to Miami to stay there in the middle of our pain. The South Florida Church helped us a lot, and Im thankful with a lot of people there like the elders, our evangelist and womens leader during our time there, Ralph and Aileen Ojeda, and many couples that gave us their hearts and their financial help. We are so thankful to all of them. I love them and miss them a lot. But it is obviously difficult to maintain the friendship because many of them are still members, and I dont agree with how the elders and the Porters are running the ICOC there and how they treated Andrew because he quit. That was a shame.
I left the ICOC this year. It was a long process. The Henry Kriete letter gave me a lot of reasons to leave because it validated a lot of my doubts and concerns. I was so happy when I first read it. But I dont agree with him staying in the ICOC. I cant accept it. It's his decision, but I dont agree. [Editors note: Henry Kriete has since disavowed any connection to the ICC] At that time, when HK letter was out, I had hope that things would change. How stupid I was. The ICOC upper leadership, WSL and many GSL, didnt want to be radical. They didnt want to make real and deep changes. They wanted to protect their jobs. They are sending their children to school and universities. They cant stop running the ICOC. Here in Argentina every staff leader is sending their children to private schools. It costs a lot of money that they will not get in other jobs. They want to control peoples lives. I cant believe that they are preaching, teaching and attending conferences. They must resign and stop attending the ICOC and look for different jobs. Its hard to accept that someone like Kip McKean, ICOC founder, after all damage that he has caused, is leading a church (in Portland). It shows me that they are not getting what happened with the ICOC. They cant accept it. I talked with many leaders in many places. They just dont get it. I know that it is difficult to realize what I was, a cult leader. Its a hard truth. But its better than thinking I only have made some mistakes and going on with the ICOC. Many in the ICOC are in denial. I was there, I can understand. I believe that the ICOC leaders need to pay for their sins in the ministry with a real repentance. I dont know any ICOC leader who has shown real and deep repentance. They dont feel the heavy burden that they deserve to feel. Leaders in the ICOC believe that God called them to preach, but after all that I saw in the ICOC, I believe that God is calling all of them to work in a regular job!!!
The last thing that gave me the strength to leave was that I saw my best friend Andrew Giambarba fighting the upper leadership to get things right in the ICOC. But they didnt listen to him. Instead of that, they persecuted him and criticized him a lot. It was so bad. I know him, very well, and I know the nightmare that he went through. He quit his job, and he was a Geographic Sector Leader (GSL) and former Miami Lead Evangelist, married and with three kids. I know that he shares my feelings about our lives in the ICOC. He feels, like me, extremely guilty about the lives that have been so hurt by this un-godly system.
I have come to the conclusion after my experiences in the ICOC that the ICOC is a cult. Its my opinion that it is not a church but a cult. The amount of damage in so many members' lives and the number of people that have left the ICOC through the years show me that I was in a dangerous system. I have talked with many ex-members in Argentina and other places and the pain they went through is incalculable. Its difficult to listen to so many people wounded and not to ask myself "Why did I become part of this group? Why did I hurt so many lives? Why didnt I leave earlier?" Its difficult to realize what I did with my life this last 15 years.
Now, I fight with my guilt every day. It's so hard to realize how many people I have hurt. I was a cult leader, which is my definition about my life in the ICOC. I was a coward, I was a bad leader. I have had many bad days when I didnt want to get up out of my bed.
Most of my good friends are outside the ICOC now. I have some in the ICOC, I love them and Im trying to understand their decision to stay inside.
I have a job, thank God, but I don't know how to do anything else!! I was in the ministry since I was 23. I never pursued my plan to become a lawyer because I left university to enter the ministry.
At least now I feel free of all ICOC man-made chains. That is the best thing that has happened in my life. The future is uncertain, but who knows? Better things are ahead I think. I have my wife, my two daughters, and Im close to my parents.
I have to say thanks to Nicole of the ICC Discussion Forum. She gave me the idea to write my story and she made the corrections to my English. Thanks Nicole! And I have to give thanks to Andrew Giambarba for correcting other mistakes in my writing and encouraging me during my bad days. Thanks to all ex-members in the ICC Discussion Forum for your hard fight.
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