The following chronicle is intended to enlighten the greater population to the dire threats posed by the growing number of cult or cult like organizations across the US, the continent and the world. Although our story is based in a religious cult, there are numerous other kinds of cults; psychological and business being just two examples.
There is no boundary to who will get involved: male/female, rich/poor, young/old, city folks/country folks. A student with no religious affinity is just as liable to cross the line as the next person. Targets are not just found on the college campus. They walk the streets of Any City, USA or Canada or Germany or India... They are your high school son or daughter, your next door neighbor. Intelligent men and women are being courted worldwide.
Very little is known about these cults in general counseling circles, although the mental and physical havoc wrought by them is tremendous.
The International Church of Christ is one of the fastest growing organizations on college campuses today. And the one organization that college officials know the least about. Afraid to interfere with freedom of religion, enforcement agencies are blinded to the mind control exerted by these groups.
So goes our story of our encounter with the International Churches of Christ, a.k.a. The Westchester Church of Christ, The New York City Church of Christ, The Granite State Church of Christ, The Boston Church of Christ, The Portland Church of Christ...
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Linda headed off to college as I would consider a fairly normal high school graduate. She had been in the top ten percent of her high school class, had a wide circle of friends, was a loving daughter and ready for life's next adventure.
She had decided to attend Purchase College to pursue a BFA in Dance. Purchase offered a good balance of Dance Conservatory and academics. The campus was far enough away to be considered "away" at school but close enough to home to be able to invite family to share in new adventures.
Some of Linda's first concerns at school, were getting a private phone hook-up and getting connected to E-mail, of course, to keep in touch with old high school friends.
She had taken a very philosophical approach to placement in dance classes. She wasn't at the level that she should be, but there were avenues to get there and she would be there in time. Academically, as a first semester freshman, she had been locked out of the "really good classes". The classes that were available were "OK" but certainly not the challenge she had been used to.
During September, we had several discussions on the content of classes and qualification of instructors -- fairly normal teenage fare. Quality of campus life on weekends was fairly dismal. Everybody left. She didn't have a car so she was stuck and very bored -- more normal teenage fare.
Names of suitemate and new friends were popping up on a regular basis. Dad, brother and I were busy trying to keep names and hometowns straight. Linda took several opportunities to go home with friends for weekends. Brother and I ventured forth one fall weekend. She was right. Campus was deserted on weekends.
We were delighted to hear of her successful Nutcracker auditions and were looking forward to seeing her December performances.
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Linda found a church service on campus in mid-October. We were happy to hear about that. Having attended church on a fairly regular basis, we were glad to know that Linda was still in touch with her spirituality. It would also give her a chance to be involved with a group and in time we started hearing about new friends from the church.
The first description of the church was that it was non-denominational. She made comparisons to her past church experiences, then got into the exciting differences. This was certainly a more vibrant group. "There was a lot of Amening and praise the lord stuff being said at random times during the sermon." She talked about loving, and God and Jesus being part of everyone's life, everyday. They used the Bible quite a bit and they used a lot of metaphors. She felt she could relate. She was already beginning to be convinced that everyone else in the world was not sincere in their worship at "2 hours per week on Sunday".
Linda was asked to dinner at some of the church members' apartment for a home cooked meal and to get to know some of the other church members. Another strange item pops up in conversation from time to time; Linda questions whether she could have traits of a manic depressive with frequent mood changes.
Linda was one happy student, coming home for Thanksgiving. That's all her suitemates said she had been talking about. She had found a banner saying "Go Home" which she had hanging on her wall when we picked her up.
The return from Thanksgiving meant immediate Nutcracker performances. Linda was elated as she was allowed to drive a car back to school for the duration until Christmas break. We scheduled a trip to the Theater for a Sat evening Nutcracker performance. It was wonderful, although not a long enough visit.
In mid-December, Linda e-mails about her new church. "I love the services, but I've been worried the last few weeks about the people there. Many students have been really pushing a friend of mind who came to the services with me and began a few Bible studies to learn about the Bible, to be baptized into their church. But she is Catholic and is baptized. The thing is, is that she questioned early on if she came and studied if she would have to get baptized. At the time they were like, 'of Course not!' But they changed their tune later. That really bothers me, that they are so pushy. Well, things seem better now."
In retrospect that should have been our WARNING sign along with a few other phone conversations. Linda was being courted by a destructive cult and we didn't even know it.
Over a month long holiday break, Linda seemed to get back in touch with herself. She played a lovely flute for a Christmas service at her hometown church. She was in touch with high school friends and realizing that everyone was "on with his/her life", herself included. The trauma of waving good-bye at graduation was over. She was earning some extra spring semester money at her old summer job and making plans to earn some money at school by word processing papers for others. We were pleased with this self initiative (even though we knew the ulterior motive was enough money to pay for car insurance so she could justify having the car, year round, on campus).
She saw her old friends at home and had some phone calls from people at school, some of whom we had never heard of. Some of these calls seemed strange; always presented with a fantasy sing song voice.
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Back at Purchase in late January, Linda was busy applying for scholarships for next year, working on summer job applications, applying for an on campus job for the immediate semester and delighting in telling tales of her successes and advances in dance classes. She was also able to get into a vocal music class and we were hearing tales from the old Linda as she was able to get at a piano to play and able to escape for hours into a music store to select sheet music for performance for music class.
We were starting to hear the names of Sheila, Jennifer, Becky and Jim and one of them always seemed to be with her. She did miss home and we were getting her birthday wish list for a late February birthday.
Linda E-mailed in early February that she had gotten an on campus job, working on Tuesdays & Sundays. To us, her parents, this was more great news of some self initiative. She also writes in the same note, "I'm not depressed, I just think I am a manic depressive because I go from being euphorically happy & optimistic, to overwhelmingly upset in a matter of seconds". Again we are concerned, but she just completed a psychology class first semester and just might have a increased awareness of such feelings.
Having come off earning money from working during the holiday break, having a campus job two afternoons per week, and hearing of continued plans to word process papers for fellow students, it appears that Linda should be in good financial shape for the second semester. I did send cash for her birthday, when her Dad and brother made a weekend birthday visit to campus.
She seemed to complain of being sick several times during February, March & April and she was always tired. Her references to Bible passages and thoughts increased. We didn't necessarily agree, but everyone is entitled to an opinion.
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In early March (Monday, March 2, 1998 4:14 PM) she writes, "I'm getting baptized very soon. Maybe even this week. I understand if you can't come then you can't. But I don't want to put it off. This is something that I am very urgent about, and want to do as soon as possible".
An aunt had been rebaptized recently, so the rebaptism wasn't a surprise. The urgency was a surprise and was another WARNING signal. Her Dad had wanted to be at the rebaptism, but it couldn't wait. She writes on Thursday, "Guess what?, I got baptized on Tuesday, March 3, 1998 at 10:47 PM. Yeah!" Less than a day and a half later.
From that point, Linda became more and more involved. She talks about going into the city "to go to some big disciple gathering in Madison Square Garden". Her plans for coming home for Spring break revolve around staying on campus through Sunday so she can go to church with the group. The friends she is associating with seem to dwindle to a small number of church related acquaintances.
Her Dad made plans to pick her up and visit through Saturday night, so they could go to church together. What would have been a simple, pleasure trip to NY to go to church and bring home daughter appear to be a real logistics nightmare in Linda's eyes. There had been the E-mails and phone messages of where he would stay. But, Dad had already left for NY, when I came home from work to find another half dozen phone messages from Linda, revolving around where he was really going to sleep. The whole affair seemed so traumatic. We realized later that this stemmed from the men/women relationship issue of the group and a group member's decreased ability to make decisions.
After attending a church service, Dad was introduced to other friends who's first comments were, "See, it's not what you thought". He thought that was really strange. He thought he was going to church with his daughter.
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She did make it home for Spring break. At this point, we have our first inklings of a real control issue and the narrow focus of the ICC. The same names come up over and over again. There are a lot of pointless phone calls from these same people. Linda tells us that we, her parents aren't Christians (the only Christians are ICC members) and that everyone else is going to Hell. We get in to some religious history and word studies. Linda had questions, but we're beginning to feel that she has been fed some pretty narrowly focused answers.
She has been given the name of a "church" about and hour away and we made plans to attend together on Sunday. When we woke up to a major snow storm and could not even think of getting out of the driveway, let alone make an hour's drive, there was a real look of horror on Linda's face. She spent the day with her Bible and did make the drive back to NY starting at 3:00 AM on Monday morning.
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My sister and I had earlier decided to visit Linda and take in a Broadway show in NYC, which we did, a week after Spring break. Linda was really excited about our visit. She helped secure our overnight accommodations and tended to some other details, but a most urgent issue was whether her aunt would be willing to come to church service on Sunday.
We arrived late Saturday morning, caught the train into New York City and had a wonderful time sightseeing. Linda is generally a little reserved and we had to laugh when she told us not to look like tourists. On the other hand Auntie is not at all shy and I knew I would enjoy the usual antics when the two forces met.
But I was disappointed. The usual shenanigans took quite a bit of prodding on Aunties part. Linda appeared to be in a different world which she would pop out of from time to time. It was fun to be with the old Linda, but the other Linda was a strange being.
I now realize that in her quiet states, she may have been compelled to search for recruits, not having made a daily quota or when it appeared that she would not be ordering a meal to eat with us that she was contemplating breaking another ICC induced fast.
The Sunday church service which we did attend was another unusual event. We met several new friends, but with very affected greetings and were escorted to sit in the front row. It had the feel of assigned seats. Little did I know how close to the truth this was. There was a good deal of singing, by what I judged to be a mediocre group of song leaders with a good bit of show. I chalked it up to a different kind of service. The sermon seemed a bit juvenile, I had heard much better, not too many worse. I couldn't understand why the minister's wife kept hollering "Oh, Jeff" like she was so inspired.
I was also surprised at the amount of money my college freshman put into the collection plate. I made a mental note to speak with her. She had told me previously that she had used her birthday money to pay bills. She should not have been in that position by my financial reckoning.
My sister's first response, after the service, when the three of us were alone was "is that some kind of cult?" We dismissed the idea soon after to just an upbeat church service, again, without realizing how close to the truth Auntie's instincts were. We talked a bit more about the sermon, then decided to get off the subject and enjoy the afternoon together. Linda did tell me that she had given up her campus job because it was interfering with other things happening at the same time!
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The next couple of weeks appeared to be good for Linda. It looked like she might be secure in a four person, on campus apartment for the following year. I was a little surprised with her housemates, though. There were a couple of other names I expected to hear before the ones I did. I didn't think she had known them all that long.
She was asking my thoughts on a couple of classes that might be available for her sophomore year, which she was quite excited about. She was also working on her summer job prospects, although, I was a little surprised to hear about a short term, on campus summer job. I thought her prospects & earnings would be much better elsewhere.
Linda had made plans to drive home for Easter weekend. There was a good musical comedy being presented at her old high school with some of her old theater friends. We made sure we had tickets for that. She got home late Friday. We had a great time at the Saturday matinee performance of "Once Upon a Mattress".
Following that we began the most excruciatingly painful three months that the family had ever been through. My husband and I came to the realization that Linda was indeed a member of a destructive religious cult!
Saturday afternoon, Linda gathered up her brother and went soliciting door to door in our neighborhood for the "charitable arm" of the International Church of Christ, Hope Worldwide. This was not part of her character at all, but maybe she had found a good cause to rally for.
However, I was appalled when she came back complaining of how horrible people were not to give to her cause. This was not my daughter. How could she be so obsessed, coming out of the blue and expecting so much from people who were hearing of this project for the first time? We did sit down and talk about other good causes that the neighborhood had to consider, closer to home. She did confess that "maybe $20" meant a lot more to people in New Hampshire than it did to people closer to New York City.
Easter Sunday arrived and Linda refused to join the family for church at our usual place of worship. She insisted that she had to drive two hours to attend a service of the International Church of Christ in Beverly, MA. We were invited to join her, but she couldn't come with us. The ICC was the only true Christian Church. She couldn't even commit to eating dinner with us. She had no idea of when she would get back.
She filled us in briefly on her service when she did return and did mention how she was met by a young woman from NH who was sister to a young man whom she had seen performing in conjunction with her old dance company.
After that, she drove back to school.
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Shortly after her departure, my husband presented me with a list, drawn off the Internet, of groups whose activities have been bothersome or cult like. Some groups, I recognized as being really bad and some were just pests. The International Church of Christ was on that list. This, in itself, was not the determining factor in our conclusion to what Linda had gotten involved in.
Gordon had also gone quite a bit further onto the WWW to find detailed history of the ICC, letters from former members and background on getting help to deal with the situation. After reviewing the background information and looking at the recent changes that had come over Linda, there was no doubt, she had gotten involved with a destructive cult.
After the panic started to subside (it really wouldn't go away for several months), we tried to map out a strategy to deal with the situation. Our internet information cautioned against confrontation with Linda on the issue. She, probably, had been briefed on the "persecution" she would get from family, friends, et al regarding the ICC, so the confrontation would only drive her further from us. The best advice was to learn as much as we could about destructive cults, mind control, and the ICC before making our decision as how to move forward.
We made an appointment to talk with our minister. Gordon headed to our favorite bookstore to get hold of copies of four books, recommended as beginning reading material -- The Boston Movement -- Giambalvo/Rosedale, Captive Hearts, Captive Minds -- Tobias/Lalich, Combatting Cult Mind Control -- Hassan, and Exit Counseling a Family Intervention -- Giambalvo.
He e-mailed after the first round at the bookstore that he had found two of the books. Two would have to be ordered. When we got home that evening Gordon told me the story of ordering the other two books.
Apparently, they were available through AFF -- American Family Foundation. While he was waiting, the bookstore placed the call to AFF to order the books. They put my husband on the line in order to get the right titles. The voice at the other end remarked that this was not light reading material. Was he, in fact looking for information to deal with a real life situation? After a tearful explanation of recent realizations, my husband placed the book order and walked away with the name of someone a little closer to home who might have an understanding of our situation and who could offer additional solace and information.
We kept the appointment with our minister, who was very comforting in his unique way, but who did not have background to deal with this particular cult activity. He referred us to other pastoral counseling services, which again, came up short in dealing with this issue. He also urged us to seek help from those familiar with the activities of this particular group.
The next phone call went out to Sam, as suggested earlier. It was an amazing relief to get a voice at the other end of the phone who knew what we were dealing with and who would drop everything to talk for an hour. This occurred time and time again as we were passed names of parents who had been through this same harrowing experience. "Hello, this is Lois. Sam gave me your name because we are dealing with a daughter involved in the International Church of Christ." After a second of dead silence we would be engaged in an hour's consolation & conversation .
The first suggestion from each and all was to learn as much about the ICC and their methodology before contemplating the next move. This thought was coupled with the fact that we had to try to maintain contact with Linda and never be confrontational about the ICC.
We tried to call or E-mail Linda every day.
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As our ICC investigation progressed , we very closely examined the 14 characteristics of a cult.
We knew that Linda was involved in a "discipleship" hierarchy. Sheila and Jennifer were at her side for just about any aspect of her life at Purchase, whether Bible study, a trip into town, classes.... We then found out how Becky fit into the picture as Woman's Group Leader, taking a class here and there to gain access to the Purchase campus. Linda activities were recorded by Sheila, reported to Becky who would pass information to the wife of the Westchester County Church of Christ minister. The Westchester Church of Christ is responsible to the New York City Church of Christ down the line to Kip McKean, the living leader of the International Church of Christ. We also knew that Linda would never get answers to her questions that did not have a prescribed answer. These questions were put off to another time to be forgotten about. Every aspect of Linda's life was becoming manipulated from the top down the chain; controlling her Bible studies, her classes, her eating, her sleeping, her finances, her living arrangements, her social life.
Over the course of time we found Linda to be preoccupied with bringing in new members as prescribed by group leaders. My daughter, who would have a hard time approaching a teacher for school help, was approaching strangers on the train to make convert quotas. Her lists of prospects would include friends and family or the five second acquaintance. On one occasion, there was a push for more men, so lists of male approaches were drawn up. The sad thing was, some of these people were at peace with religious issues, but in the eyes of ICC members only an ICC member is "saved". This failure to bring in actual converts would mean more lost sleep, more time away from school studies, fasting...
We found Linda to be making large (for a college freshman on a budget) weekly ICC contributions. The group has a tithing requirement. I could almost come to terms with the fact that she was giving 10% of a weekly allowance, but I later found that Linda had been questioned as to whether she was having money problems based on the amount of her weekly giving. We also found out about the incessant "Special Contributions" where much of the birthday money disappeared or any other cash windfalls. This included food money, etc. Additionally, Linda, who only under duress would sell candy bars in the neighborhood for middle school fund-raisers, began soliciting the neighbors for Hope Worldwide, the "charitable" arm of the ICC. She was angry when neighbors didn't meet her anticipation for giving.
We found throughout the process that Linda had many questions about the ICC and its Bible studies, but anything that could not be addressed with a pat answer was ignored with the response that it would be covered later. Ideas that surfaced as doubts were relegated to the premise that the "disciple" needed to think some more about the doubts, maybe even fast for the duration of the thought process. After a week of fasting, one is not so liable to have doubts.
Over the course of time, we identified a number of mind-numbing, almost trance inducing techniques applied by the ICC to keep members unaware of the situation. One example is the singing done at meetings. Songs are positioned and presented in a very dynamic, repetitive manner until the crowd has reached a hyper level, then sermons are delivered or denunciations made or ICC proclaimed. A former ICC member told us she was told to sing in the choir. When she said she couldn't sing, she was told to stand back from the mike but she had to be in front where all her young disciples could see her. Another example was Linda's own routine at school. She was up early in the AM for "quiet time", followed by a prayer walk, followed by breakfast with a discipler. This occupied her first three hours of the morning. She then attended classes, did an hour in the later PM of prayer. In the evening she attended her academic three hour class, skipping the last hour of class to attend Bible discussion. Of a sixteen + hour day (6:00 AM -- 10:30 PM) five hours were devoted to ICC activity. This kind of prolonged routine leaves no one with enough energy to question anything.
We found the ICC to be dictating a dating structure and choosing who would be paired with whom. Linda was advised on what seminars she would be allowed to attend at school. Next years living arrangements were very carefully guided so that she ended up in an all ICC living arrangement. We knew there was a strong possibility that she would not be coming home for the summer as she was enticed by "free" room and board for the summer as well as job prospects and, of course, access to dance classes. Scribbled on the side of her notes from early Spring Sheila has asked if Linda thinks it wise to go home for the summer. The control became so overwhelming that on a family ice cream run after Linda decided to leave the ICC, she said it was almost impossible to choose what ice cream, without asking someone to choose for her.
More times than we care to remember, we heard how ICC members were the only Christians in the world. We also heard how Kip McKean was given a special mission by God to Disciple the World.
The ICC continually holds up any outside questions regarding the group's activities as persecution against its members. Members appear to gain great strength by holding up so well in the face of such persecution by family members and community.
It was amazing how, just by joining the ICC, one was vested with so much power. Younger member are encouraged to break from family connections and advice, answering only to the ICC chain of command. All outside concerns are chalked up to persecution and not listened to. Young men and women who have never opened a page of the Bible are suddenly proselytizing without in-depth knowledge. Those with previous background have their focus channeled to spit out only what has been shown by ICC leadership. Questions are not answered. Group leaders and ministers rise to power with no responsibility or accountability to the greater population.
We saw instances where "confessions" were given to mere children, who passed this "confidential" information to group leaders, who in turn passed it to ministers who preached a miraculous know all sermon on Sunday morning. All in this chain started with the ICC and rose to power in the same way that Linda got her start. There has been no formal physiological training or licensing. Theological history and credentials appear to be non-existent. The dictum is passed from Kip McKean with no room for a intelligent question.
When Linda first told us about the church she was attending, it was described as non-denominational. She did not know the name of the church. It was much later, after it was too late, that we were hearing that this non denominational group was the only true Christian Church; a very denominational statement. The group upholds a policy of baptism to become a member of the ICC. On numerous occasions, I have heard of recruits being told baptism is not a condition of membership, but it is. Potential candidates are enticed to participate by any means it might take to get them to "voluntarily" come out and meet other members; this could include a friendly game of volleyball, miniature golf, dance rehearsal, a barbecue, homecooked dinner. Fund-raisers are told not to mention the International Church of Christ in their efforts. These are a very modest few examples of the deceit practiced by the ICC to make their numbers. Only after careful conditioning do the facts get revealed to members.
In my opinion, the guilt induced submission is one of the most dangerous aspects of the ICC. Guilt is introduced by first encouraging "confessions of sins" to non-professionals.
ICC recruits are often drawn to the ICC because of the pseudo friendliness and response to loneliness. The root of problems can stem from anything from depression, drug addiction, and abusive situations to a student being away from home for the first time. This information is collected by non-professionals within the ICC and passed along like a giant game of "Gossip". Past situations magically end up being the focus of a Sunday sermon. Somewhere down the line someone, who has no business knowing what you mentioned confidentially six months ago, will bring up a "bad" detail from the past just to remind you of how bad you really are and how badly you need to be saved by the ICC.
In our experience, minor transactions turn into major transgressions. For example, a student needing to take a extra few hours at exam time to study could be branded as putting himself before God, i.e. ICC. Perhaps then, to alleviate guilt, she should fast for a few days.
The ICC sets itself as the only path to salvation. Family members and friends are either to be recruited into the ICC or kept away from. The game is played in black and white. Either one will be saved by the ICC or one will not. Linda desperately tried to recruit us into the ICC. She wanted us to be saved. Our questions were not to be answered. They were either identified as persecution or left to be answered at a later date, while in the meantime, ICC group leaders were buying time to entice her to stay away from home completely and remain in their clutches.
Personal ambitions will be manipulated to bring greater glory to God, i.e. ICC or replaced by other ICC activity. We have seen music, dance and theater careers exploited for the sole benefit of the ICC. If this public exposure is not adding to ICC membership or coffers it will be diminished and eventually dropped. We have seen young professionals give up any number of career paths to join ICC staff. Currently, we are watching a young college man with a career in photography sink totally into the ICC embrace. We have heard of an ambitious photographic project he would like to complete, but his time is given more and more to being an ICC staff member. His creative efforts are humored as he undertakes small ICC photography projects. Our bets are that he will never even start his project while in the clutches of the ICC.
My best example is taken from Linda's scribbled schedule for herself one day last winter. Starting the day at 6:00 AM, she devotes her first 3 hours to ICC activity. From 9 AM until 2 PM she take three classes, one and one half to two hours each. She fills her afternoon school study time, meal time, etc. with another hour of ICC activity. At 7:00 PM she heads off to another three hour class only to skip the last hour of class for an hour or more of ICC Bible discussion. Five hours of a busy student's 16 hour day are eaten up by ICC activity!
In the ICC social realm, Linda was having dates arranged for her. Housing for her sophomore year was arranged so that she would be on campus in an ICC group living arrangement. ICC plans were in the works to keep her close to Purchase for the summer, living in a "free" ICC rooming situation. Whenever she told us of anything she did, there was an ICC member with her. On a couple of family visits to campus and NYC environs, we know she was encouraged to report in on her whereabouts with her family. When she came home for visits or, fortunately, for the summer, phone calls from ICC trackers were incessant -- one to three per day. As she transferred to ICC jurisdiction at home for the summer in NH -- Granite State Church of Christ, the madness continued as almost every day of her life was being pre-committed to ICC sponsored events.
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Our saga continued intensely for the next several months as we mapped out strategies fitting to our own personal situation. We were constantly at wit's end wondering if we would ever have the real Linda back with us. We were sick with the thought that she would bring this same nightmare to other innocent families; new friends on the Purchase campus, friends from her old high school, dance classmates, neighbors....
We are now very thankful that Linda has had the opportunity to examine, for herself, issues relating to her involvement with the ICC; theology, psychology, philosophy and history. Her decision to leave the ICC was made of HER OWN FREE WILL; based on long awaited answers to long suppressed questions.
We are appreciative of Purchase College and all who are listening to our story with a discerning ear.
As parents, we will continue to worry about after effects for years to come, but the truth should be known.
Lois & Gordon Estabrook
Our Story 1998
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©1998 by Lois & Gordon Estabrook <firstname.lastname@example.org>. All rights reserved.
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