Source : 22/04/1997 Northampton Chronicle and Echo
A woman and her family lived with the Jesus Fellowship for almost two decades. This month, she was in court in London to see a church member convicted of two counts of indecent assault against her, a story the Chronicle and Echo featured first. Now she tells her incredible story to Hilary Scott …
The woman seems far more mature than her 19 years.
Until recently, the teenager lived in a world where women are still considered servants to their male counterparts.
She was born into the controversial Jesus Fellowship Church based in Bugbrooke, the fourth in a family of six children who were to grow up in the sect.
'I think I always questioned what was going on there, even when I was very small.' She said.
'I was a very noisy child and that was frowned upon by the male leaders of the church. Children were not allowed to be children and they weren't allowed toys or games, or to watch television. We were denied a childhood.'
'But we were allowed to go to normal schools, and I went to Bugbrooke primary. That's when I started to realise the kids from the church were different.'
'Once when I was about seven years old we were on the Jesus Army bus which stopped at a service station. This little old lady came up and said what beautiful children we were, and gave us all a Mars bar. We hadn't had chocolate before and all got on the bus clutching our Mars bars with pride. Then the leader took them all off us and threw them out of the window, saying they were the devil's food. We were terrified and didn't know what we had done wrong.'
'Women within the church don't complain either, because they are too frightened.'
'If you question the church at all you are told you are speaking with the Devil's tongue, and that God will disapprove. Religion, as they use it, is a powerful threat.'
The Jesus Fellowship, also known as the Jesus Army, was started by former Bugbrooke Baptist minister Noel Stanton.
The church has become notorious for its military-style evangelism, with members wearing combat-gear targeting former criminals and down and outs.
The Woman said: 'The success of the Jesus Army is that it involves vulnerable people who want someone to listen to them and care for them. Those people are in every walk of life, not just on the streets.'
'And the Jesus Army seems to care. It's not until you are in that you realise how difficult it is to leave. It convinces its members it is the only thing that matters.'
'They use the Bible to convince people that they are right, and that everyone outside the church is wrong.'
On April 4, a jury at Isleworth Crown Court found a church member guilty of indecent assault on the woman. She said the abuse started when she was 13 after the family had moved to a spin-off commune in Acton, London.
'I was working by the tie I was 16 in an old people's home, and I had to hand over my wage packet or Giro cheque to the church each week. I wasn't allowed to keep anything personal.'
'After three years of misery I started to keep back some of my wages, and opened a secret bank account. When I had enough money I left. My older brothers and sisters had already left by this stage and the leaders told me I would be dammed if I joined them. It was constant mental abuse, making you think you were wrong and they were right.'
The woman said her decision to speak out against the fellowship was to warn others about the consequences, not as an act of revenge.
'I don't hate the Jesus Army, I pity them,' she said.