After more than two decades as a member of an organization that can only be described as a cult, Atlanta native Jacqui Neault made the heart-wrenching decision to leave this toxic environment, create a true and lasting relationship with Christ, and rebuild her life. This, however, came at a cost: the loss of her friendships, a controversial exit from a place that represented safety and comfort, and most tragically leaving her son behind, who chose to remain in a place she desperately wanted to leave.
Cults are defined as ideological organizations, typically held together by a strong leader or leaders who demand high levels of commitment. Psychological experts point to increased incidences of exploitation and emotional manipulation, even abuse, which prevent members from leaving and often lead them to surrender their entire lives to the organization.
The Strength to Leave
It takes enormous amounts of strength—an almost imaginable degree of resolve—to leave a cult, particularly when you may have no friends or connections on the outside world. Cult survivors are often ostracized by friends and relatives remaining within it; they can be threatened with legal action, harassed, and may even be the victims of physical or sexual violence in some extreme cases. Adjustment to the outside world can be incredibly hard. Survivors have been known to suffer from PTSD, and finding employment outside a cult when you might have no formal qualifications or experience makes you highly vulnerable.
Furthermore, questioning any of the cult’s tenets and core beliefs can leave you feeling lost and without a foundation. Jacqui found this as she started to question their insistence that Jesus is not God—the point at which she started to seek out real, biblical answers. She is not a “new believer” in the way we might normally think of it, yet she believed in God within the “teachings” from the church where she was a member. The concept of the Trinity—the biblical doctrine of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one—is one she still finds herself struggling with. She says: “I would love to say that I understand all of the Word of God. Hey, who wouldn’t, right?”
After all these years of listening and believing the church’s leadership, she finally realized that those teachings were not in line with what she ultimately thought. She continues: “I felt close to God and read and studied His Word every day. Then disillusionment came. I started researching without their published materials and could not come to the same conclusions they did. It rocked my foundation.” She finally left the organization in 2012 feeling utterly lost, and nothing made sense. What she had believed was proven to be, if not untrue, then inaccurate. She had listened to Pastor Greg Laurie on A New Beginning, and that’s when she reached out to Harvest with seemingly more questions.
Jacqui’s story is not a new or particularly unique one. Every day people find themselves with questions about God and His role in their lives. Asking questions doesn’t mean that your love for Christ isn’t authentic or tangible; it just means that it is our nature to question things as human beings to find out what the answers are. But as Christians, we know that the answer lies in the Bible and His word. It is the bedrock foundation that enables us to not only survive but thrives. It helps us conquer the obstacles that present themselves in our lives with calm and steadfastness.
Shortly after reaching out to Harvest and Pastor Greg, Jacqui ordered the New Believer’s Bible and study guide. As she later explained to us, she committed to getting up almost two hours earlier than previously to spend time with God. (She initially thought she would spend an hour but quickly realized that she needed more!) When her New Believer’s Bible arrived, she dove right in. She spends her time going through the materials step-by-step and has enjoyed every session. While she’s been “learning” about God for close to 30 years now, she feels like a new believer. This study has brought healing and peace that only comes from God.
“Be strong. Be brave. Be fearless. You are never alone” (Joshua 1:9).
For Jacqui, there is still work remaining, but she now knows that she isn’t alone.
By Yves Le Sieur
Thanks to our Harvest Partners for making stories like this possible. To learn more about becoming a Harvest Partner, go to harvest.org/partner.