If someone tells you that you have demons inside of you, that they need to be driven and beaten out of you, would you allow it? If someone claims himself to be an almighty authority, who cannot be argued with, nor questioned on anything, who purportedly holds all the answers on how to pursue happiness, would you obey his commands? Answering ‘no’ to these questions may seem simple enough to you, but for a person involved in a Christian sect, realising this can require a huge leap out of faith. Sensa Nostra spoke to Christoph, who spent one year as a member of the Christian sect Kingdom Center, which also hosts an idyllic cowboy farm in southern Sweden for visiting tourist groups.
If I drew a line, and then looked back through my parents’ eyes to see where I crossed it, it would probably be when I was fourteen and started doing graffiti and smoking weed. My parents been concerned about me for a long time, but their faith in God would always calm them down, and they were sure that I was going to turn out fine. But after a couple of incidents where I got caught for doing graffiti and also dealing dope (in a small German town where everybody knows everybody, of course they would get me sooner or later), their confidence was weakened. They felt like they had to act, or else they would lose me to ‘pleasure-land’ for good. So they packed my bag, added two Bibles (like one was not enough), plus an introduction folder to the Kingdom Center—and without further discussion I was sent to Sweden.
Arriving in southern Sweden was quite ridiculous in a way. Everywhere were these small red houses with white edges, you know, like in those Astrid Lindgren stories—books that I was allowed to read when I was young, since my mom had heard that Lindgren was a good Christian. Everyone I met in this new community was polite and smiling, although I didn’t understand a word at the beginning. Luckily, some of them spoke German. Or more correctly, lucky that especially one did: Maria. It wasn’t until she started helping me learn Swedish, and explained what the vision of the Kingdom Center meant, that I started to understand and connect with the others in the community.
Most people also lived there, in an area which consisted of the main buildings, school buildings, and also of the cowboy camp. The cowboy camp is where we used to work, running around in cowboy costumes while tourists could come by to experience this whole ‘authentic’ cowboy environment. The Kingdom Center ran the camp because they wanted to present themselves as a church which thought ‘outside the box’. I know that they also had some sort of connection with another Christian movement in Texas, USA.
At first, I found the whole idea of religious teachings combined with a cowboy farm quite weird, but after a while, I started to like it. It was nice to get out and meet new people and practise my Swedish. In fact, this was the only time I got to meet new people aside from those already within the Christian community. The people that came to visit us were always so amazed by this culture, and so polite to all of us who were working there, that they’d often gave us a tip. But this tip was always collected afterwards. We were never allowed to keep it, since everything belonged to the ‘family’. Yes, it changed from community to family, and I started to understand and feel sympathetic for a lot of the other students within the family. Some of them were just like me, coming from a troubled background and feeling a little bit like outsiders in our old societies. I thought that I had finally found people who understood me.
I don’t remember much from the normal classes in school from that time, but I do remember when the teacher first mentioned demons to us. A boy in my class asked a question about sex, and he was told that discussing questions like this could attract the demons to enter our bodies. I also remember looking at an old picture book, reading about demons and seeing these horrible creatures, and that night having disturbing nightmares, waking up sweating and shaking. Once, a boy told me that he had been masturbating. A teacher overheard us, and the boy was later brought up on stage during sermon, which the principal/sheriff/leader was holding. Up there, he was the centre of everyone’s attention—his demons were about to be expelled. He was beaten two or three times on his forehead by the leader’s hand. While doing this, the leader cried out something like, “By the power of Christ through me, I compel you demons.”
Maria’s whole family was in the community, and therefore they were now my family as well. I suppose this automatically made Maria my sister, and that lead to some confusing feelings for me. I mean, I loved her, but I swear that I never put a hand on her. She was my best friend, sister, and, I guess, girlfriend. I remember her mom; I liked her, and she was always very nice to me. She was also the assembly leader, and held a lot of the worships inside the church. Obviously she was not THE leader. From day one, I noticed who that was. It was like everyone went quiet as soon as he started speaking, and you could tell when he came into the room everyone sort of changed their focus. To be honest, he didn’t look that special—quite big around the belly, brown-greyish hair—but it was just something about his aura that affected everyone. I guess that it was also something about his gaze. He could be laughing in one second, and then totally dead cold in the next. I got told early on that he was the closest man to God within the family.
After a while I started to get annoyed with how the family structure developed. The leader wanted all of us young students to see him as a sort of father figure. I already had a father, and even though it was a strained relationship, he was still my dad. It got more and more obvious that the people who were higher up in the hierarchy did not want us to have contact with people outside the community. I barely received any letters or messages from anyone—except for one time when I accidentally found one addressed to me, from my parents, in my teacher’s drawer. At the time I thought it was just a coincidence.
I was so tired of it all by the end of the semester. During that one year in Sweden, I went from being quite shy and withdrawn, to really outgoing and nice to everyone, and then back to being introverted. By the end, I felt like I couldn’t really talk honestly to anyone anymore. I thought that Maria was someone I could rely on, but as time went by and I started to question the family, she became more and more distant towards me. In the end, we barely even spoke to each other. Then came the end of the semester, and my parents drove up to meet me for the first time since they sent me off. Upon seeing them, I totally collapsed.
I think that, since I was a baby, I had never cried in front of my parents. But then it was like a flashback, because I was again crying like a baby. I think it took seeing them again, to realize that I actually do have another family. I just let it all out. My parents took me out of the school, and I didn’t have to face the leader again. I was too scared to tell them everything that I felt at the time. But I remember that my last look at Maria was with sadness. I really have to thank her for a lot, but now I don’t have any contact with her at all. I heard that she got married to someone from the sect. Her mom, the one who was quite high up in the hierarchy, managed to leave after hard circumstances, and she got totally frozen out by the whole sect afterwards. She has now written a book about her experiences living under this manipulated dictatorship. I also heard that the Swedish education department had the school system closed down, but the Kingdom Center still exists, and so does the cowboy farm.
I guess, ironically, that instead of comparing it to cowboys, you could compare the whole situation, and how it is to live during these circumstances, to pirates. For me, it was more like a short but intense splash in the water. But imagine you have been living on this pirate ship for a much longer time, totally excluded from the rest of the society; and when you decide that it’s finally your turn to leave, to never come back to the rest of that crew again, the crew has become like a second family to you. Could you abandon everything that you once had and believed in, walk out on that plank, and take that leap?