Jean Liverman first heard of Great Commission International (GCI) while attending Montgomery County Community College in 1982. She agreed to tell the story of her involvement with GCI to The Sentinel so "that others won't make the same mistake I did.
"They were preaching on campus. What they do is they have people preach and then they have a couple other people stand in the crowd and pretend (to be) part of the crowd. Then they start asking people questions and handing out tracts," said Liverman. When Liverman began to increase her involvement with the group, she found that more and more of her time had to be spent with the group.
"If church activities are not your priorities, it's really looked at that you are not really excited about doing what God wants you to do," said Liverman.
According to Liverman, a weekly schedule of events at GCI went something like this: Monday through Friday nights, Bible study; two or three nights a week discussion groups; Friday night fellowship dinners; Saturday night films; and Sunday service from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Members were to spend time evangelizing on top of that, and were encouraged to spend every morning having a "quiet time," or independent Bible study.
Once the pattern was established and a recruit became a solid member of the church, it was expected that he or she would seek the advice of "elders," or leaders of the church. With the reliance on elders to make decisions, came a control over members' lives.
"It is a very subtle process," said Liverman. "You begin to trade off your insecurities and decision-making responsibilities for the security of the elders' directions."
With the authority elders exercised over members came control over the most personal decisions of their lives. Liverman told of how she couldn't move in with other GCI members because elders wouldn't allow it:
"They didn't think it would be a very good idea that I move in with these other girls because we were all very independent and they thought that that would cause problems in that we wouldn't be united with the church. They [the elders] told us, 'You all have very independent spirits and I don't think it would be a very good idea if you move in together because you can all decide to do your own thing and cause division.'
"Independence is not a good quality to have in GCI unless they have your independence channeled the way they want-... they have to break it and rebuild it so they can use it in their own way," said Liverman.
According to Liverman, to do anything that detracted from the goal of world evangelization was seen as a waste of "God's time."
"I don't remember them ever telling me you can't do this and you can't do that. It was always in terms of the goals or reaching the world. If there are 8 million people out there that have not heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and they are going to go to hell, if they don't hear the gospel, how can you be spending your time so worthlessly as watching TV when you could be out there telling people about Christ?" Liverman explained.
There were difficulties with Liverman's desires to date another member of GCI. Permission to "initiate," or approach a member of the opposite sex was refused by a GCI elder.
"I went to one elder and said 'I really like so-and-so' and the elder said 'Well he hasn't said anything to me about it,'and, 'just pray that God will kill that desire and just keep on serving.' There wasn't that much freedom on the guy's part to initiate without the consent of the elders either. That's the problem," said Liverman.
According to ex-members reached by The Sentinel, discipline classes were held for married couples with children. Taught by the elders' wives, the disciplining of children was to be consistent and thorough. Parents were to spank their children until the child's spirit was broken.
"They have husbands' meetings and wives' meetings on how they are to raise their children. Discipline. Very harsh. It's almost to the point of beating them. You spank them until they break. That means they stop crying," said Liverman.
Liverman, through the constant demands for her spiritual purity and the resulting guilt feelings that accompanied her smallest failures to adhere to those demands, decided not to rely on her own decision-making capabilities, because she constantly ran against the grain of the group
"You are always taught to submit to your elders," said Liverman, "and I just thought, I'm not submitting to my elders. I just felt real guilty. I made a conscious decision that, 'from now on, I wasn't going to think about any more things myself. I remember feeling a lot of peace, really, because I didn't have to think for myself anymore."
"I remember praying that God would kill me. Praying that he would kill me inside so I wouldn't fight anymore, because I was always fighting against the grain of the group. I always had my own opinions and sometimes they weren't in line with everybody else's opinion. The snapping came because throughout this all I started getting more and more discouraged about myself. 'Man, I've got too many opinions.' I remember just praying and praying that God would just kill me, kill me, kill me, kill me.
"There was this part inside of me that was getting in the way of what I thought he wanted me to be, totally moldable, yielding to whatever anybody else wanted, very submissive, disgustingly submissive.
"When I made that decision I noticed an incredible amount of peace. I felt no more problems, because there wasn't any more struggle in me. I didn't have to worry about what I wanted or what I thought, because that didn't matter any more at all."
"I came home from work ... I was going through a real stressful period, because there was this guy I liked that I was not allowed to initiate with. I looked at some clothes on my chair, and got really sad. I thought I used to know that person ... and I felt inside that that person was gone, or almost gone, and I felt very sad. But at the same time I was very happy because I thought, 'Oh yeah! I'm becoming more Christ-like. Yeah! I'm finally gone, finally rid of things that were in the way of everything God wants me to be.'
"At the end of the summer of 1984 I was afraid to go anywhere by myself. People that were close to me were leaving me.
"I was supposed to go to Tennessee to take my brother back to school and it was my parents' 25th anniversary. In the car my brother kept saying, 'No matter what, Mom and Dad love you.'
"I played Christian' tapes on the car stereo, Around 11 a.m. my parents said they wanted to stop and look at some property. (We turned off the highway) and I felt my parents were up to something. We walked up to this house and there was this man and I shook his hand, he seemed pretty nice. My parents shut the door behind me. I got real upset. 'We're sorry we lied to you, but we wanted you to talk to this man about your church. There are things you don't know about.' I felt betrayed. We were all crying. My parents tried to give me a hug, and I drew back.
"That first day was just awful. (The deprogrammer and I) talked for about two hours. I looked at him and said, 'You're one of those deprogrammers, right?' and he said, 'I prefer to call myself an exit counselor,' kind of smiling, I looked at him with disgust. I thought, 'You're sick, you slanderer.' I thought of saying, 'You fat slob, you call yourself a Christian,' but didn't because I felt sorry for him. He showed me some video tapes (on mind control). Around 1 p.m. I asked him if I could take a walk. I thought of getting away."
"I didn't know who to trust. The paranoia of somebody watching me returned. I was gone (from the house) for two hours. They came to pick me up in the car, about a mile from the house. I was too scared to escape. We went back to the house and finished watching a video tape. Around 5 p.m. Suzanne, a friend who had left the Towson GCI group and was deprogrammed in 1984, and another deprogrammer came to the house. I slept in the lower bunk, glad to see Suzanne. But I was angry at her. She cried."
"The next day, we started again. I fought their information all the way. I said, 'Prove it!' They showed me tapes of different groups."
"They drew parallels between the tapes and Great Commission. They told me I was the toughest case they had ever had. I was at that house for eight days. I never conceded that they were right, but I was too drained to go back to Great Commission. I was afraid enough of the inconsistencies they showed me to reconsider. I thought, one, I was happy in there (GCI). My responsiblity to God is to find out the truth. And, two, if this stuff was wrong, could I still follow it and say I was following Christ?"
"Then they drove me back to Dulles (Airport) and when I got I on the plane, I started to feel nicely toward the deprogrammers, but at the same time, though, I found myself emotionally opposed to something I was doing, like I was being spiritually molested. I was on my way to a rehabilitation center in Iowa.