Boronia man reflects on ministry of lies

Knox Leader, Australia/October 30, 2009

Sitting in the home of a Boronia man who spent two decades under the spell of a destructive religious cult, a million things rush to mind.

But only one question remains. Why?

In January 1975, David Ayliffe believed he had found his life's purpose, the answer to all questions and a way to be closer to God. He was wrong.

"I had that question, what's it all about, there's got to be something more than this," David said.

"And so when I found the group I thought maybe this is where I'm being called to."

Sydney's Zion Full Salvation Ministry was run by Violet Pryor, a woman who claimed to be God. She brainwashed up to 70 followers with threats of death through her own interpretations of the Bible. And as one of her most trusted followers, David would be on call 24 hours a day.

"It's fear, irrational fear, because you are taught that God is a vengeful god who will smite you if you do the wrong thing," he said.

A former journalist, David has published his experiences in My Brother's Eyes, co-written with his brother, John, who was not in the cult.

David said he joined the group months after witnessing Violet perform an exorcism on a prostitute. "The funny thing is I wouldn't have gone there except for the fact that I was a journalist and this was a story ... and then the story became mine," he said.

The 55-year-old said the group remained financially viable through inheritances donated by members and an oddly-run handyman business. David worked in the business, which allocated his family of five a paltry $600 a month.

He likened the community - scattered throughout Sydney, but based in Crows Nest - to a communist regime, where income, free thought and interaction with "non-believers" was forbidden.

Children were home-schooled.

"I think one of the worst things is the shunning. We were told to be wary of family members outside the group, as they were not believers," his wife, Meg, said.

David did not see his brother for more than 16 years.

But after Violet's death in 1991, David took over as leader, moving the group to Robertson in the New South Wales highlands but maintaining her teachings in fear of retribution from above.

In 1996, David and other senior members chose to disband the group due to financial difficulties and the realisation that many of Violet's prophecies had been false.

After disbanding the group, David moved Meg and children Grace, Nahum, and Ruth to Knox, where he landed a job in Blackburn. Their fourth child, Joe, was born in 1997.

David, who now works for the Red Cross, said the experience had not destroyed his faith in God, but had given him the ability to question.

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