Couple Says Meade Ministries Tore Their Family Apart

First Coast News, Florida/October 31, 2008

Lake City, Florida - Every picture is a reminder of its own precious moment. You can find hundreds of photos in Roger and Vonda Peterson's home.

The high school sweethearts, now married for 49 years, had three girls. First came Linda, then Vicki and Sondra.

Years later, a boy named Michael became part of the picture.

The last family photo of the Petersons was taken in July, 1985.

On the outside, the family appears to be strong. But behind the smiles, the foundation is cracking. Over time, it shattered.

23 years later, the Peterson family is still torn apart.

"Nothing," said Vonda Peterson. "No pictures, no nothing."

"We could see our grandkids on the street and probably wouldn't know them. We don't have a clue what they look like, the same with our daughters."

Those three daughters, inseparable as kids, are still close but they've cut off all contact with their parents and brother.

The Petersons say their daughters are trapped in a web of lies and deceit in Lake City, behind the walls of a church and religion called The End Times, or Meade Ministries.

But that web began to spin in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

It all started in the 1970s when a man by the name of Charles Meade preached to a small group of young men and women in Sioux Falls.

Vicki Peterson worked as a babysitter for one of the group members.

"We didn't know anything about them either until our kids started telling us about it, never heard a word about them," says Roger Peterson.

Their daughter Vicki started to go to the church. Her sisters would soon follow.

"Thought going to a bible study, man we thought this is great. They're not getting in trouble so we thought really nothing of it."

Months later, the girls would marry men who were part of the endtimers.

The group believes Meade is a prophet and they are the only ones who will survive the wrath of God in the end times.

The Petersons say they went with their daughters to the church for about a year.

"They thought we were gonna become a member of the group, but we started to ask too many questions, and they just shunned us."

The Petersons say they got suspicious when Meade told them they had to get rid of their tv, radio and magazines because they are evil.

After the Petersons spoke up, their daughters started to distance themselves.

In the 1980s, Meade moved his group more than 1,450 miles away from Sioux Falls to Lake City. One at a time, the Petersons' daughters would follow.

"It's like Meade come in and stole them from us, the way I kind of look at it. Meade stole them away from us...their childhood and our grandkids. If he was truly a man of God, I wouldn't think he would do things like that," says Roger Peterson.

A religion which claims to be based on the Bible, but Ephesians 6:2, commanding that you "honor your father and mother," does not mean much if you don't believe in Meade.

The Petersons never got to say goodbye to their daughters. They moved without telling them.

"We thought we knew something was going on, so we thought we'll try calling Sondra and maybe we can talk them out of it, make them think about it. We tried calling and nobody ever answered the phone. So, we thought we'll try again tomorrow night. So, we tried the next night and the phone had been disconnected so evidently they had gone," Vonda says as she fights back tears.

It's been 20 years since the Petersons have seen their three daughters or their twelve grandkids.

"You can't call them because they moved, and they don't have a phone number. You can't write them because they all have post office box numbers, and we had to find those somehow."

Roger and Vonda have tried countless times to reach them by mail, letters have come back.

They've tried to reach them by phone. "They all have answering machines on, or if they do pick up the phone as soon as they hear my voice, they hang up."

They've also tried to reach them in person. The Petersons have gone to Lake City three different times to talk to them.

The last time was in 1995. "When we rang the doorbell, she opened the door and you ought to have seen the look on her face. I think she expected to see someone else. She tried to slam the door, and I held the door open and she (Vonda) put her foot in the door, and we tried to talk to Linda."

Vonda says, "It was our daughter, but you looked in her eyes and it wasn't her and she was screaming what are you doing here get out of here."

The Petersons went to their other daughters' homes too. One time they say they were followed by a man who was an endtimer.

Vonda says she could only look inside her daughters' windows, "We hollered, knocked on the door, called their name, said love you and miss you." But no one would answer the door.

Vonda has kept a notebook full of thoughts and experiences throughout the years. The notes detail trips to Lake City trying to save their daughters. She doesn't read the journal too often.

"I put it on the back burner you know so to speak, because if I'm going to let it upset me then I think Meade is controlling my life too and that's one thing he's not going to do," says Vonda.

All they want to know is if their children and grandchildren are alive and well.

"We have heard we've got seven great grandchildren, but we don't know for sure. We have no idea when they were born or what year or month or anything."

The First Coast News I-team tracked down two of the Petersons' daughters. We stopped at the home of Vicki and Pat Sparks first.

Vicki refused to answer the door. She told us she would not talk to us and for us to leave her property immediately.

We then went to Linda's home, which was around the corner. The large home is surrounded by a gate and no one would come out and talk with us.

"We have changed our wills and everything. They are not included in anything because we know where it will go if it goes down there."

There are dozens of other parents in Sioux Falls who are in the same boat. They chose not to talk to us.

The group tries to find out what they can about their kids in a number of cult forums on the internet.

"I think for some of them, the hurt is too much. They don't want to, they kind of want to forget about it and stuff. For me, yeah it hurts like heck. It hurts a lot, but I ain't gonna quit, I ain't gonna let Meade have his way," says Vonda once again fighting back tears.

Each day, they struggle to hold on to the memories of what their family once was. An old photograph sparks a precious moment.

"Every once in a while, I get them out and look through them. I feel like I have to. I feel sometimes I'm afraid there's been no contact for so long I'll forget about them, forget what they looked like when they were younger. It's kind of a way of contact somehow."

The one thing the Petersons say they do have is hope. "I've had a dream sometimes about of the kids is back here. It's just a dream, but it's there," says Roger.

That dream, they say they will never let go. "I'll never give up hope. Keep hoping all the time, what else do we have left...hope and prayer that's it."

Watch First Coast News Monday at 11pm for a look at where End Time Ministries got its start.

First Coast News will take you to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the place where the group first met. We will also show you where members were recruited to join the group.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.