When Beverly Aulner's 18-year-old daughter, Cathy, said she wanted to go to a bible study group, Aulner was glad that the high school senior was showing an interest in religion.
But after Cathy had attended two meetings, Aulner knew something was wrong. Cathy came home after the second meeting and said she had spoken in tongues, an act that some Christians take as a sign that they're in touch with the Holy Spirit of God.
Aulner told Cathy she couldn't go to any more meetings. Cathy begged for permission to go. She spent her nights in her room crying and listening to recorded sermons.
Finally, Aulner relented and allowed Cathy to attend another meeting. When she returned, Cathy said she had been re-baptized in the YMCA swimming pool. Her behavior became more and more bizarre - she removed an artificial tooth that she had worn since losing her natural tooth in a childhood accident. She thought God would help her grow a new tooth, Aulner said.
The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, bible study group that Cathy was attending called itself the Body of Christ Charismatic Fellowship. Its out-of-town leader, Charles Meade, now heads the Lake City-based End Time Ministries.
Cathy, who still follows Meade, recently moved from Sioux Falls to Gainesville to be near him.
From the perspective of Aulner and other parents, Meade and End Time cause heartache and suffering. Their children are brainwashed and exploited and never call home, they said.
When the parents try to call, their children hang up on them or recite bible verses over the phone, the parents said.
Even worse, they said, some of their grandchildren have died in childbirth because of Meade's teachings.
Cathy, now 31, was one of those who lost a baby. She was married in 1976, and later became pregnant. Her baby, Aulner's first grandchild, died during childbirth. Cathy was in labor for three days before an ambulance was called, Aulner said. By the time Cathy was taken to the hospital, it was too late.
Aulner blames the death on the teachings of Meade, who believes that prayers, not doctors, heal.
Others are concerned about they way young children in the group are being raised.
A Sioux Falls woman who asked not to be identified said she has two stepchildren in the group, an 11year-old girl and a 12 year-old boy. The children's natural mother, who has custody of them, rejoined the group two years ago after being out of it for several years, the woman said.
Now that they're back in the group, the children have lost interest in activities they used to enjoy, she said.
"These are kids that were involved in soccer, football, gymnastics. They don't do anything now".
The children used to misbehave occasionally; now they are so polite they seem like robots, she said.
"It's every parents dream, and yet it's a nightmare," she said.
Meade denies all. Those who speak badly of him do so because they wish to persecute him and his followers, he said.
"They hate anyone who's a Christian," he said.
Meade's wife, Marlene, compares those who complain about the group to the Pharisees who persecuted Jesus.
And Meade snorts at the mention of the word "deprogramming". Deprogramming refers to an intensive psychological procedure used to cure a cult member.
The Sioux Falls newspaper, the Argus-Leader, reported in late 1977 that Susan Lear, a former member of Meade's group, required deprogramming in order to leave.
But Meade said his group is not a cult, and members may leave whenever they wish.
Jeri Smith, a Sioux Falls pastor who used to run a support group for parents of End Timers, also dislikes the term "deprogram".
She has convinced several members of Meade's group to leave by "talking them out," she said. Her methods involve counseling the ex-members and getting them to begin making decisions for themselves, a power that they seem to lose while they are in the group, she said.
"I worked with one young man who couldn't decide which shirt to wear," she said.
Another confessed that while he was in the group he had to get permission from Meade before going to his grandmother's funeral.
Sandie Huber, a Sioux Falls mother, said her son; Randy, managed to leave the group on his own after being a member for a short time. He left when his wife threatened to leave him, Huber said. "He wasn't in it very long, but it certainly caused him a lot of problems," she said. Huber still has two other children in Meade's group-Barry, 34, and Pam, 31. All three of her children were recruited while in their late teens or early 20s, she said. Barry and Pam still live in the Sioux Falls area, but she rarely hears from them.
"I was recently in the hospital for major surgery," she said, her voice breaking for the first and only time as she spoke of her children during a long interview. "They didn't even bother to check and see if Mother was still living".
Huber, like other parents who spoke to the Reporter, said they are Christians, attend Christian churches, and don't object to most of the beliefs of the End Timers.
What bothers them most, they said, is the way the End Time Ministry separates them from their children.
For a while, the parents said, their relationships with their children improved. The group eased up a little bit between 1980 and 1986, but lately has begun to close in on itself and become even more cult-like, Smith said.
Some parents, fearing that their children would turn even more' against them, declined to speak out publicly against the group. For Bev Aulner, that fear is no longer real. She has nothing to lose, she said.
"The way they are right now, I can't make it any worse".