She grew up in a dangerous cult. At 13, she rebelled and risked everything

Yahoo News/June 3, 2021

By Jill Foster

The happiest day of Petra Velzeboer’s childhood was not a special birthday, a holiday or party; it was the day she got a library card.

"I was aged about 13 and it was great because suddenly I could sneak in all the books I wasn’t allowed to read," says Petra, now 40, a mental health consultant who lives with her two children aged 17 and 15 in south London.

"We had contraband music too. When The Bodyguard was released, my friends were passing Whitney Houston tapes to each other in secret.

"If I’d been caught, I risked anything from corporal punishment to having to wear a sign telling people they were not allowed to talk to me for up to two weeks.

"Thankfully, I was good at disappearing into the background, so was never found out.

"But these things happened to people close to me all the time and it made me jumpy.’

The draconian rules Petra was living under were the result of her growing up in the notorious The Children of God cult.

Founded in the late 1960s, its founder, David Berg, believed he was the last prophet before Armageddon and advised his followers to abandon all their possessions and live an austere life.

Horrifyingly, tales of child sexual abuse and exploitation have emerged about the cult and its leader, who was on the run from the FBI until his death in 1994.

Although Petra herself was never a victim and even remembers ‘happy times’ with her mother, stepfather and four siblings, her unconventional childhood had a devastating impact on her in later life.

"There was a sense of community but also a sense of loss because we would move quickly from one place to another," says Petra, who was born in The Netherlands.

"We lived all over Europe, India, Russia, Kenya and often you’d have to go suddenly, leaving toys and friends you’d made behind without ever saying goodbye.

"Many leaders were manipulative and controlling. Going to school was not an option and we were only allowed to read literature they approved.

"They said Jesus was coming back and the world was going to end, which sounds terrifying but when you’re a child and you’re told it’s ‘normal’, it doesn’t frighten you, it is what it is.

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