Fifteen years in destructive Gospel Assembly churches

January 2000

By Mark Schacknow

In order for people to understand my story, I must go back to my earliest memories. When I was around five years old, I remember my father leaving my mother when we lived in Florida. We lived in Riverview, Florida until I was in the 5th grade. My mother, my sister, and I were poor and we always went from church to church but I didn't understand why.

When I was in the 5th grade my mother had an illness and the doctors told her she would not live through it unless she got to a drier climate. We moved to Wilcox, Arizona, and then to Elfrida, Arizona--where I went to school up to the 10th grade. At my sister's graduation in 1974 my father, Julius Schacknow (a.k.a. "Brother Julius") who used to be a minister in Gospel Assembly Church in St. Louis, Missouri and later started his own church, came to my graduation. When we talked, he told me, as we were walking across the street, that he was "Jesus Christ" and I almost jumped in front of a car. That was the last time I saw him.

All through my school years, we had no electricity, no running water, no rest room, and no money. I can remember being hungry and cold most of the time. I could not concentrate on my school studies because of our living conditions. Throughout my life, most of the people that came in contact with us didn't believe that my sister was really my sister, because she doesn't look like the rest of the family. I have always thought that she was the child of T. M. Jolly, but I can't get any answers. Shortly after she graduated from high school, she moved out due to all of the problems in our family. Her life has been a wreck.

I dropped out of school at the end of the 10th grade to open my own TV repair shop in hopes to make a better environment for our family. Shortly after I quit school, my mother decided to move to Eldorado, Illinois and convinced me to move with her. In 1976, when we moved, she just showed up at the Eldorado, Illinois Gospel Assembly Church with no plans, no money, and no place to live. Somehow we ended up staying at the church property.

I went to the Gospel Assembly church in Eldorado, Illinois from 1976 until 1991. I knew T. M. Jolly, (the leader of the body after William Sowders) and some of the ministers from the other churches. At first, the church seemed OK, but over time all of the people seemed to be controlled, and intimidated into subjection. If a member had a difference of opinion, that person was destroyed over the pulpit, as many good Christian people were. We were told that the church was ours, but signs were posted in parts of the church telling us not to enter at any time. I was able to talk to Tom Jolly because my dad used to be a minister in the church.

T. M. Jolly always told me never to enter his room when he wasn't there, or unless I knocked first. All of the married women were told that it was a Cannon law of the church that they were to wear their hair up on their head, and wear long dresses and long sleeves. I began to notice over the years that [some] patients at the local mental health department were from Gospel Assembly, but I didn't know why. In the fifteen years that I went to Gospel Assembly, a lot went on that I didn't agree with, but I was told to keep my mouth shut.

When I went to church I began to notice things that didn't seem to make any sense like there were no black people in our church. There were no black people in Eldorado. I later found out that black families were told to be out of town before the sun went down. When I talked to one of the men in the town about the racial problem, he got very violent. To this day I think there are few if any blacks that live in Eldorado, Illinois. I always heard the ministers talk about the "undesirable element" that we were fortunate not to have in Eldorado.

We were told in our services that we should council with the minister before we did anything. I was told by T. M. Jolly to study for the ministry on multiple occasions. For the next two years I studied the scriptures and went to church. I had no outside activities except to go with band members to Louisville to the general conventions because I played the trombone.

I did like I was told and went to T. M. Jolly to ask his permission to date one of the girls in the Eldorado church, but he stated that she was not right for me because she had a cosmetic defect. She was a very nice lady and his decision broke my heart. Some how I moved on and decided that the next time I dated a girl, I would make up my own mind. Later that same year, I met one of the girls from the Kansas City, Missouri Gospel Assembly Church. We talked, began dating, and almost one year later decided to get married. I went to T. M. Jolly to tell him that I was getting married and he told me that because of my decision, that I would not be considered any longer for the ministry. It appeared to me that he wanted to pick out my wife for me. My wife to be told me that Bob James, the minister in Kansas City, tried to stop the marriage because of who my dad was. (i.e. Brother Julius--a controversial "cult leader" by then in New England). We wanted to get married in her church and then come back to Eldorado.

I was mentally beat down by my hypocrite father-in-law because he hated Jews and blacks. After we got married, we tried to make ends meet in Eldorado, but with all the pressure from the church, and very little work, we decided to move to Kansas City. I got a good job in the area, but things were rough. The Gospel Assembly Church in Kansas City seemed to be worse than the one in Eldorado. There were families fighting all the time, discrimination against blacks, but as long as you maintained the required outward appearance, it seemed like you could do anything, even if it was wrong and still sit on the platform. I saw people in the church get different counseling because they had more money. The minister would call people in for questioning to the parsonage and tell them what they needed to do without investigating both sides of the story.

When my oldest daughter was approximately five or six years of age she came to my wife stating that while daddy was downstairs in the church working on some equipment, a young boy of approximately thirteen to fifteen years of age tried to get her to kiss his private parts. My daughter was not aware what he was talking about since she had never been exposed to such things. When my wife questioned her further it was evident she was telling the truth. My wife and I approached the minister and his wife concerning this, and they questioned my daughter and they also felt she was telling the truth. However, the minister did nothing. He and his wife said it was best to keep her away from the family of this boy and to watch how we dressed her--like this had something to do with it. She was dressed appropriately. My wife and I questioned this family a few months later and they emphatically denied the allegations. Nothing was ever done. Thank the Lord she was spared.

One time on Sunday afternoon, about five minutes before church, a lady drove into the church parking lot with a flat tire. We all started helping her until one of the ushers spoke up and said that church was starting. Every one but me dropped what they were doing and went into the church. I finished changing the tire for the lady and made sure that she got on her way OK.

All of these things made me ill so I went to the minister and questioned him about our Christianity as a church. Well, that's all it took to start a war. After that my father-in-law tried to split up my marriage [seemingly] with the blessings of the minister. I got so disgusted with the whole mess that I quit going to church. That made things even worse, to the point that I moved to Birmingham, Alabama--where my wife had family.

From the time we lived in Eldorado until we left Kansas City we had two daughters. My wife stayed in Kansas City with one daughter and I moved to Birmingham with the other one. I found a job and a place to live then my wife moved. It was so nice to be a family again but once we got settled down we wanted to see if we could go to the Gospel Assembly Church in town, where different ministers from Louisville, Kentucky rotated being pastor. Before we knew it we were back in church full time in the same mess as before. We were told how to dress, how to wear our hair, what kind of car to drive, how much money to give, what kind of job to hold, who to marry, and who not to associate with. It all got me down to the point that I cried out to God on a regular basis for relief from the pain that I was in.

My wife was very good for me through all of this because she began pointing out problems that she noticed. She talked me into getting back into school to get my GED certificate. When the church found out about it I was treated like an outcast. They preached against education. I still tried to serve the Lord through all of this mess in the church, and I continued to ask God for understanding and to know why I wasn't as good of a Christian as the church told me that I should be.

My wife and I had a friend in the church in Birmingham that wanted to marry a boy outside of the church. When the minister at that time, Asa Gillespie, heard about it, we were told to tell the girl that all children that were born to her would be bastards and that we could no longer have any thing to do with her. I can't believe that we actually told her all of this, but when we did she cried out loud and I'll never forget the look she had on her face. We apologized for telling her what we did, and told her that the minister told us to tell her this stuff. We couldn't stand hurting a friend. We are still friends today.

In 1991 the public announcement came across the pulpit that the leader of the body T.M. Jolly was caught in various sexual sins. For weeks a lot of us had questions for the ministry, but we never got any answers. Everything got swept under the rug. The whole thing seemed to be a waste of my time so I found a good job in Columbus, Georgia through the local college I was attending and we moved.

From time to time we have tried to visit the Gospel Assembly Church in Birmingham, but we always get the cold shoulder. The last time we went to the Birmingham assembly, I called the minister with an idea. I asked him if he could stop by a church we were visiting in Columbus on his way to the Panama City Gospel Assembly Church and fellowship with some good people there. He told me that I shouldn't get involved in things that were none of my business. Then that afternoon in church I became the entire sermon. It was awful the things that were said. At that point my wife and I decided that we would not go back again.

My father believed that he was God before he died three years ago. My mother still lives around Eldorado, but she doesn't go to Gospel Assembly Church any more. I have tried to put my life back together by going to college for three and a half years and running my own small business. I never got any answers to all of the questions I had.

Several of my friends are still in Gospel Assembly Church but they never have any contact with me. I believe the mind control still exists and all of the control factors are used on people that go to Gospel Assembly Churches that I have been associated with. To this date the destruction still continues, people are still damaged and all of the problems are swept under the rug. There is no level of accountability for the ministers when they go bad. The main center is in Louisville Kentucky by the name of Christian Assembly, where most of the ministers meetings are held. My life has been destroyed. Can't anyone do anything?

These men that are in charge of the Gospel Assembly Churches in Louisville, Kentucky, Dawson Springs, Kentucky, Indianapolis, Indiana, Eldorado, Illinois, Anna, Illinois, Kansas City, Missouri, Panama City, Florida and others I can't remember. They should be [exposed] so that [hopefully] they can't hurt any more people. My entire family was torn apart.

I believe that churches should belong to the people that gave their money to have them built. The members need to have some kind of constitution/bylaws to prevent bad men from taking over a church.

I hope that my story helps someone.

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