Church of God exiles may flee to Mexico

The Hamilton Spectator/July 2001
By Peter Zimonjic

Note: This church is independent and not affiliated with the Church of God congregations.

A source close to the Church of God in Dayton, Ohio, says the children and mothers, who left Aylmer, Ontario, may continue their flight to Mexico. The source wished to remain anonymous fearing reprisal from the autocratic sect that is said to rule the 13-year-old ministry with an iron grip.

The Aylmer families were allowed to speak to the Dayton Daily News on Friday in the presence of their pastor. Trudy Wiebe told the News: "It wasn't safe anymore for the children. We just did what we could do to bring them to safety." But the privilege of talking freely has since been revoked by Ohio pastor Ray Tinsman.

"The pastor has forbidden us to speak to you," said Steve Hargrave at Brookside Community Hall in Ohio -- the temporary site where the enlarged congregation is holding services. "You will have to talk to Ray, I'm sorry that's all I'm allowed say."

The tight-lipped response from the congregation began shortly after Tinsman left for a cookout at an undisclosed location on Friday afternoon. Tinsman's younger brother, Jerry, has also been told to keep quiet.

"I can't talk to you without the pastor's permission," he said late Friday. "I'd like to help but I don't want to get in trouble. You'd better go through the pastor."

For the past 10 days, the families from the Dayton Church of God have been playing host to about 75 children and their mothers from Aylmer.

The parishioners fled Aylmer shortly after the children's aid society took seven children from the home of an Aylmer Church of God family on July 4. The CAS says its staff was responding to complaints that the children were being spanked with sticks and belts and that their parents refused to treat a child's burn with medicine because of a strong belief in divine healing.

Aylmer pastor and former Hamilton resident, Henry Hildebrandt, helped organize the families' flight over fears the CAS would take more children. The fathers and husbands stayed behind to pay their mortgages and hold down their jobs until they feel it's safe for the group to return.

Since their arrival, some of the children have been staying with Ray Tinsman's family in Farmland, Indiana, near the Ohio border. His brother Jerry and father (also named Jerry) have also taken in some of the Aylmer group.

Throughout the weekend, two cars with Ontario plates sat on the Ohio pastor's long country driveway. Despite the obvious clue to their presence Ray Tinsman's wife, Tamara, refused to say anything except that her husband was the one to talk to.

Farmland is home to many Tinsmans but only a few are a part of the fundamentalist Church of God. The rest work their farms, sell real estate and live a simple country life in this dry and hot American town.

Neighbors of the Tinsmans say that for the last week congregation members, who all wear distinct Mennonite-type clothing, have been more plentiful in the area.

Despite their clothing style, the Church of God is not Mennonite, although some of its members are from a German-speaking Mennonite background in Mexico.

The uniform dress is a rule of the authoritarian church leader, Daniel Layne, who heads up the small international sect from his home church in California.

Carl Rabel of Aylmer told The Spectator last week that he intends to keep his four children out of Canada until the outcome of the CAS case, which could take months or even years.

The church's high-ranking ministers have come out and denounced the CAS for treading on their religious freedoms and their traditional way of life. Although the sect does not allow its members to watch television, listen to the radio or use the Internet, Chilliwack, B.C., pastor Susan Mutch launched a Web site shortly after the CAS abduction. It calls for public support, but when approached by the media, the church has been careful to avoid allegations their leader in California rules every facet of their lives with an iron fist. Only carefully released statements under the supervision of senior ministers and the chance encounter with a congregation member, has provided a look into the character of this non-affiliated ministry.

On Saturday afternoon Ray, Jerry Jr. and Jerry Sr. flew from Ohio to Bellingham, Wash., near the Canadian border at Langley, where they met with ministers from other congregations. Included in that group was Layne, who said earlier in the week that this meeting would help decide the future of the Aylmer families.

Layne is also in Bellingham to sue a group of former church members from Washington State. He is suing them for ownership of a campsite that the members say they bought with their money.

The Aylmer family and the CAS are to appear in court on Thursday.

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