South Coast Today
The Rev. Bob and Judy Parsons have dedicated themselves to helping former cult members retake their lives.
“The residents know for real that we care about them and are willing to hang in there with them,” Judy said. “Most of them have been physically and sexually abused.”
Since 2002, the couple have operated MeadowHaven, a facility in Lakeville that is a refuge for former members of abusive groups. Residents are given a chance to rest, heal and grow.
“These groups take over your life in a subtle way,” Bob said. “The pastor or leader uses Christian language. He slowly begins to exercise power and authority over the people to the point where they need his permission to do such things as move or go on vacation. They don’t even realize it is happening.”
After serving for 15 years in pastoral ministry, Bob left to found the New England Institute of Religious Research (NEIRR), which is the parent organization of MeadowHaven.
Bob has worked in the recovery field for many years providing research, counseling and teaching. He has a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a master’s of divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Judy has worked with former cult members through counseling and support groups. She conducts workshops and seminars about the cult phenomenon and recovery, too. She taught elementary school for 20 years and left the public school system to co-found NEIRR. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a certificate in elementary education and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Cambridge College.
As part of their work with NEIRR, the couple visited and stayed with various faith systems throughout the United States, experiencing the healthy and the unhealthy.
To prepare themselves for the work, they immersed themselves in groups that were known for destructive, controlling behavior.
“What we learned was not information obtained from a book,” Bob said. “This was time spent with the groups. It paid off. We got to know them from the inside.”
In the late 1990s, when a group left an abusive church, the couple stepped in to help and realized they needed a rehab facility.
“We began to realize that there were too many in the group for what they had been through,” Judy said. “They needed help. Some were so severely damaged; they needed a place to go.”
“It was miraculous,” Bob said. “We had no money. We became a 501c3 religious nonprofit organization. God supplied MeadowHaven. We have never advertised. Everything has been done by word of mouth.”
After years of fundraising, renovations and prayer, MeadowHaven officially opened in 2002 on two-and-half acres in Lakeville. The facility features five bedrooms, offices, library, dining room, kitchen, patio and recreation room.
HOW IT WORKS
To enter the program, former cult members must fill out an application, which is then reviewed by staff, according to the MeadowHaven website.
The average resident stays at MeadowHaven from nine months to a year, according to the website. A recovery program is created to fit the resident’s needs, including counseling, workshops, exercise and volunteer work. The program costs $3,000 per month, but “no one is denied participation” based on financial grounds.
“These destructive groups use a very powerful manipulation,” Judy said. “The people who come out have had everything taken away from them — they have been alienated from their families and friends. They are told to not participate in the banking system, the public school system and doctors — to the point that some were not allowed to wear eyeglasses!”
Rather than refer to the process cults use as “mind control,” the Pardons refer to it as “thought reform.”
Often the public only becomes aware of abusive groups when a death occurs. For example, in 1999, members of The Body, a group based in Attleboro, were involved in the death of two children: a 10-month-old who was starved to death and a child they said was stillborn. Both were buried in a state park in Maine. The Pardons became involved in the case at the court’s request.
In the matter of the child who starved, the mother, Karen Robidoux, was told not to feed the baby anything but breast milk, but she had no milk to give. The baby’s father, Jacques Robidoux, enforced what he believed was God’s word. He was sentenced to life in prison. The baby’s mother was acquitted of second-degree murder but found guilty of assault on a child and sentenced to time served.
Bob Parsons, because of his role in NEIRR, was made guardian of the two remaining children. Karen Robidoux went to stay at MeadowHaven to recover. The Parsons still visit Jacques in jail and said, “the father realizes now that God did not tell him to starve his child and that he is responsible for his actions.
“When people believe that God is involved in the group, that ramps everything up,” Bob said. “They believe that if they leave, they are not just leaving the group, they are leaving God. They believe they will go to hell. The ability to make decisions is totally taken away. They are totally isolated.
“I had to recommend to the court that parental rights be terminated,” Bob said regarding the children of some sect members.
HOPE & HELP
“We have heard every story you can imagine,” Judy said, noting that there is hope and help at MeadowHaven. “We work with people on their self-esteem because when they come to us they have none. We help them reconnect with who they really are.” She likens what they have been through as trauma or a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the MeadowHaven program, former cult or sect members are able to recover their ability to be thriving contributors to society.
“They have to process what happened to them. They can’t pretend it didn’t happen,” Bob said. “We help them to hold on to the good and to let go of the bad.”
ON THE WEB
For more information on MeadowHaven, visit WWW.MEADOWHAVEN.ORG or call 508-947-9571. http://www.southcoasttoday.com/entertainmentlife/20160925/it-was-miraculous-couple-help-people-recover-from-abusive-groups
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