Hi, my name is Jon and I'm finally writing my story.
I have a lot of fear in writing this. I know I live in a small town, and the story I’m sharing might cause a powerful family to take aim at me and possibly even my wife and children in the form of bullying, harassment, and threats. I’ve already had my life and livelihood threatened by the family. But it’s time to bring this to light. Additionally, this is my story, my point of view, my experience and I am fully aware there are two sides to every story and situation.
There is no easy way to say this. I came close to ending my life. I was a victim of psychological, spiritual, and emotional abuse at the hands of very well dressed and charismatic people. I was led into a cult and I didn’t even know it! I was beaten down, pushed aside, lied to, swindled out of self confidence and self worth. I was encouraged to leave my wife, told I wasn’t good enough, and convinced to hand over an entire church and a lot of money. In fact, at this very time of writing, it’s been 5 years and still my family is healing from it. And many fractured relationships still need mending.
This is a story of how the largest church in a small town grew to 500 in attendance and after two church splits has around 30 members. It's a story about how a well respected christian church morphed into an inward focused cult. It's a story about privilege, harassment, financial mismanagement, and abuse.
Many people live broken lives with “no regrets” as their motto.
I am filled with them. I regret listening to the charismatic vision and mission of this sharp, young, attractive couple. I regret inviting them into my home to live with my family. I regret convincing my new church to welcome them and merge with us to accomplish “so much more”. I regret defending them, and in doing so, alienating and destroying so many families along the way. I regret not standing up to them when my wife knew something was wrong. I regret giving over the keys to the church when co-pastoring together; just to prove my loyalty. I regret leaving silently after being told I was fired because “I didn’t love Jesus in the way I was told to” and I didn’t cut off relationship with a long list of people I was instructed to. But most of all, I regret letting myself down.
Looking back I think, “How could I be so naive, so stupid? How could I fall for that one?” But the water came to a boil slowly and I was the one being cooked. I’ll admit I was captivated by the appeal of more. I desperately wanted to make a difference and I truly believed “their way” was the best way. That we had something special. That God had a special “anointing” on this “movement” and no one could stop it because if God was for it…who could stand against it. Certainly not the dozens of people who warned me. Certainly not the leadership that told me to run. Certainly not my wife who said, on more than one occasion, that this direction was not good or godly. Certainly not even the gut feelings I had inside, that up to this point I thought to be the spirit of God, but was told it was just my fear, “trust the process”.
At the time of this writing I have spoken to over 50 families who have also suffered similarly at the hands of these same people. Same church. Same charismatic power couple. Their stories compel me to write my own. Their stories are very similar to mine. I will start at the beginning.
I will start with what led me down the greedy path where I got all my own selfish and self indulgent needs met. Where I was praised, loved, celebrated, encouraged, and pushed to be a better version of myself. Because for a season it was intoxicating. While the trap is being set, it’s beautiful and enticing, otherwise it wouldn’t be a trap. This is my story, my perspective, and my life. And this is my story about how my life almost ended because I crossed paths with Neal and Amie Preston.
Here is the one and only disclaimer. I have been victimized but I am not a living breathing walking talking victim. I don’t go around with my head hung low, sharing my sob story with any who will listen. I’d call myself a “recovering” victim. I am not perfect, will share my own failures and shortcomings, and will also share how people’s failures have hurt me.
There are multiple sides to every story. Mine is only mine. It is jaded because I am jaded. This story is filled with hurt and pain because on some levels I will always carry hurt and pain. But this writing is also not a vindictive back stabbing. This is not an attempt to slap a label on anyone and call them evil. Humans are flawed and complex and I’m sure these two humans have just as much baggage in their lives as I do. I am not filled with hate toward them, anymore. But I am writing this for all the other victims of any type of abuse, who feel they are alone or who need a place to write out their own experiences. Not to create a mob but for therapy. For healing. For redemption. And just for the sake of community.
And here is the point in all of this:
Until victims of abuse speak up against their abuser, the abuse will continue to happen and the abuser will still have power.
This isn’t about dredging up the past. It’s about giving a voice to other victims and bringing light to darkness. It’s about not shaming the victim but owning when you’ve been victimized and learning from it so it doesn’t keep happening to you.
Also, had there ever been repentance on behalf of the abuser or a change in behavior or action, this wouldn’t need to be shared, only written out for my own personal therapy. But there is a very abusive pattern of behavior that continues to this day and continues to create more and more abused people. The abuse needs to stop.
And, here is what will probably happen when this is published. The abuser will claim to be the victim. It happens almost every time. It’s not only classic “flip the script”, it’s a tactic of almost all manipulators, abusers, and narcissists. So with the introduction covered, let’s start with chapter one.