David in London, chapter 45 of Memoirs of a Jesus Freak

David had disappeared into The Family. Almost immediately, I began receiving letters from him post marked from some little town in Texas. It turned out he was at COG’s Texas Soul Clinic, a ranch-like property owned by Fred Jordan.

David made the best case he could for me to join up with The Family. I learned later that those letters were nearly dictated by his “shepherds” who rode herd on him during the early months. I kept every one of them. Only a few of those “evangelistic” missives arrived in the mail, then nothing. The next communications were different; David began to sound like he was being mistreated. Knowing David, he had discovered the real nature of COG and was beginning to challenge the leadership. (David had grown up in lockups in California and had spent two years in a federal prison; no one would be pushing him around for long.) I reasoned that it would only be a while before he either fled the scene or was booted out.

My Own Cultic Experience

Beginning about 1988, while pastor of Miller Avenue Baptist Church in Mill Valley, I began a workshop on cult recovery; it continued for six years. Each workshop consisted of 26 sessions, and I repeated it twelve times. I placed ads in the Marin Independent Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle inviting people to the workshop and was shocked at the response. There were Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness elders, ex-Catholics, Pentecostals, fundamentalists of various sorts, Baptists, and folks I knew well, drop outs from the Church of the Open Door. 

One of the reasons I started the cult recovery workshop goes back to 1977, when I began a doctoral program at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, a Presbyterian institution, and my major professor was Dr. Louis Rambo. He happened to be one of America’s foremost experts on cults and conversion. 

In 1978, Lou told me that Church of the Open Door had a pronounced cultic nature to it, and his actual words were blunt: “Church of the Open Door is a cult.” The next week I brought him a copy of our statement of faith, which Lou examined but explained to me that, while our theology was orthodox enough, our ecclesiology or methodology was not. Lou explained what he meant. By the time I finished listening to what he had to say, I was shocked to the core. He actually put into words what I had been feeling for years. Indeed, the cultic nature he observed was what I had seen in the Shepherding Movement, yet I was unable to see that I was mired in something similar. 

Our primary trouble was the use of intimidating and manipulative tactics on people who were vulnerable, people who thought they were hearing from God through us. We had everyone believing that God spoke through the leaders of the church as well as the Bible. This communication came through words of knowledge, words of wisdom,1 

1 See 1 Corinthians 12:7-10. interpretation of tongues, and especially prophecy. He was spot on it, and I knew I was guilty, and more so than anyone else. I was the senior pastor, and everything that happened was essentially on my watch. So I began making attempts to correct our methods, only to run into a brick wall. Other leaders did not see things the way I did, and I couldn’t blame them. I experienced rejection, which effectively further isolated me. 

Back to David 

When David linked up with COG he had no way of knowing how twisted David Berg was becoming. My replies to David’s letters were likely not too helpful to him. Then there was another, much longer, period of silence. 

One day, I think in 1974, I received a letter from David written from Upper Norwood, a suburb of London.2 

2 David will be writing about this period in his life, which will be published. Not being sure of the details, I will skip most of it and relate only what happened to me.He had escaped out of the COG, but his family was still in and staying in an unknown location. My speculation is that David had been traveling in Europe hoping to find them; leaders of The Family were skilled at making people disappear. We exchanged a few letters, and then he sent one requesting that I come to London to help with a group of Jesus People from Wisconsin who were performing music at U.S. military bases across Europe.3 

3 The background for this is long and involved, and David, in his account of the JPM, will detail this far more completely than I am able to do. The band was called Sheep and was performing a rock opera called Lonesome Stone, developed with David’s input. 

Somehow David had met and become friends with Kenneth Frampton.4 

4 This is another long and involved story I don’t remember well. I did have an office in one of Mr. Frampton’s buildings in South Bromley and met numbers of people who were engaged in smuggling Bibles into the countries behind the Iron Curtain. And it was then that I met George Verwer who began Operation Mobilization. On several occasions I was a guest of the Verwers, who lived in a Frampton property in South Bromley, and learned of the incredible missionary work OM was and is engaged in.a big time real estate owner who later helped the Wisconsin youth group come to England. Due to David’s recommendation, Mr. Frampton, who was one of the most wonderful and gracious Christians I have ever known, invited me to come to London and help pastor the Wisconsin folks. 

My first trip to London lasted six weeks, and I never saw the sun once. I was staying in a big old house in Upper Norwood, just a block or so from the gravesite of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, although I did not at the time know who he was. I was in the house’s top floor, the fifth floor, and no light or heat ascended all the way up there. 

David was playing the role of Stone in the rock opera Lonesome Stone. Stone was a young hippie trying to find himself but was finally found by God, and at the Churchill Theatre in London, I saw a live show for the first time. Following that we got on a train to Liverpool and more performances of Lonesome Stone. The theatre was next door to the place where the Beatles started, and it was a popular nightclub at that time. Shepherd played there one evening; the place was jammed with kids, and that excellent band played some of the best Jesus music I had ever heard. 

That six-week period, although I was cold to the bone the whole time, led to several more trips to London and establishing a mission.5 

5 Some of those who led in this mission were Roger and Ava Hoffman, Carol Pohl, and David Philpott—an Englishman and no relation to me, though we are Facebook friends. from Church of the Open Door, Open Door Commission.6 

6 One of the efforts of the Open Door Commission was to establish a church in Mexico City. Jim Smith, a Golden Gate Seminary graduate, and a very fine preacher and teacher, led the way in this. I made several trips to Natividad, a barrio on the eastern edge of Mexico City, where Jim planted the church. The adventures encountered are worthy of a middle length book, but what I remember most was a certain taco stand and preaching a sermon entirely in Spanish.something I had instigated a couple of years before. 

Quickly, we gathered some people and began to do street evangelism all over the city, mostly in the popular tourist locations like Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. To this day I receive communications, mostly by way of Facebook, from some of those Londoners who responded to the Gospel during that period. 

David Hoyt must be considered one of the most significant personages of the Jesus People Movement. While I stayed mostly in San Francisco and Marin counties, he took the awakening to southern California, back up to the East Bay, then to southern states, eventually nine of them. Yes, he fell into the hands of a notorious cult, but he never gave up being a follower of Jesus. And it was David, who more than anyone else that I am aware of, took the JPM to England, many parts of England for that matter. 

As I look back on my Christian life, some fifty years of it now, I have observed that, although Christians stumble, fall, and make a mess of things, still those genuinely converted will, by the grace of God, get back up and continue following Jesus. 

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