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Growing up in a cult

Her smile radiates peacefulness. Look into her face and you'd never guess her childhood was one of despair and deception, seclusion and secrets inside an Amish-Jewish cult. Patricia Hochstetler of Goshen was born in 1948 at Elkhart General Hospital to Clarence K. and Mary (Miller) Long. Her father worked at Miles and the old Hotel Elkhart on Main Street, where he met

Posted on Sepa. 14, 2007 at 1:00 a.m.

Her smile radiates peacefulness. Look into her face and you'd never guess her childhood was one of despair and deception, seclusion and secrets inside an Amish-Jewish cult.

Patricia Hochstetler of Goshen was born in 1948 at Elkhart General Hospital to Clarence K. and Mary (Miller) Long.

Her father worked at Miles and the old Hotel Elkhart on Main Street, where he met her mother, a waitress. Her mother also worked at Smolers dress factory on Beardsley Avenue in Elkhart.

Clarence had Pentecostal roots, while Mary was excommunicated from the Amish church, along with other family members, for not shunning excommunicated members.

For the Longs, life became twisted in 1946 with a man named Mack Sharky, an orthodox Jew who embraced both the Old and New Testaments. This is Patricia Hochstetler's account of what happened:

The infiltration

Sharky smoothly worked his way into Mary's parents' (the Millers) old Amish-type church in Aberdeen, Miss. He convinced 75 percent of that congregation to follow him and gradually brainwashed the group into isolation, where he ruled and tightened his grip.

Clarence and Mary Long were eager to join their family in Sharky's utopia, called "Lael Colony."

The family believed Sharky was a true Prophet of God who taught biblical truth.

The colony moved from Aberdeen to Hamilton, Miss., and finally on to 2,000 acres of total seclusion in the Tennessee Valley, near Iron City.

The group had a post office box in Lawrence, Ala., so no one could trace them.

It was only a matter of time before the Longs received permission from Sharky, known as "The Elder," to join Lael Colony, once the colony settled in Tennessee.

The Longs and their three small children, Fred, 5, Patricia, 4, and Joan, 3, packed up their belongings in Elkhart and moved to the colony. Life for the Long family was never normal again.

Bizarre

measured normal

Meanwhile Clarence's mother, Bertha Long, was left to wonder where her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren had disappeared to.

"I grew up as a third generation in the cult and knew of nothing else outside of our colony," Hochstetler said. The family kept some Jewish observances and Amish traditions, all according to their leaders' instructions.

"My childhood was much like a caged bird. What I never knew or had, I never missed, and the only thing I knew seemed normal until I ended up in the real world," Hochstetler said.

Patricia and her brother and sister were considered "missing children" in Elkhart for more than a decade.

Life for youngsters in Lael Colony was anything but normal.

The colony children were not allowed to have toys, listen to music or sing. If they did play, they had to sneak, and if they got caught breaking any rules, they paid a price.

"I never heard music or singing in my childhood until I was living in the real world," Hochstetler said during a recent interview.

Life for the adults was one of mental bombardment, fear of breaking any rules and experiencing The Elder's wrath. Bizarre rules for living encompassed everything from dress to food, money to sexual habits.

Married or not, no sex was allowed inside this hidden cult.

And Sharky forbade birthday and holiday celebrations.

Prayers,

tears, release

After 12 tortuous years inside Lael Colony, Hochstetler found herself shocked on her 16th birthday when her Indiana grandmother, Bertha Long, and uncle, Carl Long, rescued her.

"My grandma found out where I was and she and my uncle took me out of the cult and back to Indiana," she said.

"That's when my grandma said to me, 'You will never know how many millions of prayers I said over you and how many billions of tears I cried not knowing if you were dead or alive all those years.'"

Death was

no release

In 1969, when Hochstetler was 21, Sharky died. But his legacy of emotional bankruptcy remains today.

"There are people from that cult who are what I call 'cult-bound' to this day," Hochstetler said. "The remains of Lael Colony are cult-raised people now ages 60 to 80, just waiting to die."

Written warning

No one ever "plans" to join a cult, according to Hochstetler. "Cults are the religious cancer of today's society," she said.

After 10 years of researching the details of her early life, Hochstetler knew she needed to warn the world that's too often blind to deception of the subtle, yet very real dangers of cults.

"Going back to my past and opening those doors that I had shut for so many years and spading up the ground that I left untouched for so long was difficult, yet, I knew I had to do it and face all that went along with it," Hochstetler said.

A mother and grandmother today, Hochstetler found it difficult at times to write her story.

"It was especially hard when I looked at my grandchildren and thought, 'what if they had it like I did at certain ages?'" she said.

At first, Hochstetler wanted a bit of history left for her children and had no intention of publishing her story.

"Later, I realized that my story might help protect other lives if they could see from my experience how dangerous cults really are," she said. "I decided to go public with the story when publishers showed interest. The history of my story and the desire to help prevent this from happening to others inspired me to keep writing."

Published by Baker Trittin Press of Winona Lake, the first of her series, "Growing Up in an Amish-Jewish Cult -- Delusion," hit shelves only recently and some stores are sold out.

The sequel, "Deception," and final in the trilogy, "Deliverance," will be released later.

"This story is God's deliverance story, not mine, because I had nothing to say about going into the cult or getting out," Hochstetler said.

"God watched over me and allowed me to survive it."




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