Remember the Christian Alamo

Evangelist Lester Roloff drew a line in the dirt to keep the State of Texas from regulating his Rebekah Home for Girls. Years later, George W. Bush's plan to free faith-based institutions from government rules handed Roloff's disciples a long-sought victory. But this Alamo had no heroes—only victims like DeAnne Dawsey.

December 2001By Comments

Wiley Cameron succeeded Lester Roloff (in portrait) as head of the Rebekah Home for girls.
Photograph by Judy Walgren

THE REBEKAH HOME FOR GIRLS SITS ON A LONELY STRETCH OF SOUTH TEXAS FARMLAND, a solitary spot where, amid the switchgrass and sagebrush and fields of cotton, young sinners are sent to get right with God. On a warm Saturday in May 1999, a sixteen-year-old named DeAnne Dawsey unexpectedly found herself at its doors. Her mother had said only that their family trip to Corpus Christi would last the day, and DeAnne had no reason to doubt her. Summer felt within reach, and DeAnne was relieved that her sophomore year of high school, which she was in danger of failing, was about to end. She was a slight girl with blue-gray eyes and dark brown hair who always wore a diamond-studded heart necklace. An inveterate flirt—”All she thought about was boys,” her mother would later lament—DeAnne never ignored an admiring glance. Normally she was too restless to stay still for long, but that morning she was in a dark mood: She and her boyfriend had quarreled the night before, and she sat brooding in the back seat of her mother’s car, lost in thought.

She was so preoccupied that she shrugged off a telling remark that her grandfather, who was traveling with them, had made after leaving Houston. Like DeAnne’s mother, he did not know much about the Rebekah Home for Girls or its history: that it was the most famous, and infamous, of the homes for troubled teenagers founded by the late evangelist Lester Roloff; or that punitive “Bible discipline” was the method used to chasten girls who had fallen from grace; or that the home had been the center of an epic, twelve-year battle between church and state—culminating in a standoff that Roloff called the Christian Alamo—in which the maverick preacher and his successors fought to avoid regulation by the State of Texas. But DeAnne’s grandfather felt guilty enough for lying to her about the purpose of the day’s trip that he turned in his seat to face her. “I’m sorry we’re doing this to you,” he said softly. “I’m so sorry.”

AT THE HEART OF LESTER ROLOFF’S BATTLE with the state of texas were his homes for troubled teenagers: reformatories where “parent-hating, Satan-worshiping, dope-taking immoral boys and girls,” as Roloff described his charges, were turned into “faithful servants of the Lord.” Roloff’s method of Bible discipline, which he said was rooted in Scripture, meant kneeling for hours on hardwood floors, licks meted out with a pine paddle or a leather strap, and the dreaded “lockup,” an isolation room where Roloff’s sermons were played for days on end. The state spent much of the seventies and early eighties fighting Roloff in court, insisting that he obtain a license for his youth homes and submit to state oversight. The preacher countered that he answered to a higher power and that his homes were licensed by God. Not until 1985 did the state prevail, forcing the Rebekah Home to shut its doors. At the time, no one anticipated that the political capital of faith-based social programs would rise dramatically in the next decade, or that Roloff’s beliefs, which were far afield of the religious mainstream, would gain a new foothold. But in 1997 then-governor George W. Bush put forth a legislative package that included precisely what Roloff had long fought for: allowing church-run child-care institutions to opt out of state licensing. By 1999 the Rebekah Home was back in business—and the stories of DeAnne Dawsey’s troubled adolescence, Lester Roloff’s crusade, and George W. Bush’s political career would converge.

Lester Roloff, the man behind this long struggle, felt the call to preach in 1932, when he was eighteen and living on his family’s farm near Dawson, about thirty miles northeast of Waco. He had always been a sickly child, but one night, as he lay in bed gravely ill, he was filled with a sense of foreboding. He later said of that dark hour, “I promised the Lord, ‘If you let me wake up in the morning, I’ll be a preacher.'” After he recovered, he began hauling hay and picking cotton to pay for his Baylor University tuition. The next year, he took his Jersey cow, Marie, with him to college. He sold fresh milk to pay for his room and board, and when he had to deliver his first sermon during his freshman year, he memorized it and recited it to the cow. He was unschooled in his craft, but he had a gift. Soon he was leading revivals around Waco, bringing people to their feet as they shouted and wept. In tiny Purdon more than a hundred people declared themselves born again, and according to Roloff lore, the town’s gambling hall closed and the bootlegger went out of business.

As a young preacher he pastored Baptist churches in small towns like Shiloh and Navarro Mills and Trinidad, but he hungered for a larger audience. During World War II, he moved to Corpus Christi, then home to the largest naval air station in the world, with thousands of Navy recruits; the port city, he remarked to his wife, was “a field ripe for harvest.” He began broadcasting a daily radio show, “Family Altar,” in which he sang gospel songs and condemned whiskey drinking, among other vices. The show was soon picked up by KWBU, a 50,000-watt station owned by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which broadcast it to 22 states. More and more listeners tuned in, and Roloff began evangelizing full-time, driving around in a “gospel van” equipped with loudspeakers and an organ and holding tent meetings that drew thousands. Before huge crowds, he cried, he exhorted, he swayed, he sang—and Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises was born.

An unabashed showman, Roloff enjoyed playing the part of the provocateur, but his audacity would cause him to fall out of favor with Baptist leaders. He raised eyebrows in 1945 when he argued that Baylor should not give President Harry Truman an honorary degree because he used rough language, going so far as to argue his case before the Baptist General Convention of Texas. In 1954 he garnered more adverse publicity when his neighbors in Corpus Christi complained that his use of loudspeakers at a revival was causing a public disturbance and the police agreed; Roloff denounced their order to keep the noise down as a threat to religious liberty and suggested that his neighbors were communists. His break with the Baptist General Convention of Texas came the following year, when he was banned from KWBU for broadcasting disparaging remarks about his Baptist brethren and for claiming that he was one of the few ministers to preach the true Gospel. By the time he returned to Waco to preach in 1956, no church would sponsor him. But amid the controversy, his radio audience grew and grew: His show was carried again nationally, and by 1958 he was traveling so much for his ministry—100,000 miles or more a year—that he bought and began piloting his own plane.

He parlayed his traveling tent revival into a multimillion-dollar enterprise by founding the reformatories he called the Roloff Homes and asking his radio listeners for “love gifts” to sustain them. The adult homes—the City of Refuge, the Lighthouse, and the Jubilee Home for Ladies—ministered to alcoholics, drug addicts, and petty criminals who straightened their lives out with Scripture, hard work, and clean living. The Anchor Home ministered to boys, and the Bethesda Home to pregnant teenage girls. But his greatest success was with the Rebekah Home for Girls, which he founded in 1967. The Rebekah Home took in fallen girls from “jail houses, broken homes, hippie hives, and dope dives” who were “walking through the wilderness of sin,” he told his radio listeners. Roloff remade these “terminal cases” into Scripture-quoting, gospel-singing believers. Girls who had been saved harmonized along with his Honeybee Quartet at revivals and witnessed to the power of the Lord on his radio show. He showed off his Rebekah girls at every turn, and he was amply rewarded: Each day, packages arrived at Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises laden with checks, cash, jewelry, the family silver—whatever the faithful could provide.

Discipline at the Rebekah Home was rooted in a verse from Proverbs: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” The dictum was liberally applied. Local authorities first investigated possible abuse at the Rebekah Home in 1973, when parents who were visiting their daughter reported seeing a girl being whipped. When welfare workers attempted to inspect the home, Roloff refused them entry on the grounds that it would infringe on the separation between church and state. Attorney General John Hill promptly filed suit against Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, introducing affidavits from sixteen Rebekah girls who said they had been whipped with leather straps, beaten with paddles, handcuffed to drainpipes, and locked in isolation cells—sometimes for such minor infractions as failing to memorize a Bible passage or forgetting to make a bed. Roloff defended these methods as good old-fashioned discipline, solidly supported by Scripture, and denied that any treatment at Rebekah constituted abuse. During an evidentiary hearing, he made his position clear by declaring, “Better a pink bottom than a black soul.” Attorney General Hill bluntly replied that it wasn’t pink bottoms he objected to, but ones that were blue, black, and bloody.

Still refusing to submit his youth homes to state oversight, Roloff met with Hill, and with the Honeybee Quartet in tow, he prayed and wept for the salvation of Hill’s soul. Unmoved, Hill pressed his case, and in 1974 a state district judge found Roloff in contempt of court, sentencing the preacher to five days behind bars. Roloff headed off to jail—as he would two more times during the state’s long-running case against him—wearing a smile, his well-worn Bible tucked under his arm.

DEANNE REALIZED SOMETHING WAS AMISS that spring day in 1999 when, outside Corpus Christi, they turned off the empty two-lane highway and stopped abruptly at a guardhouse. Their family day trip was not, to DeAnne’s knowledge, supposed to include this detour. Stark farmland stretched in all directions, and beyond the guardhouse stood a large, white brick church—”Christ is the Answer” its sign proclaimed—that dominated the landscape. Off to the right, DeAnne could see a vast two-story dormitory that looked incongruous against the wide-open sky, its facade bearing the words “Rebekah Home for Girls” in black script. In that moment, DeAnne knew she had been lied to. For months her mother had been threatening to send her away to boarding school: DeAnne had been running wild, in her mother’s eyes, skipping school and spending too much time with her boyfriend, who her mother felt certain was using drugs. High-spirited and restless, DeAnne resented her mother’s scrutiny. She had run away from home once, and she wanted nothing more than to escape the seemingly repressive rules that her mother had laid out at home. But in that moment, as DeAnne went pale in the back seat of the car, she knew she was trapped. “Don’t do this to me,” she pleaded with her mother as two guards approached the car. “Please don’t leave me here.”

AS HIS CASE MADE ITS WAY THROUGH THE COURTS, Lester Roloff found himself besieged in the political arena as well. In 1973 the Texas Legislature held hearings on the practices of the Rebekah Home and other unlicensed homes for youth. One Rebekah girl recounted how a whipping she had received for smoking a cigarette left welts on her body that were an inch high. The revelations led the Legislature to pass the Child Care Licensing Act, which required all child-care facilities to be licensed by the state. Roloff refused to abide by it on the grounds that it conflicted with his free exercise of religion. “I have no right to go by the Welfare Department’s little brown book,” he quipped, “so long as I have the big black Book.”

In need of a political ally, Roloff found one in Governor Bill Clements, whom he affectionately called Brother Bill. Deftly using the bully pulpit, Roloff had urged his radio listeners to vote for Clements, who was running against Roloff’s old adversary, John Hill, in 1978; when Hill lost by 18,000 votes, Roloff credited himself with delivering the votes that made Clements the first Republican governor of Texas since Reconstruction. Clements subsequently praised Roloff’s work and accused the state of “nitpicking” in its case against him. With the governor on his side, the preacher continued to flagrantly flout the law—most memorably when he explained why he had not reported an attempted murder at the Rebekah Home to local authorities. “We had a prayer meeting the night it happened,” he explained. “We reported it to Him.” All the while, he sought to curry favor in the court of public opinion, casting himself as David fighting Goliath, waging a battle against state authorities on behalf of the children. He distributed photos of a girl strapped to a cross in which he stood beside her, draped in the American flag and brandishing a Bible. “It’s not a sixty-four-year-old preacher that’s being crucified [by state licensing requirements], it’s little boys and girls,” he would cry.

A series of defeats in the courtroom would soon set the stage for the Christian Alamo. Roloff had kept his homes open by appealing a state district court’s order to close them—but an appellate court upheld this order in 1977, describing Roloff’s claim that state regulation would conflict with his free exercise of religion as “nothing more than a bald conclusion entirely unsupported by any factual evidence.” The Supreme Court of Texas agreed, and in 1979 another state district judge ordered Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises to obtain licenses for its homes or close them. Still Roloff did not yield. “They’ll hang black crepe on Heaven’s gate if they close these homes,” fumed Roloff. Hundreds of his supporters massed around the Rebekah Home, on Roloff’s 557-acre compound south of Corpus Christi, linking arms and forming a human barricade to prevent state officials from moving in.

A standoff ensued, with church and state encamped on opposite sides of the South Texas farmland. The three-day stalemate ended when Roloff agreed to close his youth homes and send his Rebekah girls—his “prisoners of war”—to youth homes out of the state. But he was not defeated; he was simply biding his time. He restructured his ministry, placing his youth homes under the auspices of his People’s Baptist Church rather than Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises—a device that allowed his homes to reopen that fall. Lester Roloff had stared down the State of Texas—and for the time being, he had won.

LONG BEFORE DEANNE DAWSEY CAME to the Rebekah Home, a succession of girls had stared out of its dormitory windows at a world that lay just beyond reach and dreamed of running. Only a few got away, tearing through the tall grass to Farm Road 665 and thumbing rides to Corpus Christi. So many girls tried to run from the home over the years that its caretakers took precautions—putting up a six-foot fence, rigging the windows with alarms, and wiring the girls’ bedrooms with intercoms so they could listen for any plans of escape. Punishment for even talking about running was so severe that most girls learned to accept their lot, turning away from the windows that looked out onto Farm Road 665 and allowing only their thoughts to roam.

The Rebekah Home was bent on driving sin from even the wickedest of girls and making them see the light of God. Jo Ann Edwards was brought to the Rebekah Home in 1982, after running away from home at the age of thirteen. “I was an acolyte at my church before I went there, and God was very close to me in my heart,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Victoria, where she is the mother of five children. “But that place turned me against Him for a while and made me very hard. I thought that even He had left me.” As a new girl, she was scrutinized by “helpers,” the saved girls who handed out demerits for misbehavior. Demerits were given for an endless host of wrongdoings: talking about “worldly” things, singing songs other than gospel songs, speaking too loudly, doodling, nail biting, looking at boys in church, failing to snitch on other sinners. Each demerit earned her a lick, which the Rebekah Home’s housemother administered with a wood paddle. The beatings left her black and blue. “I got twenty licks my first time, and I was hit hard—so hard that I couldn’t sit for days,” Jo Ann said. “I begged [the housemother] to stop. When she was done, she hugged me and said, ‘God loves you.’ She told me to go back to the living room and read Scripture and sing ‘Amazing Grace’ with the other girls.”

Only Rebekah girls who had proven their devotion by repeatedly testifying to God’s grace could avoid Bible discipline. Some girls were genuinely troubled teenagers who had gotten mixed up with drugs or prostitution; others had been caught having sex; many were guilty of nothing more than growing up in abusive homes. Tara Cummings, now 31 and a mortgage consultant in Chicago, was sent there by her father, a preacher, whose beatings had left her badly bruised. Even she was not immune to judgment. “I was told that I was a reprobate, that I was beyond help and was going to hell,” she said. She was treated to the full range of the Rebekah Home’s punishments, which were not limited to lickings. “Confinement” meant spending weeks hanging her head without speaking. “Sitting on the wall” required sitting with her back against a wall and without the support of a chair, even as her legs buckled beneath her. But kneeling was what she most dreaded. Kneeling could last for as long as five hours at a time; she might have to kneel while holding a Bible on each outstretched palm or with pencils wedged beneath her knees. Only girls seen as inveterate sinners received the full brunt of the home’s crueler punishments. “You had to be saved,” Tara said. “It didn’t matter if you didn’t feel moved to do that—you did it to survive.”

The worst form of punishment, the lockup, was reserved for girls who had not yet been saved—who had talked of running away or who had proven to be particularly intractable. The lockup was a dorm room devoid of furniture or natural light where girls spent days, or weeks, alone. Taped Roloff sermons were piped into the room, and the near-constant sound of his voice was the girls’ only companionship. Former Rebekah resident Tamra Sipes, now 34 and working in advertising for a newspaper in Oak Harbor, Washington, remembers one girl who was relegated to the lockup for an entire month. “The smell had become so bad from her not being able to shower or bathe that it reeked in the hallway,” she said. “We could do nothing to help her. I remember standing in roll call one day waiting for my name to be called off, and I was directly across from the door. She was singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to herself in such a pitiful voice that I couldn’t help but cry for her.”

Lester Roloff never attempted to hide that he used Bible discipline and all that it entailed; “We whip ’em with love and we weep with ’em and they love us for it,” he once said. But he also knew what the State of Texas would have to say about his methods, so when he reopened his homes in the fall of 1979 under the auspices of the People’s Baptist Church, he again refused to apply for a state license. “I’ll never sacrifice my girls on the altar of an unrighteous decree,” Roloff vowed. Attorney General Mark White responded by filing suit and prosecuting the preacher anew, contending that his youth homes were still subject to state licensure. Roloff enjoyed an early victory in 1981, when a district court judge ruled in his favor, but the decision was overturned on appeal. In 1984 the Supreme Court of Texas sided with the state, holding that the licensing of church-run child-care facilities violated no First Amendment religious freedoms. The following year, the United States Supreme Court let that decision stand. The Rebekah Home would have to be licensed or shut down.

Roloff would not live long enough to see the end of his battle with the state. On November 2, 1982, his single-engine Cessna crashed near the town of Normangee, killing him and the four young women on board who made up the Honeybee Quartet. As an “airborne messenger of the gospel,” Roloff had always thrived on riding out the rough weather—flying headlong into hail storms and foggy nights and the fiercest of squalls—always crediting “the touch of an unseen hand” in bringing him back to earth. Once, after he had been forced to land on a freeway outside Chattanooga with a dead engine, he took advantage of the crowd that gathered by taking out his Bible and testifying to God’s faithfulness. But on that November day, a norther blew in whose winds proved to be too strong, plunging the preacher’s plane to the ground and scattering the debris for miles. His death would leave a profound vacuum within the People’s Baptist Church, for his magnetism and political influence were suddenly gone. In his stead, his right-hand man, Wiley Cameron, a soft-spoken preacher who had worked for Roloff since 1973, would take his place. Cameron eulogized Roloff as having bravely spent the last eight years of his life fighting “the forces of hell” and vowed to continue the late minister’s battle with the State of Texas.

On New Year’s Eve, 1985, time ran out. A court order stated that Cameron had to obtain a state license for the youth homes or shut them down by January 1. He elected to do neither. Instead, he and several church employees spirited away the one hundred or so teenagers left in the homes, loading them onto a convoy of buses and beginning the long drive north to Missouri, where a state license would not be required. Back at the compound, the Texas flag was lowered to half-staff. A church spokesperson stood on the steps of the empty Rebekah Home and told reporters, “The Roloff Homes are in exile.” They would not return for fourteen years.

DEANNE DAWSEY’S MOTHER, DEBBIE, had learned of the Rebekah Home after doing an Internet search for Christian girls’ schools. She knew nothing of the home’s history, and though she had heard Lester Roloff’s name before, she knew only that he had been a famous preacher. Before enrolling her daughter there, Debbie had toured the home and met with Wiley Cameron and his wife, Fay. She was impressed with what she saw. “I felt like I was leaving my child with kind grandparents,” she said. “They said, ‘We will take care of her as if she’s our very own.'” The Rebekah Home seemed to be exactly what she had been seeking: a strict religious school that would provide DeAnne with an education as well as moral and spiritual instruction. Gone was much of the fencing that had encircled the home during its previous incarnation, which might have raised her suspicions. So were some of the crueler punishments. Kneeling was no longer used, and paddling was employed only sparingly—most likely because of the circumstances under which the Rebekah Home and the Anchor Home for Boys had closed in Missouri: The Kansas City Times had run an investigative article in 1987 on physical abuse at the homes. Two days after the article ran, Cameron shut them down and returned to Texas. None of this was known to DeAnne’s mother. “I had no idea that this place was a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” she said.

WILEY CAMERON KEPT HOPE ALIVE that he might someday reopen the Rebekah Home in Texas. He had been a loyal soldier in the Christian Alamo—Roloff referred to the two of them as “Travis and Bowie”—and he saw it as his sacred duty to continue Roloff’s fight long after his mentor was dead and gone. “We believe that we have a mandate from God Himself,” Cameron said in an interview this fall. “To take a license is to admit that there’s someone above God.” Having lost his case in the courtroom, however, he knew the only way to prevail was to spur the Legislature to change Texas law. After years of failure, he saw his chance in 1995, when George W. Bush became governor. “For eighteen years we tried to get bills passed that would allow us to operate without a license,” Cameron said. “We worked and labored without any results, and then finally Mr. Bush came to help. When he appointed the faith-based task force, we saw an opportunity.”

In 1995 Bush convened a fifteen-member advisory task force made up largely of clergy and charged them with two objectives: to identify state laws and regulations that hindered the work of faith-based groups and to recommend ways to lift some of those regulations. The task force was formed after Bush took an interest in an ongoing battle between the Texas Commission of Alcohol and Drug Abuse and a faith-based drug-treatment center, Teen Challenge, in San Antonio. The agency had threatened to shut down the rehab center after citing it for a list of violations, chiefly its failure to hire licensed drug counselors. Teen Challenge instead employed counselors who used prayer and Bible study—not medical and psychological training—as their guide. Bush stepped into the fray and defended Teen Challenge, whose philosophy resonated with his own experience: He had shaken a drinking problem in 1986 after experiencing a profound spiritual awakening and knew the role that faith could play in recovery. Bush was also an admirer of Marvin Olasky, a University of Texas journalism professor whose influential 1992 book, The Tragedy of American Compassion, argued that the war on poverty was a failure and that government should turn to faith-based groups to solve the nation’s social problems.

Spurned by the state for more than twenty years, Lester Roloff’s ministry at last found a receptive audience in the task force, to which Cameron spoke in 1996. It was a remarkable reversal of fortune, one Roloff surely would have relished. Don Willett, who was overseeing the task force for the governor, had Cameron speak to its members about his theological opposition to state oversight. (Willett would go on to draft the legislation that stemmed from the task force’s work.) Cameron was accompanied by several residents from his adult homes, the Lighthouse and the Jubilee Home for Ladies, who spoke about the ways in which the ministry had transformed their lives. When the task force issued its report, “Faith in Action,” later that year, it recommended that faith-based child-care facilities be allowed to exempt themselves from state licensure and instead submit to “alternative accreditation”—that is, oversight by a non-governmental body, such as a group of pastors.

Governor Bush, in his 1997 state-of-the-state speech, urged lawmakers to act upon the report. He put forth a faith-based legislative agenda that included a bill—sponsored by Representative John Smithee, of Amarillo, and Senator David Sibley, of Waco, both Republicans—that allowed faith-based child-care facilities to opt out of state licensure. The bill carried no endorsements from any organized religious groups, since all well-known denominations—whether they were Baptist or Jewish, Catholic or Lutheran—had long welcomed state oversight of their child-care facilities. Instead, the primary witness to speak in favor of the bill before the House Human Services Committee was the Roloff Homes’ own attorney, David Gibbs III, of Seminole, Florida. But Gibbs never identified his client to lawmakers during 45 minutes of testimony. He stated only that he represented hundreds of churches across Texas. Even when Representative Jim McReynolds, of Lufkin, asked what would keep the bill from being exploited by fringe groups like “the Branch Davidians and the Lester Roloffs,” Gibbs—whose firm had represented Roloff and his ministry for 25 years—stayed mum about his firm’s association with the preacher. (“I was never specifically asked if I represented the Roloff Homes,” said Gibbs in an interview this fall.) One would think the omission was not lost on Don Willett, who had been friends with Gibbs from their days together at Duke University School of Law. There was little debate in committee, and while Cameron registered himself as favoring the bill, he did not testify or say where he pastored. With the backing of the governor, the bill advanced to the House floor and passed easily.

The only legislator to voice deep reservations about the bill was Senator Carlos Truan, of Corpus Christi. In the seventies Truan had chaired the committee that had held hearings on abuse at the Rebekah Home and had supported the Child Care Licensing Act in 1975. “There was no need to undo a law that we had worked so hard to pass,” said Truan this fall. “It was passed for a good reason—to protect children from abuse. The idea that suddenly someone could hold up the Bible and exempt himself from the law was outrageous.” Truan made his case on the Senate floor, arguing that mainstream religious groups had always welcomed state oversight and that the bill might allow people like Lester Roloff to set up shop again. “Sibley said this was something Governor Bush wanted, and that was the only anointment it needed—there was no debate,” said Truan. Moments before the bill was voted on, however, Sibley agreed to a sunset amendment by Senator Rodney Ellis, of Houston: The law would expire in four years unless the Legislature elected to renew it. The bill passed, and Bush signed it into law.

The new law called for private accreditation agencies, rather than the state, to oversee faith-based homes—but the only one to register with the state was the Texas Association of Christian Child-Care Agencies (TACCCA), whose six-person board of directors included none other than Wiley Cameron. The agency did not exist until just after the passage of the bill; it was headed by Pastor David Blaser, a longtime admirer of Lester Roloff’s. When the agency applied for state approval, state accreditation officials hesitated, citing the new law’s requirement that only “recognized” accrediting agencies be approved. Don Willett, with the governor’s office, said that the law was not intended to rule out new agencies, and the state relented after determining that all six board members had experience running child-care facilities. On December 23, 1998, David Blaser wrote the TACCCA’s members: “Praise the Lord! We just had a phone call from Austin and the lady in charge of our application said that our application to be an accrediting agency for children’s homes and day-care facilities in Texas is approved. God has given us a wonderful Christmas gift. What a blessing it is to know that very soon the Roloff Homes will once again ‘help the helpless,’ ‘encourage the discouraged,’ ‘give faith to the faithless,’ ‘guide the lost,’ ‘trade hope for dope,’ and ‘preach Christ as the answer for our troubled youth.’ . . . Our God hears and answers our prayers.”

DEANNE DAWSEY REFUSED TO MEET HER MOTHER’S GLANCE as she was escorted inside the Rebekah Home by two guards who walked on either side of her to prevent her from running. Once inside, she was plunged into a monastic existence that left her cut off from the outside world. “It didn’t take long to figure out that this was not an ordinary boarding school,” said DeAnne. She was ordered to strip down and told to put on the home’s required clothing: a long skirt that covered her legs—no pants were allowed—and a loose-fitting shirt. Then she was taken to the living quarters, where she met many of the 25 or so residents. Some of the girls had been sent there for being in gangs or on drugs, and as they greeted her, they gave her the rundown of how things worked at the Rebekah Home: there were no televisions, no radios, no magazines. Speaking of anything worldly was forbidden, as was singing worldly songs. Meeting eyes with boys in church was barred. Letters going both in and out of the home were read first by the staff and censored. Phone calls, which could be placed only to family members, were monitored. No conversations were private, since staff listened in on the intercoms that were installed in each bedroom. “Just give in and do whatever they want,” her roommate told her.

DeAnne looked out the dormitory windows, which were still wired with alarms to prevent escape, and tried to picture spending the next year of her life at the Rebekah Home. Her mind reeled. “I cried all night long,” she said. “I don’t think I fell asleep until about an hour before I had to wake up. I was freaked out.” Her anxiety only grew in the days to come. Each morning, she and the other girls were required to listen to a taped Lester Roloff sermon while they did their chores. Each afternoon, they were required to attend a Bible memorization session, where they had to read Bible verses out loud, in unison, in what sounded like a chant. What troubled her was not the sentiment behind these exercises, for she considered herself to be deeply faithful: Raised in an Assembly of God church, she had stepped forward at a revival when she was twelve years old to be baptized and to accept Jesus Christ as her personal savior. What disturbed her was her growing suspicion that this was “a cult,” whose methods had left some of the girls in her midst brainwashed. “Everyone talked about Roloff like he was God,” she said. “The majority of every sermon was talking about how Roloff did this and Roloff did that, instead of testifying to how God did this and God did that. It was just totally mixed up. People were really worshiping him instead of God.”

DeAnne hated many things about life at the Rebekah Home—the isolation, the constant surveillance, the joyless view of faith. She took pity on a dim-witted girl whom, she says, Fay Cameron slapped for not doing her homework; DeAnne would have her own run-in with Mrs. Cameron as well. DeAnne had written a letter to her boyfriend, whom she had not been able to communicate with since leaving Houston. As was the custom, Mrs. Cameron read the letter to see if it needed any alterations before being mailed. She soon handed it back to DeAnne and told her that she would have to rewrite it entirely because it painted too negative a portrait of the Rebekah Home. When DeAnne refused, Mrs. Cameron told her the letter would not be sent. “I lost my temper, and I called her a nasty word—I called her a bitch,” DeAnne said. “I was furious because everything in that letter was true, but I wasn’t allowed to write it.” In return, she says, Mrs. Cameron delivered a stinging slap to DeAnne’s face.

The two would have another confrontation several weeks later: DeAnne had been caught talking in class, and when she was told to write “I will not talk in class” one hundred times, she refused. (“I was tired of playing by their rules,” she said.) Mrs. Cameron grabbed her by the arm and marched her to the lockup. “You’ll stay here until you write your sentences,” she said, bolting the door behind her.

Inside the lockup, Lester Roloff’s voice began to play over the intercom, his rich baritone echoing off the walls—sermonizing, singing gospel songs, and exhorting all who listened to come to Jesus. His voice droned on as morning turned into afternoon and afternoon into evening. DeAnne stuck her fingers in her ears, but his voice seemed to have lodged in her brain. She began yelling rap songs at the top of her lungs—anything to drown out the sound—but Roloff’s voice was only turned up louder. “You people are crazy!” she screamed at one point, beating her fists against the wall. “Get me the hell out of here!” She began kicking the wall that night, and by morning a hole had formed in the Sheetrock. (“I felt like I was losing my mind,” she said.) Mrs. Cameron warned her that if she did not stop, she would be restrained. When DeAnne persisted, she was wrestled to the ground by three male guards, who pinned her arms behind her back while Mrs. Cameron bound her wrists with duct tape. Her ankles were then bound as well, and once she was immobilized, someone—DeAnne is unsure who—gave her a hard kick to the ribs. She was left alone to writhe on the floor, gasping for air. Having worked herself into a sweat trying to fight off the guards, she was able to squirm out of the tape within a few minutes. She has no idea how long she would have been left restrained.

After 32 hours in the lockup, DeAnne finally relented and wrote her sentences. The following day, when she complained that her ribs were hurting, Wiley Cameron called her mother to say that he was sending DeAnne home. “The only reason they put me on that plane is because they knew that if they called a doctor, they were going to have to answer a lot of questions,” DeAnne said. She had lasted only three weeks at the Rebekah Home. As soon as she returned to Houston, she called Child Protective Services, which launched an investigation into the Rebekah Home. Since Texas law forbids child-care facilities to seclude their residents in locked rooms or bind them with restraints like duct tape, the agency issued the home one finding each of physical abuse, medical neglect, and neglectful supervision—and ultimately banned Fay Cameron from working with children in the state of Texas ever again. The home was not given so much as a warning by the TACCCA, even though it had violated state law; in fact, it was reaccredited the following year.

Abuse allegations surfaced last year from several young men who were housed at the Lighthouse, another home on the Roloff compound. That incident has resulted in a misdemeanor conviction of the home’s superintendent on charges of unlawful restraint and a civil suit against the People’s Baptist Church, the TACCCA, and several individuals, including the Camerons. DeAnne Dawsey has joined the suit as a plaintiff, alleging physical and emotional abuse. The case is expected to go to trial in the spring and seeks unspecified damages. “The Rebekah Home should never be open for business again,” said DeAnne’s mother, Debbie. “I hope the lawsuit can finally lay that to rest.”

Now nineteen, DeAnne is trying to get her life back on track. Though she never graduated from high school, she is working part-time as a model in Houston. Her former boyfriend is out of her life, and she and her mother have reconciled. “I’m still angry about what happened to me,” she said. “It’s hard for me to understand how people who speak His word could act that way.”

WILEY CAMERON CLOSED THE REBEKAH HOME THIS SUMMER AFTER THE LEGISLATURE failed to renew the law that allowed it to escape state regulation. During its four-year life span, the law had little impact, except on the lives of people like DeAnne Dawsey, who had the misfortune to wind up in the Rebekah Home: The overwhelming majority of faith-based child-care facilities chose to remain under state oversight; only 7 of 2,015 religious institutions elected to operate under alternative accreditation. Still, what happened in Texas could happen in Washington if President George W. Bush has his way. Bush has sought to duplicate the same regulatory rollbacks for faith-based groups that he enacted in Texas. During his second week as president, he established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and charged it with a familiar task: to “identify and act to remedy statutory, regulatory, and bureaucratic barriers that stand in the way of effective faith-based and community social programs,” almost the same language that was used in Texas. He also named Don Willett—who drafted the bill that allowed the Roloff Homes’ return to Texas—to serve as the director of law and policy for the White House office.

The administration’s faith-based proposals had already encountered opposition when the events of September 11 put non-essential legislation on hold. However, the White House has said it can put its plans into effect by executive action. The easing of regulation would apply only to faith-based groups that receive federal grants, such as runaway shelters and drug or alcohol rehabilitation centers; private child-care facilities like the Rebekah Home would not be covered. Faith-based organizations, freed from regulation under the proposed Bush plan, could impose the same sort of harsh discipline that was practiced at the Rebekah Home. For that matter, the Texas Legislature could resurrect the law that cleared the way for the Rebekah Home to reopen without state regulation. Samantha Smoot, the executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, which opposed the 1997 bill, warns, “In Texas we saw that the loosening of regulations was an open invitation to fringe groups to operate.”

Back on the Roloff compound, south of Corpus Christi, Wiley Cameron still keeps hope alive. On a cool, clear morning this fall he walked the grounds and spoke about his “burden to help the down and out.” The 72-year-old preacher—dressed in a crisp white guayabera and khakis—whistled gospel tunes and waved at his brethren, speaking with the certainty of a man who knew he was following his calling. “Morning!” he called out to residents of the adult homes, wearing a broad smile. “Good morning, Brother Cameron!” they would reply or simply “Praise Jesus!” Women on the porch of the Jubilee Home nodded and swept, and young men from the Lighthouse tilled soil off in the distance, tending to their winter gardens. “We feel it’s a Bible mandate, like the Samaritan, to help people in the ditch,” he explained. “If we have to get down in the ditch to help people, sometimes we get a little dirty doing it.” Put another way, he said, “We get troubled kids and we use unconventional methods.” Did that mean that abusive disciplinary methods were used? “We have never abused one person—all of these years, there has never been one case of child abuse that’s been proved in court,” he said. “There have been allegations, but some people construe abuse where there was not abuse.” As for DeAnne’s case, he would not talk about specifics, given pending litigation, except to say, “DeAnne was a very troubled girl.”

The Rebekah Home for girls lay ahead of him, an empty white dormitory shuttered against sunlight. Inside, the beds were still tidily made in girlish pinks, as if their keepers had stepped out for a moment and never returned. The house seemed almost ghostly, filled with the residual memories of too many forgotten girls. Lester Roloff used to walk these deserted halls in the wake of the Christian Alamo, when his girls were briefly sent away: Overcome by the stillness, he would often fall to his knees and cry.

The compound is quieter now, having faded into the rural landscape, but it is still haunted by Roloff’s memory. Behind the Rebekah Home stands his old stone house, where his living room serves as an informal shrine. The walls are adorned with heroic portraits of Roloff brandishing his Bible, and scattered about the room are an odd assortment of personal effects: his felt hat, his John Deere bicycle, his radio microphone. The bullet-torn American flag from Vietnam that graced his casket is on display, as is the Purple Heart an admirer gave him for his valor. Beside the door hangs a lacquered sign that reads “Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.” Now Cameron followed in Roloff’s footsteps, walking down the long, dark corridors of the Rebekah Home, passing empty bedroom after empty bedroom. “We have a million-dollar facility that’s empty, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it,” he said. “I have to say, ‘Lord, I don’t understand, but I know You have a plan.'”

Then he suddenly leaned against the wall, as if his will to continue on this sad march had left him. He began to weep softly. “If they could just understand the good we do here,” he said. “There are so many more girls left to help.”

Related Content

  • Gail

    These people are INSANE. I’m glad this never happened to me. People abuse like this all the time and I’ve heard it is a hallmark of madrasas (Koran schools for boys) to treat their students similarly to these so-called “Christian homes.” Religion really does cause problems, and when these religious nutcases cry “Religious persecution!” I really think half the time they’re only being persecuted because they’re not getting their way. They are more immature and insane than the children and young people they claim to “help.”

    I also think that they are pathological narcissists. The finishing statement of the man who abused girls crying because he had no one left to “help” is eerily similar to a statement made by a nasty Nazi (THEY WERE ALL NASTY) named Erik Dorf who cried piteously (I find this very hard to repeat) because he not as brutal as Hoess. Ugh.

    These conservatives are forever crying about parental rights and “religious freedom” (ie their religious freedom involves curtailing the rights of the vulnerable ie children and animals and truly victimised minorities). If this is what their constitutional freedom entitles them to it should be illegal. Ironically enough, the same constitution that defends true religious freedom also bans “cruel and unusual punishment.” The same constitution they claim to want I think bans this (although it DID ALLOW SLAVERY; because of that, I’ve got NO RESPECT for the document; the only reason I use it is to point out to the people who claim to love it so that it potentially bans such behaviour.

    • Crystal

      You know, you’re right, Gail. Spot on. Only, I think you meant to say “CRUEL” rather than “immature.” This is as sick as lining dogs up to be shot; that’s being going on in the Far North District Council in my country for a while now.

      • Gail

        I accept the correction; thank you.

        • Crystal

          Don’t you think SOMEONE should go to Change.org and post a petition up? Anyone can!

          • Gail

            You mean to shut these schools down! GOOD IDEA!

          • Crystal

            Yeah, some help they give them! If that’s the kind of help they’re going to give, I say keep it to themselves! This is HELP?

            HELP ME! I THINK THIS WORLD IS GOING INSANE!

          • Ray Abrego

            I think Gail should be shutt down speaking on things she has only read about on the internet I was in the light house many many years ago and this is BS

          • Crystal

            You ought to be ashamed.

            Just because it was sunshine and roses for you doesn’t mean it was sunshine and roses for some. Quit fooling yourself.

          • Ray Abrego

            You do not read all of the comment before you post do you.

            here try again then comment

            Well I know the light house very well as I was I the light house , my parents could not control me so instead of trying harder they pawned me off on the light house was it hard yes . Never ever did I see any kind of abuse these liars have made up in there own minds. I think it is sad that parents pawn there responsibility of raising there kids off on someone else but then want to sue or press charges on them when there kid lie’s to them about being abused, so this same kid who has been deemed by there own parents a uncontrollable and sent away , are now to be trusted when making false claims of abuse because they can’t get away with anything like they are use to with there parents. I did my year there never did I become called to preach or anything hell I ride Harleys and party. But the people there like Wiley Jr. And Fay Cameron are people I respect cause they were kind and showed me love and compassion and taught me to love my self .

          • acornwebworks

            Excuse me? Gail and Crystal were writing 10 months ago.

            Then, SEVEN months LATER, you decided to attack Gayle??? Proclaiming that she didn’t know what she was talking about based on, using your own words, “I think Gail should be shutt down speaking on things she has only read about on the internet I was in the light house many many years ago and this is BS”.

            Crystal rightfully called you on your assumption that, because *you* went to one place “many many years ago”, you know everything about every “Christian home”, including how they are today and how they were and are for everyone else.

            Indeed, she merely pointed out that you were just as guilty of talking about other people’s experiences as if you knew what they were…just like you accused Gail of doing

            And Crystal’s “sunshine and roses” was nothing more than a colloquialism, not a claim about how things literally were for you.

            By the way…is it truly meaningless to you that Fay Cameron was legally banned 15 years ago from working with children in the State of Texas?

            Or that, in 2000, the Superintendent of the Lighthouse was convicted of unlawful restraint of boys at the Lighthouse? (You know. The place *you* apparently think you know everything about.)

            P.S. It’s perfectly legitimate to respond to a post without having to read every single other post in the comments section. Hint: That’s why they have a “Reply” function after every single post. Yeesh.

          • Ray Abrego

            So I attacked her shut up that is dumb wake up . I didnt proclaim anything I stated a fact that she should not speak on things just cause she read stuff on the internet . and I made no damn assumption on any christian schools other than the ones at the rollof homes so before you come at me with a bunch of BS , and there is a diffrence when talking about others experince when you lived there versus second and third hand stories told multiple time and probably way over exagerated by the time it got to them.

            so she was banned for 15 yrs by the state of texas . dop you know why ? of course you know what you read right she was banned because the state was trying to put pressure on the homes so they would allow the state to regulate them which they refused and when they went against the state then they tried everything , I guess since you know everything you also know this 15 yr banned last how long ? and who intervened on her behalf and on behalf of the homes ? lets see if you know well you could probably google it to find out lol.

            Or that, in 2000, the Superintendent of the Lighthouse was convicted of unlawful restraint of boys at the Lighthouse? (You know. The place *you* apparently think you know everything about.)

            so look you read a article that showed he plead guilty wow . did it tell you he did not have the finacial means to pay for a decent attorney but I am sure you know everyone that has ever been convicted of a crime in texas was really guilty hmmm you are naive.
            here is a link for you since you believe evryone convicted must be guilty.http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/04/justice/exonerated-prisoner-update-michael-morton/
            http://www.innocenceproject.org/news-events-exonerations/when-the-innocent-plead-guilty

          • Ray Abrego

            P.S. It’s perfectly legitimate to respond to a post without having to read every single other post in the comments section. Hint: That’s why they have a “Reply” function after every single post.

            yes I guess you can , but that also means It’s perfectly legitimate for me to point out that so said comment was covered in a earlier post duh now unless you have some thing else . KNOW I will tell you like i have told her and others if ever you would like to call or email me personally talk to me and hear my thoughts and what I find to be the truth please e mail me anytime I mean this with the utmost respect I would even meet for coffee to talk to youI believe the misconception of this place is wrong . my e mail is [email protected] e mail me and I will happily give you my phone number and talk to you or anyone else

    • Eli Odell Jackson

      You know why it is you don’t understand why brother Roloff, or brother Cameron would cry?
      You got a bad heart, and you need, major heart surgery.
      Matterfact a full transplant.
      Only the Lord can provide this for you.

      It’s called compassion mam, compassion for the lost, lost in trespasses and sin, Brother Roloff gave his whole life, his whole heart, his whole bank account, his whole everything for the Lord’s sake, and here’s little ol’ you, “Nazi, Nazi!” You cry.

      Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

      But then mam we will continue with you regardless, the Lord’s work is never done til’ He comes.
      All I ask is this mam, this article must have took you a good while to read through, all I ask is that you give a short while to hear the other side, what can it cost you?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWoF-3X-BcA
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0R96S8_tk0
      God bless you now, have a fine one.

      • Gail

        Fine, you’ve defended him. Now can you disprove these claims?

        • Gail

          Oh, and, by the way, the best way to show me is to take the girls’ stories and research them for yourself. Dig around. Ask questions. SEE IF THE STORIES ARE TRUE RATHER THAN WRITING THEM OFF. That is my challenge to you, Eli Odell Jackson! Take it or leave it!

          • Gail

            Because you see, the burden of proof lies heavily on your shoulders. You claim he’s such a wonderful man; prove it by producing concrete and confirming evidence to the contrary, or I will have to believe the girls.

            By the way, America, last time I checked, doesn’t send people to prison for being Christians. It sends them to prison for committing CRIMES. You had better prove to us that you are speaking the truth, or I cannot believe you.

          • Gail

            If you do not accept my challenge, you are the one with the bad heart who needs a major heart transplant, not me. I have a sincere heart and I try to help others the best I can.

          • Eli Odell Jackson

            I have sustained the heart transplant spoken of, performed by Dr. Grace, after diagnosis by Dr. Law, I received full salvation as a gift of Grace from God Almighty.
            You also can receive this gift and attain eternal life, all you must do is believe on Him and thou shalt be saved.

          • Eli Odell Jackson

            You can believe the girls, how many girls’ testimony did you hear here?
            Many more testified on his behalf, go ahead and watch some of the sermons I posted here.
            I have listened to this man’s sermons religiously, he is a man of God, I have observed the effect he had in his worldly ministry and he was a man of God.
            I have observed the amazing success he had with his homes and have deduced he was a man of God.

          • Gail

            And did you live in one of his homes? Even for six weeks? If so, how? As a student or a privileged pastor? I’m itching to hear.

            By the way, I found the way you treated my fellow writer Aroha offensive.

            Do keep up with your debate of me, but don’t you DARE go after the others. Your racist and abuse apologia make me want to continue to debate you RIGOROUSLY. They provide quite a source of diversion from the cares of life, but I ABHOR YOUR RACISM AND SHALL NOT TOLERATE IT, LET ME MAKE THAT CLEAR.

            I am an older woman in my fifties, not a young immature puss. I didn’t come down in the last shower, and I find it insulting that you could imply such a thing.

          • Ray Abrego

            I will debate you anytime on this subject. Don’t be scared just cause you are wrong. Facts bring proven facts to the table when you debate me though.

          • Ray Abrego

            Actually since the claims are made against rolloff the burden would be yours to make since he is innocent until proven guilty man you should really read what you post.so you believe those same girls who were sent by there parents to a girls home cause they were liers and apparently could not be controlled by there own parents WOW your logic is ridiculous and pretty moronic to be honest with you

          • Eli Odell Jackson

            God bless you Gail but you need to tone it down a bit, there is no issue other than the persecution of a man of God by a wicked government.
            This is in the past, Brother Roloff (and three of his girls) went Home to the Gloryland in 1982, that’s 32 years ago, brother Wiley Cameron’s been in the Glory also since 2007 I heard, the girl in this story is a 33 yr old woman with a man and kids now, I’m sorry but you’re being an hysterical nut.

          • Gail

            I enjoy debating you. Honestly. But DO NOT INSULT PEOPLE WITH TITLES YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND, such as “hysterical nut”, which I suspect is only applied to me because I am a woman.

            Don’t be put off coming back here, but YOU MUST UNDERSTAND people are OFFENDED with this kind of thing, so they will be harsh on it. A little toughness on the web is required if you want to exchange with me.

            I expect fairness, and I EXPECT you to RESEARCH THE CLAIMS rather than just go by your eyes and ears.

            That is ALL I ASK. Take me on the challenge. I am quite unafraid of it.

          • Ray Abrego

            I EXPECT you to research the claims rather than just go by your eyes and ears . what a joke you have done exactly that.

          • Gail

            By the way, I WON’T “tone down” on injustice, whether it is ISIS, or burqas, or Christian abuse of others.

          • Ray Abrego

            Blah blah blah big words on the internet lol

          • Bruce

            Shut up with your big words …

          • ray

            Well I know the light house very well as I was I the light house , my parents could not control me so instead of trying harder they pawned me off on the light house was it hard yes . Never ever did I see any kind of abuse these liars have made up in there own minds. I think it is sad that parents pawn there responsibility of raising there kids off on someone else but then want to sue or press charges on them when there kid lie’s to them about being abused, so this same kid who has been deemed by there own parents a uncontrollable and sent away , are now to be trusted when making false claims of abuse because they can’t get away with anything like they are use to with there parents. I did my year there never did I become called to preach or anything hell I ride Harleys and party. But the people there like Wiley Jr. And Fay Cameron are people I respect cause they were kind and showed me love and compassion and taught me to love my self .

        • Ray Abrego

          Yea I can . can you prove the the claims no you can not cause you have never been there.

      • Jonny Johns

        If you defend him you are depraved as well.

        • Eli Odell Jackson

          How you figure?
          You know nothing about this man other than how the world reviles him.

        • Ray Abrego

          I defend him and I am not deprived , once again someone speaking but has NO knowledge of the place only what lies he has read on the internet

      • Jonny Johns

        This stuff I read is extreme cruelty. If that is compassion, man, I don’t want to see or know what cruelty is or can be.

        • Eli Odell Jackson

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWoF-3X-BcA
          If you’re a Christian as you claim then you’d watch this.

        • Ray Abrego

          So you are judging a man by the lies you have read on the internet cause it is always truthful right. Come on man get real and open your eyes

      • Bruce

        The way you Christians behave is no different from Stalin and Mao-Tse Tung in my mind.

        • Jonny Johns

          I’m a Christian and I don’t behave like this!

          • Bruce

            Sorry, I wasn’t talking about you, in that case.

        • Eli Odell Jackson

          Then you ought to wash your mind in the blood of Christ and repent I suppose.

    • Ray Abrego

      You have never been there but yet you feel you have the right to bash this place well I was there I finished the year program and you are taking this ladies bs story and bashing the rolloff homes .I hope you will stop speaking on things you have no first hand experience on . and if I am mistaken and you were in the homes then please correct me

  • Bruce

    You know the case of Justina Pelletier was just as bad in a different way. The Department of Children and Families was using her without her consent for medical experiments! (Shudder)

    Thankfully, she is back home with her family, and none too soon. She was nearly dying. Fortunately, now Congress is trying to pass a law saying that the Department of Children and Families are forbidden by law from using children in their custody as medical experiments without their consent!

    Good law. I support that.

    • Gail

      You’re right, Bruce. We need to support true children’s rights everywhere as long as the children don’t have the right to hurt anyone smaller and weaker than themselves, just like adults. Of course, that should go without saying.

      As for this abomination of Hepzibah House and all others like it, I think it’s a crying shame that the law hasn’t dealt with these criminals yet. And yet they let them go–just like they let the DCF go. They will do NOTHING–ie religious freedom to abuse others as I said.

      Thanks Bruce. We must be alert to the abuse of children all over the world because it’s right to do so.

  • Crystal

    Could someone PLEASE TELL ME WHAT I CAN DO TO HELP STOP THIS MONSTROUS EVIL? I could not imagine the world could contain such HORRORS!!

    • Eli Odell Jackson

      What can you do to help?
      Repent of every sin and believe on Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
      And you Shall be saved.

      • Crystal

        You
        know, before I even CONSIDER listening to you about your beliefs in Jesus you better
        take that Nazi flag down mate.

        • Gail

          Ghandi’s statement comes to mind:
          “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
          http://www.mongoosemom.com/?p=27

          • Crystal

            So true!
            Sigh…

          • Eli Odell Jackson

            Do you know me?
            Do you know Christ?
            You like to quote me Matthew 7 ‘Judge not that ye be not judged’, but do you ever practice it?

        • Crystal

          In your life AS WELL as off your picture frame, I forgot to add. Forsake confederacy and defense of abusers, and we’ll see what can be done, eh?

        • Eli Odell Jackson

          Is this the ‘Texas Monthly’?
          Then this is our flag.
          I am an Independent Southern Fundamentalist Baptist, I would have taken this flag down awhile ago but then the world just likes to persecute me over it so I will not.

          • Crystal

            RUBBISH!

            The confederate flag is one of the most beastly things I have EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. It mirrors white privilege, and oppression, and hatred of minorities, just like the Nazi flag did. In fact, the confederate states were BASED on the VILE PRACTICE of slavery, if you remember your history. If that is your texas flag then I don’t think you white Southerners have repented of ANYTHING AT ALL. Repentance means to “turn away from something and change your mind on it”, if I remember correctly what it means. I’m not entirely ignorant of your religion.

            SHAME ON YOU.

            Why not an American flag? Why this sort of beastly rot? And this stuff about persecution – I know of many minorities in America who are far more persecuted than you are yet I never hear them cry about it unless they have good reason.

            If I saw a Christian person was being TRULY persecuted, like Miriam Ibrahim (now THAT’S persecution), then I would stand by them and totally support that person against her/his persecutors. But your Lester Roloff, and you, and people like you – you’re not persecuted. Disagreement is NOT persecution, as I hear people of your ilk are so VERY FOND of telling black people, and gay people, and Jewish people, ALL THE CONFOUNDED TIME!

            Christian Westerners understand nothing of being persecuted for their beliefs, unlike Chinese Christians, who are persecuted and have to worship underground, mouthing the words to songs in complete silence. That is persecution, NOT going after a douchebag and blimp because the bloke was stupid enough to break the law because he had all these FANCY BIG IDEAS about how HE was going to follow what he believed the Bible manual said on how to BEAT CHILDREN.

          • Ray Abrego

            That is not the Texas flag duh. It is the rebel flag

          • Ray Abrego

            you are racist against whites thats all

          • Crystal

            I’m sorry but I checked out what you said. It’s totally false. The Texas flag is like this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Texas, not like what you said. I think YOU are the unrepentant one in that case, not the State of Texas.

        • Ray Abrego

          Why do you calk the rebel flag a Nazi flag , that is really a ignorant comment you obviously don’t understand that it is a state flag and not a insult by any means educate yourself before making dumb comments

          • Crystal

            Because it’s racist, that’s why. I stand for what’s right!

          • Ray Abrego

            LOL you are a racist

  • Eli Odell Jackson

    Ah the world… Wicked and slanderous in it’s sin til’ the end.
    How much slandering nonsense, to the saints of God, and all in ignorance.
    Yet I remember them words of God, written so long ago:
    He being dead, yet speaketh. – Heb. 11:4

    I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior to the preaching of Brother Roloff, one of the greatest men of God ever to grace these shores of sin.

    You condemn this man with half the facts, and having seen none of the fruit.
    The man had a heart of gold, given him by the grace of God, and his ministry was one of the most effective since apostolic times.
    How many girls and men were turned from their wicked ways, drug abusers, prostitutes, fornicators, wild angry men of all kinds.
    Transformed by the word of God, by the power of the Word that was made flesh, yes, Jesus Christ.

    Yes, Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, much maligned by a wicked world who would not stand for good bible correction.
    Hated by the world, persecuted by the world, yet we still love you all and will fight for your poor wicked souls, God bless you all.
    If you wish to know more, you merely have to ask.

    • Crystal

      SO YOU’RE IMPLYING THIS ROLOFF WASN’T GUILTY OF THE CHARGES OF ABUSE AND CRUELTY PLACED BEFORE HIM? OR HAVE YOU REDEFINED WHAT ABUSE AND CRUELTY MEAN? CAN SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME WITH THIS ENQUIRY? I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT THE MENTAL DYNAMIC IS HERE!

      • Eli Odell Jackson

        He was not guilty, what abuse? They used the rod to discipline, sure, that was standard everywhere up until the 70s or 80s, it still is in many homes across the nation.

        • Crystal

          How then, do you define ABUSE?

          I thought ABUSE was hitting and beating people. And still, you have NOT properly answered the charges against you.

          I’m ASHAMED of you for showing such shoddy scholarship. PROVE to me that this man is NOT ABUSIVE, and PLEASE DO DEFINE YOUR TERMS.

    • Jonny Johns

      My friend, you have a persecution complex when you are so keen to persecute other people. Get over it!!

    • Crystal

      Stop patronising us! We find it offensive!

      Crystal

  • Eli Odell Jackson

    And what of this girl DeAnne? Of what she’s made of herself since the devil took a hold and drove her from Rebekah?
    She continues to use profanities and obscenities, yet claiming for herself deep faith, she didn’t finish high-school and now she went to sell her body as a model, she was clearly possessed by devils during her time at the home, even from this sympathetic account that much is clear, and she appears not to have overcome…
    God bless her all the same, I’ll pray on her account directly and seek her out if she yet draws breath.

    • Ed

      You’re a piece of shit. That’s as intellectual as I’ll get here. You can pray for me or whatever, but if there’s a God I hope to Him that he doesn’t listen to the likes of you.

      • Gail

        Thank you, Ed, for sticking up for me and the team. You’re a fine good man!

        • Ed

          Don’t thank me. My words in all likelihood won’t get through to him; he likes the excuse to commit violence more than anything else in the world, God and Christianity included.

          • Eli Odell Jackson

            What violence have I committed?
            I stand up here by myself to all condemnation and wrath of y’all who know nothing about any of this, I am a Christian, I am a fundamentalist, yes I am, Brother Roloff was a preacher sent from God, whom you, being evil, malign viciously based on the testimony of what exactly? Who exactly?
            A troubled teenaged girl?
            How many girls went to the Rebekah homes in that time?
            I’ve seen their testimony, beautiful flowers for the Master’s bouquet, the most successful ministry I’ve ever seen.
            And yet look at the scorn and judgment you heap upon it in ignorance, that’s a disgrace, and a reproach unto yourself.

          • Crystal

            Pardon me, but I must say it is to many testimonies. If it was one girl I don’t think we’d be quite so concerned. Of course, I would be, as I am like that, but MANY people getting hurt by this kind of thing – COME ON!! Where’s your Christlike compassion and humility??!!

          • Ray Abrego

            And how many were helped ? But let’s just listen to the few liners right. And yes I say few cause there are far more that it helped

          • Crystal

            The FEW LIARS????

            THERE ARE CHRISTIANS – CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANS – WHO HAVE SAID THAT THIS IS WRONG!!!!

            One I know – two of hers are here:

            https://scarletlettersblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/what-to-expect-from-a-twelve-year-old-tbb/

            https://scarletlettersblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/how-to-develop-character-in-your-children-tbb/

            And another one:

            http://undermuchgrace.blogspot.de/2012/01/information-about-hephzibah-house-and.html

            Think about it. It’s the Christians who know who are more up in arms than anyone else, even the atheists. I admit, nothing helps quite like personal experience, but some of these people personally experienced this stuff too, and I can believe it because at least two or three conservative Christians, if not more, have spoken out on this horrendous nightmare it needs to end cold turkey IMO

          • Ray Abrego

            yes considering the number of men and woman who have gone through the homes are probably in the thousands and you come with 3 lol wow you have convinced me lol not get your facts straight before you make coments , I can google too and bring all kinds of people to back my stand on this subject but that does not make it true does it . The fact that this place helped me and my brother when our parents would not and the courts were going to lock us up at the age of 17 BUT THEY INTERVENED and I will be for ever grateful no matter what you closed minded, media brainwashed peolpe say .

          • acornwebworks

            Hey Ray…If true, I’m glad you and your brother were helped and didn’t go to jail those many, many years ago.

            But PLEASE stop with the nasty attitude? Please? It doesn’t make you *or* the Lighthouse *or* the Camerons look good.

            And, like it or not, *your* story is no more than the story of *ONE* person than any other story we’re heard or read online.

            More important…according to you, we’re supposed to assume that *you* are telling the truth while you proclaim we’re supposed to believe that everyone else is lying. Well, why should we believe *you*???

            Do you truly not realize that *you* are just another internet poster providing no actual evidence? That, based on your own arguments, your claims are no more believable than anyone else?

            In other words, why should we believe you’re anything other than an Internet troll?

          • Crystal
          • Ray Abrego

            when were you at peoples baptist ? never so stop with your stupidity ,i guess everything you read on the internet must be true right ? idiotic

          • I_loathe_disqus

            IOW, how many had their spirits broken and were hopelessly brainwashed into parroting whatever their abusers wanted them to say?

          • Ray Abrego

            what year were you there ?

        • Ray Abrego

          That explains a lot if you think that fool is a fine good man your moral compass is way out of whack

          • Crystal

            Tell me, Ray, did you ever read the forms these schools offer to parents considering sending their children to these hellholes – ever – in your life?

          • Ray Abrego

            i was there .so really i dont need to read forms to know how me and all the others were treated I just told you i was there maybe you should experince something for yourself before making a opinion off of anothers persons article or what you read on line

          • acornwebworks

            He asked about “schools”…plural. Your allegedly being at one of them doesn’t mean you know about all of them, now does it?

          • Ray Abrego

            well I think it is funny when people comment on a persons attitude , I have yet to be able to tell a persons attitude by there writing lol so as far my attitude it is very good lol maybe you should watch your attitude cause it does not make you look good. see that comment meant nothing at all it is just said or typed to make others reading it feel that I am a mean bad person WELL IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL ANY BETTER GO AHEAD BUT FRANKLY THE ATTITUDE ALL STARTED BY OTHER BASHING PEOPLE I LOVE AND CARE FOR , but if you think it is wrong to stand up for what I believe is right then do not comment on my post . That does not mean I am right in your eyes or others but is based on my own pesronal experince with these individuals. And I was in corpus christi in the court room during there court appearances along with other former light house guys and we stood there in support for these GREAT men falsely accussed of crimes by brat teenagers, who just wanted out of the homes do to they did not like having rules . and as far as the conviction they were never convicted . faye cameron was banned from working at the girls home simply cause she stopped the appeal pros=cess due to her age and what it was costing financialy.

          • acornwebworks

            Ray…I merely pointed out that you were only at one school, which means you cannot know from experience how things were at all schools like this. And that, since you were only at one school for one year, you also cannot know from experience how things were over the years even at the one school *you* were at. (And, as far as Faye’s treatment of young women in the girls’ homes goes…you honestly have to admit that you have absolutely ZERO personal experience.)

            As far as your attitude goes? Well, *your* attitude is demonstrated by *your* choice of words and *your* choice only. I’m not responsible for that. Nor is anyone else. If you’re angry at people for disagreeing with you or saying things you don’t like, so be it.

            But you can’t blame the rest of us for the words *you* choose. No one gives us that power over you. No one. If you don’t want to take ownership of your own words, then don’t. But that simply does not make anyone else responsible for them.

    • Bruce

      Leave her be or I’ll personally see to it that you see the inside of a jail cell!

      • Eli Odell Jackson

        How will you do that? Brother you really are hysterical aren’t you?
        Just exactly what do you think I am? Some kind of child molester?
        Did you see that this piece was written 13 years ago?
        I checked Facebook and the best I can tell there’s a woman who goes by that name looks like she’s cleaned up somewhat and married a good ol’ country boy, God bless em I say, I don’t know if she’s well or not, if she’s saved but it’s not my place to criticize in the way y’all do and I respect her privacy.
        But if you will find a way to jail me, I’d count that as gain to suffer for Christ.

        • Bruce

          I’m not a Christian. Don’t call ME brother!!

          • Ray Abrego

            your a punk Bruce
            come jail me lol

      • Ray Abrego

        Bruce your full of crap lol man your a tough guy with a key board

  • Aroha

    To Eli Odell Jackson:

    As an older Maori from Aotearoa (New Zealand) who likes to nose around on people’s blogs, and have Pakeha (white) neighbours, I’d like
    to pipe up and say I feel whakahouhou (disgust and revulsion) at what I
    read. We’d NEVER do this to our children! We Maoris believe in the
    values of aroha (love), tapu (the sacred), and whanau (family). This tukino
    (cruelty) is utterly rejected in our eyes.

    I have this for you to digest as good kai (food) for thought:

    “He aha te mea nui o te ao?

    He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

    What is the most important thing in the world?

    It is people! It is people! It is people!”

    (This
    Maori proverb is quoted word-for-word from the website
    http://www.korero.maori.nz/forlearners/proverbs.html, and the Maori
    words are taken from the website http://www.maoridictionary.co.nz/).

    I
    see you need learning. You are incredibly kuare (ignorant) when it
    comes to dealing with other cultures. I was ignorant too, and have only
    recently started to learn extensively about my culture, partially
    because my Maori culture was banned up until recently in my local
    school.

    Be so afraid. So very afraid. Rangi and Papa will deal with you!!!!

    • Aroha

      Oh and by the way, a correction; I think learning about Maori culture was ignored rather than banned!

      • Gail

        Join the team, Aroha! I’m glad to meet you! We need a good strong voice from another culture to say SOMETHING!

        • Aroha

          I’m glad to give my contribution to the online

          hapori (community). You’re a strong wahine (woman) and you have a fine voice for tika (fairness).

      • Aroha

        I didn’t mean IGNORANT ON YOUR LEVEL THOUGH; YOU’VE GOT A CONFEDERATE FLAG UP. I’m only ignorant because my local school didn’t teach the Maori culture too much (it was in the sixties).

        • Aroha

          That was meant for our arrogant Elie Odell Jackson, not me!

          • Aroha

            Oh dear, I should have spelled it “Ellie”!

          • Aroha

            No, I found it’s Eli! Sorry because there are a few great people with different spellings, Elie, etc. and I don’t want to put them into Eli Odell Jackson’s putrid camp.

        • Aroha

          I’m sorry, what was I thinking? It was the fifties and I did attend a white school for a while because I was half-white. The sixties – that was an error on my part. Sorry for the misinformation!

    • Eli Odell Jackson

      Well that’s fine and dandy mister Maori man but that won’t save your poor wicked soul.
      Saying a bunch of Maori gibberish, if you’ll pardon me saying will not do anything for anyone.
      Lester Roloff was engaged in spiritual warfare, who did he fight with?
      The devil and sin, all the days of his life since a youth, you say the most important thing in the world is people?
      As a Christian I have to concur, though the world is not all there is, there is also an Heaven and a hell and a White Throne Judgment we must all face for the sins of this life.
      The most important thing in this is people, of which you are one, therefore we must tirelessly preach the Gospel to all people that they might be saved, and avoid the condemnation and Judgment of God.

      • harrypotterfan

        leave Aroha alone you white-privilege anti-magic bigoted racist

      • Matt

        CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

        • Gail

          Yeah, that’s pretty much what it is, Matt. Who’s going to stand up for Aroha? I see she is totally unaware of Eli Odell Jackson’s racist bigotry, which totally pisses me off.

        • Crystal

          Your definition made me laugh. Please do stick around, Matt; I like constructive conversation. Oh, and as for Eli Odell Jackson – bother his fat arrogant ideas, which are proclaimed while sitting on his fat arrogant backside, lounging about in a fat arrogant manner!!!!

  • Jonny Johns

    A thought for today:

    1 Corinthians 13:3-8a (emphasis mine)
    And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me NOTHING.
    Charity SUFFERETH LONG, and is KIND; charity envieth not, charity vaunteth not itself, IS NOT PUFFED UP;
    DOTH NOT BEHAVE ITSLEF UNSEEMLY; SEEKETH NOT HER OWN; IS NOT EASILY PROVOKED; THINKETH NO EVIL.
    REJOICETH NOT IN INIQUITY, BUT REJOICETH IN THE TRUTH.
    Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
    Charity NEVER FAILETH;…

    And Lester Roloff’s actions, my friends, IS NOT CHARITY, at least not the way my Jesus understands it. If Jesus were here today, He would not hesitate to call these fundamentalist “Christians” a brood of vipers and whitewashed walls. So many of His diatribes apply to them, or to any religious person who tries to keep people away from God’s love.

    Oh, and Eli Odell Jackson, in case you’re wondering about my orthdoxy, I’m a newly born again Christian, just one month ago. I’m ashamed these acts could be committed in Christ’s name, and as a committed Christian, I want to see these acts STOP, in the NAME OF JESUS!

    • Eli Odell Jackson

      Well God bless your heart my brother, but you criticize in vain and in ignorance, quote me the scripture where we disagree, you have a massively warped view of this man’s ministry.
      For the record I’ve not been saved more than maybe nine months myself brother, why do you criticize if you’re yet a babe in Christ?
      And before the world also, have you not seen that scripture?

  • Crystal

    Come on, people; let’s show our humanity and help this poor young woman:

    http://www.gofundme.com/FREESKYLER

    • Jonny Johns

      “Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.”

      How appropriate (snorts)

      • Crystal

        I think so. This stuff has gone too far. Good thoughts, Jonny Johns, though I really doubt that invoking the name of Jesus will do any good in this situation. I’d be so blunt as to say that a much-needed kick up their collective backside would do them good.

    • Ray Abrego

      I would rather send my money to Rolloff ministry

  • harrypotterfan

    Come on everyone lets leave this muggle eli odell jackson to himself, and keep on fighting. Hes just trying to make us more enlightened magical people feel miserable because we wont shut up about his abusive religion and god.

    • Gail

      “Leaving the muggle to himself” is easy for you to say, young man/woman. What he said really hurt and bruised me.

      • harrypotterfan

        i’m a young man. this isn’t much, but i’m sorry he hurt and bruised you gail. U sound like a lovely lady.

  • Crystal

    I’m sick of people who abuse in the name of Jesus…sigh…

  • Crystal

    “Still refusing to submit his youth homes to state oversight, Roloff met
    with Hill, and with the Honeybee Quartet in tow, he prayed and wept for
    the salvation of Hill’s soul. Unmoved, Hill pressed his case, and in
    1974 a state district judge found Roloff in contempt of court,
    sentencing the preacher to five days behind bars.”

    I personally found this rather amusing. But I would have done something desperate to wipe the smirk OFF his face.

    • harrypotterfan

      agreed…he’s so depraved…and sick…needs a psychiatrist

      • harrypotterfan

        or maybe a little magic might help him stop being such a dear little muggle and he might change – just hopin’ and prayin’ for his dear little muggle soul…if it embraces the magic within itself it might be more tolerant of others don’t you think?

    • Eli Odell Jackson

      So you hate him, rejoice in his troubles, yet you’ve never known him?
      Where is this moral high-ground you’re on?

      • harrypotterfan

        you leave these good people alone, where’s your magical soul?

      • Crystal

        And have YOU known him, Eli Odell Jackson?

  • Ray Abrego

    People who read this but never been there or lived in one of the homes for more than a month have no right to comment on something you have no first hand knowledge about , so get a life I was in the light house so yes I can speak on this , I am a 40 yr old man now and I thank god I was able to go there and learn all that I did cause my parents sure couldn’t get through to me . So for all you talking crap about the Rolloff homes shut the hell up cause you don’t know what the hell you are talking about. If you want to know the truth talk to some one who was there for a year like me and made it through the program and is a grown adult now. Not some looser who couldn’t hack it so has to tell lies about the place so there parents will feel guilty and not send them back

  • candace

    Let me say this, Dont go by what you hear,I know For a fact that this home was not like what people are saying at all. This home was the best place to be to learn about God. And let me assure you that almost every girl or boy that was sent here was rebellious and hated their parents for sending them there, but after they were taught what God was all about they were thanking them, there was no Tv’s no high heels and had to wear uniforms to church, you could wear dresses and gouchos but they had to be past the knee, And for food it was very healthy food’s to eat. How do I know all of this? Because I was sent there, yes I hated my mom for. Sending me there, but guess what? I love her for It now, and they did not beat you, if you did wrong you got a demerit which was a write up and then you got. We we called a lick and that was no different then getting one fron school, so whoever Puts this place down is wrong.

    • Bruce

      Coward.

      • Ray Abrego

        So Bruce you call her a coward for speaking the truth ? wow your a real class act

    • Ray Abrego

      I agree with you 100%

  • Ray Abrego

    But if you post on here get ready they will jump on you for not agreeing with there view , then they will twist your words and try and make you look bad . kind of typical liberal crap

    • virginia_slim

      The good news is that the sadistic torture palaces run by the con artist Rolloff, were closed.
      His fear and hatred toward young women are classic to misogyny. Classically, the misogynists tend to hide behind a perverted, demented claim of religious belief.

      Rolloff’s form of religion has been described as Old Testament christinity, in that all of Christs lessons and commandments are ignored.

      The amount of hate expressed by those sympathetic to Rolloff’s mental illness is not to be underestimated.