United Pentecostal Church International
What would you like to be called and how old are you?
My name is Jen, I am 36 years old.
What is the name of the cult you were in?
United Pentecostal Church International
Where was it located?
The local church I attended was in the Saint Louis, MO area.
How many people were a member of it?
The organization boasts millions. Our local congregation
ran approximately 175 people.
Were you born into it or converted or other?
I was eight years old when my parents divorced and my
Mom converted and became a member.
How did people become members?
You have to follow their three step salvation plan which
consists of repenting of your sins, being baptized using
specific words, and receiving the Holy Ghost by “speaking
How many leaders were there?
In our congregation there were two official “leaders” but
several other ministers who held licenses in the UPC.
Who kept the leader(s) in check, or was he the only authority?
The main pastor at our church was pretty much his own authority.
He was also the leader of the cluster of churches in our county, so that
gave him even more power.
What happened if someone questioned his authority or what you believed?
If you were caught questioning the beliefs of the church, different things could potentially
happen such as, being “sat down” from any ministries you had on the platform, escorted to
the altar for prayer, and elders coming to you with lectures and literature written by the UPC.
Where did they get their information?
The UPC will tell you they get their beliefs from the Bible….
In all reality, most of their doctrine comes from their current General
Superintendent, David K Bernard. Pretty much whatever that man says is viewed as
What were some of the strangest beliefs?
There are so many! I always thought the strangest/most hypocritical
was the teaching members couldn’t own a TV. In many houses,
including my own, we had an old computer monitor hooked up to a
video camera that played back VHS tapes. This arrangement was
considered appropriate, but having an actual television and VCR was taboo.
Men wearing shorts was also a no no. Which I always thought, how is a woman
wearing a skirt to their knees okay, but a man wearing shorts was wrong?
I think a lot of the more modern churches today are now okay with these examples.
Which is also a little funny how it is “okay” now but wasn’t twenty years ago.
What were some strange practices?
Loudly speaking in tongues, congregational foot washing, and people running
around the church with no shoes on. just to name a few!
Were members punished for asking questions?
In our personal experience, when we started asking questions, another couple
and ourselves had to be secretive about us meeting and researching the Bible
without UPC sponsored material so we would meet two hours before service in a
small classroom at the church. We feared the pastor finding out we were
questioning things and were worried we would be reprieved of our “ministries”
such as music.
When did you notice things were different than other religions?
As soon as children are old enough to go to camps and conventions which is around the age
of eight years old, they are ingrained that their religion is different, the only true religion..
So, I pretty much knew my church was different from day one. Also, when my mother started
attending a UPC church she explained to me this church was different from the Baptist
church we had previously been attending because they taught the whole Bible, not just
part. The UPC is gifted at indoctrinating their members into thinking they are far superior
and better than any other church, they thrive on being different.
To you, what is the difference between a cult and religion?
To quote Mike Rinder who said it perfectly: “the difference between a religion and a cult
is what happens when you try to leave.”
Were there any books you regularly read about what you were being taught?
If you are a devoted member you read all of David K Bernard’s books.
I wasn’t so devoted, so I didn’t read a whole lot of UPC books.
I did have several of their Bible studies memorized as my mom and
Step dad were always teaching them at our house to new members.
How did you get out?
It is a bit of a long story (so long, I am currently in the process of writing a
book).To be rather brief, I wanted to know exactly what I believed in order to
teach my children. I was questioning some of the more extreme beliefs
already, but was doing them as to be submissive to my pastor.
My husband and I started doing some hard studying going topic by topic using
Nothing but the Bible, digging all the way back to the original Greek it was
written in. Once we started noticing sever several discrepancies and
inconsistencies between the Bible and what they were teaching, we had no
choice but to leave. We couldn’t raise our children in such falsehoods
Leaving my extended family and close friends behind was one of the most
difficult things I’ve ever done.
What was everyone’ s reaction when you left?
My mom and step dad were devastated. They sincerely feared for our
souls. Our “friends” were the same. It’s the equivalent to them of watching
their loved one cliff dive off the side of the Grand Canyon without ropes
They honestly felt like we were dooming ourselves to hell by walking
away from “the truth”. It was actually heartbreaking to do that to them.
The responses I received from my so called friends were eye opening.
Most were not supportive or respectful of our decision. They said things
such as I made them want to vomit and they hoped I never slept again.
Three years out and I never hear from any of those people.
And when I started speaking out openly about their religion, most
even unfriended me on social media.
How does your family feel about it?
Thankfully, since we have left, we have had the opportunity to share with
most of our family the information we found and have very few still left
in the organization.
How did you adjust to the world? How has this experience changed your life?
My life has changed drastically in the three short years since we have been out.
At 36 years old, I finally feel like an adult! I can now make my own choices about
clothing and hair styles! Sounds so silly now, but I felt so overwhelmed going
clothes shopping for a long time because the idea of being able to wear whatever
I wanted was so different! Not to mention, I had never bought a pair of jeans!
I had no idea what I was doing, I had many fitting room meltdowns. The first
time I had my hair dyed I cried and almost threw up! Now, it’s kind of my
thing to go with leaving members to get their hair cut for the first time as moral
What kind of help do you wish was available to you to help you ‘ deprogram’ ?
Thankfully, I do have an amazing therapist now and am currently going through
EMDR therapy for PTSD related to my cult experiences. I am also in a couple of
support groups on Facebook with other who left the same or similar cults.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about your experience?
Don’t discredit people’s personal experiences. You never know what they are going through.
Honestly, it would have been easier in so many ways for me to stay in my cult, in my comfort zone,
But now, having left, and doing so sincerely and not strictly from rebellion how I was always taught
people who leave are doing, I see how small minded those beliefs are and what a tiny world they live in.
I want to help as many people as I can get out by just hearing my story. Hopefully I can reach someone
else who may be as oppressed and miserable as I was. I am finally comfortable in my own skin and am free to be me! It is truly life changing! I also have a blog documenting some of my experiences since leaving, feel free to read and share!