This is an early story...
Not long after I arrived on Cape Breton, a kind old man offered me the use
of his old summer house.
Rent-free, he offered as he handed me the key.
I think he sensed that I needed a place to rest for awhile.
He was right.
And so began a sojourn of nearly 10 years.
The old house, though plain and rustic, was charmingly situated between
the ocean and the mountains.
I spent a few days tidying it up and making it my own.
I was struck by the peacefulness and beauty of the place.
I needed some time away from people and this seemed the perfect place to be. The nearest village was 4 miles away, the nearest neighbor ¼ mile away.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
But of course, nothing is as it seems….
Just as I was settling down with a cup of hot tea and my travel diary,
there was a sharp knock at the door.
Well, not exactly a knock …it was more of a crashing in of the door.
I sat up with a jerk, frightened as the door flew open and a wild-looking
young man with a bushy head of black curls strode into my living room.
He forthrightly introduced himself as Roland...Roland Aucoin.
My neighbor from down the hill.
“And who might you be?” he asked.
He then proceeded to pepper me with questions for the next hour as my tea grew cold. I was both fascinated and exasperated by my friendly intruder.
There was a brief pause in our conversation where I actually thought
he might leave. But no...
He then cajoled me into taking a hike into the nearby woods.
He promptly enlisted himself as my personal guide to all things Cheticamp.
He told stories by the hour of the old folks and the old ways of this fascinating community. Slowly I was being drawn into their world, so unlike my own.
It was, in many ways, a welcome distraction from the world that I had left.
There was however, a subtle sense that I was being primed for something
with all these stories...a slight sense of urgency and need.
Many hours later, my new friend Roland left for home.
My head was fairly spinning from the barrage of information.
There would be no writing today.
I boiled some fresh water for tea and finally sat down to reflect on my curious visitor and the unexpected turn my day had taken.
Though the stories were charming, I felt somewhat disturbed for reasons
I could not define.
I felt like Roland had somehow become a fixture in my life.
That was soon to be confirmed.
Early the next morning my door came crashing open again without warning.
Young Roland had planned a whole day of events for us.
I tried to protest, but he looked so stricken at the idea that I had planned
to spend a quiet day by myself, that I caved in and went along with his plans.
It would be awhile before I realized how isolated these people were and how much they craved contact with the outside world.
But it was more than contact that they craved...
To my unpracticed eye, all was well.
These people lived a life that many would envy.
Beautiful countryside, simple lifestyles, and tranquil circumstances…
Idyllic by most standards.
But my indoctrination had just begun…
As the first weeks passed, I was having a hard time carving out any quiet time for myself. It seemed that Roland was at my door every time the lights were turned on. It didn’t matter the hour. Five or even six times a day he could be counted on to come crashing in.
I tried living in the dark for awhile...
I thought I might turn the lock on the door as a means of training him
to knock first, but I found to my consternation that there was no lock
on the door. There was only a small rectangle of old wood on the outside of the door held in place with a single nail in the center that served as a lock when one left the house.
When I tried to tell Roland that I craved a little privacy and would he please knock first, he was completely uncomprehending.
That's not how things were done here.
Frayed nerves and all, I would have to try to adapt to their strange society.
As Roland burrowed his way into my life, he started to share some of the darker aspects of his life with me. I sensed that he had a lot to unload.
I listened patiently. Before long he brought a young friend and then a few others, each in turn sharing their lives and problems with me.
My short-lived dream of the perfect setting was coming undone.
This was a troubled community and the causes were myriad.
Apparently I was the safe stranger.
In a village where everyone knew everyone’s business, the keeping of secrets was essential.
The young people could come to my house and share the unspeakable.
As in many isolated communities, there was long-standing abuse of many kinds. Alcoholism, domestic abuse, incest, and perhaps, worst of all,
There were frightening layers of darkness and stories that decried belief.
What had I gotten myself into?
Over the next several months, hardly a day went by without the shy intrusions of several young people. Then a few of the older ones came calling as well.
So many stories, so much pain of longstanding.
I was hardly able to do more than listen, but that seemed sufficient for the moment somehow. I had my own problems to attend to… my own very recent wounds. I was finding comfort in scripture and in long walks along the ocean shore and the quiet hills.
Many things had conspired to bring me to this place.
For all the interruptions and distractions, it was a place of healing for me.
The wind, the salt air and the simple demands of daily living enacted their healing, each in turn. Carrying water from the well, chopping wood to cook and to keep warm. Unfamiliar tasks for a small town American girl.
It was Roland who taught me how to build a fire and keep it going through
the night. People coming to visit brought small gifts from the garden,
some fresh fish, an armload of wood, a loaf of still-warm bread.
I needed them as much as they needed me.
It was an unlikely scheme for healing but it was the perfect one.
In a few short months I had gone from my sad and broken condition to feeling alive and hopeful again. I reveled in my newfound freedom and in this
complete change of lifestyle.
I had escaped (literally) from an abusive marriage to a dangerous preacher's kid. I had experienced firsthand the dangers that came of submission
to a twisted and heavy-handed gospel.
After my escape, I wanted nothing to do with God, much less his
self-appointed representatives. I turned my back on all of it.
Much to my surprise, however, I began to feel and experience a gentle
presence in my life. I knew that I had been guided to this place.
Moreover, in my first three days here, I had been given a roof over my head,
a job, and all the makings of a new life.
Things were unfolding for me and the others in fascinating ways.
We were helping and being helped to heal each other.
Before long I had a houseful of young people every night, sometimes long
into the night.
Their problems were beyond my help. So I began to share bits of scripture, mostly proverbs, with them. We tried to decipher what we could.
It seemed to help.
Every week a few more kids would join the group.
Soon we went from having casual discussions to embarking on an actual class.
The first evening there were 14 or 15 young people crowded into my small
One young girl stood out from the others. She was very somber and obviously religious. It was rumored that she planned to join the convent one day.
The 'regular' kids looked up to her in awe.
No problems, this one. Miss Perfect. One less sad story for me to hear.
During the class she was unusually attentive.
It was a good evening's discussion, just like all the others.
At the end we all knelt down in a circle holding hands as we gave a closing prayer. While we were praying I glanced around the room and noticed that
the young girl was swaying back and forth strangely.
Moments later her head fell backward and she began to moan.
At first I thought she was ill.
Suddenly there was a chill in the air, a slight but palpable shift.
In the next moment, a feeling of menace and fear was felt in the room.
Her moans became louder and more guttural.
Soon we heard a man’s voice coming from her mouth, cursing and ugly.
The two young people that were holding hands with her withdrew in fear.
Things quickly escalated. Then she began to foam at the mouth.
We were frozen in shock.
Who was this child? What was happening to her?
At first I thought it was a seizure, but that idea was quickly dispelled.
The voice that emanated from her carried unusual power.
Its terrible presence soon filled the room.
Some of the young people were crying.
I stood up and told all the young people to gather on the opposite side
of the room. I gave them instructions to stay together and keep praying.
Once they were gathered together I turned and walked toward the girl,
unsure of what I would do or say.
As I approached I felt something incredible rise up in me.
It was as if Jesus himself rose up inside me and took over.
A bright shining strength… A fierce clarity and intelligence…
I stood before her and a few terse words came out of my mouth...a command.
I cannot recall what words were spoken. It was not me speaking.
In the next moment the young girl’s body stiffened and rose to full height.
She then gave a sharp cry and collapsed on the floor with a terrible thud.
She moved slightly on the ground and then fell into a dead sleep.
The awful presence left the room.
We waited quietly. About half an hour passed.
She finally stirred and woke up as if from a bad dream.
You could immediately see the difference in her.
Gone was the strained appearance and religious intensity.
In its place was the soft face of the 12 year old girl that she was.
I had just witnessed the casting out of a demonic spirit.
In this day and age?!
I couldn’t believe it but I also couldn’t deny it.
But how could this sweet young girl be possessed by something so ugly?
And how could someone so religious be hiding something so terrifying?
I pored over the gospel accounts and read everything I could find
regarding casting out spirits. I was learning in retrospect.
A systematic study showed that Jesus often cast out spirits in the synagogue. Those were the most confusing examples.
Jesus would enter a synagogue and someone would greet him with praise.
He turned to the person praising him and cast a demon out.
I couldn’t understand those stories and so I skipped over them.
But I was drawn back to the paradox again and again.
Gradually I began to see that demons took many forms, not all of them outwardly evil. Many of them were found in churches and synagogues.
They were outwardly pious, but they were, in fact, impostors.
Religious demons. Hiding in the cleverest of disguises.
This was to be the first of several such encounters.
How did Jesus know when he was dealing with a demon?
How was I to know? It had to do with his discernment.
Discernment is probably the most important as well as the most lacking spiritual gift. I cannot tell you how many times and in how many pulpits I have seen these devils at work. We sense/ recognize one another immediately.
They do not easily give up their power over their congregations.
They are often the most sanctimonious and charming of all.
But they are evil workers nonetheless, bent on manipulation and control
of the hearts, bodies, minds and pocketbooks of their naïve victims.
There is a peculiar evil delight taken by those demons who rule over churches. Selah…
It wasn't long before word spread about what was going on in our evening meetings. Hearts were being opened and lives were being changed.
I knew what the word of God had done for me. Now I was seeing its effect
on these young people. Our group was growing steadily.
I hitchhiked to Halifax and obtained some Catholic New Testaments
from the Bible Society for them. They were eagerly snapped up.
Before long, I made more runs. I could barely afford them, but by the 4th trip, I had caught the attention of the director, who graciously provided all I needed at no cost from that time on.
Everything was going so well...
Then the unexpected happened...
The local priests got wind of the meetings. They were outraged...a strange reaction. They began to seek out those who came to the house for Bible study. They proceeded to go from house to house confiscating the Testaments.
What happened next was beyond comprehension!
Picture the scene...the old houses were heated with wood. Every house had a wood burning stove with a kettle of hot water on top. The priest would gather the family around the stove and lecture them sternly against the danger
of having Bibles in their possession.
He lifted the stove lid and thrust the Bibles into the flames.
They were told they were too ignorant to handle the word of God...
strictly forbidden to own one!
They were forbidden to come to my house and if I was to visit their homes,
they were instructed to take the kettle of boiling water from the stove
and fling it in my face...or, better yet, between my legs!!
Unbelievable vitriol! Instead of being glad for the changes in their young people's lives, they were enraged and went on the attack.
As time went on, they tried to have me deported (unsuccessfully),
threatened to burn my house to the ground, openly incited the people against me with the remark "We can't be held responsible for what they might do..."
It was outrageous and out of all proportion...a witch hunt!
How could this be happening in modern times?
It all seemed like something out of the dark ages.
I got a burr under my saddle, as they say.
I went straight out and got more Bibles for the kids.
They just got better at hiding them! And we continued on.
Then a moment of revelation....
A few years before, when I had brought a Bible to my father's home for the 1st time, he had the most extraordinary reaction.
I was 22, he was nearly 50. He was French-Canadian and Catholic.
When I showed it to him, wanting him to read an especially beautiful passage, he recoiled in abject horror and ordered me...and it...out of the house!
Never had I seen him so frightened and panic-stricken!
There was no reasoning with him.
I never understood it...until these experiences.
In his childhood, they had been strictly forbidden to have contact with a Bible.
"Aren't these people supposed to be Christian!?" I wondered.
These isolated communities were rife with the kind of abuse that should have been unthinkable in this day and age!
As time went on, I heard stories of sexual abuse of altar boys,
vulnerable women, housekeepers and nuns.
The front door of each house was reserved for the annual visit of the priest who would lean hard on the families for money.
They were held in such fear and esteem that they had the right of the bride
on her wedding night.
Until recent times, the church had exercised control over all commerce.
If you needed a bolt of fabric, a barrel of molasses or flour, salt, etc. you got it through the basement of the church. They controlled everything.
Our innocently undertaken Bible studies were more of a threat than I realized.
It was not planned, but the gauntlet had been thrown down...
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