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Running Off with the Preacher's Wife....

"Go find Susie!"
My head jerked around to see who had spoken those words. The people sitting around me in church that afternoon looked impassive. It wasn't any of them.
Strange... I settled back in my seat and tried to return to the healing service.
I was uncomfortable, however. There was an urgency in the voice.
The message didn't make any sense to me.
Hearing voices would not be such a good thing, either.
So I tried to simply ignore it. Five minutes passed...
"Go find Susie!"
I jumped! Ok...this was real! But where was that voice coming from?!
Inside, I realized! Urgent! Imperative!
My first reaction to the message was 'Oh no...not me!"
Susie was the stuck-up young wife of the new preacher.
We had been introduced briefly a couple of weeks previously.
Her nose went up in the air disdainfully and I backed off,
thinking to avoid her in future.
Her husband Ron, had been hired to handle the afternoon healing services under R.W. Schambach's Gospel tent. He was charismatic, handsome and already quite popular, but something about him made me uncomfortable.
In fact, I was in his service that afternoon more out of obligation than desire.
I had decided that this was the last service I would endure.
I was wildly at odds with his adoring congregation, but I couldn't stomach
the guy. He seemed too smooth, too false to me.

"Go find Susie!"
My reverie was interrupted. I sat straight up!
Ok...this was no joke.
I craned my neck looking around the tent. I remembered the pastor's wives
all sat together in a special pew...a place of honor.
I stood up to find her, but she was not there.
That was a first... I sat back down.

"Go find Susie!"
My eyes opened wide!
I slipped out of the service and roamed the grounds...no sign of her.
The Voice remained insistent.
I asked the various workers and her friends if they knew where she was.
No one had seen her in a couple of days.
I felt I had discharged my duty at that point. I had done all I could.

"Go find Susie!"
I couldn't believe it!
I finally found someone who could tell me where they were living...
an apartment across town in McAllen, Texas.
The tent had set up there for the month of March.
I finally found the red brick complex that housed their apartment.
I dreaded walking up to her door.
What was I doing there?
She didn't like me and I was pretty sure I didn't like her either.
What would I say to her? I had no clue!
I walked up to the door and knocked a bit timidly.
No answer.
Fine with me!
I returned to my car.

"Go find Susie!!"
The voice drummed in my head...unrelenting!
I waited a minute, gathered my resolve, marched up to the door
and really knocked on it.
Still no answer. No one home.
As far as I was concerned, it was official now.
I had done everything in my power to find her.
I was off the hook.
I headed back to my car and started to turn the key in the ignition
and be done with all this foolishness.
But I couldn't turn the key. It was as if something was holding me back...preventing me from starting the car.

Yet again, "Go find Susie!"
There was no place left to look! But the voice was quite serious.
Finally, I hit on a plan. I would move my car out of sight, slip up to the apartment unobtrusively and wait to see what happened.
This time, the key turned in the ignition.
I drove around to side of the building and approached their place hugging the building all the way. There was a small section of brick between the door and the front window. I ducked below the window and flattened myself against the brick. My eyes roved from window to door
and back again as I listened and waited.
5...10...then 20 minutes passed.
I was pressed hard against the building praying that no one would call
the police regarding my suspicious behavior!
This was messy!
I wanted to give up several times, but I knew I was under the gun.
Something had to happen.
Half an hour passed and then I noticed a tiny movement at the window.
A finger parted the blinds ever so slightly.
It was a furtive motion.
I stopped breathing!
Someone WAS in there!
They had been aware of my knocking.
10 more long minutes passed and then I heard several locks and deadbolts being opened slowly...hesitantly.
Then, at long last, the door opened just a crack.
In that moment, my body suddenly had a mind of its own.
I whirled around and jammed my foot into that very small crack.
I pushed the door with all I had, while calling out
"Susie, Susie! You don't know me but we need to talk. Open the door please!"
She pushed back...hard! What followed was a furious pushing match.
Now Susie was a big gal...6 feet tall and heavy-boned.
I was no match for her at a petite 5'2".
"I need to talk to you Susie!" I pleaded.
Meanwhile, I still had no idea what I was supposed to talk to her about!
I was determined, but I was running out of steam.
There was a fair certainty that my foot was going to be crushed in the melee'.
But just as it looked completely hopeless, Susie let go!
I nearly fell inside, but I caught my balance just in time.
I looked up at Susie, standing there mutely.
Every inch of her was covered in swollen black bruises.
"Oh my God, what happened?! TALK to me! Please."
She just looked at me blankly. She wouldn't speak.
Her eyes were black and blue, her cheek had been broken,
cuts and bruises everywhere...hideous.
She had been beaten within an inch of her life.
I couldn't get her to say a word.
I was at a loss...that is, until I realized that my head was crowded with thoughts of my 1st husband, a violent preacher's kid.
Charming and charismatic on the outside, something on the order of Charles Manson behind closed doors. He nearly killed me more times than I could count and I was lucky to escape.
I never thought of him anymore, but I had a head full of him now.
Aha! "They smelled the same." Her husband and mine.
I understood everything now.
I took Susie by the hand and led her wooden figure to the kitchen table
and had her sit. I made cold compresses and started telling her the story
of her life...based on mine.
She finally broke down and cried. "How do you know all this?!"
"I've been there, honey."
"I don't suppose you have any money."
She shook her head. They never do.
I'd seen it before, handling calls at a domestic abuse center.
No car keys, no cash or credit cards, isolated from family and friends,
all making it harder to escape.
The doctors and cops wives had it the worst.

"Susie, we've got to get you out of here now!
Just take one change of clothes...no more.
Leave your toothbrush, suitcase, everything behind.
He can't know that you've left him!
Next time he WILL kill you!
Hurry! We'll worry about everything else later!!"
I brought the car around and she ran the few steps painfully.
I pulled out fast and headed to the entry of the apartment complex.
Just as we were gunning it to leave, I saw Ron's car pull in.
"Susie!! Get down!!!" But it was too late.
I hit the gas as hard as I dared and whipped out of there,
but he made a furious turn and the chase was on!
He tried to run us down. His fury was unbelievable!
Luckily, my best guy friends in high school were budding race car drivers. They had taken me under their wing and taught me a lot.
It came into play that day.
I darted around corners and alleys, maneuvered through traffic,
adrenaline pumping all the way!
Finally we gave him the slip!
I backtracked carefully and we pulled onto the highway heading east.
We made it!

"Susie, do you have any friends or family? Where can I take you?"
No friends. Some family in Tennessee, but she had run away from them
when she was 13. That was 12 yrs. ago.
From that emerged the story of her childhood sexual abuse and battery.
She had nowhere to go.
"Well, how would you like to come to Cape Breton with me for the summer?"
I told her how I landed there when I was on the run from my abusive husband. I had to do some serious running, crossing borders, staying on the move
till he finally lost the trail. I hid out for a few years on Cape Breton Island.
There I was able to heal and re-establish my life.
That rocky outcrop had been such a refuge to me.
Soon after, I opened a youth hostel there and shared that place of refuge
and healing with a lot of other hurting people.
There was always room for one more...
She was going to need time. This was a place where she could rest
and recover and not have to worry about money for awhile.
I was headed back there in a week or so anyway. She was welcome to come.
She was grateful for the invitation.
Once underway, we decided to stop in Tennessee to let her family
know she was alive and would be alright.
I covered her with a blanket and suggested sleep.
Her nerves were pretty frayed. We could talk later.

As I drove, I had some concerns of my own.
A few times in my life, I have started over with not much more
than the clothes on my back.
Sometimes it was a fresh start precipitated by a crisis,
such as my escape from the preacher's kid.
Other times, it was a laying aside of everything that belonged to the last chapter of my life and starting a new and entirely different experience.
Such a venture calls for a close walk with God and total reliance
on His provision and guidance.
That call has come several times in my life.
I have learned to trust the experience.
For someone as fearful as I tended to be, it was a huge risk.
Trusting in the Unseen...going on wavering intuition.
I had just entered that phase again a few weeks before this occurrence.
I had emptied my pockets and started a new faith walk.
(This is not something to initiate on your own.
It is a calling with a purpose in mind).
So I had been trusting day by day for my needs for a couple of weeks.
I had a 3000 mile trip ahead of me in an old car that I'd purchased for $350. Somehow, I felt I would make it.
But suddenly and without warning, I had to have faith for two!
And the other one was destitute and broken.
I had to act as though everything was normal and that all would be well.
We started that trip with $4.35.
My first thought was food or gas? Susie was gaunt and pale.
Food, I decided.
Bologna sandwiches with lettuce and a couple of snacks.
Couldn't stretch the budget any farther.
I would drive till we ran low on gas and take it from there...
A few hours later, we were stopped at a red light in some small Texas town.
A car pulled up alongside us on the right. The driver, a middle-aged man, started gesturing excitedly for us to roll down our window.
Susie was terrified, but I said "Go ahead! Do it! He seems ok."
When she rolled down the window, he reached his arm past Susie
and motioned for me to open my hand.
He pressed something into my hand, closing it and said "The Lord told me to give you this!" He jumped back in his car, the light turned green and off we drove. I opened my hand and there was a crumpled $20 bill...enough for a tank of gas.
The first hot, grateful tears trickled down my cheeks.
That was the first of many such gestures...so many that I lost track.
Day by day, we were provided for.
Eventually Susie realized what kind of miraculous atmosphere
we seemed to be enveloped in.
State line by state line, we made our way.
During this time, we got to know each other.
I could not have anticipated the story she divulged.
She had been sexually abused by her brother from a young age.
No one stepped in to help her.
Then she was married off at the age of 14 to an older man
who was a violent alcoholic.
There were many times she thought she would die at his hands.
Finally, when it was too much to bear, she escaped.
She thumbed a ride on the 1st truck to anywhere.
She was raped by the truck driver in exchange for a ride to New York City,
a place she was ill-prepared to handle.
She was taken in by a violent pimp as many runaways are
and was beaten and put on the streets to turn tricks.
From there, she became involved with a pimp that saw more potential in her.
She was blonde and leggy with a rather startling figure, .
She went on to become what she described as a 'high dollar escort'.
My mind was reeling from my 1st exposure to this world.
This was a far cry from the smug preacher's wife she portrayed...
One night, a man named Ron Talley paid for her services and took her
to a hotel room.
He treated her kindly and then told her that he was
a Christian missionary working to help prostitutes and that he
'could take her away from all this'.
Susie jumped at the chance to escape and left with him.
They gave her pimp the slip and left New York City that night.
She was grateful to him, never suspecting that she had just taken the bait
and had fallen into another potentially deadly trap.
He seduced her immediately. She remembered feeling confused afterward,
but he overcame her concerns by saying that the Lord led them to meet
and that they would soon marry. She would be a preachers wife!
From harlot to pulpit!
She could hardly believe her good fortune!
But Ron soon turned out to be extremely manipulative and controlling.
He was insanely jealous. He was a sex addict.
Addicted to religion and sex...a pretty perverse combination.
Ron vacillated between the 2 extremes.
After sex, he would accuse her of being a slut and whore.
He would fly into a rage and beat her.
Things escalated quickly.
Then he landed a job as a preacher/healer under Schambach's ministry.
He was a dangerous Jekyll/Hyde personality.
Ron was the charming, charismatic healer in front of the unsuspecting Christian sheep.
He was raging, sex-obsessed, conflicted and vicious behind closed doors.

Susie's psyche was torn in so many ways...

As these stories were shared, we were approaching New York City.
It was a painful re-living of her many experiences there, but nonetheless, it was cathartic to get it all out.
Everything had to be excised for her to heal.
I steeled myself as best I could and continued to hear her out...
.............
.............

As we approached the city, we had the rather crazy thought to make a quick visit. I had been drawn there for a couple of years and needed to take a closer look. Susie was hoping to get some closure.
We felt like going, but we just couldn't afford it. We counted our money...barely enough to enter the city and still 1000 miles to go to Cape Breton. Suddenly it hit us that we had come this far by a series of little miracles. It was silly of us to reason that we didn't have enough. We never had enough from the beginning, but here we were!
We laughed and headed toward the Brooklyn Bridge. We were going!

It took a bit to acclimate to the heavy traffic and noisy streets.
We saw a park up ahead and decided to park nearby. We found a parking spot and got out to stretch our legs after the long trip. We found ourselves in a mixed black neighborhood. We were fascinated by the cultural mélange of Caribbean, Puerto-Rican and African people. The shops, the smells and the music drew us along until we heard some beautiful gospel soul music emanating from a store front church. Wow!
It was a hot day, so we peeked inside the cool dark interior to listen. A church choir was practicing. The music was so alive! We took seats at the rear of the church and just took it all in! It was just what we needed! Finally, we tore ourselves away. As we were going out we saw a little box affixed to the wall. "Donations for the Poor" it said. We nearly passed it. Susie and I exchanged a glance. We were so grateful for all that had been given, that we wanted to give a portion back. But we had a better thought! Why not empty our pockets once more (we had counted $17.45 on the way into the city) and put our whole trust in Spirit once more. "Let's do it!"
we whispered. "OK! Why not?!"
So we put our whole little wad in that box and scurried out onto the street. No sooner did our feet strike the ground when we felt a wave of the most incredible JOY hit us from the back, almost knocking us over!! It slammed into us! We laughed until tears streamed down our faces. We hooted and cackled...we hugged the walls to stay upright!
We were breathless with joy! A block or so away, we began to get our bearings. It was a good thing, because we turned around just in time to find a black man chasing us down the street! uh oh!
"Girls! Did you just come out of that church?"
"Yes."
"You're not from around here, are you? Where are you staying? I'd like to invite you to stay at my...our...my wife and little girl...place in the Bronx."
He pressed on, excitedly. "Our pastor is flying in this weekend for some special services! That church that you just visited is one of his churches, but tonight he'll be preaching in the Bronx. Why don't you come check him out?!"
That was when we remembered Brother Schambach saying that he had 5 satellite churches around New York City. We had just stumbled into one of them!!! Our first thought was to accept the young stranger's invitation, but we had just escaped from his gospel tent in Texas!
Our hears burned within us! We loved that man and wanted to hear him just one more time! But how could we?! It would have to be on the sly! We were sure to be disgraced, having run off like that!
Our young man was hoping so hard...we said yes, and in our amazement, off we went to the Bronx!
We conjured up a plan! We knew the order of service...music, preaching and then the healing line. Our plan was to slip in late and sneak away after the preaching. That way we would be lost in the crowd. Our host family was lovely. We made a little excuse, telling them that we'd arrive a bit later. They were confused, but gracious nonetheless as they gave us directions.
The plan worked! It was amazing to hear him once more!! There was no sign of Ron, thankfully. After the sermon, as everyone streamed toward the front, we quickly slipped back toward the exit.
We made it! Our plan was working out!
Once there, we took a look outside. It was dark...it was the Bronx...we checked to make sure we knew which way to turn.
That moment's hesitation cost us everything!
As we craned our necks in each direction, we suddenly felt a sharp CLAP on our backs and found ourselves gripped firmly by the shoulders by the very man we were trying so hard to avoid!!
Brother Schambach!!! "Well now, girls!! Good to see you again! Did you like my sermon?" Hearty and incisive as ever!
We looked up guiltily, unable to do anything more than squirm.
He relaxed his grip into a fatherly hug as he looked down on us.
"You don't have to say a thing... I found out everything that happened. We got rid of him. I'm so sorry for what happened to you!" He beamed at us, glad we were alright. "Is there anything that you need?"
What a question after everything that had happened...even that day!
We smiled back at him and said "No Pastor...we have all that we need." With that, he blessed us and sent us on our way.

That was the last time I ever saw or heard him. It was the perfect culmination. On a side note, that winter's travels under his tent had a profound effect on me. There was such a quality of life and integrity in his work. I taped as many sermons as I could to keep myself uplifted. One year later, I moved to New York City. I brought very little with me...a box of books, a box of clothes and a small box of those treasured cassette tapes along with the player. Within days of my arrival, my car was broken into and the tapes were stolen. Nothing else. The player was sitting in the open. Only the tapes were taken. It was such a shock! It made no sense! I was enormously hurt and confused. The lesson was made clear some months later when I realized that only the message matters. Not the messenger. For my own sake, the messenger had to be stripped away.

Susie and I were so wonderfully affirmed by that experience. Everything had come full circle. All was well.

We made it to Cape Breton cared for till the end. Between us, we had $16.45 on arrival. We never let our needs be known. Everything was provided, day by day. It was an incredible journey...

Susie spent about 6 months at the Hostel. It was wonderful to see her transformation during that time. She rested, healed and sorted things out. She made a fresh beginning in her spiritual life along better lines. All was well. As fall approached she was ready to go back to the states and take up her life. She decided to enroll in Lester Sumrall's Bible college in Indiana hoping to work in ministry. I had an uneasy feeling about her that I couldn't explain. There was nothing outwardly wrong with her plan, but I didn't have a sense of happiness for her.
She seemed determined to pursue it. It wasn't my call, so I left it up to her good judgment. We said our goodbyes. She was off to her future...
She arrived safely, got settled in and began classes. She seemed happy. But a couple of months later, I received a desperate middle of the night call from Susie. She was sobbing hysterically! I could hardly understand a word she was saying.
it was awhile before she was coherent enough to tell me what had happened. She had been brutally attacked and nearly raped!
Had she not been so strong and street-wise, she would not have been able to resist him. She sobbed again for a long time. She was quite shaken.
"HOW did it happen, Susie?!" I knew there was more, but I could feel her fear and reluctance. "Have you called the police?"
"No!" she wailed.
"Susie! Who did this to you?!"
"The pastor's SON!"
"What?!" Unbelievable! Someone she trusted...
Lester Sumrall's son had asked her on a date. He was a faculty member...someone she looked up to. Everything started out normally, but as the evening went on, he showed a sexual interest. Susie politely rebuffed him.
He tried to force himself on her. She pushed him away and said she wanted to go home. Things escalated, he became enraged and hit her.
He wasn't going to take "No" for an answer. He was strong and determined. It took everything she had to fight him off! Finally, he left her by the side of the road to walk the several miles home. But her warned her no to call the authorities...not the police...not the school. If she did, no one would believe her, he would make sure that physical harm would come to her and that he would 'blackball' her throughout the Christian community. She would lose her tuition money, be expelled from school for sexual immorality and he would personally see to it that she never worked anywhere in ministry.
It was a pretty evil set-up. He was too practiced, however. She couldn't shake the idea that he had preyed on others...
Meanwhile, she had taken another hard hit...

We got her out of there...back to Tennessee. After that, the trail ran cold.

Now, this story has legs... Read on to Part Two: