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--From Maria and Peter Amsterdam

Dear Ones,

                Greetings in Jesus' name! Maria has asked me to write this open letter to you as part of our continued effort to help break down the walls of partition that have arisen between current and former Family members over the years. Throughout the Family's 28-year history, thousands of people have joined the Family as full-time members. Many of them, for a variety of reasons, have felt led to leave the Family and pursue other courses in their lives.

                There is a great diversity in the way those previously in the Family feel about the Family and their time as members. Some look at their time in the Family as a positive experience, others as a negative one. Some wished to remain in contact with current Family members; others did not seek such contact. Some feel that the Family benefited their lives; others feel it was detrimental. Some have spoken out on the Family's behalf; others have spoken against the Family.

                Because of past Family rules, up until a few years ago the Family did not actively seek to have contact with former members. For some former members this was a welcome relief, but for others it was a sign of abandonment. Over the last couple of years, and even more so in the past few months, we, the Family's leadership, have become painfully aware of the hurt that some former members have felt. We have looked for ways to heal the pain and rejection some former members have experienced and to reconcile with those who have been hurt. It is our hope to be able to further undo some of that hurt by apologizing to those who have been offended, and to continue to open channels of communication for any who wish to communicate with us.

                The Family took a significant step toward a change of attitude vis-ŕ-vis its former members in October 1993, when a dialogue was opened between former and current members.

                From that time on, the Family has taken a number of steps to meet with former members and discuss ways to bridge the gap between them and current members. A toll-free number was set up for anyone wishing to communicate with the Family or desiring to locate friends or loved ones within the Family. A meeting was held in California in November 1993 between Family representatives and David and Mary Lou Hiebert (known in the Family as Zebedee and Zorah Rabbit, or "the Z's"), editors of the "No Longer Children" newsletter, a publication for former Family members. In time there were meetings between other current and former members, all of which began to lay the foundation for a mutual bond of trust, the basic building block for any kind of meaningful relationship.

                In July 1996, in Laurel, Maryland, during a Family fellowship organized by some of the TRF Supporter Family, I, Peter Amsterdam, and Gary--together representing Maria, World Services and the Family's leadership--held various conversations with Sharon Wilson (known in the Family as Joanna Cook) and George and Woodie Terrel (known in the Family as Vessel and Lamb Harper). Sharon, George and Woodie are members of "Safe Haven," a communication and support network made up of former members of the Family. They were not attending this fellowship meeting as representatives of "Safe Haven" but as independent former members. We also spoke extensively with former member Happy Wotila (Joab). During this fellowship I read an open letter written by Maria to all former Family members, portions of which are included with this letter.

                In October 1996, Dust and Simon (both members of the North American Continental leadership) and I met for two days in Jacksonville, Florida, with "Safe Haven" members Sharon and Pope Wilson (known in the Family as Jaakan Giant), George and Woodie Terrel, John and Linda Hardy (known in the Family as Nekoda and Bathshua) and Abraham Brosius. The purpose of this meeting was for all of us to gain a better understanding of one another, to explore ways to overcome past hurts and to find ways to prevent future problems and misunderstandings between current and former members, in an effort to heal the rift and establish a relationship of love and acceptance of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

                During this meeting there was a healthy and spirited exchange of ideas, grievances, explanations and the like. All parties went away with a better understanding of the other's point of view, which seemed to draw us all closer together, having seen and heard each other's hurts, opinions and outlook.

                As the meeting progressed, we unitedly came to the conclusion that in cases where reconciliation is needed and desired, the key to making it happen is good communication. If we want to break down barriers between current and former members, the first step must be to open a line of communication. This is especially true when former mates wish to renew contact with one another, as sometimes the hurt caused by the breakup of a marriage, compounded with one mate leaving the Family, is very deep. Of course, the desire for such communication must be mutual; both sides must want it and work to make it successful. But as we communicate and listen in an attempt to sincerely understand each other, a gradual buildup of mutual trust will ensue, resulting in a Godly, Christian and cooperative relationship between us.

                When some degree of animosity is present, opening channels of good communication between current and former members will require a large measure of understanding, patience and Christian love. In an effort to help foster such communication, and to further the reconciliation process, we have compiled a number of points drawn from the discussions held in Florida. It is our sincere hope that this advice will result in better and more loving contact between current and former members, as well as be a help to any who are planning or trying to establish a link of communication with a former mate, a child or an old friend in the Family.

                Those who have left the Family had personal reasons for doing so, and their choice should be respected. It should be remembered that former members at one time were current members who lived and worked with us. Just like you, they forsook all to serve Jesus with the Family. Some gave many years of their lives to full-time service for the Lord in the Family, and as such they should not be looked on as enemies, unless they are, in fact, actively fighting against the Family. God loves us all the same as His children, and we should behave as brothers and sisters and treat each other with love and respect.

                There are doctrinal and other issues on which current and former members will disagree. In most cases, if former members agreed with everything the Family believes, they would still be in the Family. By the same token, if current members disagreed with a great number of Family policies and doctrines, they would no longer be in the Family. Therefore, when entering into communication together, both parties should understand that they most likely disagree on many subjects. However, this does not need to hinder or prevent communication. It might be best to agree to disagree on some matters, just like other Christians of different denominations do. We suggest that you discuss things that you agree upon.

                Current members have strongly held religious convictions, no matter how unconventional these beliefs may be. They have a right to believe the way they do, so these beliefs should not be mocked or maligned. It isn't necessary for you to "deliver your souls" or to try to convert them to your point of view or belief system. Current members also hold Dad and Maria in very high regard. They have a religious right to do so, and thus do not take it kindly when Dad and Maria are spoken ill of. Therefore any discussion intended to denigrate Dad and Maria or cast them in an unfavorable light is likewise unfruitful and does not foster helpful communication, and is best avoided.

                Some former members do not hold Dad and Maria in high esteem, which is their right. So when communicating with these former members, it's best to avoid using the phrases "Dad said" or "Mama said," or quoting from the Letters to try to back up your feelings about Dad and Maria. This often results in a defensive barrier going up, which again hinders loving communication and a buildup of mutual trust.

                For numerous reasons, there is often an element of mistrust between current and former members. Everyone should be aware of this and be sensitive to it, realizing that if either side comes across as too extreme, provocative or argumentative, it may easily defeat the reconciliatory efforts and quench the budding relationship. We suggest that you dwell on the positive, discuss points of agreement, and seek to find common ground, so that the seed of trust can be planted and nurtured. As you talk together in a loving and Christian spirit, you'll find that you do share a lot of common beliefs, experiences and interests--so capitalize on those!

                Ideally, initiating contact with the Family or communication between current and former members should be direct between the members involved, if possible. However, there may be instances when former members are unable to or do not wish to contact the Family directly. In such cases a mediator or middleman may be needed to make the initial contact. Former members may contact a Family representative at the Family's toll-free phone number in the U.S., 1-800-4-A-FAMILY or via e-mail at: family@thefamily.org. If you wish to contact the Family through a former member, we suggest calling Sharon Wilson in Jacksonville, Florida, at (904) 398-2580.

                If the first attempt to communicate does not go well, don't give up! Try again! It's inevitable that things will be said that would have been better left unsaid, especially at first when both parties might feel a little awkward or unsure of how to communicate with each other. But please don't let that close the door to your contact. There may be a great deal of pent-up emotion from over the years, or there may be fear or any number of other reasons why the first conversation doesn't go well. Give it a second chance. However, if the communications continually end up in doctrinal or personal disputes that leave both parties feeling hurt, offended or upset after repeated attempts, then perhaps it's best to discontinue communication for a period of time.

                We, the Family's leadership, have acknowledged that some former members were treated unfairly, harshly, and in an unloving manner, and we have officially apologized for this in a number of publications over the last few years. It is also understood that some former members have spoken out in the media against the Family, while others have actively campaigned for governmental action against the Family, all of which has resulted in Family members being harassed, Homes being raided and, in some cases, children being forcibly taken away from their parents at gunpoint.

                There has been hurt on both sides. However, it's important to understand that not every Family member was responsible for or caused the hurt experienced by those who left the Family, just like not every former member was responsible for the trauma suffered by Family members and their children at the hands of the media and government authorities. It would therefore be best to avoid blaming either the Family as a whole, or former members in general, for the hurt and pain experienced on either side.

                There are cases where couples who were in the Family have split up, one remaining in the Family, the other not. Often there were children involved. In such cases it would be best for the parent with the children to speak highly of the parent who is no longer with the children. The children should not be told that the absent parent has abandoned the children or doesn't love them. All negative comments should be avoided, as they only confuse and hurt the children.

                In the case where a child of a current member no longer wants to be in the Family and wishes to live with the parent who is a former member, the current member should give a complete and honest explanation of the child's state to their ex-mate, especially if the child is having behavioral problems.

                Current members should not pressure former members for financial assistance. If a former member offers such assistance, it can be accepted, but it should not be unduly solicited.

                Current members should understand that the vast majority of former members should not be looked on as enemies. They are brothers and sisters in the Lord who have chosen a different way of life, but they are not enemies or reprobates. However, there are a small number of former members who are considered, and consider themselves, enemies of the Family because they actively campaign against the Family with the goal of either destroying or denigrating it, and harassing its members by stirring up negative publicity about their beliefs. When individuals engage in such activities, they will be labeled as enemies. The Family will be specific in this and will name those individuals who are active against us, so as to avoid giving the impression that all former members fall into the same category.

                Since the inauguration of the "Love Charter" on April 1 of 1995, Family leadership has greatly curtailed its authority over Family Homes or individual members. Therefore we have no authority to make any current member communicate with a former member. We have encouraged them to communicate if the former member wishes to get in contact, but we cannot order them to do so; the choice is theirs. Family leadership will do what it can to put a former member in touch with a current member, but if the current member does not wish to communicate, there is nothing Family leadership can do about it, as it is rightfully a personal and individual decision.

                We hope that former members will try to accept and understand that the Family has changed a great deal over the years. Our general beliefs, message and missionary goal of reaching the world with the Gospel remains the same, of course, but there have been very definite changes of policy which have been made--not for the sake of expediency, but because such change was needed, agreed upon and implemented. Most notably, FFing has not been in practice since 1987. Sexual contact between adults and minors has been an excommunicable offense since 1986. On April 1 of 1995, the "Love Charter," a 200-page document outlining the rights and responsibilities of members and the limits of leadership authority, was put into effect. This is the governing charter of the Family, and grants each Home and member a great deal of autonomy. These changes are not cosmetic, but are deeply rooted within the Family and have been in effect for some time now.

                On several occasions, Family leadership has written and encouraged the Family to foster friendly and loving contact and communications with former members who likewise desire such contact. The following are excerpts from a Family publication on the subject, dated August 1996 and written by Peter Amsterdam:

                "Besides having three days to talk with Family members attending the fellowship [held in Laurel, Maryland, in early July 1996], Gary and I also had the opportunity to have fruitful discussions with a number of former members. It was a precious and valuable experience for us. While there were many differences of opinion or doctrine between us, and there are certain Family beliefs or policies that they don't believe in or agree with, we found there is a lot that we can agree on. We're still brothers and sisters in the Lord, and the things we have in common are much greater than our differences. Having shared many of the same experiences serving the Lord in the Family, known and loved the same people and worked together toward common goals, we have formed a certain bond that is very precious indeed.

                "We can all better serve the Lord and accomplish His goal if we 'agree to disagree' on some points and respect one another as fellow Christians, and not as adversaries. Bridges can be built between us when there is a will to do so on both sides.

                "As Maria's Letter to our former members explains [excerpts of which appear later in this letter], it is time to forgive, set aside our differences and move beyond them. Lord help us to do our part to make that happen.

                "Now that's not to say that you can expect that every former member wants to be associated with us, but if you know any that desire fellowship, then please interact and fellowship with them if you can. Show them love. Remember that even though they may not be reporting Family members at present, they were at one time very much a part of the Family, and often they have an interest in what the Family, or their friends in the Family, are doing today. So if you have an opportunity to talk, fellowship and pray with them, please do so. Let's continue to reconcile our differences, to seek and give forgiveness. 'Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you' (Eph.4:32)." (End of excerpts of Peter's letter to the Family.)

                As stated earlier, we clearly understand that some former members have had negative and hurtful experiences in the Family. We have apologized in written publications a number of times over the last years. However, you personally may not have received a copy of these publications. The following is an excerpt from one of those publications, written by Maria in September 1995:

                "Likewise, if any of you ex-members who may be reading this have had negative sexual experiences while with us, or you were treated unlovingly or harshly, either before or after you left the Family, we are sorry. Our goal is to be the Lord's Family of Love, so if you suffered unloving treatment from any Family member, we ask you to please forgive us. The Lord has been teaching us all a lot about how important it is that we are loving and kind with one another. As a Family, we are asking Him to help us to love Him and others more, for without love we have nothing! So if we failed you in not being loving enough, please forgive us." (End of excerpt by Maria.)

                The following is a portion of a letter written by Peter Amsterdam to a judge during a court case involving custody of a Family child in Britain in October 1995:

                "Maria, Gary and myself and World Services acknowledge that any abuse of children is abhorrent, whether it be sexual abuse or other forms of abuse, and we are determined that the Family will be a safe environment for all our children and teens to be brought up in.

                "We acknowledge that in certain places at certain times the Family has not been as safe an environment for them as it should have been. Over the last nine years, we have taken progressive steps to make it as safe as possible, and have apologized to those who have suffered harm, and we recognize this litigation and these communications as an opportunity to apologize again. We sincerely believe that the Family today is a safe place, and we have established safeguards to make sure it will remain so.

                "Your Lordship has asked us to acknowledge that Father David, through his writings, was personally responsible for children in the Family being sexually abused. Father David wrote a series of Letters concerning sexual behavior. The judgment refers in particular to 'The Law of Love' and 'The Devil Hates Sex.' And we accept that as the author of ideas upon which some members acted to the harm of minors in the Family, he must bear responsibility for that harm. Maria, and all of us in World Services leadership, also feel the burden of responsibility. Maria in particular has done an enormous amount to put a stop to any sexual maltreatment of children and instituted strict safeguards to make sure it will never happen again.

                "We acknowledge that it was wrong to proclaim a teaching of sexual liberty (i.e., in 1976 and 1978) without establishing clear rules to ensure that sexual contact did not take place between adults and children. Further, in 1980 Father David's statements in his discourse entitled 'The Devil Hates Sex' opened the door for sexual behavior between adults and minors, such sanctioning being a direct cause of later abusive behavior by some Family members at that time. In addition, we also acknowledge with regret that more specific and concrete restraints were not introduced earlier, and that Father David should have done so immediately upon receiving indications that problems were beginning to develop.

                "The extension of the Law of Love to sexual matters was a unique contribution of Father David's to the Family, and we accept and acknowledge that he bears responsibility for what arose as a result of it. Among other things, we acknowledge that his beliefs and teachings led to the setting aside of ordinary sexual taboos and restraints, particularly between adults, and this significantly contributed to the development of an overly sexualized atmosphere in a number of Family communities, of which children were a part. Unfortunately, this further led to a number of children being subjected to sexually inappropriate behavior." (End of excerpt of Peter's letter to the judge in Britain.)

                The following are excerpts of a letter written by Maria to former members who were attending the fellowship meeting in Laurel, Maryland, in July 1996. In this excerpt, Maria addresses not only those former members who attended the Laurel fellowship, but any of you who had negative experiences while in the Family or were treated unlovingly by Family members after you left, so please take it as her sincere personal apology to you.

                "I'm so sorry, my dear ones, for how you have suffered and for the difficult things you have experienced, both during the time you were in the Family and in recent years. I'm so sorry for how you have felt hurt and abandoned. It hurts me to think about how you hurt. It breaks my heart to see how your hearts have been broken. It pains me and I'm crying now to think how you have cried. I know there are times that you have felt alone and in despair and without hope. Questions, doubts, feelings of bitterness and resentment have overwhelmed you. You have questioned the love of the Lord, and the love of Dad, and me, and the Family.

                "I understand your feelings, and I don't condemn you. I don't think I can honestly say that I can completely fathom all that you have been through and experienced to bring you to the point where you are today. But I can honestly say that I love you, and [Peter, Gary and Dust, who attended the meeting] love you, and especially that the Lord loves you.

                "I am sorry for the way the Family has failed some of you in the past. I'm so sorry for the unloving behavior some of you experienced from some of our leaders and Family members. There are certainly many ways we could have done better. We could have been more tolerant, more accepting of other people's opinions. We could have practiced more teamworking in our earlier years. We could have listened to people's feelings with greater openness and been more human and willing to show ourselves weak. We could have been more ready to admit that we didn't have all the answers, that we were still learning. We could have been more gentle with some members who were weaker.

                "We could have done all these things, and we should have. I'm sorry--very sorry--for our past failures and mistakes and shortcomings, of which I know there are many that affected you. Please accept my humble apology. I ask your forgiveness in the name of David and myself and the Family.

                "I was telling some of the Family the other day how the Lord has used our failings and shortcomings to teach the Family humility, to teach us brokenness and greater dependence upon Him. Yes, the Family has been blessed with some marvelous accomplishments. We've preached the Gospel around the world and won millions to His Heavenly Kingdom. But when you see all that could have been done, all that we had hoped would be done, and you read past MO Letters of all that Dad spoke of, you realize that we have fallen short in many ways.

                "But when praying about this, the Lord showed me that the most important thing, the greatest benefit or fruit that has come from these failures and shortcomings, is that the Family is now more humble and broken and dependent on the Lord. We now realize how weak we are and how much we need Jesus. We can't pat ourselves on the back and feel proud and strong because of our great accomplishments. We've made some good progress on many fronts, but in some cases it's not the progress nor success nor accomplishments that we had hoped for, or the fulfillment of all the ideals which Dad had written about in the Letters.

                "So, yes, I know the Family is not perfect, and we as a whole have gone through a lot of breakings and lessons and a time of training. In many ways we were children. But now, by God's grace, we have learned and matured and we have put away childish things. And the Lord has used it all to prepare us for what He has for us in the future. We who remain in the Family have had to put away our disappointments, our regrets, and the sadness we have felt because of our shortcomings and because we have not been all that we could have been or done all that we could have done.

                "We have had to forget the past in order to be what the Lord wants us to be today and tomorrow, and in the years to come. We've had to keep learning and growing. It's been a cycle, year after year, learning and then growing. And I'm thankful that the Lord has seen fit, in His mercy, to continue to speak to us and lead and guide us in the way that we should go. We are weak and humbled and in desperate need of Him. We have learned the meaning of that old song--probably many of you know it--'Lord, I Can't Even Walk Without You Holding My Hand.'

                "We are weak people with many faults and idiosyncrasies, personality quirks, and bad habits--just like you. We don't always do everything right. Even when we try our best, sometimes we goof up--just like you. We may not be very smart or wise in the ways of the world, but we have a desire to love and serve the Lord--just like many of you. We depend wholly on the Lord's mercy and grace, and pray desperately that He will continue to use us for His glory, to bring forth fruit for His Kingdom--just like many of you.

                "I pray that you will feel strengthened and renewed and that you will feel closer to the Lord and also to us.--That as you continue in your different ministries and walks of life, you will see His Love manifested more clearly, and you will have a renewed desire to serve Him to the best of your ability. I pray that your fellowship with the Family will be sweeter, and that through it you will find strength and encouragement. I pray that our bonds together as Christians will grow stronger, that the Love of Christ will constrain us in our interactions one with another, and that with time we will gain a greater appreciation one for another.

                "There is so much to do to win the world for Jesus, and we are not kidding ourselves by thinking that someone has to be in the Family, either as a DO member or a TRF Supporter, in order to serve the Lord and bring forth fruit for Him. If you haven't found it yet, I pray that each of you will find a place of service and a ministry that will bring you great satisfaction and joy and fulfillment in your lives. I pray that your children will be happy, healthy and strong in their love for you and the Lord. It must be very difficult being on your own without the immediate strength of brethren close at hand, but I know the Lord will lead and guide you and supply your needs, as you follow Him. I love you! I hug and kiss each one of you. God bless and keep you. Love, Maria." (End of excerpt from Maria.)

                It is the Family's sincere hope that the differences, the hurts of the past, the distrust and anything else that divides current and former members can be overcome and forgiven, and that we all can accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our prayer is that anyone who wishes to contact and communicate with a current Family member will feel free to do so, and that such contact will be met with enthusiasm and love. If you have any questions about the Family or our current doctrines or practices, or if you wish to contact someone in the Family, please don't hesitate to call the 800 number or contact the e-mail address listed previously. We will do our best to answer your questions and to pass on your message to the one you are seeking. Those answering the phone do not have information as to the whereabouts of every Family member, but they will do all they can to contact the various major centers around the world in order to help locate the person you are looking for in order to give them your message.

                We ask that you please understand that the Family is made up of thousands of individuals who are encouraged to act according to their own faith in all matters. It is our hope that each one would welcome communication with any former member who wishes to communicate or fellowship. However, this may not always be the case. If you are rebuffed by specific Family members, please do not consider that their actions reflect the whole Family's feelings or policy. We are trying to bridge the gap between current and former members, and we sincerely wish to do our part to heal any wounds or hurts. We ask for your understanding, forgiveness and cooperation in these matters.

                God bless and keep you,

                Peter Amsterdam

                For Maria and the Family Leadership

Copyright (c) 1998 by The Family