My life in an end-times sect, growing up in rural America

Growing up in an end-times spiritual group, Shawna Kay Rodenberg renounced her earthly possessions and spoke in tongues. She was whipped for the smallest infraction, comparable to utilizing a marker to underline passages in her Bible. 

And but, “there was a camaraderie there,” Rodenberg mentioned. “We all were trying to navigate growing up and balancing being good with being free.”

She particulars her life in her memoir “Kin” (Bloomsbury), out now, beginning in Seco, Ky., the Appalachian area the place her household dates again 300 years. Rodenberg’s mom, Debbie, watched because the coal mines destroyed her father and older brother Jesse, who would get so violent that she typically needed to lock him in a cage in a single day so he wouldn’t kill her.

Rodenberg’s father, Shorty, was from a extra steady household. He went off to varsity however dropped out and floundered earlier than being drafted to Vietnam.

Shorty and Debbie married and ultimately moved to Dayton, Ohio, the place he discovered about The Body, an end-times Christian group. He give up his job managing an asbestos plant and moved the household to one of many group’s compounds in rural Minnesota. That’s the place Rodenberg and her youthful sister, Misti, spent their early childhood in the late Seventies. 

Shawna Kay Rodenberg was born and spent her earliest years in Appalachia before her parents joined an end-times religious group and moved to Minnesota.
Rodenberg was born and spent her earliest years in Appalachia earlier than her mother and father joined an end-times spiritual group and moved to Minnesota.
Courtesy of Shawna Kay Rodenberg
Shawna and her younger sister, Misti, were forced to wear modest clothing and give up their possessions.
Rodenberg and her youthful sister, Misti, had been compelled to put on modest clothes and provides up their possessions.
Courtesy of Shawna Kay Rodenberg
Today, Rodenberg returns frequently to Seco, Ky., to see her father and and her younger sister.
Today, Rodenberg returns regularly to Seco, Ky., to see her father and and her youthful sister.
Courtesy of Shawna Kay Rodenberg

The household gave up practically every little thing, together with their home, their toys, their TV and half their cash — which went to the church — for an uninsulated room in a bunkhouse with no indoor plumbing. 

Rodenberg and her sister dressed modestly, in lengthy denim skirts or corduroy jumpers. (Only males might put on pants.) They spent their days studying the Bible with the opposite 10 or so children in the compound, doing chores across the farm and taking part in exterior. During their nightly reward service, Rodenberg sang and performed hymns on her guitar, one among her solely prized possessions, alongside together with her “Little House on the Prairie” books. They listened to taped sermons in regards to the finish instances — each “terrifying and boring” — as they fell asleep. 

Rodenberg calls her unconventional childhood an American story.
Rodenberg calls her unconventional childhood an American story.
Courtesy of Shawna Kay Rodenberg

Rodenberg was mouthy and rebellious, and her father typically hit her. Once, when she was about 5 or 6, he thrashed her with a fly swatter when he caught her highlighting passages of her Bible. Afterwards, he held her and cried: “He said this was how God must have felt watching Jesus be whipped … it was all for my own good.” 

But life in The Body proved tough for her mother and pa. Debbie missed her household in Kentucky, and Shorty’s rebelliousness typically clashed with the stringent calls for of the group. They left the sect when Rodenberg was 10 and ultimately moved again to Seco. (The Body, also called The Move, nonetheless exists, however its numbers have dwindled because the Nineteen Nineties.) 

Even throughout her father’s extra secular intervals, Rodenberg discovered him inconceivable to please. He purchased and mentioned books together with her and inspired her to run cross-country, and but he “monitored my movements like a private detective who’d been hired to catch me with my pants down.” 

The stress proved an excessive amount of. Like her father, Rodenberg went off to varsity however flunked out. She ended up getting pregnant and agreeing to a shotgun marriage ceremony at 19. 


That marriage wouldn’t final, however it took her to Virginia Beach and gave her two kids. Rodenberg would go on to have three extra children, marry her school sweetheart, earn three school levels, and turn out to be a nurse, a instructor and a author. 

Today, Rodenberg, 48, returns regularly to Seco to see her father and her youthful sister. (Her mom died in 2018.) Researching the e-book, notably discovering the letters her father wrote whereas in Vietnam, “changed me and helped me understand him,” Rodenberg mentioned. 

That is why, not like so many narratives out of rustic America, such because the memoir “Educated,” “Kin” ends not with the writer’s escape however an acceptance of her unconventional childhood. 

“I have never been able to abandon my background,” mentioned Rodenberg, who’s now a Catholic. She provides that although her upbringing was distinctive, she believes many will relate to her struggles. “I hope people see it as an American story.”

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