Central Minnesota mother tells family’s story of extracting son from cult

The Paulson family has expanded considerably since 1988. Pictured at a family gathering are front row (from left): Monica Spear, Dillon Paulson and Amanda Paulson. Second row: Ashley Messer, Roger Paulson holding Dane Paulson and Geneva Paulson holding Connor Paulson. Third row: Ross Paulson, Amy Paulson, Ryan Paulson, Randy Paulson, Cody Spear and Caleb Messer. Back row: Gavin Messer, Mitch Messer, Zoey Spear, Kelly Messer, Debbie Paulson and Justin Messer. Not pictured: Owen Spear, Matilda Messer, Cohen Messer and Beckett Messer.

The Paulson family has expanded considerably since 1988. Pictured at a family gathering are front row (from left): Monica Spear, Dillon Paulson and Amanda Paulson. Second row: Ashley Messer, Roger Paulson holding Dane Paulson and Geneva Paulson holding Connor Paulson. Third row: Ross Paulson, Amy Paulson, Ryan Paulson, Randy Paulson, Cody Spear and Caleb Messer. Back row: Gavin Messer, Mitch Messer, Zoey Spear, Kelly Messer, Debbie Paulson and Justin Messer. Not pictured: Owen Spear, Matilda Messer, Cohen Messer and Beckett Messer.

Paulson family’s God-given courage and devotion rescued Randy

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
 

Although Geneva Paulson had wondered over the years whether she should write a book about her family’s experience pulling her son, Randy, out of a cult, the time never seemed right.

 Until a fall weekend in 2010, that is, when she found herself telling the story to friends.

“The story just tumbled out in great detail,” Geneva said. “I started writing the book the next day on the way home.”

 Once she got home, she pulled out the journals she had kept during the week of deprogramming in December 1988. She found the cult awareness materials she had acquired — information which had helped convince Geneva and her husband, Roger, that their son had been snared by a cult.
Paulson-Randy

Randy Paulson in Navy uniform in 1984.

Randy had left for Navy training in 1984. It was in the fall of 1985 that he called to tell his parents about joining a new church group. It wasn’t long before the Paulsons noticed that Randy’s letters were changing, and his phone calls to them were different.

“We felt something was amiss; Randy had some terrible force in his life, but try as we might we couldn’t put a name to it,” Geneva wrote in the book. “I had an odd, funny feeling as moms frequently do when something is not right with their child.”.

Their fears increased after Roger spent a week with Randy in Virginia and saw first-hand his blind loyalty to the church group he
belonged to.

On the drive home from the airport, Roger said to Geneva, “Randy is keeping company with something so wicked and so strange that we need to fight for him. We have to do something.”

The cult allowed Randy to come home to Eagle Bend for Christmas 1988, so plans were made to conduct the exit counseling the week after Christmas. The Paulsons’ two other sons, daughter and son-in-law would be there too.

Randy was literally kidnapped by his own family in the middle of the night and taken to a remote cabin in Northern Minnesota owned by Geneva’s brother and his wife. They had packed food, clothing, bedding — everything they would all need for that week.

The family was joined by a professional exit counselor and his assistant and two guards. Although the Paulsons were initially dubious about the need for guards, the research they did and the advice they were given confirmed the undeniable need to have guards. Not only did they need to prevent Randy from escaping during the deprogramming process, but they needed to guard against the cult leader tracking them down and taking Randy back.

Everything they needed fell into place, from the people needed to run their farm in their absence to the funds necessary for the week. “I felt like I was driving a car but wasn’t steering; the control was coming from up above,” said Geneva.

The family gathered with the exit counselors in the large living room of the cabin. First the exit counselors spoke to Randy, trying to open his eyes to the truth of the cult situation he had been in, the true nature of the cult leader.

Family members spoke to Randy about how he was raised and how he had changed.

As grateful as everyone was to have plans fall into place and to be working to save Randy, it was a difficult time.

“It was painful to see him feeling so trapped and absolutely convinced we were against him,” Geneva said. “I needed to remember the commitment we had made to do whatever it took to help Randy, no matter how hard.”

“We had been warned it would be intense, but this was ‘intense’ magnified; we had no idea,” she said.

Randy later told his parents that he had been having thoughts of possibly leaving the cult, but it was the cult leader’s threats that made him think that would never happen.

“If you leave the church you will die,” the cult leader had told him, and, “If you go, God will strike you dead.”

According to Geneva, another former cult member described feeling that his salvation would be threatened if he left the cult.

Once Randy reached the point where he “snapped” and verbalized his desire to not return to the cult, many tears flowed.

When Geneva’s brother and sister-in-law arrived at the cabin for a visit, they observed about Randy, “He looks so alive. His eyes are so bright.”

To the Paulsons’ untrained eyes, Randy seemed to accept where he was. But exit counselor David Clark warned them, “It took me three and a half years after I left the group I was in to untwist the scriptures as I had learned them there.”

Clark warned the Paulsons that it would take time and study for Randy to be free of wrong doctrine he had learned in the cult.

“He has been thoroughly brainwashed,” Clark said.

“Nothing happened without God’s intervention,” Geneva said. “We knew our prayers were being answered while we were going through it, but it wasn’t until we put it all together in the book that we could see how it all worked out. There are things we couldn’t possibly have done on our own.”

“I started writing about a boy, his family and a cult and the story became more about God’s guidance,” she said.

In the short months since “Rescuing Randy” became available in October 2012, Geneva has already heard of circumstances where the book has helped someone.

“Her idea when she started the book was to help people,” said Roger.

“I don’t think anyone realizes how traumatic it is for a family to go through something like this,” Geneva said. “We thought our family was close; then something like this happened and it was amazing how the bond grew. We’ve all worked through it now, and can actually talk about it without tears.”

The man who had been hired to do the farm chores during the week of Randy’s deprogramming was visiting with Roger recently. While reading the book, he was surprised to learn the whole story.

“He hadn’t known what was happening at the time,” Roger said. “We couldn’t tell anyone for fear the cult leader would find Randy and take him back.”

Clark has also read “Rescuing Randy.” “He is in full agreement with what is in the book,” said Geneva. “He still travels all around the world doing this.”

The Paulsons could not locate Clark’s assistant during that week, Dan Caton. In 1988, Caton had said, “Randy was so controlled by (the cult leader) that he told me, if (the family) hadn’t used handcuffs and rope on him, he would have gotten away somehow.”

“No one wants to admit they were duped,” Randy said. “But if God could be glorified and people could be helped through this book, then I was OK with my personal life being exposed.”

“If people find themselves in any situation where they feel powerless to know what to do, don’t be afraid to ask for help,” said Geneva.

“What we went through — it could happen to any family, any faith, anybody,” said Roger.

“I’m thankful for such a good ending,” Randy said. “Thankful that they had the courage to intervene. How faithful God has been — in the timing and financing of all the circumstances that got me out of bondage.”

Copies of “Rescuing Randy” can be found at several area book stores, including Good Book and Gift in Little Falls. It is also available online at West Bow Press and amazon.com.

The Paulsons have done several book signings in their area, with future signings scheduled from Grand Rapids to Grand Forks.

A signing will be held Saturday, March 16 at the Good Book and Gift from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The store is located at 120 First Street S.E. in downtown Little Falls.

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