It was a hot May day in 1981 and Phil Bonnasso and I were loading his car with our luggage.
“GLORY Brother- we are just like Luke Skywalker on our way to see YODA! We are going to learn how destroy Satan. Just think of it Tikie all the new pastors will sit at the feet of the masters. G-L-O-R-Y!”
Phil and I had gotten our assignments as Pastors and we were heading to a two-week so-called boot camp being run at Gainesville by Bob and Rose Weiner and others.
I was not sure exactly what we would be doing in Gainesville and Phil and I talked about it all the way down, with Phil shouting and claiming scripture and the two of us praying in tongues.
We had seen a number of the plans put into place at Auburn and they had been fairly successful such as starting Christian Clubs by finding or converting a professor and getting them to sponsor a Victory Club. MCM would have two or three students to work with Christian profs to front a club for MCM, in effect a MCM group, but not officially associated with MCM. These were examples of some of the action plans implemented by the local MCM ministries.
Phil and I also expected to further hone our witnessing skills and learn how to write and deliver a good sermon.
It was late afternoon when we arrived at the Gainesville House and we signed in at the registration desk after a six hour drive. We received a welcome packet with a schedule plus a large binder titled the Operating Manual.
At least 50 brothers and sisters attended this training session. They would serve as new Pastors (if married then the spouse would also serve alongside them) and Evangelists for these newly planted churches.
Now I had broken out the preppiest outfit I could put together. Those of you that were members will remember what it looked like:
Blue Blazer (the kind that have the gold buttons)
A rep tie.
Big deal, you might ask, does it really matter what you were wearing?
The answer was: it did matter.
The next morning we all assembled in the Gainesville MCM House in their meeting hall with seven or eight tables and chairs in two rows, facing a raised platform on which was a table with 6 chairs facing us with a speakers pulpit.
Bob welcomed us and took us through the agenda.
“All of here are going to part of the God’s New Awakening the greatest revival and movement of God in the world of all time. IT is a NEW THING?? AMEN?” he yelled as he cupped his ear for a response.
“Amen” we all shouted.
Bob and Joe emphasized, that although MCM would give seed money to get us started, we should begin raising outside support immediately.
Most of the first day we spent listening to Nick P, a successful roving MCM full-time evangelist and others, including Rice Brooks and Greg Ball talk about how they raised money. How they approached “good” churches (meaning independent charismatic churches)and put themselves forward as campus youth missionaries. They also stressed we should contact all of our friends and family to get money from them, especially any Christian grandmothers and grandfathers.
Bob told us when asking for money to, “Always overshoot the amount you need from each person. For example tell a business man you would like for him to give $ 500/month if you REALLY want $ 50/month. A good place to work this plan is The local Full Gospel Businessmen’s Association. If you tell them that souls that are at stake and ask each business man for $ 500…they will give you something, it might be $ 100/month. Always ask for a HUGE amount, then the amount you ACTUALLY get will seem reasonable.”
“If you can get ten of these successful businessmen to give $ 100/month you have raised $ 1,200 dollars per month (this would be the 2006 equivalent of $ 3000/month or $ 36,000/year).”
Then he and Joe talked us through how to find churches that would be receptive to sponsoring us.
“The best place to start are independent charismatic churches. Don’t waste your time in denominations and stress that you will be a self supporting missionary to change college campuses.”
Joe Smith took over, “Now, we are going to front you $ 10,000 (equivalent to $ 25,000 in 2006) to get you started. But we expect that each ministry starting in January (six months later) to begin paying us back with interest.”
In the book was a chart detailing the payments to be made by the new ministry to MCM HQ over a three year period.
Now it sounded pretty generous for MCM to front us $ 10,000.
But I did not realize that Bob and Joe had been on their own “fundraising effort.” My understanding now is that MCM had “raised over $ 300,000 for the “great send out.” That is, they had the cash up front.
Also keep in mind that Bob encouraged us to raise enough money per month to support ourselves, and, maybe to support the ministry (advertising etc.).
There was another issue: if Bob and Joe had already raised this money specifically for the “great send out” why should the local ministries have to pay the money back?
MCM had cash for this venture coming from the members of the “1,000 club” (1,000 business man who apparently forked over $ 1,000/year to MCM) plus other money from other outside donors. I am confident that none of the donors to the “great send out” knew that their donations would be paid back with interest.
In essence MCM [aka Bob and Rose] were double dipping. It was a twist on Robin Hood: Take from the rich”and then take from the poor”. It seemed a scam of massive proportions.
Also since the great send out was theoretically self-funding it could, and would, double or triple the amount of cash coming in for the MLTS. MCM was getting too big for three MLTS a year; so the ministry cut it back to twice yearly but increased the fees to generate the same cash.
Each site had to tithe 10% of all income plus a 2% offering. So in addition to paying the ministry back $ 800 per month ($2,400 per month in 2006 dollars) for 18 months (the overage was interest) we also had to cough up 12% of every nickel we had. Oh and my cash of stash I raised to help support myself? I had to give 12% to MCM HQ.
So MCM now had four income streams, MLTS, the 1000 Club (set up to fund the great send out), payback streams from local ministries of the $ 10k front money, and of course, tithes and offerings from local ministries.
The amount of cash coming into MCM by mid 1981 would be gigantic (I estimated it was over $ 7M per year in 2006 dollars compared to just $ 2-3M only three years earlier).
Of course this MLTS and Great Send Out Scheme only held up if:
1.The Great Send Out plants could actually pay the money back (of course if they could not then MCM broke even at worse), and if,
2.MCM could keep the pastors on the reservation…the ministry was in effect doubling and it would begin taxing Bob Weiner’s and Joe Smith’s ability to personally control and dictate events, and finally if,
3.There was not large-scale unforeseen disaster, like a major investigation of MCM tactics and cash flows that would expose the hypocrisy and viciousness of the ministry.
Well, we got together on the second day and begin working on witnessing and preaching techniques. We learned how were to go after the frats, sororities, football players, basketball players and cheerleaders.
The sharps that is.
“If you go after the sharp leaders then they help in bring others in and you can point to these sharps and then will attract others,” said Joe.
Bob pointed at the crowd “Some of you have afros and long shaggy hair. I expect you all to have short hair cuts by tomorrow morning. You are going to get nothing but the dregs if you look like a dreg.”
He then grabbed Phil Bonnasso and pulled him up on the raised platform. Phil was always wanting Bob and Joe to notice him, and this afternoon he would be noticed, but not in the way that he wished.
It was a typical exercise in humiliation and fear by Bob.
Phil stepped up on stage. He was wearing a disco silk shirt, platform shoes and polyester pants. His hair stood up in a thick black shock at least three inches in height, and in the back his hair flowed down in back to his shoulders.
“This is the kind of image that we CANNOT have on campus. Sleazy 70s” disco out fits and this…this…bush of hair. You look sloppy brother, get a haircut and invest in some decent clothes.”
Then Bob looked out over the crop of newly minted full timers’
”Tikie come up here on stage”.
Bob turned me around like a model. “This is what we need; the clothes, shoes and look that says we are the best, we are in God’s will and blessed financially.”
“See how Tik looks; all of you should try to dress and look like him.”
I was both embarrassed and proud at the same time.
But it gave me pause.
Okay, maybe some of the brother’s clothes were worn but many had no money at all. I, because of the cash generated by my tire sales job (raking in $ 2,000 per month in 2006 $) was flush with money relative to many there.
Did Bob have to humiliate Phil, to make his point that we should have an updated wardrobe?
This was very typical of the way Bob handled things. He would pull up some poor guy or girl and humiliate them for their appearance, for not smiling, not dressing in up to date clothing, or not performing to his standards. Then he would pull up a brother or sister who DID have what the under-performer did not have and praise them.
Studies of of sociological cults show this behavior is common to such leaders of these groups. First the autocratic leader strikes fear into the hearts of everyone who is not producing or performing to his standards by humiliating the target poor . Everyone in the audience realizes “that could just as easily be me being humiliated.”
Then positive praise given to a performer would make all present want to produce and conform.
I saw Bob Weiner, Joe Smith, Bob Nolte and their understudies Rice Broocks and Nick P use this classic technique over and over again.
“Sit down you two,” Bob said to Phil and me. He then pointed to Dennis Darville who was an up and coming evangelist. Dennis never got sucked into the “horrible” behaviors that MCM modeled and reinforced. Dennis was a preacher with a talent equal to Rice Broocks and Greg Ball. But having worked with him on outreaches and roomed with him he appeared a very humble and loving Christian.
Bob brought Dennis up on stage. “Okay, I looked in the parking lot before we got started and I saw a bunch of beat up clunkers. If you as a pastors want to be a REAL LEADER someday then you must drive a sharp car. Dennis has a Datsun (Nissen) 280 Z convertible. Kids flock to him when he shows up on campus in that car.”
“I expect everyone, when they get to their ministries drive a brand new sporty car, AMEN?” shouted Bob.
Well I was all into fancy new cars, and I had managed to save about $ 2,500 (equal to $ 6,500 in 2006 dollars) from my “tire and shock” job. But no one else, that I knew, unless their parents were wealthy and gave them everything wanted, had a nickel on them. They could barely afford rent much less new car payment.
But we all shouted back “Amen”.
By the end of the boot camp I had a real pit of fear in my stomach. I was in shock, because I was beginning to realize exactly how the ministry functioned.
It was a BIG STICK and small carrot approach. Every day at least one or two brothers or sisters found themselves humiliated for some infraction; stomped on in front of everyone. And at least one or two would be brought up and praised.
I also met Leo Lawson for the first time. Leo went on to pastor churches and to become the head of ENLI. My impression of Leo was not so good. The only one trying to spend more time with Bob Weiner than Phil Bonasso was Leo Lawson. In fact Phil commented on it to me.
Nick P was schedule to come up to my ministry in wave TWO a few weeks after Greg and Helen Ball were to finish up at my ministry.
By this time I was beginning to see the wisdom of lying low, getting out of Gainesville and producing big numbers in my ministry.
Big numbers meaning dollars and converts.
And the “ole Tik” was suggesting things like: “It’s not too late to go back after those job offers you had ” or “Working in your Dad’s business might not be such a bad idea.”
But I brushed these thoughts aside the only friends that I had were in MCM…and wasn’t this the ideal Christian Church that I dreamed of almost four years ago?
Phil and I drove home that afternoon and I begin plotting my fundraising scheme. Believe it or not by working two full-time jobs and going from church to church and hitting up businessmen I was able to raise a “war chest of over $ 15,000, equal to $ 40,000 in 2006 in June and July. Plus I had monthly support pledges of over $ 1,000 (equal to about A$ 2,500/month in 2006) by the end of July. Of course I had to give 12% of this $ 15,000 back to MCM in a tithe and offering and any support I received.
I actually took Bob’s advice, and by having my father co-sign the note, I bought a brand new Ford T Bird courtesy of a $ 300/month car payment. It was a ridiculous buy for a poor new preacher!
I said my goodbyes to Matt and Allie who were staying in Auburn to pastor the church there and to Miltie who was heading up to Michigan with Mike, Missy and ten or twelve Auburnites.
For a week or so after coming back from the Gainesville boot-camp I had toyed with the idea of asking Mike and Missy if I could go with them to Michigan working as a lay brother and finding a job as an engineer.
But my pride stood in the way. Besides, didn’t I have a Word from God over my life about saving thousands? How could I ignore the Word of the Lord given by His Prophet Joe Smith?
So I loaded up my stuff at the end of July and headed cross-country for a rendezvous with my new ministry co-workers.
As I turned the corner at Magnolia Avenue I saw the famous marquis sign out front of the MCM house and it read “Are you Ready for what God has for you?”
I gunned my new T-Bird, turned up Magnolia Street and thought “I sure am!”