I was raised in a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group–which is just a shorthand way of saying I’m classically trained in apocalypse stockpiling, street preaching, and the King James Version of the Bible. I know hundreds of obscure nineteenth-century hymns by heart and have such razor-sharp ‘modesty vision’ that I can spot a miniskirt a mile away.
Verily, verily I say unto the, none of these highly specialized skills ever got me a job, but at least I’m all set for the End of the World. Selah.
This is how Elizabeth Esther describes her upbringing in her memoir Girl at the End of the World. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Waterbrook Multnomah’s Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.) It’s a sardonic summary of her early life, and the truth is: it was much worse than that.
Girl at the End of the World is a raw and gritty account of the cult known as The Assembly that Elizabeth was raised in, and the painful path she took to freedom from a strict fundamentalist upbringing, which included daily spankings and confession of sins real and imagined. She asked Jesus into her heart thousands of times and lived in fear of being “left behind” when the Rapture occurred.
I have never been in a cult nor experienced the level of brainwashing and strict morality the author describes, but it wasn’t hard to identify with aspects of the book. To me, it was a warning against an atmosphere of control and conformity under the pretense of unity. And it’s an honest picture of brokenness, healing, forgiveness and grace. Elizabeth’s pain is real, and I found myself aching with her losses and cheering for her freedom.
I appreciate, too, that this is not an all’s-well-that-ends-well kind of story. She is honest about her recovery and the struggles she still has with the thoughts and experiences that shaped her upbringing. Still, there is hope. Girl at the End of the World might not make you feel good but it will remind you that God’s grace is extravagant and His love is big and some people misuse His name and the Bible but God is still leading people to walk in freedom with Him.
If you’re unsure about the book, you can read Chapter One here. There is mild use of language that some might find offensive, and I only tell you that so you aren’t surprised if you do read it. It does not take away from the overall value of the story.