Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future  -     By: Elizabeth Esther
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Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future

Convergent Books / 2014 / Paperback

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Product Description

Prepped for the apocolypse, cut off from most contact with mainstream society, and physically abused, Elizabeth Esther had no idea of what life was like outside the strict boundaries set by her family-run cult of "Jesus People." Discover what happens when she leaves her church---and begins the difficult journey toward authentic faith. 224 pages, softcover from Convergent.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 224
Vendor: Convergent Books
Publication Date: 2014
ISBN: 0307731871
ISBN-13: 9780307731876
Availability: In Stock

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Publisher's Description

I was raised in a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group—which is just a shorthand way of saying I’m classically trained in apocalyptic 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 thee, 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.


A story of mind control, the Apocalypse, and modest attire.

Elizabeth Esther grew up in love with Jesus but in fear of daily spankings (to "break her will"). Trained in her family-run church to confess sins real and imagined, she knew her parents loved her and God probably hated her. Not until she was grown and married did she find the courage to attempt the unthinkable. To leave.

In her memoir, readers will recognize questions every believer faces: When is spiritual zeal a gift, and when is it a trap? What happens when a pastor holds unchecked sway over his followers? And how can we leave behind the harm inflicted in the name of God without losing God in the process?

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Girl at the End of the World is a story of the lingering effects of spiritual abuse and the growing hope that God can still be good when His people fail.

Includes reading group discussion guide and interview with the author

Author Bio

Elizabeth Esther is a popular blogger and advocate who has appeared on shows such as Fox News and Anderson Cooper Live. Elizabeth and her husband, Matthew, live with their five children in Santa Ana, California.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Girl at the End of the World

"What a story! Girl at the End of the World is witty, insightful, courageous, and compelling, the sort of book you plan to read in a week but finish in a day. Elizabeth Esther is a master storyteller who describes her journey out of fundamentalism with a powerful mix of tenderness and guts. With this debut, Esther sets herself apart as a remarkable writer and remarkable woman. This book is a gift, and I cannot commend it enough."
—Rachel Held Evans, blogger and author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood

"Sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic, Girl at the End of the World provides an unflinching look at life growing up inside a fundamentalist cult. Elizabeth Esther’s honest and vulnerable account of her childhood, and the effects of her parents’ religious zeal, is both fascinating and poignant. I couldn’t put this book down. It will provide hope to anyone recovering from an upbringing where religiosity was emphasized over a relationship with God."
—Kristen Howerton, author of RageAgainsttheMinivan.com

"Girl at the End of the World is an unforgettable memoir. I white-knuckled its pages as I traveled through Elizabeth Esther’s heartbreaking childhood. I cheered for her when she finally found freedom and grace. It’s eye-opening, powerfully written, and offers a vital perspective in the conversation about fundamentalism and religious abuse."
—Jason Boyett, author of O Me of Little Faith

"Elizabeth Esther’s story is a powerful account, and she’s told it beautifully. As I read, I thought of my own memories of growing up in an evangelical church and wondered how they’ve made me the person I am today. This book is a reminder that God is good and that He can redeem any story for His beloved children—or as Elizabeth says, that ’God is big enough to meet us anywhere.’ I’m so glad she has bravely told her tale."
—Tsh Oxenreider, author of Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World

"There is life on every page. Girl at the End of the World is evidence that sometimes our scars make the most beautiful art."
—Josh James Riebock, author of Heroes and Monsters

"A delightful book: funny and wise and rich with insight about God and faith. Even while Elizabeth tells the darker threads of her story, her innocence, wit, and spiritual exuberance shine brightly."
—Matthew Paul Turner, author of Churched and Our Great Big American God

"A memoir about childhood should not read like a seat-of-the-pants thriller, but Elizabeth Esther’s does. And that’s scary. I found myself wishing I could reach through the pages and hug that cowering, desperate girl, and tell her that God truly loves her. I’m so glad she knows His devotion now, and so grateful that she is sharing her story so that we, as God’s ambassadors, can make sure abuse in the name of ’child training’ never happens again."
—Sheila Wray Gregoire, author and blogger at ToLoveHonorandVacuum.com

"Elizabeth shares with candor, wit, and near flawless writing about the religion she was so deeply hurt by. Her story is heartbreaking, yet redemptive, and we would all do well to pay attention to how religion without the love, grace, and truth of Jesus Christ is an empty and destructive force."
—Sarah Mae, author of Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe

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  1. 1 Stars Out Of 5
    Book Review
    June 16, 2015
    Sandra
    Quality: 2
    Value: 2
    Meets Expectations: 1
    I thought the title was misleading. The description of her life inside the assembly sounds more like a cult than what fundamentalists believe. Following one human leader in your Christian beliefs and practices is rarely a good thing. There are fundamentalists that do not follow one human leader.
  2. San Diego, CA
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: male
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Highly probable
    July 16, 2014
    Jamesbond23
    San Diego, CA
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: male
    Quality: 5
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 4
    This individual was entrenched in the Geftakys system since she was a child. I would not review her neither the book since I would be biased to a small degree since I was involved in the same group but in a different city.

    THe issue was never with doctrine for the most part but with their exclusive practices. It would be interesting to see what fellow members think of the book a well if they can stay objective. But I would highly recommend the book for bible believing Christians on what to avoid if building a present day church.
  3. Michigan
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: male
    3 Stars Out Of 5
    Trading one theological ditch for another
    May 23, 2014
    Cliffymania
    Michigan
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: male
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 1
    How do you know if you're part of a cult instead of a solid church?

    How do you escape?

    Better yet, where do you escape to?

    Elizabeth Esther explores these questions in her book ‘Girl at the End of the World' because she lived through the ordeal herself.

    She calls it an escape from Fundamentalism, which is a loaded word itself, but it was an escape nonetheless.

    Inside the Assembly

    She was raised in a church called the Assembly; a closed off group of people that hid from the world only poking their heads out long enough to shout on street corners and then scurry back home to prepare for the rapture. Her father lived in fear of the government. Her grandfather ruled the Assembly with an iron fist. Her uncle was abusive. Elizabeth lived under the pressure of constantly having to "ask Jesus into her heart" to make sure that she was saved.

    The Assembly was a cult that called itself Christian. Like so many cults it eventually collapsed on itself, but not before causing Elizabeth and others serious emotional harm. Elizabeth's life was regulated right down to when she could use the bathroom. If she didn't "go" when they told her to, a spanking would result. Spankings occurred regularly as the primary form of discipline.

    Her Grandfather, George, became the living example of Romans 2:1, "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things." Papa George, as she calls him, "crushed those who disagreed with him", misused tithed money, and even had adulterous affairs. Meanwhile he would bring the hammer down on anyone in the Assembly who did the same thing.

    Outside the Assembly

    Elizabeth, now grown, married and has a couple of kids, leaves the Assembly for the "outside world". She finds herself gorging on American pop culture. She doesn't like Oprah, finds her to be fake and manipulative, but she does find herself getting sucked in by a lot of reality TV. She keeps telling her husband they need to dream bigger like she learned at the mega-church. Her husband is the one to tell her they have it all right here (a decent house, the kids are playing, they have each other). Her husband isn't struggling nearly as much she is.

    Recovering her faith

    Elizabeth never loses her faith through this whole ordeal, but it does go through a major transformation. Being outside the restrictive, seemingly works based Assembly, she finds her family in a glitzy, seemingly non-judgmental, mega-church. She goes through what she calls "religious PTSD" (post traumatic stress disorder) and I don't doubt it. She even has a panic attack during the worship service when something reminds her of the Assembly.

    I certainly don't want to discount what the author went through because it's all valid; she was spiritually abused by people she trusted. It's her reaction at this point that reveals the extent of the damage done.

    She starts to neglect the Bible not because she's losing faith, but because she believes that men are the problem. The Assembly was male dominated, her bookshelf contains books all written by men, the Bible is written by men and so she concludes men are in the way of her knowing God. She wants to hear from a woman.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to hear from a woman, but I believe that her concerns about men are misplaced. It was THOSE men that got in her way, not ALL men. At the back of the book, in an interview she says, "The next revival in the church will be through women." Her ‘faith with a future' then could easily be interpreted as going too far the other way; a religion dominated by women.

    Into the Roman Catholic Church

    Elizabeth finds herself in a position that every parent fears; her newborn child might not survive. She had started investigating the Roman Catholic Church and reminding herself along the way what she had been taught by the Assembly; the Roman Catholic Church was committing idolatry in their view of Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, she takes a chance and starts to pray to Mary asking for her intercession (her words). The child survives and Elizabeth ultimately thanks Mary.

    I don't want to diminish what's happening because I can understand looking to Mary for comfort; Mary believed God, but when we start asking Mary to pray for us, we step into dangerous territory. The book from here on becomes an apologetic for the Roman Catholic Church and the elevation of Mary.

    The author says, "Isn't this why I have been coming to the Catholic Church-to find Mary? Am I not hoping she can somehow lead me back to Jesus?" Then she argues with herself, "To grant honor [anywhere but Jesus] is idolatry. Isn't it?" She no more than says this to herself when she realizes she's being disrespectful to Jesus' mother and Jesus isn't happy about that.

    What does it mean to respect Mary, in the eyes of the author? She starts praying the Memorare, a Catholic prayer to Mary.

    "Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored you help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen."

    Elizabeth says of this prayer, "I don't know how this prayer will be answered. But when I leave the church, I know she heard me. It is enough."

    How is this not idolatry?

    Now her apologetic turns to her feelings and her experience as the most important indicators of truth. In some sense this is understandable as she was not allowed to even think when she was in the Assembly. However, this is trading up one problem for another problem instead of seeking the real solution. It becomes evident that she hasn't really turned from the male dominated Assembly as much as she thinks.

    By going to confession she was able to learn to forgive herself and eventually to forgive others, but who was she confessing to? A male priest.

    She appreciates the Roman Catholic Church because they have canonized women as "Saints," but who approved this canonization? A council of male cardinals and the Pope.

    Faith with a future

    In the book the author rightly points out the multiple problems with the Assembly, but in looking for a faith with a future I believe she still has a ways to go. In the interview that closes out the book she makes comments about Fundamentalism and seeing it everywhere, including in conservative blogs by women, homeschooling, and most non-Roman Catholic churches.

    Finally

    It's a good read and could be cathartic for those who've had a similar experience, but I would encourage the reader to take the next step and dig to the root of the problem through scripture and prayer so you don't end up talking yourself right back into the same problem.

    I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. Read more of my Book Reviews.
  4. pa
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    An Amazing Book!!
    May 16, 2014
    lorealle
    pa
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    Oh, this book. Where do I even begin? This book is so overwhelmingly sad but yet so interesting I couldn't put it down. It is difficult to journey with someone as she shares intimate details from her life. Even though it is difficult, this book is definitely worth reading.

    It seems strange when I say I enjoyed reading this book, as Elizabeth's life in The Assembly {the cult that has her in its grip throughout her young life} seems anything but enjoyable. But the writing itself feels so effortless, so graceful, and is seasoned with enough humor and wisdom that reading it is indeed a treat.

    This book includes daily "required" spankings from age 6 months upward. Basically systematic abuse of children, including the tempting of infants with candy and subsequent spankings to "train" them like dogs. The sad truth, as I quickly realized, is that Elizabeth is not exaggerating in the least when she talks about the fact that her childhood and young adulthood were spent deep inside a cult.

    I am going to be honest, there are some "colorful" words in the book. And I was a bit taken aback by the use of some of them in a Christian book. But as I was reading it, I kept thinking how it was real, honest and not sugar-coated even in the language. That's what makes the book so relateable.

    Her story is raw. Her story is painful. Her story is horrible. But her story is also beautiful and encouraging in the best ways, and you don't need to have been raised in a cult to relate to Elizabeth's trials and triumphs. I would absolutely recommend this book!

    WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group provided this book to me for free in exchange for this honest review as part of their Blogging for Books program.
  5. Oak Harbor, WA
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Escaping from a faith group gone wrong
    April 30, 2014
    bookwomanjoan
    Oak Harbor, WA
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    Esther was raised in a home grown fundamentalist Christian group, started by her paternal grandfather. "Self ordained," he began a Bible study in his home which came to be known as The Assembly. It included a hyper-literal interpretation of the Bible and very strict rules. It was later described at a cult, not because of the beliefs but because of the group's behavior and method of control. There was also a preoccupation with end of the world theology.

    Esther describes her experiences growing up in the group, attending their own elementary school and camps, corporeal punishment, attending public high school (with the assignment to save them) and seeing many rather normal Christians, panic attacks, awareness of unaddressed spousal abuse within the group, "biblical" marriage, motherhood, apocalyptic hysteria after 9/11, she and her husband researching abuse in the group, leaving, and the search for real Christianity.

    Becoming healthy is an ongoing process. Reexamining her beliefs to find a more balanced way of living has been a far greater task than she imagined. The Assembly was her faith, her family, and her friends. It is taking time to learn how to give and receive grace and how to live with freedom.

    I am so glad that Esther did not abandon her Christian faith altogether when she came out of a warped version of it. In A Conversation with the Author she emphasizes that she is not critiquing the orthodox beliefs of Christianity but the way in which those beliefs were practiced, a harsh and graceless mindset.

    As an evangelical Christian, I don't like it when Christianity goes wrong. This is an excellent book showing the effects when it does. I recommend this book. There is a great discussion guide so this book would be good for reading groups and church leadership groups to read.

    I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.
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