Awaiting the child in the next room was their new family, all smiling and holding gifts of welcome. From left to right there was: The Father [Olav], The Mother [Jean] and The Brother [Olavson]. The child moved into the room tentatively, unsure what to do with this new family.
Would they accept them?
The Father offered the first gift to the child, which they took eagerly. The child opened it quickly to discover a book filled with pictures of people, animals and symbols, with the words “Holy Bible” on the cover. The child took several moments to look at the pictures in the book before looking up and smiling at the Father.
“Now say ‘Thank you for the gift, Father’, it’s the polite thing to do” the Father informed the child.
The child followed the Father’s guidance and he stepped back and looked to The Mother. The Mother moved forward to the child and offered them a gift and a short hug. She looked softly at the child and welcomed the child warmly to the home. The child opened the Mother’s gift slower and more deliberately to find a small case, covered in white velvet.
“Open it” the Mother beckoned as the child looked up at her.
Cracking the lid there was a glint from the light striking a shiny surface, it was a gold cross necklace! The Mother stepped forward and retrieved the cross from the velvet box and slid it around the child’s neck and gently clasped it.
“There, now you are a child of God. Welcome home, little one.” The child looked down at the cross and fiddled with it. Smiling, they uttered a small “Thank you, Mother” and stepped back against the wall, still holding the book.
The Brother stopped forward and handed the child the biggest gift yet. The child, having had a sibling of the same age prior, smiled and accepted it greedily. Inside there was a small baseball glove and baseball! The child had never seen one but the Brother stepped forward and helped the child put it on their hand. The Brother took the ball and took a few steps away from the child.
“Catch” he beckoned as he tossed the baseball towards the open glove on the child’s hand. The child, unmoving, missed the ball in confusion. “Don’t worry, we will work on it after school and church.” said the Brother. The child looked up and smiled with a small thank you before turning back to the Father and Mother.
“Follow us.” they beckoned.
And so it went, hallways after hallways, room after room the child toured the large house with their news family. The tour ended at the child’s room, several rooms down the hallways from the Father and Mother’s room. Across the hall, the child could hear the Brother watching TV. The child settled in for the night and fell asleep in the larger bed.
Maybe this won’t be so bad afterall…
A few weeks later, while the family was driving to church down the long highway, the Father turned to the child and proclaimed “Today you will be ‘Christened’. We will take you up front so that Reverend Thomas can offer God’s blessing on your life.” The child nodded, not understanding but complying quietly.
The Father was a stringent fan of discipline and “respect for thy elders”. Failure to follow the rules would earn the child time in the prayer room. This room was poorly lit, had hymns playing 24/7 and featured a small wooden kneeler on the floor at the foot of a large tapestry portraying “The Last Supper”. A small wooden crucifix hung just above the tapestry. Time in the prayer room was especially hard for the child as it was a very small room, and the incense choked them making it even harder to breathe. After three weeks and several trips to the prayer room, the child had learned to comply quickly.
At the service, there was great celebration for the lost child of God returning to the flock. Hymns of worship and praise were sung as the members of the congregation placed their hands on the child. The child, overwhelmed, began crying. They were inconsolable until the end of the service but the congregants ignored the wails and simply sang louder.
“God always comes first” was the message that was received and broadcast.
As the years passed, the prayer room became a welcome retreat for the child. Compared to the other punishments passed down for misbehavior, the prayer room was mild. The common denominator with all the punishments however; they involved Christianity or were justified using verses from the Bible.
Some of the punishments were called “discipline”. These usually consisted of physical labor or activity such as moving heavy rocks from one pile to another and pushups/sit-ups. Other punishments were called ‘learning experiences’ and these consisted of: copying verbatim entire chapters from the Bible or writing essays on stories from the bible and how they would guide the Child to repent for their sins.
No matter how hard the child tried, they could not avert trouble. They were always driven to ask questions and not give up until a satisfactory answer was given. This often was labeled as disruptive and arrogant. The child constantly sought attention because they received very little at home, aside from punishment.
The Father and Mother both worked full-time and rarely had time during the week for the Child and the Brother. The Father worked for a demanding technology company and the Mother worked for the Church, keeping books and running Sunday school classes. They were often away to other countries for “Missions of Goodwill and Christ”. Some of these travels included the Child and the Brother, many did not.
Braine-l’Alleud was a busy city, just outside of Brussels, Belgium. The child would ride through it on the bus each day on their way to the international school that their parents had enrolled them in. All the classes were what you would expect a K-2 student to take, plus an added French class. This was a direct effort to help foreigners learn the primary language of the area.
When not at school, the child and the brother would be under the care of Sister Morgan, the local Catholic nanny. She was strict and kept the child in the prayer room most of the time. When the Father and Mother were not busy, the family would travel. It was different country every few weeks, in the endless cycle of travels and evangelizing.
The child would have their fourth – seventh birthdays before returning to the United States once again. The father was offered a job in the evangelical association “The Navigators” and he took it with glee. The family packed up the house, said goodbye to all their new friends, and headed back to the airport. Everything the child had associated with family was being left behind.
The child was once again nervous and worried that things would never be the same…
It was 1993.