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11/16/06


Mind Shadows      Christian Fundamentalists & Polish Exchange Student's Half Year of Hell

Landing in Greensboro, North Carolina, Michael Gromek, 19, stepped off the plane from Poland. He had come as an exchange student and looked eagerly for his host family at the airport. When they found one another, he felt like running back toward the plane. They met him holding a Bible, and saying,"Child, our Lord sent you half-way around the world to bring you to us." He spent four hellish months among Christian fundamentalists, with dawn church visits and sex education talks. His new family were bent on banishing Satan from his soul.

"Possessed by the devil": Exchange student Michael Gromek, 19.

Here's what he has to say.

"Things began to go wrong as soon as I arrived in my new home in Winston-Salem, where I was to spend my year abroad. For example, every Monday my host family would gather around the kitchen table to talk about sex. My host parents hadn't had sex for the last 17 years because--so they told me--they were devoting their lives to God. They also wanted to know whether I drank alcohol. I admitted that I liked beer and wine. They told me I had the devil in my heart."

"My host parents treated me like a five-year-old. They gave me lollipops. They woke me every Sunday morning at 6:15 a.m., saying 'Michael, it's time to go to church.' I hated that sentence. When I didn't want to go to church one morning, because I had hardly slept, they didn't allow me to have any coffee."

One day I was talking to my host parents about my mother, who is separated from my father. They were appalled--my mother's heart was just as possessed by the devil as mine, they exclaimed. God wanted her to stay with her husband, they said.

The exchange student eventually discovered that they had more than his soul in mind. In short, they had a reason for agreeing to host him. Their generosity had not simply arisen out of the goodness of their hearts. They needed his help to construct a Fundamentalist Baptist church in Poland.

They thought it was God's will, something he could not avoid. He saw the matter otherwise. They had already begun construction in Krakow, and needed his help with translations and filling the church. For him, that was the last straw. His hosts could not understand his refusal, but refuse he did. They were appalled.

I am reminded of the Stockholm Syndrome, in which victims come to identify with their captors. Michael says, "It was a weird situation. After all, these people were my only company at the time. If I hadn't kept in touch with home through e-mail, I might have been sucked into that world." Fortunately, he was sufficiently strong-minded and had access via email to those with perspective.

At this point, four months into his stay, he asked to change his host family. Of his fundamentalist hosts, he explains that "they didn't understand--how could they? They had grown up with their faith and were convinced of it, and then suddenly I turned up and refused to fit in."

He had to wait two months for a new family, two months of hell. "My host parents detested me."

Finally, he went to live with his new family, young, "more friends than host parents," and he was happy.

Found here.

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