Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
I am a normal young guy, or so I thought. This past year, I, like many other young adults, attended college and was focused on my future. And as a young adult, like Diane Benscoter, I was, and still am at times, naïve to my surroundings.
I would soon be involved with something that would change my life and the way I think. Some would say my brain was rewired.
I have always been an activist. I love using creative and effective ways to change policies and culture to better the world. As a result of being a whistle blower of my college allocating tax payer money to fund a conference that was bullying conservatives and Christians I gained media attention, both locally and nationally.
In April of this year I was on an Iowa state-wide radio show. Before my segment, Bradlee Dean, a controversial preacher was on the same show; his sidekick heard me after and gave me a call. This led to me becoming employed on a street evangelism team with Minnesota-based You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International.
There are many reasons why I agreed to employment. I observed and believed the ministry to be family-oriented. After all, everyone who was married had their wife as a part of the ministry as well as their children. I believed the ministry to be Christian and authentic. I was beyond mistaken.
As soon as I moved to Minnesota I began traveled with the street team nationwide for evangelism.
Over the course of the next seven weeks that I worked for the ministry they began to control every aspect of my life. These are just some examples of things I was told or taught: It is normal for your family to stop talking to you as you develop a deeper relationship with Christ. I have nothing left back at home. Do not watch television as we are not to pay attention to media.
Because I worked on the street evangelism team I often worked long days, over twelve hours on average. They made us work long hours to keep us busy enough that we would not have time to think about how we were being brainwashed.
One day my mother called to check in; she realized I was no longer myself. She sent me a text that day, "You are being brainwashed, and you need to leave." I remember being inflamed and thought, "How dare she tell me such." I was told by my co-workers that she did not love me and Satan was using her to distract me from my purpose of being a Christian evangelist that God called me to be.
On June 29, 2013, I traveled with the street evangelism team through Tennessee. At 3 a.m. we made a gas stop in Pulawski, Tenn. Supposedly, it was my turn to pay for gas. I made the team leader aware that I did not have money for gas as I had bills to pay. I was then given an ultimatum, pay for gas or get out of the vehicle.
I had only money to pay my bills, grabbed my bags and got out of the vehicle. They then drove off to who knows where. I was stranded in a foreign place that had no airport, car rental place, taxi service, or any form of transportation.
Though it took some time, I began to realize I was a part of a cult. I sent out an email to my friends and political contacts to make them aware of the situation and to ask them to not socialize themselves with what I now realized to be a cult. Someone leaked the email, the cult then sent out an email to my contacts. They made accusations about me. This resulted in me losing what I believed to be friends overnight.
As a result of my relationship with the cult, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International, I now have a hard time trusting other people and ministries who say they are Christian. I can tell it's not me. I have always had a deep connection with Christ to what I would call a love story. Today, when looking at a Bible, hearing someone say the name "Jesus, Christ, God," etc. my mind will go back to the thoughts of control and manipulation I received from my associations with the cult.
My hope is that anyone who finds themselves being told to cease their normal, nondestructive lives are able to seek help. We all have dreams and aspirations, and we often will do anything to achieve those dreams. Because I was not willing to listen to those with more wisdom I fell into a trap that has changed my life forever.
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