Seven months ago Jill, who is 15, was a mess. She rarely went to school, ran away a lot, ignored her parents, took speed and acid and smoked marijuana, lived with her boyfriend and his roomate, a member of a motorcycle gang.
"My parents, they'd tell me what to do and I'd just laugh at them," she said. "I'd walk out the door and say I was doing it anyways. They would hit me, you know, to show me I was wrong, and I'd just hit 'em back . . . I was going to have someone kill my dad. This guy Wolf was going to kill him for me . . . Me and my friends, we wanted to find a group sort of like Helter Skelter so we could kill people. To me at that time it seemed really neat.
"My mom and I were so hateful to each other . . . If my parents said anything to me I wouldn't listen to them. . . . I guess it was just that I wanted to be my own person, I didn't want someone tellimg me what to do . . ."
Jill was sent to the Rebekah Home for Girls here where she found Brother Lester Roloff. Then she found Jesus.
To many fundmentalists across the nation, Brother Roloff has become a shining hero standing against the demands of a secular and "irreligous" government. He has fought an epic legal battle with the state of Texas and carried it even unto the justices of the Supreme Court - so far to no avail.
A lean man whose skin stretches tightly over his face. Lester Roloff is to talking what Vladimir Horowitz is to the piano.Even over the telephone, his voice crackles with fire and oozes with reassurance from joke to Bible verse, from personal anecdote to passionate plea, he beguiles, he compels, he inspires.
The Rebekah Home is one of six that Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, Inc., runs for the "hopeless, sin-saturated and love-starved." Another home for girls is in Hattiesburgh Miss., and a farm called the City of Refuge in Georgia.
The Rebekah Home is part of a 465-acre reservation called "the farm" which is fenced in and guarded, and includes an airstrip as well as trailer homes for 100 farm workers, a church, Christian school for the Rebekah girls, cafeteria, boy's dormitory and bakery.
"You say,"Why do you want to have a fence?" Roloff said at a recent Thursday evening church service, having just cited a Bible verse referring to fences (Ezekiel 11:35). Because we want to keep our children until we get 'em rich.
When a girl comes to the Rebekah Home I ask her: How much dope? Plenty," said Brother Roloff. Cigarettes? Yes. Alcohol? Yes. Immoral? Yes. Do you know for sure you're not pregnant? No. If you are pregnant do you know who the father is or if he's white or colored? No.
Roloff, a vigorous 64-year-old who has been building his "mission" to its peak for 20 years is fond of saying that many of the people who live in his homes would otherwise be in jail, on the streets or dead. He offers them in many cases unasked - a regimented life of prayers, church services, his own radio broadcasts, a diet of natural food and a stern disciplinary system.
So when Jill (all names of Rebekah residents have been changed) entered Rebekah she lived a different life with lots of rules: no slacks or jeans for the girls, no rock and roll, no cigarettes, no alcohol or dope (even asprin) no eye makeup, no coffee, tea or soft drinks, no junk food, no pictures of movie stars, newspapers, magazines (other than Christian ones), no television no association with the opposite sex without permission, and for those under 18: No Leaving. Parents may visit, but no friends. A guard is at the farm's entrance. Residents can write letter to their parents or family only and all letters are monitored.
For disobeying these rules or for other offenses such as leaving clothes on the floor, not cleaning their room, rebelliousness, profanity running away or not doing school work, the girls are punished in a variety of ways ranging from extra chores to spanking with a small paddle on the behind.
Jill's teen-ager sister thinks she's crazy that Jill became a Jesus freak. "My sister wants to go live with three guys." Jill said "I can't explain to her that's wrong. She thinks that's real love. And I can't explain to her that the only way you're going to meet real love is when you meet Jesus first."
When Jill arrived at the Rebekah home the day started 6:30 a.m. when Brother Wiley Cameron turns on the intercom. At 7 a.m. Brother Roloff's taped morning message is piped into their rooms, and at 7:15 they have breakfast. The morning is spent in school under a correspondence-school program called Accelerated Christian Education. Everyone wears a red, white and blue uniform.
School ends at about 3 p.m. when the girls go back to to dorm and do homework. Bible studies, and get ready for nightly church service. Roloff's evening broadcast is piped in at 7 p.m. Meanwhile the intercom carries religious music.
Roloff and his supporters think rock music is the work of Satan. "I notice where one of the big rock and roll fellas was found dead," he said at a recent church service. "Oh, he was a popular, he was an outstanding mogul. He was somebody they said. And it's a pity how many of the rock stars are killin' themselves. You know why? They have nothing to live for. Just a bunch of rock and racket. You boys ought to know, girls too, you know what you been through, it'll ruin anybody's mind. It's the worst dope that's ever been invented. No matter if the Beatles delivered it, we got it pretty bad and kept it."
A reporter was allowed to visit the girls in the dorm after school, accompanied by an adult worker. In one room sit Chris and Aggie, both 15.Chris, a chunky, freckle-face girl from Texas, has been in the home with the approximately 200 girls for nine months. Sh has been saved. Aggie, slight and pretty is from Florida, and has only been here a few weeks. She cuddles a parakeet that she traded a curling iron for; it lives in a cage in their room, but now sits on her shoulder.
The room is decorated with pictures of flowers and horses and a sign that reads: "Keep Your Words Sweet. You May Have to Eat Them."
Aggie says he is here because, "I didn't respect my parents and I was rebellious. I had a cousin who went here and she got together with my parents and they sent me here."
"But aren't you said you're here?" asked Chris, who is the room captain.
Aggie doesn't answer; her eyes redden with tears but they don't fall. She looks at her parakeet. "Are you homesick?" Chris asks. Aggie nods "Most of the girls who don't like it here are new and haven't got adjusted yet." Chris says.
Chris tells her story:
"I don't know where my dad is; my mom was married three times. But now she's a homosexual. And she took drugs and liquor. They took me away from my mother for being unfit . . . They gave custody to the welfare.I've lived in 13 homes . . . For a while I was with these friends of mom's, Alice and George, I was in so much sin it was sickening . . . I was messing around with Alice's husband who was 28. Then she left town with another guy.
"The voice of the "dorm mother." Mrs. Cameron, crackles over the intercom telling the girls to wear their red skirts to church that evening. "Look purty for Daddy Bear," she says. Daddy Bear is Mr. Cameron. Chris says he cracks everybody up when he plays "Rubber Ducky" on the intercom and talks like Donald Duck.
Chris fastened her light blue eyes intently on her listener, talking faster as though she feared her audience would leave before she'd finisher her story:
"My mom, she should have whipped my britches off me. I was listening to my filthy rock music, not going to school. I was in jail overnight. They even sent to me to the state mental hospital for nine months. Welfare would not come and get me. Then I got this lawyer. Then back to the shelter, to the state home, the Methodist home - they wouldn't take me because I was too rebellious. I was released to a Christian couple for a few weeks. Then I was sent to a foundation in Texas. It's a private place. We had our own marijuana field in the back of the place.
"Then I went home to Mama, and my mama made a pass at me. The welfare sent me to a foster home; I got rowdy with the neighbors. They opened a house for people like me and I ran away. Finally the judge sent me here.
"Now I praise the Lord that I'm here. I call Mrs. Cameron 'Mom' and Brother Cameron 'Dad.' The Lord isn't finished with me yet . . ."
Bradley Smith, the 33-year-old judge who finally sent Chris to Rebekah, confirmed her story.
Brother Roloff says that he gets about 50 requests a day from children, parents, pastors or court officers to send a child to one of his homes. He has over 400 in his care now, and doesn't have room for any more. The only ones he'll never turn away, he says, are the children of preachers, policemen or military men. He doesn't charge any tuition for his homes and depends entirely on donations. He says about 87 percent of the kids who pass through the homes stay "saved."
When Jill goes home later this year she will go to a Christian school so that her old friends won't influence her into becoming a "freak" again. Now, she says she is a happy person, loves the Lord, and is getting along with her parents. Pilot and Pilgrim
Flying around the country in one of his two planes, accompanied by a singing quartet of young women and wearing either a natty polyster suit, denim overalls, or a jumpsuit, Roloff cuts a startling figure. On Thanksgiving he even dressed up like a pilgrim.
As Roloff takes off in his Queen-Air, from which most of the seats have been removed in order to accommodate two large plastic coolers filled with food, he shouts to the three Liberty Bells traveling with him, "Psalm 121!"
"Psalm 121!" they shout back, and proceed to recite in a fast monotone as Roloff angles the plane up over Atlanta."I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth. . . . The Lord shall preserve my going out and my coming in from this time forth and even foremore. AMEN."
The Liberty Bells are one of the singing groups made up of Rebekah girls or Lighthouse or Anchor Home boys.
After a quick stopover at the City of Refuge, a 253-acre spread three miles from Culloden, Ga, it's off to Hattiesburg Miss. and the Bethesda Home for Girls another remote settlement which was given to Roloff for as long as he runs a home there.
Roloff greets the 60 girls in identical red skirts and loose white tops, who chorus, "Hi!"
Normally Roloff tapes his remarks for a future radio program, but today the recording machine is broken. Never mind. He asks the girls to sing, as he will many times in any home. They sing enthusiastically, starting with what Roloff describes as "out theme song."
"I care not today what tomorrow may bring if sunshine or shadow or rain . . . My lord will return to the earth some sweet day. Our troubles will then all be o'er . . ."
And again Roloff introduces a visiting reporter. At the church service in Corpus Christi the following night he asked the congregation, "If you're glad to have her (the reporter) say Amen," and the crowd of over 200 responded "AMEN!"
Roloff mentioned that, "We have been on death row of five years and that he was hoping for a new bus for the home. Then he asked for some "testimonies" while he tended to phone calls in the office, and four young women dutifully got up and recited their stories.
"I just praise the Lord . . . that I don't have to go back to the sin of the world and dope and stuff like that and I can be a Christian young lady and I wear dresses and I don't have to be a bum in blue jeans no more and I just pray to the Lord to thank Aunt Dot and Uncle Bert for the parents they are to us," she cried, not uncommon when giving testimony.
"They teach us in the way of the Lord . . . I mean, cause it's out of love and they hug us after they spank us and everything and we all know that and we, uh, I mean it's just love here."
The Bethesday Home used to be mostly for unwed mothers, but with birth control and abortion fewer girls are in need of that service. There is no formal school at Bethesda.
During the three-hour flight to Corpus Christi, kate and another Liberty Bell, Sue, practice singing hymns and polish their shoes. Another girl, Angela, 17, is being taken from Bethesda to Rebekah. She's here because she used to run away a lot, she said. She sits quietly during the entire flight, ankles crossed and hands clasped.
Kate asks her if they still make them eat the whole apple at Bethesda. "They used to make you eat the core and everything," she explains. "They said it was good for you," Angela says they don't anymore.
Meanwhile, Miss Elaine (as she is called), a physical education teacher at the Rebekah School and member of the quarter, is curled up in the copilot's seat, reading the Bible and underlining verses. Miss Elaine lives with Brother Roloff and his wife and periodically hands things to him when he asks for them - a bowl of fruit, paper towels, talcum powder. Roloff explained later that he was suffering from hives as result of "tension and overwork."
Roloff was born in Dawson, Tex., south of Dallas, and worked his way through Baylor University by milking a cow, according to his official autobiography which appears at the end of the Roloff Enterprises, Inc., edition of the Holy Bible. At 6 o'clock morning, I met my little cow down at the cowshed in the middle of the block, where a big dormitory for girls now stands . . . and would begin my day in prayer," he wrote.
Graduating with a B.A. in theology, he had several posts as a Southern Baptist preacher, winding up in Corpus Chrisit in 1944. He started a "radio ministry" then but, "we were kicked off it 10 months later because of our stand against liquor," and by 1954 his differences with the Texas Baptist Convention were such that, "I climbed down off the totem pole of denominational prestige and acceptance . . . and stepped outside the denominational gate." He started the City of Refuge in Lexington, Tex., in 1956 and the other homes a few years later. All homes have been in other locations before their current addresses.
He has preached everywhere from the streets to tent revivals to coliseums, always with fire and often with tears, but has not been without his critics.
The state of Texas has been trying for five years to force Roloff to comply with their licensing requirements. Having been rebuffed by three levels of court in Texas. Roloff's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was refused recently, but he has vowed to carry on his campaign to focusing on the Supreme Court. A law that would have exempted Roloff from licensing failed to pass the state legislature last year.
Chief Juvenile Court Judge John P. Collins of Tucson, Ariz., calls Roloff's operation a "private prison," and held hearings last winter to air charges of brutality, brainwashing, and unfair imprisonment by former Rebekah residents.
Efforts to inspect the homes have been thwarted, said Texas Department of Human Resources licensing chief Margaret May, who said the Roloff is the only head of a religious child-care institution in Texas who has refused to comply.
Roloff says that to be licensed is to acknowledge the state as a higher authority than God.
If I take a license, I throw this old Bible that I've loved so well into the nearest garbage can." Roloff says, "Compromise is impossible. This is my way of life."
In May 1973 Roloff said that he signed a "consent agreement" to settle the state's suit, in which he agreed to stop handcuffing girls as punishment for running away and to allow department inspections. But after signing the agreement, Roloff refused to allow the inspections. Hearing were held that resulted in his being held in contempt of court, and he went to jail for five days. Roloff has made a movie called "Freedom's Last Call," about the experience.
He can't fathom why the courts are not backing him up; the only explanation is that we're turning into a Godless nation."
"I have a strong conviction that children should not be locked up." Collins says. "In Roloff's place all contact with the outside world is cut off. The school is not accredited, the staff has no credentials other than that they want to be there . . . If all the kids need is a good shot of Christain religion, why do they have to be locked up? I think they have a right to say they don't want to listen to the son of a bitch.
After Collins complained publicly about Roloff, the was threatened by fundamentalist Chrisians who said they would defeat him in the next election.
"We take the children that nobody else wants," Roloff says, "and we don't give up on 'em. If they run away, we go get 'em. We don't need social workers or psychologists to tell us what to do.
Part of the precaution for keeping the girls at Rebekah is what the girls call the "Narc Squad," described by senior girl Kate, who Roloff said was one of the worst ever to come there. "Some of the girls were sending letters out to their boyfriends, so they set up this group. And they (girls sending letters) thought they could trust them, but they were the narc squad turning the letters in. It was really funny!"
Another judge, 33-year-old Bradley Smith in Bryan, Tex., is pleased with the change in a 15-year-old whom he sent there. "Kids really want to be disciplined to a certain extent," Smith said. "From a legal standpoint the only distinction between abuse and discipline is the attitude of the person doing the disciplining. If you do it because you enjoy whipping, that's abuse."
The charge of brainwashing, Smith said, conjures up the image of Chinese water torture and POWs in Korea . . . But what's the difference between what they're trying to do in the criminal justice system - getting a person to live to a certain code - and this? There's a conventional wisdom that anything to do with religion is bad, which I don't agree with. Being the son of a Baptist minister may have something to do with that."
Or as the father of one of the girls put it: "People today are just as brainwashed by TV and the media and advertising. Kids today watch TV 80 hours a month. It becomes the real world."
Although some outsiders wonder about the source of Roloff's $13,000-a-day expenses in running the homes, no one has uncovered any hanky-panky in that area. The roughly $4 million that came in from supporters last year is sought from listeners to the radio programs, from people who attend the numerous church meetings Roloff travels to each year, and from the parents of children there. No parent is required to pay and many don't. Roloff "takes no tax money," he often says.
Other faithful followers have donated land, truckloads of fruit, and loaned Roloff the use of cars. They built him a large home on the farm, which he says is worth $300,000 and has a kitchen outfitted with trash masher, food processor and blender, as well as the usual appliances. No Role Model
At the end of a recent visit, Roloff cooked lunch for a reporter and said that no one could really understand his work who hadn't accepted Jesus. He was asked who of today's evangelists he most admires. He has no role model, he said, not Pat Robertson or Billy Graham. "But I'm looked up to by my many preacher friends," he said. "They call me John the Baptist. Of course, I don't deserve that . . ."