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Where the Light Begins: A Seeker's Journey for Truth, Freedom and a Place to Call Home
Where the Light Begins: A Seeker's Journey for Truth, Freedom and a Place to Call Home
Where the Light Begins: A Seeker's Journey for Truth, Freedom and a Place to Call Home
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Where the Light Begins: A Seeker's Journey for Truth, Freedom and a Place to Call Home

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In Where the Light Begins: A Seeker's Journey for Truth, Freedom and a Place to Call Home, Cristy Elmendorp shares an intimate account of her extraordinary life journey. The daughter of a missionary who once belonged to a controversial Christian cult called "The Children of God", her father would often tell her that she was 'born in the heat of the revolution'. 

 

Through the many twists and turns of her life, including her quest to free her mind from the brainwashing of a cult, a tangled relationship with a Tibetan Buddhist scholar to her unexpected career in starting a high-end travel company, Cristy finds the courage to remain open to the great mystery of the unknown. It is this openness that leads her to find the answers she was searching for in the most unexpected place.

 

A memoir of self-discovery, adventure, and spirituality interwoven in an epic coming-of-age story, Cristy, takes the reader on a journey throughout Southeast Asia and the Himalayas, among others, as she sets out to find her place in the world.

LanguageEnglish
Release dateSep 3, 2020
ISBN9789083053516
Where the Light Begins: A Seeker's Journey for Truth, Freedom and a Place to Call Home
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    Book preview

    Where the Light Begins - Cristy Elmendorp

    A Seeker's Journey for Truth,

    Freedom and a Place to Call Home

    WHERE

    THE

    LIGHT

    BEGINS

    ––––––––

    Cristy Elmendorp

    Copyright © 2020 Cristy Elmendorp.

    All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

    For permissions contact:

    info@wherethelightbegins.com

    ISBN-13: 978-908-305-3509 (Paperback)

    Published by Soma Productions.

    Front cover photo and design by T.B.Meddens

    Back cover photo by Tashi Dorji.

    First Edition 2020.

    www.cristyelmendorp.com

    Table of Contents

    Author's Note

    Preface

    Flight of the Garuda

    Gypsy Caravan

    The Black Sea

    Commune Life

    MO Letters

    Paradise Lost

    Utopian Dystopia

    The Spark Within

    The Spa

    Sunday BBQ

    Twenty-First Birthday

    Kathmandu

    The Red House

    Fire and Ice

    Divided

    Moving in Together

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama

    Dakini Day

    Lilly

    David Verdesi

    The Magus of Java

    Nectar

    Tibet

    Burmese Alchemy

    Mercury Balls

    DMT in Yangon

    Dying and Rebirth

    Accidental Fugitive

    University Life

    Separating

    Juliën

    Soma Journeys

    Mandalay

    U Bein Bridge

    A Secret Place

    Inle Lake

    Saigon

    Hanoi

    Halong Bay

    Secret Retreats

    The Penthouse

    Moving Out

    City Life

    New Year's

    Eh

    Silent Retreat

    Creating Space

    Jungles of Java

    Hidden Paradise

    Stillness Speaks

    Retrospect

    Acknowledgements

    About the Author

    Stay Connected

    For Thomas

    Author's Note

    To write this book, I relied upon my personal journals, researched facts and called upon my own memory. In some instances, I have changed some of the names in this book to preserve anonymity. There are no composite characters or events in this book. I occasionally omitted people and events, but only when that omission had no impact on either the veracity or the substance of the story.

    We shall not cease from exploration,

    And the end of all our exploring

    Will be to arrive where we started

    And know the place for the first time.

    - T. S.  Eliot

    Preface

    For someone who is very private, it feels counterintuitive to be writing this book. An awkward and shy child who had trouble integrating in school, over the years I taught myself how to hide my introverted tendencies by showing an interest in those around me.

    I learned how to ask questions and listened attentively to what followed. Not just because I was taken on a journey where I could learn something new, but also because it steered the focus away from me. I loved hiding behind their stories and would cringe if the same questions I so boldly asked were returned to me.

    But in time, as I went through life collecting stories of the people I had met along the way, I noticed a recurring thread, a pattern that tied them all together, including my own.

    While their expressions came in different colors, at the core of it all was a human story that connected us: I encountered stories of love and of loss. Feelings of being misunderstood. A sense of abandonment, failure, and regret. A longing for something that is no more. And quests for happiness, success, unconditional love, and affirmation.

    I have been very fortunate to have met people from all walks of life and for their willingness to be vulnerable with me. I am grateful to have learned their deepest secrets, life experiences, wisdom, and pain. Their stories have enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined.

    I am who I am today not just because of my own experiences, but also because I was allowed a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the many great people who have confided in me.

    Writing down my story and coming out from the safe interiors of my introverted world is my way of giving back so I can add another ray of color to the collective stream of human expression. It was difficult at first to think that I had something worth telling. I repeatedly wondered, would anyone want to know what I was thinking or feeling?

    Yet, my obsessive need to periodically ask myself what I fear most and then to tackle it has finally led me to deal with this deep-seated fear of sharing my personal story with others, knowing that the reward of facing our fears always leads to a greater experience of freedom.

    Part One

    Taking Flight

    Flight of the Garuda

    What is freedom?

    Why do some of us fight for it relentlessly

    And others give it away so freely?

    Can one ever find true freedom?

    Is freedom found in the moments between

    the cracks of thoughts when time stops?

    Is freedom found in joy

    when your heart feels vibrant

    and alive?

    Is freedom found in nature

    when far removed

    from an unnatural rhythm?

    Or is it in death,

    something we can never be free from,

    that is perhaps when true freedom starts?

    ––––––––

    While I have always longed for freedom, there was equally an innate desire for me to belong. These conflicting currents led me to seek out charismatic individuals who claimed to possess the knowledge of redemption and salvation. As I conformed to their teachings that traced back to Christianity, Taoism, and Buddhism, a recurring pattern of unnatural structures, imposed hierarchy, and limiting beliefs started to emerge.

    What began as a quest for freedom through a supposed enlightened being had me questioning what it was, I was seeking to be liberated from. Both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions speak of the Garuda, a mythical, bird-like deity that symbolizes freedom from hopes and fears. Tibet’s most ancient teachings believe that the Garuda is born with all its feathers fully developed inside the egg and that it represents our primordial nature, already perfect and complete.

    The Garuda is fully grown at birth, but it is only at the moment when its shell cracks open that it can burst out and soar into the sky. Drawing this comparison, it is said that the qualities of Buddhahood are veiled by the body and can only be radiantly displayed at the time of death when the body is discarded.

    Over time I have stumbled upon many more mythical stories, both foreign and intriguing, but the story of the Garuda has always remained with me. This exploratory nature to understand our unadulterated essence may have been attributed to my parents and the backdrop that preceded my birth.

    My father was born in a small fisherman’s village in a town called Cilacap, located on the southern coast of Java in Indonesia, which used to be an important departure point for the Dutch colonists who were fleeing the Japanese invasion during World War II.

    Growing up surrounded by tropical vegetation and the sounds of the sea, my father’s carefree childhood came to an end when his parents decided to move to the Netherlands. Born during the Dutch East Indies period, both my father’s parents were of mixed Indonesian and Dutch race. It is reasonable to think that the promise of a better life had their family leave the familiar confines of their village for the West.

    When he was younger, my father had a harder time integrating and was always the odd one, compared to his brothers and sisters. When his mother died during childbirth, my father and his siblings were sent to live in an orphanage. A rebel without a cause, during his late teenage years he let his hair grow long and wore a flamboyant army trench coat that he found at the Salvation Army.

    Having trouble learning at school, he dropped out and worked as a freelance photographer, shooting mostly weddings. Having to move out of the orphanage once he turned eighteen, my father would drift between shared spaces in abandoned buildings. It was right around that time, when my father was approached by members of a hippie movement known as the Children of God (COG).

    A Christian cult that originated in Huntington Beach during the late 1960s, COG was founded by David Brandt Berg, a self-proclaimed apocalyptic prophet with roots in the Evangelical Church. Targeting the young dropouts who subscribed to the countermovement of that time, most of its members were young women and men who could be spotted with long, flowing hair, wearing the colorful flower fashions of the day. What differentiated COG members from other hippies was their spirited evangelical zeal of a born again Christian, a phrase often used in the group to describe someone who discovers a direct relationship with God.

    People who were drawn to COG were usually young idealistic individuals who searched for meaning and purpose outside the established system of their time. Catering to the disillusioned by offering a community built on utopian values, it is natural to see how the movement gained converts rapidly.

    Intrigued by their boldness and spirited enthusiasm, my father agreed to come to one of their gatherings where he could meet other members. He was immediately drawn to living a life that had purpose, and Berg’s call to leave the system spoke to the part of my father that had trouble integrating into society.

    In the days that followed, my father invited Christ into his heart, which was done through a simple prayer. What transpired right after this invocation was an immersive body and mind transformation that he took as an undeniable sign of God reaching out to him. My father joined COG shortly after and became one of their enthused members.

    My father’s fervor for sharing the Gospel, coupled with his mixed Dutch and Indonesian ancestry, is what led COG leadership to send him to Indonesia. It was during his time spent as a missionary in Indonesia where he met my mother, who was living in Bandung, the capital city of West Java.

    My mother was born with a natural curiosity and an interest for a life beyond her traditional Muslim upbringing. Where her sisters and brothers had religious aspirations to plan a trip to Mecca, she aspired to see the world.

    During her university studies she signed up for English classes that were given by foreigners, who in exchange wanted to improve their Indonesian. This was how she met my father, a bright-eyed young man whose mixed Indonesian ancestry made him seem like less of a foreigner.

    Meeting someone who was carefree and driven with a sense of meaning seemed like the embodiment of freedom to my mother. She relished the idea of an escape from her otherwise conservative life. What started as English classes turned into Bible classes, and gradually my mother’s infatuation for my father had her adopting his religious beliefs as her own. They spent as much time as they could together. And with my father’s duties as a missionary, this often meant he would take my mother along with him.

    Eventually, she started missing her university classes, until she decided to drop out completely. My parents shared the misfortune of having lost their mothers at an early age, which afforded them a refuge in each other. This strong feeling of connection is what allowed them to overcome their diverse social and cultural upbringings. But despite their challenges of coming from different backgrounds, no one could have envisioned the tumultuous times they were about to experience.

    Berg was a prolific leader who produced a continual stream of new doctrines, which were often controversial and, at times, contradictory. He received his teachings through departed spirits who spoke to him in dreams that he interpreted and communicated to his followers as direct teachings coming from Christ.

    One of the doctrines he introduced was flirty fishing, where he took the biblical scripture to become fishers of men and used it as a sanction for members to use sex as a way to gain new converts.

    However, posing as a religious movement with sexual doctrines is like trying to mix water and oil and was guaranteed to get a backlash response from the media and established religious institutions. This wave of negative media spread worldwide, and when the news reached the authorities in Indonesia, there was a national program to extradite all COG members, who were seen as a detriment to Indonesian society and its Muslim values.

    At the time, my mother’s brother in-law was a high-ranking police officer and saw this as an opportunity to end my mother’s romantic association with my father for good. My father’s photograph was headlining in the national newspapers, and the authorities placed my mother under house arrest with 24-hour surveillance, in case any COG member tried to contact her.

    My father fled the country immediately by boat to Kuala Lumpur with a connecting flight back to Amsterdam. However, my mother was in the late stages of her pregnancy with me. With COG banned from Indonesia, the only way my mother could be reunited with my father was to join him and move abroad. When my mother saw her chance to escape from the watchful eyes of the police, she had to leave quickly and discreetly. As a result, she was unable to bring any of her belongings other than what she could wear.

    Six months later, the call that my mother was waiting for finally came. My father had managed to arrange for a flight for my mother and me to come to the Netherlands. At barely six months old, I would have my first experience in learning how to fly before I could walk.

    Gypsy Caravan

    In an attempt to recover from the bad press, COG was restructuring its organization and moving away from being a radical Christian cult to being known as a missionary organization, referred to as The Family of Love or The Family for short. Gypsy Caravan was one of the many songs that belonged to a growing repertoire of songs written by members of The Family. These songs were created to elevate the life of a missionary and to inspire members to give their life in service to God.

    They were known as the Songs of the Revolution, which were songs that rebelled against the established church and promoted returning to the basics of a missionary life, much like that of the earlier disciples from Biblical times.

    Family members remained agile so they could be free to spread the Gospel, and it was this nomadic vision that led to the early years of my life on the road. My father’s commitment to The Family and his aversion to adhering to the nine-to-five model had us roaming throughout Europe in a trailer caravan that would barely accommodate our expanding family of six.

    My earliest beginnings were spent surrounded by foreign languages and cultures, coming not just from the countries we visited but also from the diversity of ethnicities within The Family itself. I often wondered if it was this nomadic lifestyle that led to a compulsive need for travel as an adult where I would experience an underlying current of restlessness, if I stayed in one place for too long.

    One of the forms of income for The Family was busking in crowded areas where members solicited donations to support their missionary work. Living from hand to mouth was accepted as the norm, as it was a way of practicing one’s faith in God to provide for them. I imagine that the camaraderie felt amongst members in the group must have given a sense of companionship that eased the struggle for survival. It wasn’t until my mother became pregnant with child number five that my parents decided to withdraw from their nomadic lifestyle and join a commune in Brussels.

    I only remember vignettes of our time living in a commune. I have faint memories of being home-schooled in a classroom with other children my age. While I was too young to remember anything concrete, I do remember that the overall feeling of that time was not a joyful one. Unlike the utopian environment my parents envisioned, it was a destitute situation. Disillusioned with The Family and its way of life, six months later my parents returned to the Netherlands to reintegrate back into secular life.

    It felt strange at first, to be living in a home with just our family. To have a home that we didn't need to share with others. I was almost seven when I started going to public school. To complicate matters, I was a head taller than my fellow second-grade classmates and didn’t speak a word of Dutch.

    Having moved around from place to place and caretaker to caretaker, it was hard to adjust socially with the other children. So, I escaped in my class assignments and kept to myself. My thick, bushy hair, unruly French, and premature growth spurt made me the odd one out during my early school years. Consequently, I sought out solace in the interiors of my mind, dreaming of a different life, a different me.

    While we were living a secular life, our nomadic roots were hard to shake. Since we were on the waiting list for better social housing, my parents would keep moving us every two years. Changing home and school had become so commonplace that it was never a matter of if we would move again, but when.

    As children, one of the things we looked forward to were the road trips we would go on during our summer break. My parents’ love for travel took us all across Europe, where we would camp along rivers and learn how to fish, which is one of my father’s favorite pastimes.

    During warm summer nights, we would lay our mattresses out on the ground and sleep under the stars while my father would strum on his well-worn acoustic guitar, singing of worlds beyond.

    Even though travel was an interest my parents shared, the change of circumstances from living in a commune to returning to secular life affected my parents in different ways. Without the rigid structure of The Family’s lifestyle and the collective doctrines that were held within the group, it was only a matter of time before my parents’ differing values became glaringly apparent. My mother’s need for the financial stability and security that she had while growing up conflicted with my father’s aversion to adhering to the status quo.

    Despite overcoming their geographical separation and the challenges that come when two people of a different faith try to come together, their view on life had gone in opposite directions, and there was no hope for reconciliation. Soon after, our family was split in two, an event that has caused me to cherish each of my siblings whenever we see each other. Together with my younger brother and sister, I moved with my father to Arnhem, a city near the German border where social housing could be found on short notice.

    The Black Sea

    As a teenager, I struggled to adopt my father’s views as my own. Even though I was born with a natural instinct to please, the memories of my parents’ commune days were joyless ones, filled with countless strangers and uncertainties.

    That dark view that I had of The Family, however, changed during our summer trip to Constanta, a coastal town located on the shores of the Black Sea. There were other teens my age who spoke several languages and had traveled and lived in more countries than I had. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel the need to hide my nomadic upbringing. I also felt like less of a misfit.

    Growing up, I desperately wished our family were more mainstream. I’d so wanted to fit in with the rest of the kids in my school, as no one I knew shared the same nomadic childhood that I had. But when I was able to connect that summer with others my age who had traveled more than I had and enjoyed their lifestyle, I started to wonder whether that utopian model of living a pure life of service and love for others was attainable after all.

    When we returned home after the summer holiday, I felt disconnected from my classmates and my studies that I had previously enjoyed. I wanted to experience that utopian model my father had always talked about. I wanted to make sense of my nomadic upbringing and to know what it was like to feel like my life had purpose.

    Looking back, I don’t know why I wanted all these things at thirteen. I often wondered if it was instilled in us at such a young age that eventually I had just adopted it as one of my own desires. There was always a natural instinct in me to please my father, and I knew how much it would mean to him if we could give our life in service.

    By the end of the monthlong holiday, I had grown accustomed to the cheerful songs around the campfire at night and the freedom of being myself as well as the complete acceptance I felt within the group. It was hard to leave that behind.

    I was inspired by their life of service and helping others achieve happiness. Already reflective by nature, coming in touch with The Family coincided right at the pivotal time in my adolescence when you start asking the big questions like, Why am I here? and Who am I? Joining a commune that was all about service and spiritual growth seemed to offer a convenient, packaged solution to these early reflections.

    While some may have seen my father as irresponsible to allow me to leave home the following year at only fourteen, in his mind this was the highest calling I could have, so he encouraged it.

    I remember smiling to myself as I changed into more comfortable clothing the day I was leaving home to embark on my new life. I had managed to downsize my belongings to just one suitcase to comply with my weight allowance on the flight. I started to realize that my life would never be the same after this. I had officially made the decision to live a missionary life. And so, in the summer of 1998, seven years after my parents had left the commune, I was back on a plane heading east for Bucharest.

    Commune Life

    Before I was allowed to join The Family full time, I had to go through a six-month initiation period. They have this so you can get up to speed on The Family’s doctrines and familiarize yourself with The Love Charter, a book of rules and guidelines for members.

    During this probation period, I would have a chance to see if this would be a life I could commit myself to, and it was also a way for the home to see if I was a good fit to join as a full-time member, or disciple, as they call it. During these six months I could only read selected material that they called Old Wine, which was foundational reading that the New Wine was based on.

    Even though I was homesick for my family, I was equally excited to embrace this new lifestyle. I felt I had found purpose and meaning for my life, which eased the sadness of being far away from my loved ones.

    The initial impression I had when meeting The Family at the Black Sea Coast was carefree and relaxed, but now that I was on the inside, I saw there was an elaborate social structure that was based on austerity and discipline. Anybody who joins has to go through a six-month Babes course. They shared that during this course you would be born into a new reality, which is why you had to study so you could learn how to be in a whole new culture.

    If after the Babes course you decide this is the lifestyle for you, then members of the home will vote on whether you can be accepted into the group. Even though The Family never liked to be called a cult and felt that sect was a better way to describe themselves, the set of mannerisms, lingo, and rules for living made them very much a cult.

    In the end, moving to Eastern Europe and adapting to

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