40 Years in America
October 1975. At the conclusion of a seven-day workshop at Rush River Lodge near Luray, VA, and with a push from my spiritual mother, Debra Wiseman, I approached the center director, John Robbins, to ask if I could join the Church and move into the Center. I was a little scared because I wasn’t sure if there was enough room, and perhaps he would think me too bold. When I asked his permission, a sort of blank look descended on his face. At that point, John had been a member for about three years, but later he told me that no one had ever asked to move into a center. He was cool about it and said he had to speak with the IW (Mrs. Fumiko Seino). I figured maybe he had to check the registration book and make sure there were enough beds.
Center life was interesting. We had a house near American University. Later I found out that the owner thought the tenants were Mr. and Mrs. Marc Lee. Every so often, the owner would call and say he was coming by, and we immediately went into high gear to rebuild the house and convert it from a witnessing center to a home. No one explained the background to me. I just thought it was some kind of special training condition.
The hardest part was the nursery, since at that time there were no children. I was never around when the owner came by; in fact, no one was there except Fumiko Seino. She would always apologize that her husband was out of town. Meanwhile, they would tell me to go witnessing and find spiritual children.
I shared a room with six other brothers. Each day we would walk out the door and be given a brown bag lunch and fifty cents for a drink. We went witnessing at the campus and fundraised on the weekends.
When I joined, I felt like I had answered a U.S. Army recruiting poster: "See the world. Be challenged. Make the world safer for (fill in the blank)." But what I found were a lot of idealistic young people. The brothers all seemed to wear mismatched socks, and the sisters seemed to be strictly interested in things non-physical. I remember at the workshop we stood in a circle and were told to hold hands, but the sister next to me wouldn’t let me hold her hand. I had a beard and was scruffy so I figured I wasn’t too attractive.
I had been in the Peace Corps and knew the value and meaning of idealism and volunteerism. I thought that if I did a tour of service with this "religious peace corps," then I would’ve done my share for humankind and could get on with life.
About two months later, on a Saturday, I was attending a one-day workshop taught by Jim Fleming. A sister, Louise Kohan, who knew I was young in the movement, asked how I was. I told her that things were OK but that I was thinking of getting an apartment and perhaps just visiting the Center a few times a week. I explained to her that being a member was very important, but that in my case, I could do far more for humanity on my own then being part of an organized movement.
It was a very mild day, the sun was shining, and everyone enjoyed Jim’s presentation. I went back innocently to the Center about 5 p.m.
I didn’t realize how Heavenly Father was working behind the scenes, because by 7 p.m. I was on a train to New York for a 21-day workshop! Louise had called Fumiko Seino and told her what I’d said. Fumiko-san went into emergency mode and set everything in motion. However, she had no details about the workshop. She just gave me some money and said, "Bill-san, very important, go to 4 West 43rd street in New York and ask for Keiko." (Anybody know how many Japanese sisters there are named Keiko?)
At about 10 p.m. that same day, I rang the doorbell at headquarters in New York and said I wanted to attend the 21-day workshop. They looked at me like I was crazy. No one believed my story. They all thought I was a nut case or, perhaps worse, a journalist. I called Fumiko-san and explained my predicament. She made some more calls and found out the workshop was not in New York but in Connecticut.
They wouldn’t let me stay at headquarters, so I spent the night trying to sleep behind a trash bin in an alley and wandering around midtown Manhattan. The next morning I took a bus to New Haven. Again the same reaction. No one just happens to come to a workshop. It was unheard of and suspicious. Finally they checked out my story and let me attend.
The first person I met was the lecturer, Jim Baughman. Jim is extremely sharp and well spoken, but for some reason, he had borrowed someone else’s suit. There is nothing more ridiculous than a grown man wearing an obviously too-large suit. This only added more credence to my theory -- mismatched socks, too large suits, no hand holding -- that I had joined a group of Peter Pans, well-meaning young adults from middleclass families who would never grow up and look or act like adults.
However, I have many wonderful memories of those next 21 days -- teaching, street preaching, fundraising, witnessing -- but my best memory was one Sunday evening when Jim returned from Belvedere. While we gathered around, he surprised us all by turning on a tape recorder. It was True Mother singing. Until that point, I had not seen or heard the True Parents speak. That night, hearing her sing on a little one-inch speaker, I felt like I did when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I had goose bumps. I had to cry. I couldn’t believe how beautiful her voice sounded.
Afterwards, I returned to Washington and took up the ginseng mission for the next three years. But I’ll never forget those sisters, especially Fumiko-san. They saved me. I would have left the movement on a mere whim. I would have lost out on everything, eternal life, my wife, Donna, our daughter, Hannah. I would be dead. God bless them for caring enough for me and taking action
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