The Family International Members include celebrities like Christopher Owens and Joaquin Phoenix. The Family International was founded by David Brandt Berg.
The organization was founded in 1968 by David Brandt Berg in Orange County, California. He started as an evangelical preacher with “born-again Hippies” and later took his followers on the road after believing California was due to be hit by an earthquake.
Family International was initially founded as The Children of God in 1968 but the organization went numerous name changes in the years following. They were known as The Family of Love between 1978 and 1981 and The Family between 1982 and 2003. They were also known as Teens for Christ briefly.
The cult beliefs are based on three things, making the world a better place through spirituality, spiritual development, and humanitarian assistance. Although their mission statement does not sound out of the ordinary, their practices to achieve their goals were very unusual and often times controversial.
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The Family International Members
The Family International members like founder David Brandt Berg, his wife Karen Zerby, and Steve Kelly headed the organization. David was a self-proclaimed king.
Children Of God Members Celeste Jones, Dawn Watson, Faith Jones, and Flor Edwards, among tens of thousands of others, were born and raised in the cult but late left the organization upon realizing the hidden intentions and abuses.
David Brandt in the initial days of the cult recruited members by targeting the emotionally unstable ones and setting up communes to provide them with a roof over their heads, the later recruiting techniques involved more drastic measures like Flirty Fishing.
Children of God also recruited members through more traditional ways of preaching on the streets and door-to-door preachings. Berg sent out letters of instructions to members which encouraged them to expand the cult.
His 1972 letter titled “Flee as a Bird to Your Mountain” was translated by members as the urge to leave the United States of America and travel around the world. This process yielded a steady growth of members from around the world.
After the founder David Brandt Berg passed away in 1994, TFI lead was taken by his wife Karen Zerby. The Love Charter was introduced in the organization at the time of Zerby’s leadership.
While Karen still is the leader of the organization, she transferred the role of the face of TFI to her new husband Steve Kelly. He picked the title of King and started appearing in media and in public often, more than any previous prominent leader of the organization had ever appeared.
The Family International had over 10,000 active members at its peak working full-time with organizations from around the world. TFI members were scattered in North America, Latin America, Europe, and East Asia.
Several members were born inside the cult and were raised in the values and beliefs of the cult. However, a multitude of second-generation The Family International members left the organization after realizing the abuse.
Former members including Celeste Jones, Kristina Jones, Taylor Stevens, and many others have written and published books and works regarding their upbringing in the cult. They have detailed the abuse and corporal punishment they received as children in the cult.
Children of God Celebrities
Children of God Celebrities include Joaquin Phoenix, Christopher Owens, and Susan Justice. Joaquin left the cult with his siblings in 1978.
Joaquin Phoenix was born into the Children of God in 1974.
Phoneix’s parents joined the cult before he was born and worked in South America and Puerto Rico as missionaries of the Children of God. The pair welcomed Joaquin when they were working for Children of God in Puerto Rico.
However, Phoneix was just 4 years old when his parents John Lee Bottom and Arlyn “Heart” Bottom left the organization in 1978. They grew tired of the practices and rules of the cult and its emphasis on the practice of flirty fishing since 1976.
Along with Phoneix, his younger sibling Liberty Phoenix was also born while their parents were working for the cult. His elder siblings River and Rain were born before their parents joined the organization and their youngest sibling Summer was born after they left the cult in 1978.
The actor Joaquin is best known for his role as Joker in the eponymous film in 2019. He is a recipient of several prestigious awards including the Academy Award, Grammy Award, and Golden Globe Awards.
Christopher Owens was born in 1979 when both of his parents were members of Children of God.
Owens’ parents lost his elder sibling due to pneumonia shortly before his birth. His infant brother lost his life due to the reluctance of the member of Children of God members in seeking medical treatment.
His parents left the United States of America when Owens was just 2 years old in 1981 and traveled across East Asia. Owens grew up all over Asia until he was 10 years old when they migrated to Europe and finally to the United States of America.
The singer quit Children of God at the age of 16 years old and followed his sister to Texas where he initially worked as a shelf-stocker on night shifts until his musical career kicked off.
Christopher is best known as the frontman of the indie rock band Girls, now disbanded. He released three albums with the band and later released three more solo albums after leaving the Girls.
Susan Justice was born Susan Cagle in 1981.
She is the second oldest of ten siblings in her family and was born when her parents were active members of Children of God.
As part of traveling missionaries of the cult, Susan and her parents lived in numerous countries including England, Scotland, Venezuela, Mexico, Italy, France, and many more. Although it is not entirely clear when Susan left the cult, she returned to New York and left the cult in the late 1990s.
Susan started playing guitar at the age of just 7 years old and was able to write meaningful songs and lyrics by the time she was 14. After returning to New York, she formed a band named The Susan Cagle Band with her siblings and started performing and busking around New York City.
Her life turned around when she was discovered by producer Jay Levine and introduced to the president of Columbia Records. She released her debut and only album The Subway Recordings in 2007.
Juliana Buhring is a British-German ultra-endurance cyclist.
She was born in 1981 while both of her parents were active and full-time members of Children of God. She was abandoned by her parents at the age of just 4 years old and was fostered by other guardians within the cult until her adulthood.
She lived and worked for The Family International in over 30 countries in Europe, Asia, and America. Buhring left the cult in 2004 after her sister Davida (also a member of The Family International) died.
Juliana united with her two sisters Kristina and Celeste Jones and wrote a book titled “Not Without My Sister.” The autobiography details all the traumas and tortures the three sisters endured while they were members of Children of God and later The Family International.
Buhring also holds the record of the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a bicycle for her world tour which started on 23 July 2012 and ended 152 days later. She covered over 29,000 kilometers through four continents and 19 countries.
Jeremy Spencer joined Children of God now known as The Family International in 1971.
Spencer is still an active member making him one of the few prominent and famous members of the group. He left his band Fleetwood Mac abruptly in 1971 to travel to the United States of America with his wife Fiona.
The British musician has recorded numerous songs for Children of God since joining the organization in 1971. He also has done hundreds of free concerts for the cult and later made professional music and albums to support the organization.
Jeremy Spencer and the Children his first album with The Family International was released in 1972 but was a commercial failure. He has released several other albums including Precious Little, Coventry Blue, and his latest Boundless, among others.
Children of God Cult Documentary
Children of God cult (The Family International) documentary was featured by E! in 2018. Children of God: Lost and Found was featured at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival.
Children of God has been covered by several documentaries and films, they have been in the media from as early as 1971 when The Jesus Trip, a documentary by Denis Tuohy interviewed the members of Children of God.
Since the first major documentary about the religious cult was released, several other filmmakers have followed with their own versions. John Smithson made Children of God (1994) documentary running for 63-minutes for Channel 4.
According to Parade, Children of God released in 1994 on Channel 4 is one of the best documentaries on Cult and their operations. The documentary is based on the Padilla family’s account, the family welcomed 7 children while they were members of The Children of God and give an inside look.
Noah Thomson’s Children of God: Lost and Found runs for 75 minutes and was the feature of the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival. Cult Killer: The Rick Rodriguez Story is another feature documentary series about the organization.
Furthermore, E! channel prepared a five-part documentary series featuring the former cult member Rose McGowan. Her story of being born into the cult and later leaving is covered by the documentary series which premiered on January 30, 2018.
The Family International Locations
The Family International locations include North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. The cult has an elaborated worldwide network.
The Children of God cult started expanding internationally in the early 1970s, soon after its inception in Orange County, United States of America. The first phase of expansion included setting up communities in Europe followed by Latin America and East Asia.
The Family International has 130 communities working from around the world by 1972, and it had expanded to 70 countries worldwide with over 10,000 full-time members working as missionaries by the mid-1970s, according to reports from BBC.
As of May 2023, The Children of God communities operate independently in most of the accessible continents. The United States, Canada, and Mexico are the hub for the organization’s operations in North and Central America while Brazil serves as its South American hub.
Similarly, South Asian countries like India, Indonesia, and Thailand have a large number of missionaries working for The Family International. Asian-Pacific countries including Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan also have a large number of members of TFI.
The Family International’s operations in European countries include Croatia, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia. African countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Madagascar, among others.
Their international operation includes organizing ministries for prison inmates and arranging visits for inmates with no family members. They also have developed area-specific projects suited for the region, they focus on education in Africa and provide foster homes in European countries.
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