I was part of a ‘cult’ and didn’t know it. Then something just didn’t make sense

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun7,2024
Why are we still drawn to cults and cult-like groups, and should we be doing more to protect people from them? Watch Insight episode Cult Following on Tuesday 30 April at 8.30pm on SBS and .
Nobody actively seeks out a cult. Instead, they look for a group of like-minded people, a sense of belonging and a purpose.
It took me three years to realise that I was a prisoner, that I had fallen prey to a gradual process of coercive persuasion and influence.
One day I woke up and realised I was ensnared in the clutches of a destructive, manipulative and extremist group.

It all started in 2019, shortly after I arrived in Melbourne from Zimbabwe at 19 to study sports science.

I was full of hope and ambition; I saw Australia as my chance to make something of myself. My family saw the move as an investment in my future.
I had a deep passion for football, having represented my national team at the under-20 level back home, and was excited about the possibilities that lay ahead.
Alongside my sporting ambitions, in my life. I wanted to find a church community in Melbourne.
A man sits on the grass in the park with a football.

Othniel Chisi started attending weekly Bible classes. Before long he was going three times a week, then more. Source: Supplied

One day, I met a friendly and bubbly young woman at my university and we spoke about . She told me she had a mentor who could answer all my questions and we should meet her.

She waited three hours for me to finish my class, and then we met her mentor, who just happened to be in the area.
I agreed to join them for a Bible study session and before long, we were meeting two times each week, then three times, before I agreed to join a bigger class with over 200 people.

I now know that this is where the deeper and unorthodox teachings of the group are fed to new recruits.

‘Full of love’

I had no idea that half the class were recruiters from this organisation, masquerading as first-timers, while reporting back on our interactions to the leaders.
It was a gradual process of indoctrination, with the group’s true intentions becoming clearer over time. But by then it was too late to turn back.
Physically, I had free will, but my mind had already been channelled into believing what I had been told.
At this point, I still didn’t know the name of the group; if we asked, our question was brushed aside, or we were told they were missionaries with a common purpose to share the gospel.
As the months passed, I became increasingly invested in the group’s teachings and started to distance myself from my previous pursuits, including football and university.
The sense of belonging and purpose filled .
Nine months in, we had a class called Passover in which we watched the movies Matrix and The Truman Show.
We were told we had to move from one world to another; from our churches to the group. We had to escape the Matrix, a false reality we lived in.
This is the day they revealed the name of the group and its leader. I was shocked; it wasn’t the image of the saviour that I had in mind.
I wasn’t the only one with questions and doubts, but they were all dispensed.

I joined the church and worked hard for the leader. I was full of love for him and the church.

A man sits alone in a public library.

At the height of his dedication, Othniel Chisi was studying the Bible for five hours a day. Source: Supplied

I gave up my life relationships with friends and family and my dreams, but I believed I gained a chance of eternal life.

I had one stubborn friend who didn’t give up on me despite me cutting contact for two years. He had faith that one day I would return.
I now feel this group was deceiving me, but I didn’t know it.
Looking back, the techniques they used were common to cults.
There was mental and mystical manipulation and members were exploited. They demanded all of your time and energy so you didn’t have space to take time out to think.

So why didn’t I leave?

Seeing the light

Eventually, I had a moment of insight that shattered the illusion of certainty cultivated by the group, a moment that sent me on a quest to find out the truth.
By that point, I was teaching and recruiting for eight hours every day. We looked for people who wore crucifixes, people who were alone, people who had recently migrated to Melbourne. They were all potential recruits.
I was also reading the Bible for five hours, doing tasks for the church for another seven hours, and sleeping for three to four hours.
Despite all this, we were told it was impossible to become “sinless”, which didn’t make sense.
So I decided to do my own research.
We’d been told the internet was full of falsehoods, opinions and slander, so to protect our faith, we should not seek out information. It was the biggest sin you could ever commit.
But I reconciled that the truth should be able to withstand lies and slander, which would only strengthen my belief.
I spent one week in my room reading about other religions and then my church.

I realised I was in a cult. I didn’t believe it, but to me, all the evidence was there.

A man looks at the camera with a serious expression. The background is blurry.

When Othniel Chisi arrived in Melbourne from Zimbabwe at the of 19, he was lonely and seeking belonging and connection. Source: Supplied

Everything I had believed in was a lie. I felt used, manipulated and heartbroken.

I spent another five days wandering around Melbourne, in disbelief at what I had discovered about the church and its founder, and making a decision to leave or stay.
I decided to face reality, leave and rebuild my life.
And that one friend who had never given up on me welcomed me back with open arms.
And for more stories head to Insightful – a new podcast series from SBS, hosted by Kumi Taguchi. From sex and relationships to health, wealth, and grief Insightful offers deeper dives into the lives and first person stories of former guests from the acclaimed TV show, Insight.
Follow Insightful on the , or wherever you get your podcasts.
Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “I was part of a ‘cult’ and didn’t know it. Then something just didn’t make sense”
  1. I find it alarming how easily individuals can be lured into harmful cults under the guise of seeking community and purpose. It’s crucial that we raise awareness and provide resources to help protect vulnerable individuals from falling prey to such manipulative groups.

  2. It’s truly unsettling to think how easily one can unknowingly fall into the grasp of such harmful groups. My heart goes out to those still trapped, and we must certainly be more vigilant in protecting vulnerable individuals from these destructive influences.

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