Ex-follower critical of Woroniecki

But supporters say preacher is just turning people from Hell

Dallas Morning News/April 6, 2002
By Jeff Miller

Houston -- David De La Isla figures it has been almost four years since he stopped dealing with Michael Woroniecki and almost a year and a half since Mr. Woroniecki stopped trying to get in touch with him. Yet Mr. De La Isla, a 32-year-old Texas A&M marketing graduate, still has dozens of tapes that he received from Mr. Woroniecki carefully saved in plastic bags and newsletters and pamphlets from the preacher meticulously filed in protective sleeves in binders.

"I believed he was a true prophet of God," Mr. De La Isla said. Mr. De La Isla was a devoted follower of Mr. Woroniecki for about 12 years, initially attracted to the message that the true path to salvation was through Jesus Christ but not through any organized religion. He said he quit his job and moved back home with his parents and canceled wedding plans based on suggestions from Mr. Woroniecki. But he said he became frustrated, to the extent that he considered suicide, by constant feedback that he was nowhere close to where he should be in his spiritual development.

"When you truly believe a prophet from God says you're going to Hell, that's a lot of negative baggage to carry around," said Mr. De La Isla said. "You find out just him [Mr. Woroniecki] and his family are the only ones who make it."

Mr. Woroniecki responded to Mr. De La Isla's criticism saying that he won't distance himself from his teachings, all found in his printed materials, and that he has thousands of loyal followers. They include Houston-area residents Bruce Wilhelm [Wilhelm later renounced Woroniecki], who grew up with Mr. De La Isla and roomed with him throughout their time together at A&M, and Mr. Wilhelm's girlfriend, Kristine Vanags.

"Michael really spends all his efforts and a lot of time just preaching to people that they should turn away from themselves and seek Jesus," Mr. Wilhelm said. "People can get mad because you go to their face and tell them, 'You're headed for Hell. You need to seek Jesus.' ... They [Mr. Woroniecki and his family] are out there trying to hold people back from going to Hell." Mr. De La Isla and Mr. Wilhelm were A&M students when they first stopped and listened to Mr. Woroniecki and his family during one of the family's campus stops during the late 1980s. And they liked what they heard. "The whole world is wrong and screwed up. Everyone's going to Hell. I was 20 years old. I liked radical things. That sounded good to me," said Mr. De La Isla, who graduated from Sharpstown High School in Houston. "His big message is that all churches and institutions are the instruments of the devil. I thought that was a little strange, but I still was interested in what he had to say."

Mr. De La Isla said he was reared as a Catholic but was questioning his religious faith while in college. He read the Woroniecki literature regularly during the next semester and then began to correspond with the preacher. He received audio tapes and more literature and kept Mr. Woroniecki apprised of his progress. He said he also gave Mr. Woroniecki thousands of dollars over the years.

"He's like a spiritual doctor," Mr. De La Isla said. "He diagnoses your state by letter. He'll give you advice. He calls it his discernment of the spirit." By the mid 1990s, Mr. De La Isla and Mr. Wilhelm had graduated and were back in Houston but still corresponding with Mr. Woroniecki. The preacher agreed to meet with them when traveling through the area. The two men arranged to meet with the Woroniecki family at a McDonald's near the Astrodome.

Mr. De La Isla was unemployed and spending hours every day reading his Bible because Mr. Woroniecki had told him that he was too worldly, had too much pride. His parents only knew that he was trying to find himself. He hoped to receive some reassurance that he was closer to achieving his spiritual goal at the meeting. The preacher, though, had warned the two men in advance that they might not like what they would hear.

"Right away, he looked at me and told me I was more deceived and deluded than ever," Mr. De La Isla said. "He told me the only thing I had going for me was that I was not married, and he advised me not to get married until I found Christ. So I broke up with my fiancee after that.

"I asked him once, 'Who else is saved, Mike?' And he said: 'That's a good question. I have not found a serious man yet.'"

Mr. De La Isla said he finally began to distance himself from Mr. Woroniecki when he began to doubt the preacher's insistence that he was right and all religions and theologians are wrong. "From Martin Luther to John Calvin to John Wesley - Satan used them to corrupt the Scriptures," Mr. De La Isla said, echoing the teachings. "I saw where he was taking things out of context." Mr. Wilhelm said Mr. De La Isla is "dead wrong" about Mr. Woroniecki. "He doesn't have any forgiveness in his heart," Mr. Wilhelm said. "He can't look beyond himself just to see that, 'Hey, I am full of crap. I am wrong. What I am is stupid. And instead of trying to measure up to what I think Mike wants me to measure up to be, I've just got to realize that it's about trusting Jesus.' "

Mr. Wilhelm and Ms. Vanags, who live in the suburb of Spring, have developed a friendship with Mr. Woroniecki and his family. They have mountain-biked together, water-skied together. Ms. Vanags traveled with the family on a ministry trip to the Super Bowl in New Orleans and let the Woronieckis store their boat at her home one summer.

Mr. De La Isla is now a drug representative with a wife, Teresa, and attends the nondenominational Copperfield Bible Church. He said he offers to describe his experience with Mr. Woroniecki only as a result of attention given to Mr. Woroniecki after the tragedy involving the Yates family.

"I have doctors as my clients. The last thing I wanted them to know is that I was some former brainwashed cult guy," he says. "I just wasted 12 years of my life, but nothing, nothing, compared to what happened to Andrea. I know exactly the horrible state she was in."

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