Colorado Gunman's Mission Group a Cult?

Christian Today, Australia/December 17, 2008

The troubled young man that killed four Christians in Colorado this past week shocked the nation when it was discovered that he formerly attended a young discipleship training program for overseas mission.

The missionary group, Youth With a Mission, is a well-respected organization working in nearly every country in the world and sends out over 25,000 short-term missionaries each year. Murray had been dismissed from the YWAM training program for an unexplained "health" reason, according to the group's statement after the shooting.

Yet in light of the tragedy, some have looked into the mission group and found several former YWAM missionaries accusing the group of being a cult that brainwashes young Christians.

An anonymous former YWAMer said the group knew how to "manipulate every penny out of its cash strapped workers and students," in a letter posted on The Rick A. Ross Institute Web site, an organization which studies destructive cults and controversial groups and movements.

The former missionary also denounced YWAM's educational program as "worthless" and robs students of a normal education.

"YWAM, with its unique brand of anti-intellectualism, encouraged students to spend their (or their parent's) savings doing worthless schools which were invariably led by high school dropouts," wrote the YWAMer who attended the center in Hawaii in the early 1980s.

The former missionary went on to say the mission group teaches a "misguided" and "alarmist" version of the Great Commission which emphasizes that if the young Christians don't know something immediate, other humans will go to hell.

"It manipulates young people by the tyranny of the urgent, encouraging them to squander their youth, finances and serious education, leaving many to be wounded, bitter and profoundly ripped off," the former YWAMer vented.

However, Rick Ross - the founder of the Ross Institute of New Jersey - does not agree.

"Youth With a Mission is not a cult," said Ross, who is a court-certified cult expert, according to Fox News.

However, he acknowledged receiving "very serious" complaints from former YWAM staff, family members and others, including Christian clergy.

"Some former staffers and families of current members have likened it to brainwashing," Ross said. "When I say brainwashing, I mean breaking people down and molding them into a YWAM mindset that is basically submissive and obedient and pliable to the leader's agenda," he clarified.

The cult expert says he receives complaints every month about YWAM, mostly from parents who are concerned about their teenage child - who is committing extensive time and money to an overseas mission.

Like most participants in mission groups, YWAM members must pay for their mission trip and for the Discipleship Training Schools program by requesting funds from family and friends.

"I've had complaints where people basically say, 'I'm getting nothing, I have nothing and if I leave YWAM, I'm basically going to leave with the shirt on my back,'" Ross said.

The goal of the training program is to form Christian character and assist students in discovering their unique, God-given talents, according to YWAM. Participants then take part in a field assignment, usually to another culture, to help prepare the students to use their talents to obey the commands of Jesus.

Colorado gunman Matthew Murray did not complete the 12-week YWAM discipleship training and was only at the YWAM school in Arvada briefly in 2002.

Last Sunday, Murray shot four young adults at the YWAM training center, killing two, and then proceeding to New Life Church, a prominent megachurch where he opened fire and killed two teenage girls and wounded their father. YWAM maintains a center at New Life Church, according to AP.

Fifty students at the Arvada center graduated on Friday.

Remembering the two victims of the shooting at YWAM, coordinator Kevin Verrone, said, "They are probably looking down saying go for it young generation, be the ones who impact your world in a positive manner."

Youth With a Mission was founded in 1960 by Loren and Darlene Cunningham to get youth involved in short-term mission work. The international organization still focuses on youth but has since evolved to involve people of almost every age and offers ministries in three main categories: evangelism, training and mercy ministries. YWAM currently operates in more than 1,000 locations in over 149 countries, with a staff of nearly 16,000.

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