Cultists convinced only God will provide

Boston Herald / September 3, 2000
By Dave Wedge

Two years ago, a fringe religious sect took an ill-fated road trip to Maine, leaving their Seekonk compound with no money and no food, thinking God would deliver them safely.

But when their cars ran out of gas on Route 1 in Maine, the members didn't rally together and walk to the nearest service station. They prayed - for gas.

"They surrounded the cars, put their hands on them and prayed," said Bristol County prosecutor Walter Shea. "They thought God would fill their gas tank."

For three days, they stayed near their cars, eating only berries from trees off the side of the road. Finally, a concerned relative traveled to Maine and called state police, who found the group and gave them $20 for gas to get home.

The cult, at the center of a controversial ruling this week that resulted in the forced hospitalization of a pregnant member, bases much of its religion on the writings of the Home in Zion Ministries in Florida and the Old Testament.

Suspected in the deaths of two young boys, members of the Attleboro-based group denounce modern society, instead putting their faith in God to heal, guide and provide for them.

"For whatever reason, they believe God speaks to them. They really believe that," Shea said.

The fringe Christian fundamentalist group is the subject of a grand jury probe into the deaths of 10-month-old Samuel Robidoux, who allegedly starved to death, and Jeremiah Corneau, who is believed to have died during birth.

Prosecutors say both deaths were preventable and are seeking charges ranging from improper disposal of a body to murder.

Neither boy's body has been found, despite searches in Attleboro and Seekonk, and in Maine's vast Baxter State Park, where the group allegedly buried two tiny coffins last summer.

Since the probe into the group began, eight members - including Jacques Robidoux - have been jailed for refusing to talk to the grand jury. Eight children have been taken from the cult and put into Department of Social Services custody.

And this week, a judge - fearing for the life of pregnant cultist Rebecca Corneau's unborn child - ordered the woman held in a secure hospital until she agrees to a medical exam or gives birth.

According to former member Dennis Mingo, the sect's beliefs are rooted in denouncing "seven systems" of mainstream society, including education, government, banking, religion, medicine, science and entertainment.

They were heavily influenced by the book "Born in Zion," by Carol Balizet, who heads a Florida ministry. Balizet, a former emergency room nurse, advocates natural home births, claiming only prayer is needed to bring life into the world.

"The book had a profound effect on the group," Mingo says. "Every week, they made little changes and became more and more radical. They were basically pulling themselves out of society and I just couldn't live that way."

While they run their own masonry business, they do so on a cash basis and keep their own records on a computer, which has been seized by prosecutors. They home-school their children, have unassisted home births and use herbal remedies, not medicine. While many have vision problems, they refuse to wear glasses because they are not "God's will," Mingo says.

"Most of them are blind as bats without their glasses, but they refuse to wear them" he said.

They think evolution is "a crock," Mingo says.

And recently, they burned up all their old photo albums, saying photos are a symbol of vanity.

The women wear cotton dresses and the men sport long beards. Completely withdrawn from society, they don't watch TV or movies, celebrate holidays or birthdays, or wear wedding bands.

"They see these seven systems as counterfeit systems," Mingo said. "They think God will provide them all of these things and that these systems were set up to take your attention away from God."

The family-oriented sect was formed by Jacques Robidoux' father, Roland, several years ago when he split from the World Church of Christ and started his own Bible study group.

The group feared the millennium and had "visions" that the world would erupt in violence and turmoil, but they would be saved.

"God" has led the group repeatedly to upstate Maine and Mingo says they were - and may still be - planning to set up a commune there.

"It's like they're on a different planet," he said. "They're not a part of our world anymore. They've gone blank. They're not the people that I know them as."

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