The camp was in a compound which housed a 100-year-old, ivy-covered, 15-room Chinese cottage with two smaller houses, stables, and farmland. It was located in Hac Sa, a village tucked away on the island of Coloane (southern Macau). This compound was originally rented by Hosea Berg, his wife, and their six children in 1978. They were later joined by other members of The Family International, including Hosea's second wife, Ruth. Hosea and his family continued to live in this compound until 1988.
Notorious abuse of second generation teenagers took place in Macau, as teenagers such as Merry "Mene" Berg were sent for training.
I am far from tolerant about what took place here. This disgraceful experiment in childcare lasted from at least 1987 to 1990.
In a Teen Special published in November 1992, The Family describe the Special Teen programme in Macau in these terms:- "This voluntary programme was established to help a small handful of teens who needed more individualised guidance and encouragement to overcome long standing serious personal problems. While in this programme, the teens received exceptionally close shepherding in a small personal family atmosphere, with lots of love and prayer, individualised personal training, hours and hours of personal counselling, specialised Word classes that were often spoon-fed to the teens, and a consistent daily schedule of typical boarding school-style discipline, administered with patience, prayer, reasoning and understanding. They worked on a farm in rural surroundings, learning to channel their energies into a product of pursuits. The teens of this programme dubbed themselves "the determined teens" - determined to make the changes that they realised they needed in their habits or attitudes. They aspired to successfully graduate so they could join other family teens, and be trusted to be given valuable training, or to carry positions of responsibility." That was the propaganda which was fed to the teenagers in 1992, and having heard from and seen a number of the teenagers who were at Macau, I am in no doubt at all that it was a travesty of the truth thus to describe that programme. The truth is that the children were subjected to a regime of physical and psychological brutality. Paddlings were a regular feature of life in the camp. The children were systematically beaten in it. I had that evidence not only from MB and JG but from one of The Family's own witnesses DR. She recalls being beaten five times. On one occasion she recalls being given ten "swats". She was bruised. She gave evidence that she was beaten because she was "super proud, cocky. There was nothing in the paddling that was wrong. I agreed to it. It made me realise there was something wrong with me."
DR sought to challenge evidence MB had given me about a girl T1 whom MB described as running around the room to avoid being beaten by Michael Gambrill, who was in charge of that camp. MB had described that Michael was "trying to exorcize rebellion out of her." This is DR's description of what happened: "She was rebellious. She was going to get four swats. Got one, and freaked out. Michael tried to calm her down. She didn't. She put her hands on her bottom. Finally he got her to move her hands. She got two more swats. She was pretty shook up. Freaking out. Putting her hands there and saying "please no more," and crying. So he stopped." I believe JG was describing the same event when he spoke of: "One girl collapsed half way through her paddling. They held her up to hit her a few more times and finally dragged her half conscious to her room." MB spoke of another girl who was slapped and became so upset that she could not talk properly but was stuttering incoherently. The reaction of the shepherds was to say that she was possessed of deaf and dumb spirits and so they held an exorcism, talking in tongues over her.
DR's description of MB's being paddled was that MB had been talking uncontrollably all night keeping everyone awake and it was thought that a few swats would wake her up. She was given a few swats and she just kept "right on talking". She got about five. They took her out but brought her back and tried to stop her talking. When she started to smash things up and throwing things, they tied her to her bed with cloth-like ties. She was by then incoherent. A couple of days later they took her to the mental institution. This was barbarous treatment of a girl who was in fact in need of psychiatric help.
DR herself felt that she was going insane. She said she was an avid day-dreamer who did not know how to control her mind and was on a path leading to the spirit world where the spirits would devour her if she continued. She was tortured by these thoughts pretty much all of her waking hours, she said. Her thoughts became violent when she thought of killing people and hurting people "which are attacks of the Devil."
It was JG's impression that: "Most of the children there were shipped in from other countries because they had deep psychological problems as a result of being in The Family, in my opinion. I would call them "mental." Three of them were completely irrational and were hallucinating. Some of them thought that they were seeing demons, some others fancied their idea of eating "horse shit" and most of the time walked around dazed. I and a few others were the only ones who were not "mental". One of them, Ben, later committed suicide. Throughout the time I knew him, he desperately wanted to leave the group but was always prevented and failed in his attempts to run away. Other teenagers at the camp mentioned that they wanted to kill themselves but they were usually severely beaten for saying so. The youngest child I met at the camp was 11. He had tried to jump off the roof of his commune in India, and so had been sent to the detention centre in the hope of solving his problems." Ben did eventually leave the family. His Traumatic Testimony was described the Teen Special to which I have referred. It was made required reading for teens aged 14 and over as "a sobering warning about the sins of bitterness, unyieldedness and rebellion." Michael wrote in that letter: "We really loved Ben and tried everything we know to help him as did many others. He had many very loving and dedicated shepherds who spent hours, days, and weeks counselling him. It's so sad he chose to throw it all away." To take that view of what was happening in Macau deeply disturbs me. The truth is that these children were there to have their spirits broken by whatever means it took, and loving kindness was not the primary means deployed. These children were the "bad apples" who were removed from the bosom of the family for fear of contaminating those who were more amenable to the regime. They were dispatched to a punishment camp for punishment. I have no doubt that within their own definition, the shepherds there did act "in love" when handing out their punishments. Their failure to appreciate that their actions were nonetheless abusive to the children in their care is frightening. DR herself told me that it was "her considered view" that there was "nothing oppressive about anyone's treatment in Macau." She said that with conviction but she equally told me that "I guess they should have learnt by the Summer of 1990 that (silence restriction) doesn't work and there was no reason for it". She told me that "In Macau there were no guidelines and they did not really know what they were doing." She told me, "Things were taken to the extreme before they were stopped." She knew perfectly well from bitter personal experience that the regime in Macau was brutally oppressive but she could make no unequivocal condemnation because to do so would be to fall into the trap of murmuring, rebelling, being proud, manifesting, in other words, all the deadly sins intolerable to The Family's way of life. Freedom of thought was the crime for which she was banished to Macau. Freedom of thought was beaten out of her in Macau. Though DR lives on, the spirit of a young girl died in Macau. It is time The Family faced that truth.
DR told me that the policy "to stop us chatting" was in force most of the time she was in Macau. She wished to make the point, which was a good point, that this should not be blown out of proportion. I agree and I do not find these children were on permanent silence every minute of the day or every day of the week or anything like that. DR describes it herself in this way: "Chatter was normal, but we weren't normal because I had problems, serious problems especially when I had thoughts of going insane. Michael and Crystal wouldn't let us carrying on talking about bombs, stealing, naughty things we had done in the past." She also said, "After one and a half years of my time in Macau, they realised silence didn't work so they lifted it."
I am totally satisfied that putting the children on silence was used as a means of punishment, and even after making all due allowances, I am still satisfied that they were kept on periods of silence which were both prolonged and abusive.
This was another technique used to dominate the children and to punish them. MB was put in isolation and was locked in her room. At the beginning of his stay in Macau, JG was locked up alone in the attic, given a bucket to use as a toilet and left without food for 3 or 4 days in order to fast. They needed to fast in order that their mind and spirit might be made receptive to the heavy dose of the Word which was to be their spiritual food. It was administered excessively.
I am totally satisfied that children in the camp at Macau were put to hard labour. Sometimes this took the totally punitive form of digging trenches, filling them in again and digging them out once more. At other times the labour would have been more purposeful and would have improved the amenities of the camp. The children knew that they were being punished by being put to work and the punishment was excessive.
The Macau experience is a shameful example of putting into practice the belief that the end justifies the means. The end was, as the Teen Special letter describes it, to bring about changes in the habits and attitudes of the teens who had reacted against The Family way of life. The means was a form of physical and mental atrocity mercilessly dished out to young, often already emotionally damaged children. There seems little acknowledgement from the leadership of the abusive nature of that regime. In my judgment, the leadership must stand condemned. That this went on and they did not know it is a conclusion which I cannot accept. Jose and Faithy were in charge. Faithy was Berg's daughter. MB was his granddaughter. I simply cannot accept that he and World Service did not know what was being done. The fact is that knowing that the treatment meted out to those difficult, damaged teenagers would never stand the test of any reasonable scrutiny, The Family now try to rewrite the truth not just to the outside world but more importantly to their own members to whom in the Teen Special letter Macau is now presented as a rural idyll. What nonsense!