Jesus People Finally Reach Latin America

By William F. Nicholson, Associated Press Writer, The Atlanta Journal

July 1, 1973, Latin America

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP)

The Jesus People have come to Latin America.

Here in this tiny Central American nation, more than 50 young North American men and women run a coffee house and training school to send disciples to other parts of Latin America. Their message is peace and love.

They belong to the Children of God—or simply COG—and claim to have established colonies in Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Peru, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We love you!” several of the smiling youths told a visitor to their loft coffee house in downtown San Jose. “We really do.”

On weekends, a rock band made up of Jesus People pack in Costa Rica youths. Those who can’t squeeze in stand outside in the street and listen through open windows.

“But our main concern is training disciples in the basics of the Bible,” says Robert Robb, 22, of Ukiah, Calif., who has been a member of the Children of God for three years.

Robb is better known in the colony as “Jehosaphat” because the COG disciples give themselves Bible names.

Robb is a tall, dark-haired youth who says that in college he was a football player and good student. He says he “found” Jesus during a rally at the University of California at Santa Barbara when radical Jerry Rubin was guest speaker. He said Children of God, wearing red sack clothes, attracted his attention and he talked to them.

“I was looking for something real. Money and material things weren’t the answer. I had made the team. I had a nice apartment and a sports car and a motorcycle. But I didn’t know God. I wanted to help people.

“The answer couldn’t come from the police or the radicals. That day I received Jesus. He came into my heart. Something really happened to me. It was really cool. Like he was really real. I left that afternoon.”

The Children of God have been received without problem here since they arrived about a year ago. The colony exists on gifts of food and clothing from local merchants and sympathizers. The round tables used in the coffee house, for example, are old cable spools from the local telephone company.

In contrast, the COG have been accused of turning confused young people into Bible-quoting automatons in the United States, where the sect began.

There is even a group called “The Parents Committee to Free our Sons and Daughters from the Children of God”—FRECOG. Ted Patrick, its coordinator and former community relation’s officer for Gov. Ronald Reagan of California, has taken part in group “rescue” missions.

“We keep a photograph of Patrick on the office wall,” said Caryn Westbury, 21, of Atlanta, Ga., a slim girl with long black hair better known in the San Jose colony as “Shalom.”

“Some parents are just jealous. They would rather have their kids on dope than know Jesus.”

The U.S. consulate says it has received no queries from parents about their sons and daughters in COG. This is probably because almost all of them are in their mid-20s and out of school. There are, however, some Costa Rican parents who have gone looking for their missing children in the coffee house, thinking they might be there.

But so far, there have been no problems with local authorities and COG keeps a fairly low profile.

COG here claims success in curing local youths of “drug” problems, which seem confined to marijuana smoking and chewing “magic” mushrooms for their hallucinogenic effect.

Fernando Madriz, 22, a bearded dock worker who is known by COG as “Ezekiel,” after the Hebrew prophet, said he met the Children of God while he was on a marijuana shopping trip to San Jose.

“God transformed me in a manner that I couldn’t believe,” he said, clutching a small black Bible. “Now that I have God, I have given myself to Him.” He is studying at the COG training school just out of town.