Hephzibah House Journal

Hephzibah House Journal
Susan Grotte's journal from her experience as a student at Hephzibah House, told in short-story form.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


July 2008 - July 2010

I had a rough beginning.  My mother told me to my face that I was a mistake, that she wished she never had me. I answered to, Shithead, Dumbass, and Bitch. Throughout my life, I was told that I would never amount to anything. I was too stupid to accomplish anything. I was a good kid, I always listened to my mother because I was afraid of her, and yet I was always yelled and screamed at. I always got beat with the leather belt or smacked across the face. I was afraid to ask her for things, like if I could go to a party at school, to sign a permission slip or if I could eat lunch. I was always grounded in my bed for weeks at a time. The longest was 3 weeks. I waited until school so I could get up and play with my friends. My stepdad wasn’t really around unless I needed to be punished. If we were too loud in the morning (they would sleep in until 11am) he made me stand in the corner for 8 hours. He played bootcamp with me, he was the Drill Instructor and I was the 6-year-old recruit. He would scream at me and make me do exercises until I couldn’t anymore. He choked me a couple times; kicked me in the stomach and sent me to school with bruises. So when they started to go to an IFB church you would understand why I didn’t want a part in it. They were God-fearing Christians on Sunday but terrible parents every other day. When I was 14 I lost all their respect. I didn’t care anymore. When I was 15 I started looking for other things to keep me company. It was the worst sort and nothing could keep me from it. I ran away and lied to my parents so I could see my alcoholic boyfriend. And that's why I got sent away. Looking back 10 years later, now an adult, a mom and a Christian, I feel as though my parents slept in their bed but didn’t want to make it. They were terrible parents and didn’t want to deal with me. So they dropped me off to someone who would fix their mistakes. I included all that because I wonder if they had loved me like I love my children if they had shown me an ounce of care and listened to me when I called out, if I would have had to go to the boarding school at all. 

They all told me that all they want is for me to establish a good relationship with my parents again. They said that I didn’t even need to believe in God. But this was a lie. How could we establish a good relationship if we weren’t allowed to talk to each other? The letters we wrote once a week were read and re-read by Patti Williams. I've had letters taken back to me and re-written because they talked about why I was sent there. I had a letter rewritten because I told my parents that Mary smashed my face in the snow one day. We weren’t allowed to talk about why we were on sentences, (probably because the rules were so far past ridiculous that they would question their authority) we weren’t allowed to talk about when we were sick (because we weren’t allowed to see a doctor if we had a virus and we weren’t allowed to take medicine because medicine is a SIN). We weren’t allowed to talk about the other girls we lived with. The only thing that was welcomed was all the GOOD and NICE things that we did that week, and if God has placed anything in our hearts. The same went for the Once-a-month, 15-minute phone call that was also listened in by Mrs. Halyaman. If we said anything we weren’t supposed to, the rest of the call was canceled, and there was a possibility our phone calls would be taken away too. I didn’t get all of my mail because they were from unsaved family members. I didn’t get pictures of some of my family because they were wearing pants and they didn’t want to discourage me in my walk with Christ. I had family that lived in Indianapolis but they weren’t allowed to see me because they weren’t Christian. They taught us that even though they were family, we shouldn’t spend time with them because they were worldly. My parents came to see me once, but never came again because they spent their money on other things that were more important than me. (They didn’t even pick me up when I left HH)

They made me wear diapers. It wasn’t because I wet myself after all the ridiculous water we drank, but because my periods were so heavy. I would leak every morning, yeah that happens, but tampons were a sin, so I had to wear a diaper instead. Theresa loved to make fun of me for it. I tried to make it into a joke, It wasn’t like I could control my my flow, but the cutting jokes stung. “What are you going to do when you get married?? Wear a diaper to bed??” They made me show them the inside in the morning before I threw it away. Were we such bad kids that we didn’t deserve basic privacy? 

Sentences were given whenever the heck they wanted to give them out. If you needed to pee in the middle of the night you got 500 sentences. If you forgot to put your bag/purse back on your assigned seats, demerits. If the staff found a spot on something that you were supposed to clean, demerits. If you looked at a girl you weren’t supposed to talk to, sentences. Anything unlabeled was sentence worthy. If you forgot to take out your bath basket to be cleaned, demerits. If you over ate, sentences. In my mind I tried to keep track of all the things I did wrong and see if I had sentences that week. You weren’t allowed to look at anyone for a week. You weren’t allowed to talk to anyone, not even staff. They took away your ‘treats’ after dinner, if some family had donated any. They took away Friday nights, which we usually made cards or watched a christian based movie. We had to wear our school uniform to church so that everyone knew that WE WERNT RIGHT WITH GOD this week. And then during the week you would write Bible Scripture while everyone else was doing school. It was easy for the staff to give sentences to the kids they didn’t like. Mary did it all the time. It might not sound like much, but when your not allowed to talk to anyone for weeks at a time it gets really lonely. There was a girl there who didn’t believe everything that HH taught. Theresa picked on her the most. She was on sentences every other week. It wasn’t because she was a bad kid, because she really did listen. We didn’t really have a choice. She just didn’t like her. Theresa did that with another girl that I really liked. If I paired up with one of the favorites nothing happened, but If I wanted to pair with the other girl I wasn’t allowed because there wasn’t supposed to be any cliques. 

We cleaned for hours at a time. I understand that they needed to keep the place acceptable for health inspectors, but was Ron Williams disgusting van being searched too? We cleaned the staffs cars, we cleaned their church. We cleaned the room they kept for visits. We cleaned the giant freezer that was outside. I HATED cleaning it. It had to have been below 0 in that freezer and yet we cleaned and cleaned. We pulled weeds in the garden and in the spring it took forever. We had to do it perfectly or we would get demerits for failed job. We picked all the produce, washed it, and packaged it ourselves. In the summer, because I was a trusted student, I got to go to the Kagins garden and pick all the produce from theres as well. I did get bad knees from scrubbing the floors for so many hours. A sac appeared on my knee cap. My mom didn’t want to take me to the doctor so I took care of it myself. Yellow fluid seeped out of my knee. I thought I had taken care if it but it came back. A lady at my church helped me out with it and it doesn’t bother me too much now. 

The Food was given in huge amounts. A half portion was a regular portion for a 15 year old. We were to eat double that amount in 20/30 minutes, If you were late then you weren’t right with God. They literally told us this. I remember one girl couldn’t stomach all of her pasty oatmeal crap and as Miss. Theresa was yelling at her, she threw up. Bam. 500 sentences right there. Then she made her clean up her own vomit. One time I took extra time to finish my giant bowl of Mac and cheese and I got ripped to pieces. We ate straight potatoes for dinner. We ate thick nasty bean soup for lunch. If there were bugs in our food we couldn’t make a big deal about it or we would get demerits. We only ate what the people donated. But after reading others testimonies I feel like we were lucky.  It is interesting to me, that HH is a ministry because “Ron and Pattie loved us” but as we were eating trash they were 150+ pounds overweight. Patti seriously had trouble walking because she was so overweight. 

We had no privacy. I had to show them my poop. I had to show them my dirty pads. I had to count my dirty underwear in front of them. I had a staff behind my shoulder when I was shaving. I had a staff outside my bathroom stall. I had to write the BM chart and let them know if I missed one. They made me drink something that made me poop. I had to have a staff with me when I was throwing up. We had a talking list. At first I wasn’t allowed to talk to most of the girls there, because the staff felt they weren’t right enough with God and they would be a discouragement to me. I was only allowed to talk to 2 girls and then one of them went home. We weren’t allowed to talk when staff were not present. We weren’t allowed to look at each other if we weren’t being monitored. If we went outside to dump the 5 gallon bucket of water we had to yell, Coming Out or we would get demerits for trying to communicate without a staff. 

If you were really truly sick, that was too bad for you. You had to lay down for 24 hours, even if you felt better in 12. You weren’t allowed to eat anything and you weren’t allowed to have medicine. They gave us a zinc C vitamin. I was sick so many times down there. It was miserable. Since we had to be watched everywhere we went, we couldn’t sleep long either. They would wake us up so we could lay down in another room. I caught virus after virus but I wasn’t allowed to see a doctor. 

I feel like they taught the Bible the wrong way. It was more of a history lesson than a life changing experience. There was devotions twice a day. Scripture was read by CD player as we fell asleep. If we were in trouble we wrote out scripture. On Monday- Thursday nights we listened to preaching as we cut used stamps and box tops so they could collect money. Sunday, along with our services, we listened to more preaching in-between. Sunday afternoons we sat on our knees and had hour long praying sessions. Forcing it on us like this did not change us. We had to memorize scripture weekly (5 verses) and then a large amount a month. If we failed then we wrote it out again 100-500 times. They told us that we are all heathen, that we amount to nothing. I believe that they truly believe themselves and thats why they treat others so poorly. The staff always fought with each other. The staff were always annoyed with us girls. They taught us all the sins. The sin of pants, makeup, earrings, nail polish, immodesty, reading novels, watching movies, listening to music. They would tear our families down and tell us that they are living in sin. When I came home I was so confused because they told me only true Christians only wear skirts but my mom, sisters and grandma wore pants. The staff were terrible teachers. Miss Theresa had something against Miss. Avery and treated her like a bad dog. She yelled at her in front of the girls all the time and belittled her. Miss. Mary told me she was struggling with the fact that she wasn’t married yet (She told this to me) and that was why she started yelling and lashing out on everyone. That woman would not. stop. yelling. It pissed me off so much because she would yell over stupid crap. I wasn’t afraid of her like I was my mom so I yelled back and told her to stop, which got me in the demerit book for Bad Attitude. The staff always attacked each other and they didn’t care who saw. Nobody is perfect, but I was angry because I had family in Indiana that I wasn’t allowed to see because they weren’t Christians, and yet, they treated me better than some of these saved staff members. 

They taught the same doctrine any IFB would teach. A woman is only good for getting married and making babies. We are worthless and don’t deserve Gods love. That we live by tedious rules and not by Gods love. I find it interesting that the people who are really devout IFBs are the angriest of people. The staff told us that they played music all the time because they didn’t want us to think. Its a sin to get piercings and tattoos because our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost but its ok to beat your kids and leave bruises and welts. I found Christ there, but it wasnt the devotions or the memorization that they made me do. It was because God found me and he talked to me. After I was saved I converted to all their ways and I was a favorite. I didn’t get into much trouble, I just observed the others. Now that Im an adult and Im able to see that this isn’t right. I wasn’t beaten like the others back in the 80s and 90s, but that isnt because of Rons changed heart, its because he will get in trouble legally. He would if he could. I feel like HH could have been a good idea as a safe house to find God, but he became power hungry and wanted to do things his way. I don’t believe Christ is behind him in his ways. I really thought all the girls who were sent there were in bad places like mine. Bad boyfriends, alcohol or drugs. But I was shocked when I realized that some of these kids didn’t even do anything out of the ordinary to be sent to a rebellious home. A close friend of mine was sent because she made a facebook behind her parents back. One was sent because she just liked a boy, but didn’t have sex with him or run away to see him. Others were sent because their parents just didn’t want to take care of them. I knew a girl who was sent when she was 12. She was there for 4 years. When I caught up with her later, I found that her parents just didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of her. So HH stepped in and took whoever and treated them all the same. 

I don’t want to be a hypocrite. Sending me there got me out of the trouble I was in. There were good times there. I did feel safe there because I knew I wasn’t going to be beat or cussed at anymore. The first time anyone told me, “Good job” was when I learned my books of the Bible. I would rush through my 3 minute showers just so I could hear Mary tell me that I did a good job. We had birthday parties and game nights. We learned how to crochet and played volleyball in the summer. Pastor Dave and Mrs. Halyaman took me on a visit because my parents wouldn’t come. Dave has always been a good friend, and thats why its taken me so long to write this out, I don’t want to lose his friendship but I don’t stand behind this school. I was saved and right with God but I still wanted out. I wanted to go home. But my parents sent me to Bible College instead. I fell off the wagon soon after and had to find my own way back, which I did and I have never been happier. Its been 12 years since I stepped through those doors and I still have nightmares. If the place is so good, why would I still be feeling this way? 


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! Blown away. Love you, sis!

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  3. My heart is breaking. Thank you for coming forward with your story.

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