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When it comes to 'rescuing Randy'; Book describes author's journey to save son from cult

Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

In 1984, Geneva Paulson's son, Randy, joined the U.S. Navy while he was still attending high school in Bertha. After completing training, the missile ship he was stationed on sailed to trouble spots around the world, including the first military actions against former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The toughest battle Randy faced, however, took place within the confines of his own mind - and his own soul.

Randy Paulson spent three years trapped as a member of a cult.

In her new book "Rescuing Randy," Geneva writes about the harrowing experience of watching her son change into someone else, and the tremendous struggle his family and friends underwent in order to bring him back.

She describes the Christian Fellowship Church International as a cultist group, which had a house across the street from one of Randy's naval bases in Chicago. In her book, Geneva also talks about how Randy was so affected by the cult's brainwashing that his family had to essentially kidnap him and take him to a secluded cabin, where, under constant guard, he underwent "deprogramming."

The memories, thoughts and emotions that Randy, Geneva and their family associated with during that horrible time would remain until one day two years ago, when Geneva was inspired to put all of it in the open by writing a book.

Geneva said she went out to eat with some in-laws, who asked her about Randy's experience. Reluctantly, she told them, and after she was done, an in-law approached her.

"She grabbed ahold of my arm and she said, 'There's a book in you. Write it.' And the way she said it to me, I just got goose pimples," Geneva said.

On the way home, Geneva bought a notebook at a convenience store and started writing.

"I'd write a paragraph and I'd read it to Roger (her husband), and I'd get so choked up I couldn't even talk," Geneva said.

Geneva added that after some initial skepticism, Randy eventually came to fully support the idea of the book.

"There wasn't anything he wasn't willing to share," Geneva said. "I think it was healing for him, too. It was pretty healing for our whole family, actually."

Randy explained why he was hesitant about his mother's project at first.

"I realized that not everybody wants to admit that they were 'duped' so to speak, but I just said that 'Hey, I'm willing to let the story be told' and hopefully God would be glorified," he said.

The task of writing the book was not an easy one. Geneva recalled how health issues caused a 6-8 month delay. Randy said at one point Geneva lost her entire manuscript and backup information when her computer crashed, forcing her to start over from scratch.

Then there was the question of actually getting the book published. As a first-time writer, Geneva faced an uphill battle to get her work in print.

"I don't envy anyone that has to go through that," she said.

Geneva finally found a company that would help her self-publish, and in October, the book was in print. The reaction since then has been overwhelming, she said. She named media outlets around the country that have talked to her, including one as far out as Washington state.

Alice Sarkela is the sister-in-law who allowed Randy to be secluded in her family's cabin during the deprogramming. Having witnessed many of the events in "Rescuing Randy" herself, Sarkela said it was difficult to judge Geneva's words objectively. People she knows who have read the book, however, have been astounded by the effort it took to save Randy.

"Everybody that has read it, they can't believe what Geneva and Roger went through - the sacrifices they made," Sarkela said. "They were an inspiration. They still are."

Geneva said her attitude toward the book changed over the course of trying to get her words out into the open.

"When I started, I thought I needed to get (the experience) out of my system," she said. "Looking back, I think what happened was it helped our family too."

"Rescuing Randy" is available at WestBow Press Books, An Open Book a number of online sales sites.