She Fought For Her Life…..and then she joined the Libertarian Party
by Contributing Author Alyce Auman
On December 18, 2017 a news release came out about Maranatha, a secluded Christian commune located near Walterboro, South Carolina. The article explains that this commune, run by “Brother” Ralph Gordon Stair, who leads the “Overcomer Ministry”, is a real life hell for some people that have had to endure living there. This news article was shocking news around the local area where it was published, but it was more than shocking to a young lady named Rachel Vargo. To Rachel, this brought out an explosion of emotions. It was only about 7 years ago that she escaped this nightmare. At age 25, and now a mother, she feels compelled to get her story out there not only to get this off her chest, but also in order to help heal others that have lived there or in similar situations know that they are not alone.
When Rachel was 9 years old, her family moved to the commune. Her parents had heard about this community through listening to Ralph Stair on the radio. Her parents had to make an agreement to give up everything they had in order to be accepted into the community. They explained to Rachel that they believed that “Brother” Ralph Gordon Stair was indeed a prophet from God as he claimed to be at that the last days on Earth were coming very soon and they wanted the family to be safe by being in this “approved” location living their lives faithfully under Ralph Stair’s guidance.
The family arrived at Maranatha, and Rachel said that she immediately felt a sense of being a prisoner. At 9 years old, she knew that something just was not right. This commune has a dining hall, trailers where people live, and some main living areas that people share. She was there for a few days when she realized that the dining hall was the place where they would not only go to eat, but also to listen to Brother Stair rant and rave for hours. He would talk about God and the last days, but more than that, this was his time to dominate his followers and put them in check. He would single out and verbally degrade people for hours on end. Adults, children, men, women….. it didn’t matter, everyone had a turn.
He hated the young people. The young people were constantly degraded, put to work around the commune, and secluded. There were no televisions, no internet, no individual possessions allowed, limited outside communications allowed. There was school on the commune, but it wasn’t a state school and was not checked up on. The girls had to wear dresses and weren’t allowed to cut their hair. Each person that lived at this place was expected to wake up, do an unlimited amount of tasks and chores throughout the day, listen to Brother Stair rant and rave, and be there at his beck and call for anything he wanted. After a short time, Rachel realized that the other adult men started to take on his traits as well. The other adult men were referred to as “elders” and they were controlling and short tempered, but admittedly, Brother Stair was the scariest of all.
As stated previously, Brother Stair hated the younger people, however Rachel believes that this was partially due to the urges that he had around them. He knew that he wasn’t allowed to be sexual with people under a particular age and after a couple of times of being in the limelight for accusations of sexual misconduct where he was arrested previously, he got really good at waiting until the girls got of a mature age and spent more time degrading and grooming them until they reached that proper age. He would force the girls to hug him all the time. He would touch them inappropriately and act like it was just a part of his role and endearing to them, so if they were to speak up, it was a sign of disrespect. If you disrespected him, there was hell to pay. The times that people did get the attention of outside law enforcement was even worse.
If someone would call or make accusations of him, the rest of them knew the repercussions were great. There was a phone that was located on the commune that occasionally the girls would try to call 911 from, but often times they were so scared that once 911 was called, they would sit in silence on the other end of the phone when someone answered. They didn’t want to get themselves or others in trouble and even if they were “saved” from this terrible commune, they knew that they would be leaving others behind to deal with the after affects of them “telling” on Brother Stair. When the police did come, everything seemed okay to their eyes because the commune, albeit located in a rural area and people living differently that the “norm of society” just appeared to be a quiet community with everything in place.
How could adults allow themselves and their children to be put into harms way? The adults were completely brainwashed into believing that this man was indeed a Prophet sent from God. There were some people that came to the commune, found out what was really happening, and left. Others that stayed were people like Rachel’s parents that had been through so much in life that they were seeking the answers to.
Brother Stair had the control. He was grooming the young girls into what he wanted them to be. He was controlling the young boys and the adults by making them do chores and run the commune. He never did anything unless it benefited him in some way. One time Rachel and her siblings really wanted a dog. Her grandparents, who lived outside of the commune, wanted to try to have some sort of relationship with them, and they talked to Rachel about her desire to have a dog. The grandparents sent $200 to her in the mail to buy a dog that she wanted, a Labrador Retriever. All things had to be approved by Brother Stair. He said fine, you can have a dog, and then bought a dog that was like his dog and used it to breed with. This was heartbreaking to Rachel because it was just another sign that she wasn’t allowed to have anything, he was in control, and he laughed and mocked them all the time when he did stuff like this. He was letting them know that HE was in control at all times.
Law enforcement would view the commune, and then they would leave. What gets Rachel is that law enforcement will go under cover for drug raids and things like that, but nobody ever tried to go undercover to see what real life was like there. She said with the few accusations that Brother Stair got off on, she would think that would have sparked enough interest in someone trying to find out what is really happening there. One can only conclude that this wasn’t done because there was no kind of benefit in the law enforcement agency trying to spend time and effort investigating this commune. People that lived there were just “weird people” and they should just be left to their “weird life”. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN? What about the children who were forced to live there by their parents? The parents that were so brainwashed that when Brother Stair would make the children hug him and get touched in appropriately by him, they thought it was okay because he was a Prophet from God? What about all these Child Protection Agencies and educational agencies that were supposed to check on these things? Nobody asked any questions.
As I was listening to Rachel tell me her story, I asked some questions along the way. I asked her how she got out of there? She expressed that while it is very hard to get out, there are some times where Brother Stair would allow someone to leave based on their plan of what they were going to be doing and his bet that they would “return when they figured out they couldn’t live without him.” He taught that the outside world was a very scary place and everyone was evil and going to die when the last days came. It was a struggle to get out. Rachel was allowed to leave the commune, her parents remaining there. Brother Stair said his goodbye with a “you will be back, see you later.”
I asked Rachel if she has had any counseling since leaving, and she said that she has hidden away all of her past and tried to move on and be happy. Living on the commune was like living in prison. As a younger child, she would stand by the entrance into the community and look up into the sky and day dream about just breaking out into a sprint and running away. Where would she go? How would she survive? There was nothing but the countryside for miles and miles and what little family she had outside the commune, she barely knew them because they were cut off when her mother and father decided to live here. Rachel was hopeless and contemplated suicide often because it would be easier than waking up in the morning and realizing that she had to live another day just like the day before and it was hard enough to get through the day before. She lived every day thinking “I’m never going to get out of here.”
Rachel read the article that was realized about the commune and decided that she wanted to let people know what happened to her. She called law enforcement to tell her story to them, as well as sought counseling services. This just happened and Rachel is still trying to sort out all of her emotions. After I finished taking notes and talking to her, I expressed to her my admiration of her strength and courage to let people know what happened to her and that by sharing her story, she would help others that had been through abusive situations. I am still in awe by this young lady. Every day she expresses how grateful that she is to be alive and how she is going to make a plan to make the rest of her life so good that she won’t even think about the past. She is a mother now herself and wants to give her children the life that she never had. Her goals right now are to be the best mother that she can be, continue with counseling, get this all off her chest to confront it and deal with it, and she has decided to go to college. She has her own health and fitness business and recently became interested in studying business classes to build on her independence. There’s no stopping her now.
Also published on Medium.