Mias First Tale: Part Twenty-one of My Life Inside the Narrowgate Cult at Messiah College
Editor’s Note: This is the first part of Mia’s tale. Mia reached out to me to share some of her experiences within the Narrowgate group. As one of the original members of Narrowgate, she lends understanding to how the group formed and progressed. This is her story, shared with her permission.
Narrowgate started in the Fall of 1993 as a group of students who came together to pray for each other, and to pray for revival on campus. Noah and Olivia (who were engaged) first met Liam and Emma (who were either dating or engaged) at a local church’s young adult small group meeting, where the four of them discussed their desire to pray for revival on campus. Liam shared with Noah and Olivia that he and Emma had already reserved a classroom in Kline Hall of Science on Tuesday evenings for this very purpose. They had no plans for how to gather others to join them, but felt that God had laid it on their hearts to reserve the room for this purpose. At that time, Olivia, Sophia, Annette and Mia had been meeting weekly at Mia’s apartment for prayer and accountability amongst friends. Olivia shared about the upcoming meeting on Tuesday evening, and all four ladies decided it sounded good, and they’d like to attend.
At these meetings, Liam started sharing his heart about what he was learning about God. This theology (which became Narrowgate’s theology) was deeply influenced by the teachings of Andrew Wommack. Noah started bringing his guitar, and though he only knew about three or four chords, he led the group in a few praise and worship songs that he could play.
The group grew from the initial six to eight people to thirty or forty, mostly by word-of-mouth. Liam’s charisma and teachings were touching people’s hearts, and they were hungry for more. Liam and Emma scheduled The Prophet to come, and advertised that meeting on bulletin boards around campus. The classroom in Kline was overflowing for that meeting… there was standing room only and the crowd spilled out into the hallway. There were probably seventy or eighty students in attendance that evening. The meeting ran quite late, as most students waited around hoping for a personal prophecy from The Prophet. The second time The Prophet visited, the meeting was held in a small auditorium in Frey Hall of Math and Science (bigger room for bigger group.) Over one hundred students attended that evening, and again, it ran quite late (until after midnight.)
While the visits from The Prophet gave the group visibility, and increased our numbers greatly, some people started to question things, and several parted ways with Narrowgate, seeing some warning signs early on. The Prophet led us to believe some crazy stuff, that God was for us in incredible ways, and that God was moving today in miraculous ways.
There were lots of fantastic stories from the early days of Narrowgate. Noah said he was healed of his poor vision, and after that he could see and threw out his glasses. Ava shared how she knew a family who was transported through time and space to arrive at a time and place where God intended them to minister to someone in need. James shared his idea that if we ate only what God told us, in His will, we would not poop. Liam had health-and-wealth gospel theories of economic gains that would occur solely from following God, such as the earth producing abundant crops simply from the people following God’s will and having faith that can move mountains.
After the 1993-94 school year had ended, Liam and Emma married, and moved into a married-housing college-owned apartment on the edge of the campus, behind Starry Athletic Field. Noah and Olivia also married that summer and lived in a nearby apartment in Grantham, as they had already graduated. Mia, Annette and Sophia had also graduated and moved into local apartments in nearby towns (Annette and Sophia shared an apartment.) Throughout the summer, these friends continued to “hang out” although there were not any official meetings until the fall semester of 1994 began.
In the fall, many new students joined the Tuesday evening meetings, especially most of those mentioned in these blog posts. Those who had graduated and lived nearby returned to campus for Narrowgate meetings, and hung around campus getting to know, and “ministering to” the newer members. So many of the newer members had questions about Liam’s basic teachings, yet he desired to share deeper teachings with the more seasoned attendees; he invited an inner circle / leadership group to Wednesday evening weekly meetings in his apartment. These meetings were devoted to deeper indoctrination, and they were by invitation only / closed to outsiders. Newer members and guests could receive more basic teachings for beginners in the Tuesday meetings, and they were not aware of the Wednesday meetings.
Through this second year, Narrowgate moved to the Poorman Recital Hall in the Climenhaga Arts building. The praise & worship time was sometimes led by an expanding group of student musicians, and sometimes from a boombox of praise & worship mixtapes. Mia remembers the group dancing during these times, envisioning us using the songs as spiritual warfare against principalities and powers (such as we were empowering angels to fight off demons while we sang and danced.) We believed that the more active and devoted we were in our singing and dancing, the more victory we would have in our personal lives, especially for those who were battling depression and anxiety in their daily lives.
Sophia was particularly plagued by “demons” in her apartment in an old Victorian house in New Cumberland. She and Annette moved into a small townhouse in Grantham near the college, which seemed to help that issue. Several members dealt with anxiety or depression. Others had crippling fears to deal with. Any such “feelings” were considered to be spiritual issues, and we were guaranteed freedom from these things through our faith and our worship, and by commanding the demons to leave in Jesus name.
By January of 1995, Liam pointed out that our group was functioning like a church. Many of the inner circle members felt that we were receiving more teaching and growing more spiritually with this group than we were in any local churches we had been attending. So Liam declared that we were a church, named “New Life Fellowship” and we were going to start meeting on Sunday mornings, instead of attending local churches. Our Tuesday evening meetings would continue to be known as Narrowgate.
Mia remembers Liam met with her personally to tell her about the decision to meet Sunday mornings and to become a church, because Mia was quite involved in a local church, assisting with the youth group on Wednesday evenings and with preschool class on Sunday mornings. She accepted the change, and gave notice of leave to the local church. She remembers two of the church’s pastors meeting her for lunch to persuade her against the change. They said they saw negative signs of a cult in the group. They said that they’ve seen groups like this at other college campuses, and that it would not end well. Mia ignored their warnings, feeling that her place was really with Narrowgate and not with the local church. (She would regret this decision later in life.)
Liam had, at one time, attempted to be mentored by one of these pastors, but he rejected their guidance and moved on to someone else… this was a repeated pattern for him with accountability. Liam’s story was always that his current mentor was hindering the work of God in his life and the group, so he would leave that relationship and find another mentor.
Regarding the Sunday morning meeting time, Liam met with opposition at the college, who did not allow student groups to reserve rooms on Sunday mornings, as the college encouraged all students to attend local churches. The group met on Sunday evenings instead, and also declared in our doctrine that it didn’t matter which day of the week was considered Sabbath… that we could choose as long as we had a day of rest. This teaching eventually morphed into a teaching, based on scripture in the book of Hebrews, that the Sabbath day of rest was a foreshadowing of the time after Jesus’ atonement for our sins, where we can now abide in him and “enter His rest.” Thus we no longer needed a particular day of rest, as all of our days and hours were at rest in Jesus. This sounds warped, but somehow it made sense to us at the time, and we accepted it. We were taught that believing that Sunday was a special day was a religious belief, and religion was the enemy of a personal relationship with God.
Throughout this year, Liam began meddling more and more into people’s personal lives. It was seen as mentoring or pastoring or some such thing (spiritual abuse is more like it!) Mia believes that James and Ava were pressured into marriage by Narrowgate leadership. James was coerced to date Ava, and Liam met with him privately several times, pushing him to accept God’s will to marry Ava. They shunned their family’s advice and warnings about marriage soon after becoming a couple. Mia recalls James struggling a lot with this direction from Narrowgate leadership, as he never really “chose” Ava. Oliver went through the same thing in regards to being coerced to marry Mia, which later resulted in him divorcing Mia years later, though they had two children together. Mia remembers others that were also pressured in this manner… Logan was pressured to date / court Abigail. Rose was pressured to date / be courted by Mason. She did give in at some points, but it never lasted long. The pressure was still there, the assumption that they belonged together… and Mason really did like her a lot. Rose cared a lot for him as a friend, but she could wisely see many warning signs that they would not make a good couple.
Editor’s Note: James and Ava do not feel that this is an accurate description of their relationship. Both James and Ava do not remember family warning them not to marry so soon, in fact they remember both families being supportive of their decision to get married. In addition, James most definitely states that he did “chose” Ava. James and Ava have now been married for over 25 years and report that they have a beautiful family and no regrets over their decision to get married.
The Wednesday evening private meetings continued in Liam and Emma’s apartment through the winter and spring of 1995. In those meetings, among other teachings, giving/tithing was addressed. As we were now considering ourselves a church, and Liam was our “pastor” (although we didn’t address him as such,) we were to give our offering money to Liam so that he could do the work of seeking God and his direction for our church, instead of working an external job.
One time in Climenhaga, Liam prophesied over Mia that she needed a vacation, and that God would provide for it. It was in the winter, and she was asked who she wanted to take with her. Mia chose Sophia and Annette. Mia chose the destination of Phoenix, Arizona. Sophia wanted to see the Grand Canyon, and Annette wanted to visit friends in Los Angeles, California.
Mia made plans to fly to Los Angeles in March, and from there to drive a rental car to Arizona. Mia reserved tickets for their flights through a local travel agency for about $300. When Mia and Sophia went to pick up the tickets, the clerk just handed them the tickets without specifically asking for payment. Because the clerk did not ask for payment, the girls just walked out the door with the tickets, giddy with delight and a little bit amazed. As a result, they believed the “God will provide for this vacation” prophecy came true. They went out for Chinese food to celebrate, and Mia remembers her fortune cookie said “In God We Trust, All Others Must Pay Cash” which they took as further confirmation that God had provided the free tickets.
In Los Angeles, Annette’s friend’s family let them stay with them for free. That family had a young woman living with them who worked at the Disney Store, and she was able to get them into Disneyland for free, which was something Sophia really desired. They followed this young lady to Disneyland in their rental car, she let them into the park, and left. They enjoyed rides and other amusements, and then they drove towards Flagstaff, Arizona where they paid for a cheap motel room. They visited the Grand Canyon the next day, and drove to Phoenix where they rented another cheap motel room. They visited a western town in Scottsdale, and had a nice steak dinner, paid for by Mia’s parents who wanted to contribute a nice meal for the girls’ trip. After dinner, the western town had actors outside the restaurant who reenacted a staged shootout. Mia got pulled from the crowd into the act, and got “married” to one of the actors as part of the show. The next day they drove back to L.A., stopping at Joshua Tree National Park along the way, and flew back to Pennsylvania.
That was the story that was circulated among Narrowgate, though there was an untold portion of the vacation story…
About a week before they were to fly out to L.A., Mia got a phone call at work from the travel agency requesting payment for the tickets. Mia felt that God had said he paid for the tickets, confirmed by the fortune cookie, so she told them “My Father paid for them” (thinking of God the Father.) They asked about a receipt, and she said she didn’t know if he had one. She was pretty scared about the phone call, and so she told Liam.
Liam was an International Business major in college… his classes taught him much about how business works, so he coached Mia concerning her dilemma. He told her that if the travel agency doesn’t back down about insisting on a receipt, that she should threaten to go to the press, and encouraged her to leverage connections with state government officials from her job in Harrisburg. When Mia received another call from the travel agency, she reiterated that her Father paid for the tickets with cash. When the agency requested a receipt, Mia threatened them with some of the tactics Liam provided. They stopped calling, but Mia was afraid they would get stopped at the airport. Nothing happened at the airport; the tactics apparently worked on the travel agency, as they never again contacted her. Mia only ever told Liam about these interactions with the travel agency. She felt bad about lying, but Liam told her that she was acting in faith, and to continue to believe God’s promise of provision for the vacation. Liam told Mia not to share these details with others in the group, so not to harm their faith. Mia believes that some parts of their vacation may have been legitimately free, or God’s provision, (such as getting into Disneyland for free) but getting the tickets for free was definitely not of God. In retrospect, Mia now worries that the clerk who gave them the tickets may have had consequences in her job, at least a reprimand, perhaps having to pay for the tickets herself or even losing her job over the situation.
After Liam graduated from Messiah College in the spring of 1995, and Emma dropped out due to lack of funding and patriarchal beliefs, they had to move out of their campus apartment. They moved into an apartment in Delbrook. Mia remembers that Allison received a large sum of money (she thinks it was from insurance or inheritance but not sure) and gave a portion of it (several thousand dollars) to Liam. He bought classy furniture for their new apartment with that money, including living room, dining room, bedroom, office furniture and artwork.
Liam and Emma needed a car, and Liam decided to buy a small brand-new car. Liam took Mia with him to the car dealer, and told the dealer that Mia was his fiancée, and coerced her to co-sign for the car – Emma was not included in the sale / financing. Mia held a steady job as a secretary, and had good credit, but she was somewhat unaware of what was happening, and was way too trusting of Liam. Liam also used Mia’s credit card that was issued in Oliver’s name; Mia had added Oliver as an authorized user on her credit card, without his knowledge, as a step in faith that they would be married, as that was the general consensus of the group, the “will of God” for them (name it claim it theology.) The car was later repossessed when Liam did not make steady payments. Years later, Mia and Oliver had to pay off the debt from the car’s repossession and from Liam’s use of her credit card.
Since “New Life Fellowship” was now a “church”, the group continued to meet throughout the summer. At times a basement room was still rented on campus in the Kelly Apartment building, where Logan, and perhaps James, lived for the summer work-study program. Sometimes they met off-campus in a local church’s basement childcare center where Annette worked.
In the summer of 1995, Mia, Ava and Rose rented a house in Dillsburg for the summer from a college professor who left the state with his family for a sabbatical. The girls agreed to care for the house and the family dog. By the time they moved in, three more girls were added to the household: Evelyn, Charlotte and Aurora (a friend from Ava’s hometown who had an internship in Harrisburg.) Mia and Evelyn shared a bedroom; Ava and Aurora shared another bedroom, and Rose and Charlotte shared a third bedroom.
Mia remembers discovering that most of these girls were not mature enough to handle the household responsibilities, and while she left on a trip for a week in June, the girls had some arguments about the housecleaning responsibilities. (This was before Pooky and Ashley moved in.) After Mia came back from her roadtrip, she was surprised to find that Evelyn was kicked out of the summer house – and from Narrowgate (New Life) Fellowship. Liam had come to moderate an argument among the girls, and then took issue with Evelyn having questions about Liam’s theology / doctrines. Liam excommunicated / kicked Evelyn out from Narrowgate because she was challenging Liam’s authority by questioning his theology. After Evelyn left and Mia returned, Ashley had a need to move off-campus; she moved into Mia’s bedroom in Evelyn’s vacated spot. Pooky soon moved out of her mom’s house and into a fourth room off of Ava and Aurora’s bedroom. (Seven girls in one house!)
Mia has some fond memories of the times in that house. Monday nights were “family dinner” nights, where the girls would cook a big meal and have their boyfriends over for the meal, sometimes also having a few other guests from the group, including Liam and Emma. The guys would play ping-pong in the basement, and sometimes they’d offer to mow the lawn for the girls. Mia remembers having to care for the dog. The other girls on the lease (Ava and Rose) had insisted on caring for the dog, instead of the family finding another summer home for him. Mia didn’t like dogs, but she felt bad for this active young golden retriever, as the other girls neglected him, so she took him for walks after work and made sure he had food and water.
Mia remembers that Logan propagated Messianic Jewish theology among the group members that Liam disagreed with. Mia remembers meeting with Logan in his on-campus apartment to talk with him, to try and understand the theology. Liam was furious about this, countered the theology to Mia, and funneled information through her to attempt to sway Logan away from that theology. Eventually, Logan got kicked out of the group because he did not submit to Liam. Liam told members of the group that they should no longer associate with Logan after he was kicked out. She believes this was during the summer of 1995. Mia believes that anyone that Liam could not control got kicked out of the group.
Editor’s Note: When I met with Logan in 2019 to discuss Narrowgate, he shared how he was given an ultimatum by Liam that he could only continue attending Narrowgate if he stopped talking about his personal beliefs in Messianic Jewish theology. When Logan said he could not stop talking about his personal beliefs, Liam made him leave the group without saying goodbye to anyone. This sudden excommunication by his closest friends was an incredibly traumatic experience for Logan.
As the summer ended, the girls had to vacate the house. Several of the girls rented another house nearby, while Mia moved in with Annette and Sophia. Her old college roommate also lived there, but was planning to move out in another month to get married. Mia was supposed to be the guest book attendant at her wedding, however, just a few days before the wedding, Mia backed out and did not attend. This was due to pressure from Liam and his teachings that all of our relationships / friendships were to be purposeful towards God’s current workings in our lives. He questioned us hard on any reason to reach out to friends from our past, or even our families who do not live with us and pursue God’s will as we do (because we somehow had a better idea of this than the rest of the world!) Mia felt so conflicted by this that she backed out of her college roommate’s wedding. She has regretted this ever since.
As the school year began in fall of 1995, Liam discovered that he could not reserve a room at the college for a student group because he was no longer a student. He designated James and Ava as the student leaders of Narrowgate, which was the campus ministry of New Life Fellowship, and James reserved a room on campus for the Tuesday night meetings.
It was around this time that Liam developed a “leadership” team for our “church.” The team consisted of Liam and Emma, Noah and Olivia, James and Ava, Mia, and Allison. This team would meet on occasion to discuss church matters (such as ways to manipulate others into following “God’s will” for their lives.) Liam would share whatever he thought the direction of our group should be, and the leadership team was to support that direction and influence others in the same way.
During the fall of this school year, Pooky decided to quit school. Mia remembers Liam using this as a catalyst for a new theology at a leadership meeting, stating that every student should question whether they belong in school, and that none of the women belong there. There was a strong patriarchy doctrine amongst the group, and Liam weaved that into this decision, that the women’s place was as a housewife who would be provided for by her husband. As such, none of the women in the group needed an education or a career. The men should also question whether God’s direction for them was to finish college, or to quit and pursue God’s work now. Within a few weeks of these declarations, all of the women and some of the men had quit college. This was alarming to the College administration, of course, and Narrowgate was kicked off of campus, as James and Ava could no longer reserve a room or lead a student group, since they were no longer students at the school. Several of these ex-students got the same job at a local customer-service call center through a temp agency. Most of the women already lived off-campus in the nearby house they were renting together.
When New Life Fellowship began meeting in the church behind Delbrook on Sunday evenings, the interim pastor at that church was supposed to be Liam’s mentor. Some of the church’s members attended some of our evening meetings, and one couple gave Noah and Olivia some teaching videos to try to influence / correct our theology. Liam immediately pounced on that, insisting that noone should watch those videos, that they would be full of religion and not contain truth. About a month later, Liam called an emergency leadership meeting on a Sunday afternoon; he asserted that his mentor from the church was trying to shut down what God was doing in our group. He presented to them that he would like his accountability to be to our internal leadership team instead of to some external person such as that pastor / mentor. The leaders then agreed to leave the oversight of the external mentor, and to stop meeting at that church. As of that day, the meetings were moved to Liam and Emma’s living room in their Delbrook apartment.
Mia now believes that Liam always ran away from real accountability / oversight, with the excuse that each mentor was hindering what God was doing in our group. Mia believes Liam always had a disregard for authority, except his own – we all must always submit to Liam. She also wonders if Liam had a bipolar disorder. It seemed like the entire group was co-dependent on Liam’s mood swings. When Liam was down, everyone in the group was depressed; when Liam was manic, there was a lot of risky behavior. Some of the single girls in the group seemed to view Liam as the ideal man. Liam encouraged this view by charming the girls, scheduling dates with some of them to “represent God” to them. Years later, Mia heard from some of the ladies that, at that time, Liam would sometimes bring them small gifts like flowers or a teddy bear. He seemed to focus this attention on the single gals in the group who seemed desperate for a man to provide for them.
(to be continued)