web analytics

Finally home. . . .

Through a set of seemingly unconnected acts of Providence, my family all left discrete fundamentalism at the same time. While Grant and I landed safely in a PCA church, my parents settled in a Southern Baptist church up the road here.

And they love it. Mom says, “After 39 years, I finally feel like I’m home.”


I have these recurring dreams about my church from high school. I’m crawling through some circuitous path that connects the gymnasium to the baptistry. Winding staircases, crawl spaces, tight squeezes. It’s bizarre. I’ve had the dream so often that its memory seems more real than my actual memories of that church building.

I wonder what my subconscious is trying to work through.

After graduating from high school 25 years ago, I can now admit publicly that my experience in that Christian day school was nothing short of terrorizing. I was mocked, humiliated, bullied, threatened, and shunned. By students and teachers alike.

My first grace-less experience was within weeks of arriving. We had moved from Tulsa to metro Detroit in the middle of my fifth grade year. I had been dropped right in the middle of Christmas program practice, and my class was performing “Stille Nacht.” I didn’t know the German version! So I told my mom, and we followed the same procedure that we had used in our Oklahoma school: my mom wrote a note. Something like “Can you pass along the words for the German version of ‘Silent Night,’ so that Camille can learn them?” My fifth grade teacher wrote back with, “What’s wrong? Can’t she talk for herself?”

Sheesh. Talk about passive-aggressive and unprofessional! We were doing what was familiar to us. I was ten! I was NEW! Can’t you put yourself in a kid’s shoes? Who’s the adult in this situation?

It didn’t get much better. The administrators were bullies. The (in)famous Les Ollila was the youth pastor at this church (just to give a snapshot at how ‘connected’ this church was in the IFB). Now the last principal I had was a decent albeit quiet soul. But he couldn’t recover what the former several had done. They were awful. The only time any of them spoke to me was once (in Junior High), and that was to yell at me for something he misunderstood. I knew my place after that — “Shut up, you fool.” And I did.

I remember being shamed for doing poorly on my school work. And being shamed for doing well on my school work. At 14, my Bible teacher asked me about my exceptionally preppy socks in front of the class with “How far did you have to chase a n—– down Eight Mile to get those socks?” And at 16, another teacher pronounced me not “marriage material” because I was too smart/strong/out-spoken, or if I did find one, he’d most certainly be hen-pecked. I nearly didn’t go on my senior trip because I didn’t really want to be put at risk for a week that far from home, yet I was shamed into going. Something about hurting my testimony, I can’t remember.

I got psoriasis that year. The stress was that bad. I cried every afternoon at home. I found graffiti in my home room that said “Camille Kaminski will die.”

I told myself that the reason this happened was that the class was so small (22), and that I didn’t have a “niche.” I told myself that once I got to college, it would be better because there’d be more people there who were like me. . . . And on some level that was true. I met my best friend in college, and he’s a peach! And if you know him, the last thing you’d call him is “hen-pecked.”

Two of my male classmates visited me in the years following high-school graduation to personally apologize for the way they treated me. “We were just terrible to you,” one said, “And I’m sorry.” Two different young men and two different times. So . . . there’s that. Really — it’s something. It’s validating and it was difficult for them to do that. I have always appreciated it.

I still get flashbacks. Somebody made a comment on my blog last spring that for some reason triggered a whole bundle of 25-year-old fears. And I was on a Fall trip to Gatlinburg recently and caught a commercial with the “your husband will be hen-pecked” teacher. No kidding! That was just bizarre.

I know now that that church/school was very, very broken. Multiple adulterous affairs among the employees, criminal embezzlement, even at one point housing a money-laundering front for the Mob — all those things contribute to a violent dysfunction that, of course, guarantees that the weak and the odd are mistreated.

For years, I told myself that that place was weird. But now I realize that the harshness and cover-ups that dominated that community persist throughout fundamentalism. The same treatment that I got there as a kid, I would get 20 years later at BJU as an adult.

No wonder we had to leave to find home.

12 thoughts on “Finally home. . . .

  1. wow I forgot about dreams like that. I had the same kind of dreams from my old church/school for years. All sorts of secret passages, winding from the lunch room to the church stage to the gymnasium. I was back several years ago and half way looked to see if they were really there.
    I think it was probably my mind working it’s way around all the confusion and deception.
    I think it’s been several years since I’ve had one of these dreams, they were unfortunately replaced with worse dreams from bj. The secret passage dreams were always explorer based, the bj dreams I’m going back and can’t leave.

  2. wow….heartbreaking to hear that conduct was acceptable in a Christian school. but beautiful that in the midst of all of it you were able to keep your faith in tact…when i get really stressed, my recurring nightmare is finding out for some reason I didn’t really complete all the requirements to graduate from bju….and i have to go back, and buy skirts, and participate in those awful opening “evangelistic” services. sometimes i’ll even tear up in my dreams…
    so glad for you that after all that time at bju you have come to a place of grace and healing.

  3. I just “happened to stumble” on your blog last week. I found this post today and can’t believe you had the same horrible experience at Calvary that I did. I was class of 1990. I was also bullied by my classmates right in front of teachers who did nothing but watch and listen, and also bullied by one teacher. About a year or so ago, my mother made a comment about how fortunate I was to have gone to that school. My head almost exploded as I told her for the first time the disgusting, unchristian things that were said and done to me there. The shock on her face was priceless. She asked why I didn’t tell her these things when they were happening. I asked her if she would have actually believed me and let me go to Roseville HS. She said no. Well, no kidding. If I had left and gone to public school, my whole family would have been outcasts at church, plain and simple. Strange. Sad. Very disturbing.

  4. Hi there. I remember it so well…I went there too. I graduated in 1991 and since I was the only Heidi in a class of 16 I am sure that my post will be no secret as to who wrote it. What I find so ironic and sadistically funny is that when I first read this I was thinking, “Wait a minute…I don’t remember posting my experiences at Calvary”. I SERIOUSLY had to take a double-take to realize that this was not my blog/article…that is how similar my experience and nightmares were.

    That is scary.

    I believe that for me one of the exceptionally few things that I am grateful for from my days at CCS were that the fundamentalist legalism drove me right out of the church for awhile, which drove me right back to grace when I came back. I had to recover from the trauma, and it literally took years. During that time I wanted little to do with anything that remotely reminded me of Christianity, because to me, it meant legalism and I wanted nothing to do with it. I kind of dropped of the planet for awhile. Thankfully, I too found grace in a PCA church…and now I live a very healthy, balanced life, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

  5. Hi Camille,

    Hope you’ve been doing well over the past couple decades. I ran across your blog while doing some research on Bob Jones, and was actually surprised because I always had this idea that you were well liked by teachers and students alike. I guess that was just my perception of things back when I was that age. I’m sincerely sorry if I ever contributed to that misery, as I don’t have the best memories of all my classmates in those days. I was visiting my Mom just this past weekend (she just turned 83) and all of a sudden she asked me if going to Calvary was a good experience. The truth is, it was an absolute nightmare. Todd Summers, Paul Kowalski and myself left Calvary before our senior year started because Bachman actually told our parents that he would be watching EVERYTHING we did, and if we made one single mistake, we would be expelled on the spot (and then he got Todd expelled from Bethany before the school year even started). Bethany wasn’t much better, but I did discover two great friends during that final year of school, who remained good friends until their untimely deaths in 1998 and 2005.

    Todd and I always had our suspicions about corruption in the school and church, but I never knew it was that bad. The mob connection doesn’t totally surprise me, as they had such a firm grip on Roseville during the 70’s, 80’s and part of the 90’s (I worked at Detroit Italian Bakery for a few years, and you probably know who owned that place).

    I think a lot of these bad memories came back for me a few years ago when my son was punched in the face by a daycare worker at Antioch Baptist Church. When I tried to get some support from my brother “Pastor Carlos,” he refused to help and almost acted like Antioch was in the right. Thank God I got my son out of there, because about a year later the Pastor of that church was arrested for molesting older students.

    And yes, I’ve had those same dreams of being in the winding basements and passageways of Calvary, and those dreams are very disturbing indeed.

    These days I split my time between my day job of being an accounting analyst for a Japanese owned automotive company, writing for a magazine, and taking care of my family.

    I’m glad to hear you have a much happier life now with your family and faith. If you ever want to send a friend request, just look up Chris Galvan with a profile pic of Captain America.

    Best Regards,
    Chris Galvan

    1. Wow, Chris. Wow. ((((((((you))))))))) I had no idea you and Paul and Todd were all going through that at the same time. No idea at all. What a tortuous situation, all of us, kicked around like that. I’m so sorry.

      I’m glad your son is safe now. And you. And us all. This is better. God bless. . . . I’m glad to connect with you again.

  6. I think it’s telling that so many people have reoccurring nightmares about christian school and BJU. The IFB has really damaged a lot of people.

  7. Camille…I graduated in ’84 and that is the same kind of treatment that was going on back when I started going to Calvary in 4th grade (1975?) !! My family wasn’t what they considered “upright” Christians, so I took a lot of flack for that from the teachers and administrators. I was constantly being pulled aside and “talked to” about my Christian values. I was guilted into becoming “saved” about 50 times over the course of those 9 years because I was a sinner and going to hell. The hell, fire and brimstone talks really devestated me and that affected me most of my life. Just within the last several years, I’ve been able to overcome all of that and have again found a sense of peace with God. Calvary left me with a huge distaste…and distrust…of organized religion as a whole…and I still haven’t found a church that I can feel at “home” with. There are so many nightmarish stories I could share from my Calvary days…but to talk about them just gives them life for me and I don’t know that I really want to re-visit all that again. Thank you for sharing through your blog though. I’m sorry that others had to go through that as well…but it does help me to know that I wasn’t the only one to feel this way! I’m glad you were able to finally find your peace with things too, Camille. I also would have never guessed that you had such a hard time! I remember you as always happy and smiling…and although I was older, it seemed like you were well-liked! Brings me back to the old adage that “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”. You never know what is going on behind someone’s smile…and that makes me feel sad for you and for all of us that had to grow up in that kind of environment. 🙁

    1. ((((((Shelly))))) Wow. Just wow. Did you go to that one “reunion” we had, Shelly? It was for the whole school. In 1990. I think it was a guy from your class (give or take a year, I guess) who basically laid into the administration. I’ll never forget that. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but I remember feeling layers of shock, empathy, relief, and “I get that!” . . . It was a bunch of big feelings. It took guts to do that.

      Yeah, we all survived! And when I see my kids in their current school? I’m shocked at the level of professionalism and genuine care. It’s amazing!!

  8. Interesting to find this place…. Yeah I know Chris Galvan (I’m Ed’s old friend). And Chris tells it like it is. I am one of those ‘should be burned at the stake’ Catholics as some would say 🙂

    I grew up in Roseville literally down the street from Calvary Baptist and understood the politics quite well. There was some definite corruption with the likes of Ken Millstead and others running amuck. I went to Brablec High, but knew many people (including Pastor Ollila’s daughters) from Calvary Christian. Trust me, word of Calvary Christian got around…. I probably would have went to Sacred Heart High, but it was already closed by then.

    But from the sounds of it (and I’ve heard many stories over the years), the staff at Calvary Christian could fit right in with some old Catholic brothers and sisters in terms of punishment, humiliation, degradation, etc. It is sad because people send their children to a parochial school to get away from some of this crap (and trust me I had a lot of it in public school – by the time I was 8, I’d twice had knives shoved to my throat – literally….).

    I’m posting this because I don’t want to provide a skewed view that it is just a bunch of Calvary Christian old timers ranting and raving…. Now the community at large knew that things weren’t right over there…

    BTW Chris, nice analogy when you worked at Detroit Italian Baking Company! HAHA! The Zerillis and Toccos… At least they are ‘honest’ – you know where they stand… They don’t act “holier than thou” and stab you in the back…

  9. Hi Bill, nice to hear from you. Yes, I remember when Ken Milstead started his “Leisure Leads” Travel Agency, and my own brother almost went into business with him. When I was a senior at Bethany, Ed Johnson found out that Milstead got into trouble again a few years later running a scam in Hohenwald, TN. I also heard that he attempted to rob a bank, but I can’t verify that story…

    Going back to Detroit Italian Bakery for a second, I’ve actually had people ask me to write a book about my experiences there, because there were so many funny stories to tell about that place. I’ll never forget when I was shorted on my paycheck, so I went to the office to let my manager know. Jack “Jackie G” Giannosa overheard me and proceeded to open the HUGE safe they had in the corner (just like the ones you would see in the old gangster movies). He pulled out this huge wad of bills and wanted to pay me back in cash. I thought about it for a minute, and then politely told him that I could wait until it was added to my next paycheck! 🙂

Comments are closed.