And Then Everything Changed Podcast - Episode 20: Escaping the Midwest Church That Was a Cult ft. Benjamin Risha

Episode 20: Escaping the Midwest Church That Was a Cult ft. Benjamin Risha

Cult leaders arranged for Benjamin Risha’s mother, a woman of Jewish descent, and his father, of Lebanese descent, to be married.  Their marriage, and his birth, was intended to be a sign of peace between Arabs and Jews.


The Church leaders hoped to show him off as a sort of street credit to garner legitimacy with other fundamentalist churches in the South and Midwest. As such he was the favored ‘adopted’ son of the cult leaders, where he lived in luxury in a mansion, rode around in limousines, and traveled all while wearing expensive clothes. But he grew up without knowledge of his biological mother who had escaped ‘The Church’ when he was six months old and whom he wouldn’t learn about until he was a teenager. He was raised instead by seven mothers throughout his adolescent years. 

As Benjamin and his friends came of age they were punished for their innate curiosity about the opposite sex and he regularly saw them abused, beaten, and kicked out of their community. When the US Government seized the Church’s assets Benjamin got a glimpse of the world beyond his community for the first time and began to understand that it was not the enclave he had been raised to believe. Once he learned his father’s whereabouts Benjamin contacted him and they planned his escape.

Benjamin has a bachelor’s degree in history, and almost another in philosophy, and sociology.  He has numerous certificates in technology and loves languages. He is an avid fisherman, kayaker, and lifelong learner.  He lives in Seattle, WA, has two dogs, the perfect partner, and friends around. He recently completed half of the Camino de Santiago, loves to travel and loves to tell his story.



I’m a writer, a teacher, a native New Yorker, and I love hearing about people’s lives. When I think back to my elementary school days at PS 20 in Flushing, Queens whenever we began social studies or a history lesson I wasn’t that interested in learning about battles, topography, or politics. What I wanted to know was how people lived: What their families were like, how they adapted to their circumstances, what they ate, how they celebrated, how they felt.
Sociology became my major at Binghamton University and in my life so far I’ve been an actress, a salesperson, a Zoo Keeper’s Aid, a volunteer animal trainer, an ELL teacher, a mother, and a wife. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had, all of which led me to create this podcast which is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve undertaken. I couldn’t ask for a better job than having in-depth conversations with survivors, thought leaders, authors, social justice warriors, and people who believe that we are all connected and then getting to share their stories, insight, and vulnerability with listeners.
I’m so glad you’ve landed on this page. I hope you find stories here which resonate with you and that you’ll tune in every week. 


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