Anna LeBaron, daughter of a violent cult leader, did not know fatherly love – until she met her Heavenly dad.
Charles Manson is an American criminal and the former leader of a 1960s cult. His followers committed nine murders in five weeks in 1969.
In 1971 he was found guilty of conspiracy to commit seven murders. He is currently at Corcoran State Prison, serving the first of his nine concurrent life sentences.
Imagine your father being known as the "Mormon Charles Manson".
Anna LeBaron grew up in a violent, fundamentalist, polygamist cult, she tells Christianity Today – with her father Ervil LeBaron at the top.
In the 1970s and '80s Ervil commanded followers to carry out mob-style hits on his opponents – "hot lead, cold steel one-way tickets to hell".
Anna remembers moving from place to place to flee the authorities, with the FBI and Mexican police raiding their house soon after they had left it.
"We experienced poverty of mind, spirit, and body," Anna says.
"It doesn't take a mathematical genius to realize that one man cannot support 13 wives and over 50 children.
"Everyone, even young children, worked long hours in grueling conditions to ensure we didn't starve. Even so, we regularly scavenged – or outright stole – to meet basic food and clothing needs."
The Mexican police finally tracked Ervil down and he was sentenced to life in prison in Utah.
But Anna was left confused about who Jesus was, despite having spent her whole life in a religious group that claimed to believe the Bible.
"When anyone in our tight-knit community spoke the name of Jesus or mentioned Christianity," she says, "they did so with contempt and derision."
After her father's imprisonment, one of Anna's brothers took her and other cult members from Denver to Houston, where Anna experienced her "first taste of a stable, non-chaotic life".
It was a year later, while she was still a teenager, that Anna got a call from her mother. Ervil had died in his prison cell, she told Anna, and she was coming to take her back to Denver, back to the cult.
Anna escaped, hiding away in a hotel for three days until her mother gave up looking for her. She then moved in with her sister Lillian, who was married with six children at the time.
Anna was 13.
Considering it at least a vast improvement from the local public schools, Lillian enrolled Anna in a Christian school. There, for the first time, she learned about who Jesus really was.
"I learned how Jesus, God's Son, was sent to earth to die on the cross for my sin," she says.
"I learned that Jesus lived, was crucified, and was raised from the dead."
At a youth camp Anna got an opportunity to ask Jesus to come into her life and change her.
"That night, God took the broken heart of a 13-year-old girl in his hands, and since then He has been gradually restoring the wholeness that my chaotic childhood smashed to pieces.
His hands ”"I left the retreat a different person than when I arrived. I didn't understand everything about God or the Bible, but I had a willing heart and lots of friends around to help me learn what I needed to know."
Since she had not spent a lot of time with her father and the only photos she had of him were newspaper clippings from his arrest, Anna did not mourn for Ervil the way other children might.
Still, his death, and his impact on her life while he was alive, affected her deeply. Anna says she found comfort in learning God was a "father to the fatherless", because she had never experienced a father's closeness or a father's love in all her childhood years.
"My faith has carried me through the dark valleys I've walked on my healing journey," she says.
"It has helped me persevere through intense fear, tragedy, and multiple murders of people I love.
"As a child, I knew myself only as the polygamist's daughter. But when I came to truly know and experience God as my father, He shattered the evil, all-consuming grip my earthly father had on my life.
"I began to find my identity as a daughter of God," Anna adds, "and learned to experience true freedom in and through Jesus Christ alone."•