How this SA woman rebuilt her life after 10 years in an American cult

Lesley Smailes was only 18 years old when she left her home in Port Elizabeth to embark on a gap year – something that wasn’t all that common back in 1983.

As she left her mother’s parting message was simple – don’t get married, and don’t join a cult. But that’s exactly what she did.

There was a subconscious rebellion that kicked in and I went and did exactly what she told me not to do.

Lesley Smailes, author of Cult Sister

It would be 10 years before Lesley made it back home to South Africa, a completely changed woman and mother of three, after an arranged marriage and 10 years within a secretive religious cult.

Smailes says she had a traumatic childhood after surviving rape and her father's murder at young age.

I was a very traumatised adolescent when I left home. I was also quite rebellious.

Lesley Smailes, author of Cult Sister

I never did go to university, I entered into the school of hard knocks; life itself.

Lesley Smailes, author of Cult Sister

After arriving to visit family friends Boston, New York, she says she was seduced into joining a secretive religious group of "brothers and sisters".

We traveled a lot.. When we were in a city, different members of the group would live together in a house or in the woods.

Lesley Smailes, author of Cult Sister

It was very small group, run by Jim Roberts... He told me a brother had offered to marry me.

Lesley Smailes, author of Cult Sister

I think Thomas had been praying for a wife for many years. When I came along, he saw this as his answer.

Lesley Smailes, author of Cult Sister

The elder approached me. It was an arranged marriage. I wouldn't encourage anybody to enter into something like that.

Lesley Smailes, author of Cult Sister

_Cult Sister _is the story told in her new book about how she lived with an infamous American cult, and found the courage to come back to South Africa.

Take a listen to the moving story:


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