A teacher whose road to freedom led her to unexpected places

Giovanna Wood

Giovanna Wood 1942 –

“Gio” grew up on the Bruderhof, but in her early twenties, she struck out on her own, determined to reinvent herself. By the late 1960s she was running a daycare in an inner-city slum, and intent on building a new society, free of oppression. 

It wasn’t long before she found what she thought she was looking for: Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, a Korean cult that attracted thousands of young Americans in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She moved into a house with other members and quickly became a zealous recruiter for the group.

Over time, however, life among the “Moonies” began to lose its luster: “I saw brainwashing, corruption, the abuse of power.” On a visit home to say goodbye to her dying father, the scales fell from her eyes: “Suddenly I knew that Jesus was the only way for me, and the truth; that I was living a lie; and that my bondage to Moon was nothing but darkness.”

Autumn 1942
So we forsook our life that we might live,
Gave up all gifts, to have true gifts to give.
Spent our young lives to find the heart of youth,
Left earthly wisdom that we might know truth –
O God of life, who by a death unlocks
One truth entire from human paradox,
Through love’s diversity, so make us one
To love all men in loving Thee alone.
Eileen Robertshaw, Teacher and Bruderhof member

Soon Gio and a circle of similarly disaffected housemates, all members of the cult, were reading the Gospels together. By the mid-1970s, nine of them had left the Moonies and come to the Bruderhof. Extricating themselves cost a legal battle. For Gio, it ultimately meant a separation from her husband, Allen, a fellow Moonie. Shortly after their daughter was born, he chose a different path, while she decided to follow her calling with the community.

A teacher at the Bruderhof ever since her return, Gio recently retired from the classroom. But she still loves young people. Sometimes she will warn them against confusing freedom with rebellion: “I thought freedom meant setting aside old values, deciding for myself what was right and wrong, and using my own potential to make a difference in the world. Then I found Jesus. His teachings are not narrow, but based on love, and that love alone is freedom. That love and freedom is what I found here, and what I have come to embrace.”

In 2018, in a remarkable turn of events, Allen, who also left the Moonies in the 1970s and spent years raising cult awareness and working with ex-members of cults, returned to her. In June 2019, after forty years of separation, their marriage was restored at a festive ceremony of reconciliation at the Mount, a Bruderhof north of New York City where they now live near their daughter, Serena, her husband, and their five children.

Leonard passes on pottery skills to his grandson.
Leonard passes on pottery skills to his grandson.

Your Turn

Enter your questions or reactions here and we’ll pass it on to author Clare Stober.

The Book

A Window into a Christian Community at 100 Years

With photography by British photojournalist Danny Burrows, this 300-page hardcover book celebrates what is possible when people take a leap of faith. It will inspire anyone working to build a more just, peaceful, and sustainable future.

Book Cover in blue

Get a Sneak Preview

Sign-up below to download a free sampler of this book. You'll also be notified by email as new stories are posted.

We will never share your email address with unrelated third parties. Read our Privacy Policy.