Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Miracle of an Apology

It has been 15 plus years since I left YWAM Honolulu.  I never even dared to dream I would get an apology after all of these years from the one who was the most abusive, but it came, just a few days ago:

"I know that this letter is long over due. I am sorry that it has taken me this long to address this issue. In reflection to our interaction on the base so many years ago I realize that I did not treat you the way you should have been treated. I did not value you and  your gifts as God would value these. I am truly sorry for the way I treated you and did not hold you as precious in the sight of God. I did realize that my leadership style was not the way that I should of lead. I did honestly not try to do you any disservice as we were in ywam. I do realize now that I did. I am truly very sorry for our interaction during our time together in Ywam. I hope that you can forgive me. I too want to grow in the Lord and be used as He would use me. If you would like to discuss specific issues that are troubling you I would be open to what ever you would like to discuss."

Here was my response:


I did not write back immediately, as I wanted some time to think & pray about what my response should be. I appreciate your apology. I believe it is sincere. I want you to know I have forgiven you many times over the last 15 plus years. I often prayed for you over the years as well. I prayed God would soften your heart & bless you and your family.

I could just say, “I forgive you” and leave it at that, but I think it trivializes the past 15+ years as to the affects of spiritual abuse in my life from my latter-years in YWAM. I feel I need to share the results of the abuse with you. This is not to “punish” or “make you feel bad”, but coming from an honest, broken heart. You were not the only one who was abusive. Some of the council members were abusive, simply by saying nothing.

Whether or not we are spiritually abused, we can do nothing to turn back the clock & make the affects go away, but how we deal with the abuse is our own responsibility.

I have been reading my journals the past few weeks, starting with 1970. I was afraid to read through the YWAM years, but felt I should face my demons with the hope that it would help bring continued healing. I had forgotten that at one time, we were friends. We went coffee picking on Tantalus & would sometimes go for coffee. I also remember bringing your wife some sugar-free chocolates from the chocolate shop I worked at when I heard she had diabetes. It made me wonder what went wrong.

It shocked me, when at the Healing for the Nations (HFTN) retreat, that the base paid over $1,000. to send me to, they actually told me that the leadership at YWAM Honolulu was dysfunctional. One woman in leadership there even laughed while I was there & said, “You don't realize how normal you are”. Being at HFTN made me feel safe in a Christian environment for the first time in my life. I could take the mask off I had had to wear at YWAM to survive & actually experienced unconditional love. This was the body of Christ as God intended. How I hated to leave.

After I got back to the base from the retreat, I was so excited at all God had shown me to share with the base leadership & others on base. Several weeks after I shared with the council members, one of them told me, “You know, all you shared after you got back from the retreat? They didn't buy it”.

My time in YWAM stripped me of all self-esteem and identity. When I left, after crying out to God for years for a way of escape, I felt spiritually & emotionally dead. I had one local pastor ask why I did not just leave years earlier. I told him that I did not feel I had the self-confidence to survive.

A few years after I had left YWAM, I started seeing a counselor to help me deal with my father's impending death from leukemia. I shared a lot of the stuff that went on at YWAM & he told me that “On a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the worst, the ordeal I suffered was an 11”.

It wasn't long after I got out, the nightmares of being back in YWAM began. I would have them 2-3 times a week, Some were so vivid, I would feel emotionally drained when I got up. They usually centered around me being back at the base & saying to myself, “After all I went through, after all I now know, how could I have been sucked back in to this cult”?

I also shared the same things with my doctor who is also an Orthodox priest. He told me that due to the affect my time in the group had on my life, I would probably always have those bad dreams.

To this day, the words “YWAM, missions, ministry and even church” give me a knot in my stomach. I was angry at God when I left YWAM for allowing a “Christian” environment to be so abusive. I tried to ask him, “Why Lord”, but there would be no response.

I felt the healing begin when I started speaking out at what happened during my years at YWAM. I started a blog I wrote about it in, but never mentioned names, as that was not my purpose. I started getting responses from people who came across my blog on the internet. Some thought it was awful I could speak against an organization “which was doing so much good”. I also started hearing from people who had been spiritually abused at YWAM Honolulu, as well as other bases around the world. I also heard from mothers who were concerned that their children were considering YWAM and came across my blog.

More than one person told me that after sharing several e-mails with them about my time in YWAM, the information helped keep their child from going to do a DTS & they found a ministry opportunity outside of YWAM. I began to start seeing that God best uses people in situations to minister to people who've been through a similar situation.

I also started a private Facebook group on YWAM Spiritual Abuse where people can share about their experiences with abuse in YWAM & how some of them have been able to experience healing since then. There are now over 20 members, many of whom were with the Honolulu base.

All this time, even now, I do not go to church, though I have my quiet times with the Lord. If God wants me to go to church, He can make it known in His perfect timing. I still associate “Christian” leadership with abuse, and will not put myself in that situation again. The Church after all is the body of Christ, not a physical building.

I have grown a lot in my walk with God since I left YWAM in 1995. Slowly, I have experienced healing & though I still have dreams about being back in YWAM, they do not have the affect on me they once did, nor are they as often.

I sometimes walk past the Honolulu base and pray that that which is of God would multiply and that which is not, will be destroyed.

A year ago at this time, I was battling prostate cancer. I had surgery & went through almost two months of daily radiation, except for weekends. I have told several people that as difficult as this time was in my life, what I went through in YWAM was much worse. The only worse event in my life was dealing with my father's death. During my treatment, I sensed God's presence & while waiting in the waiting room for my daily radiation, used that time to pray silently for other patients waiting for their turn at radiation and/or chemo.

When I told my mother I had cancer her response was, “Now is when you need a church family”. Immediately, I thought to myself, “Why would I want that?” I just associated church with abuse. It may seem strange seeing that my own father was a minister who lived during the week what he preached on Sundays.

I am the happiest now, I have ever been in my life. Not to mean I have “arrived”, or don't have a lot more growth & healing to take place, but I am at peace. I work on my art & photography of God's creation and try & go hiking at least twice a week if the weather cooperates. It is wonderful to talk with the Lord in His creation. I feel closest to Him there & spend time in praise and worship as I hike. I have lived 27 years in Hawai'i and am not in debt. I have much to be thankful for. It is important to focus on what we have to be thankful for and our blessings rather than what we don't have and the “what ifs”.

Back at the HFTN retreat, one of the women who was in leadership there who had a degree in psychology and art saw some samples of my work & told me “You should be doing your art full time. God gives us in life, the gifts He intends us to use. As you are doing your art, it is a form of worship, as you are being who God created you to be.” That was so freeing. I never felt my art work was “spiritual” in YWAM. I am now able to be the individual God created me to be. We are all individuals, not meant to be a carbon copy of someone else's vision or calling.

Our free-will is a precious gift from God, never to be taken from us or given to another person who tell us they are our spiritual authority. When I was in YWAM, I would sometimes hear, “Are YOU questioning MY authority”? Now, I would have the strength to say, “hell, ya'”! Humans are fallible. Only God isn't.

I do not know what God has in store for me, but can trust that even though I often don't understand why things happen as they do, God can make good out of evil and bring growth & healing from pain. He can also use that pain in giving hope & healing to others.

Thank you again for apologizing. I pray God continues to work in your life (and in mine) to make you the man he intended you to be, and that is one with more & more Christ-like attributes.

Aloha ke Akua

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Re-living my Twelve Years at YWAM Honolulu

Over the past few weeks, I read through my journals from my years in YWAM from 1983 to 1995. They took a few weeks to read. I was reluctant to “re-live” those years, but felt it was healthy to “face my demons”. What surprised me is that I was not bombarded with nightmares of YWAM while I was reading through those years. 

The thing that most come to mind was how many good friends I had on base who were there for me & I for them. I miss that fellowship.

I also saw that early on, I had to put on the mask of who I felt the leadership wanted me to be. We were stripped of our free-will, which is a precious gift from God.

So often, I felt I had no one to turn to who could or would do anything about the abuse. I often felt so alone, even with my YWAM friends.

I read again & again & again of my bouts of chronic fatigue. This would manifest after a confrontation or just by holding in things I wished I could have shared without fear of retribution by a low fever and extreme fatigue & weariness. After I left YWAM, I have not had an episode of chronic fatigue even once a year.

I realize how much God has brought healing & refreshment to my life since I got out of YWAM, and how especially the few months after I left, how God would provide for me by selling my art work, and through the encouragement & kindness of friends who were still in YWAM (but eventually got out as well).

Reading those journals made me realize all the more how we must not live in fear, and how we must speak up when ourselves or others are being abused. I have so far to go in my walk with God, to fully trust Him & keep my eyes on the Lord rather than abusive persons or situations.

People have often wanted me to shut up about anything negative about YWAM “because all of the good the organization still does”. The good YWAM may do does not negate the abuse that is still committed by leadership there. There MUST be an avenue for people who feel abused in YWAM to be able to address it without fear of retribution from leadership. This accountability MUST be communicated to all schools & staff on how to address these issues.

I will continue to speak up when I see or hear of abuse, wherever it is found & pray others will as well. This is what will help, in some small way, to bring about change and healing.

It almost surprised me yesterday when a person who is in leadership of another international ministry to countries which are for the most part closed, asked me if I might be interested in some short-term ministry opportunities with them as a photographer. I had been involved with this person years ago in ministry (but this is a new one she is involved in) and was surprised that I would actually consider it (It is NOT YWAM).

Another thing that was clear in my journals was God's faithfulness. His faithfulness in friendship, finances, encouragement in my artistic gifts, when I did not feel valued in YWAM and his faithfulness in freeing me from the bondage I was in for 12 years to YWAM. His timing is rarely our timing, but His timing is perfect timing & when He decides to move, it can be amazingly fast!

I will leave this observation with:
Ecclesiastes 4:1 “Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless. (NLT)”

We MUST speak up for the oppressed!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Elephant in the Room

Photo by Dr. Drew Kovach

I think that often in the Christian experience, we ignore the elephant in the room. My father was a minister & both he & my mother served the Lord in ministry for over 50 years. They were not perfect, but an example of trusting God and living what they preached. My father was the same man behind the pulpit as he was at home. He and my mother had the kind of relationship that I naively thought all parents had growing up. They showed love & respect for one another and were each others best friends.

About six years ago, my father was diagnosed with leukemia and given 2 weeks to live. We were all shocked, as dad had been basically healthy most of his life. He in fact lived another 4 months. Mom lived with him in an assisted living home run by a lady from their church who gouged them $4,000. a month financially until dad died & mom was moved to a place closer to my sister for ¼ the price!

No one knows how we will react to our ultimate impending humanity, but I was surprised that after a lifetime of serving God, my father retreated emotionally and never said anything positive about soon being with his Saviour, or his family & friends who'd gone to be with Jesus before him. I did not expect him to be excited to die & leave the earthly family he loved dearly, but it was upsetting to me how he dealt or did not deal with death. He was bathed in prayer by family & friends, and members of previous churches, but ultimately died.

I always felt that when we needed God's grace most, we would sense God's presence in the midst of intense pain and sorrow, but this was not the case with my father's death. God seemed so distant in the whole situation.

My mother had to go to a nursing home recently since she could no longer care for herself in the assisted living apartment she had lived in for several years after my father's death. My sister lives in the same town as she does and does what she can and then some for her. She has had more patience and grace in caring for mom than I know I could, though I love her dearly.

Now, it is hard for me to even dial the phone number to talk to mom as she often talks about just wanting to die, and her failing health. There is never anything that is hopeful or optimistic in our conversation. I try & encourage her, but feel like I am powerless in making her feel better. She also talks about people who help care for her who are unkind or make her wait for over an hour when they say they will be right back.

Mom feels like there are no people where she is living now that are even a possibility in developing a friendship with. Having stayed a week where she lives recently and visiting her for hours on end each day, I can see why she would say that. We would wait at meal times for our dinner to be served and see tables of several people not saying a word to one another and others with their heads hanging down, as if they had given up or were already mentally gone.

Mom recently mentioned that she felt bad that this was how the end of her life has become. I can not help but agree.

I have a friend who is not a Christian who flew thousands of miles to be with his mother who is having surgery tomorrow after falling & his father who has alzheimer's and was just put in hospital as well. It is hard to know what to say to encourage him when as a Christian, whose parents who served the Lord with gladness for a lifetime, also seem abandoned by their God in the end.

The elephant in the room is the knowledge that living for the Lord often does not end in a happier ever after this side of Glory. Christians often ignore this reality. I can not stand hearing Christians who, no matter what you share with them say something like, “praise the Lord anyhow”. Yes, we should praise God for who he is in spite of our circumstances, but that does not lessen the sorrow and pain in our lives & in the lives of loved ones.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It Takes Strength to be Weak

I feel God is doing something to heal those who have been spiritually abused. I am not from a charismatic “signs and wonders” kind of background and this is not a “thus saith the Lord”. For the longest time after I left YWAM, I felt guilty for even mentioning spiritual abuse and YWAM in the same sentence.

When I was sent to Healing for the Nations in Colorado (now based in Georgia) in 1995, a woman named Miriam who was attending the retreat from Holland told me “It takes strength to be weak”. I have thought about that several times since then.

As I have come forth and exposed what I experienced during my time at YWAM Honolulu, I have realized that by being real and sharing that reality, others (even former base leaders) have felt they could feel free to share what they went through & the dysfunction they experienced.

A minority of people have chastised or rebuked me for this openness. Some have not responded either way. Others have felt the floodgates of freedom to share from their bruised and aching hearts as to what they too have experienced.

It is important for us to support and encourage those who have felt abused. Because YWAM is often a respecter of persons, people on the same base at the same time can often experience a different reality. One may find it healthy whilst another feels it abusive.

I do not have the expertise to think I can bring another to healing, but I can point people to Jesus, the only One who can bring true healing and Life. I can also share my experience and listen when others share theirs. I can pray for breakthroughs and healing and that positive Christian role models will come into the lives of the wounded. I have a long way to be totally healed, but I at least there has been healing. Living in a sinful world where we all have a sin nature, I know that I won't be totally healed until I see the Saviour, but I can grow in that direction.

I pray I will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in being an encouragement to others.

I want to encourage those who have experienced spiritual abuse at any YWAM base around the world to join a new Facebook group I have started, “Spiritual Abuse in YWAM”.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tropical Flamingo

15 3/4 x 19 3/4
watercolor © 2010
$1150. USD

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve in Palolo Valley

A HUGE string of firecrackers ready to be set off

I had a really fun New Year's Eve with the family of the Hawaiian bus driver I met while going to radiation every day. They spent hundreds of dollars on fireworks and we had ono local grinds. It was a good way to start the New Year. A reminder that in the midst of a difficult trial, God can bring something good out of it.