Brooke’s Story: The Potters Field Case
This is not a smear campaign against the ministry or its leader, Mike Rozell, though I feel sure Potters Field will spin it that way. This is the Lord bringing darkness to light and purifying His Church as countless interns come forward to expose the abuse they experienced in the name of discipleship.
I served with the Ignite program as an intern in 2015. It was in my final week of re-entry in Montana, after nine months of service in Guatemala, that Mike staged a confrontation against me that greatly damaged me on a psychological and spiritual level. I had served faithfully with his ministry for almost ten months; I had a great reputation amongst the people I served with; and I was a week from returning in honor to my home church that sent me.
Mike called all serving interns into a great room, and proceeded to lecture us for two hours on how we needed to be giving to his ministry when we returned home. I have never been pumped for money so hard in my life. I was already sponsoring three Potters Field Kids prior to my time in Ignite, and my support was set to resume the next month; I was not amongst the population he was raging against. But this lecture was not sitting well with me, as I watched him manipulate people in my class to tears with things that weren’t quite true. Specifically, he was working a teammate of mine about how he got to meet his prayer child (who he “sponsored” on a monthly basis) while he served in Guatemala, and were it not for his sponsorship, this little girl would’ve never had the opportunity to participate in PFK club, where she was fed [one meal each week] and given the Gospel. I struggled with how PFM, and Mike, on that night, were representing this, because I also was “sponsoring” a child in Guatemala, and was really excited to meet him…only to find out once I arrived, that the PFK location he attended had been shut down long ago, and he hadn’t been with the ministry in some time. I found out, once I was working in PFM, that my money those last two years wasn’t just going to “Oscar” in Guatemala, but that it was going to PFM as a whole, being distributed amongst their three ministries: the touring ministry with Mike and Pam, the Ignite program, and finally Potters Field Kids. Let me disclaim that all of this is mentioned in the small print of their sponsorship brochures, and I’m told by them that ministries like World Vision and Compassion International operate in much the same manner. But I just struggled with why we were approaching marketing in this way, when the general impression, at least back then, was that you were supporting X child directly. (In essence, you weren’t given a picture of Mike and Pam’s smiling faces saying, “Send us to the next church,” or of my smiling face, saying, “Sponsor my ten months in Ignite.” You were given a picture of Oscar in Guatemala’s face, where you felt your monthly donation covered the expenses of this impoverished child in a foreign country.) At one point, Mike shouted to us, “Does anyone have a problem with this??” and gave us a long time to respond. I almost raised my hand in that moment, but decided instead to pull him aside privately after his lecture was finished.
In my time in Ignite, I knew Mike to be unpredictable, rash, and extreme as a person, but I had only seen it in the contexts of when he was being over the top fun, when he was super passionate about something important and trying to get his point across in a creative way, or when he was burnt up over an issue of righteous anger. He and I had had several conversations over the last ten months; he had a sort of liking and respect toward me; and I thought we shared a certain rapport. My honest assumption was that, while his lecture over money didn’t sit well with me, there was probably something I wasn’t understanding about ministry and how to run a business, and if I just had an honest conversation with him about it, I would probably understand why he was going about sponsorship as he was.
I walked up to Mike after his lecture was complete and asked to talk to him. From my tone to my phrasing, I approached him with all humility and began to explain what I was struggling with, framing my entire struggle as a question, rather than a point. I wanted to know why Potters Field was presenting their sponsorship in this way. I got about 2-4 sentences in, when his eyes went ablaze, and he seethed at me, “YOU HAVE ACCUSED A PASTOR!” (something he and his assistant would repeatedly quote to me as foul action on my part, twisting the verse from 1 Timothy 5:19). From there, it’s like the room turned upside down. He twisted my words, added to them, and took everything I said wildly out of context. He called his assistant, JoJo, to join, gave her a ten second inaccurate summary of what I had said, and she immediately lit into me, so close to my face I could feel her breath against my cheek: “AFTER EVERYTHING HE’S DONE FOR YOU, AFTER EVERYTHING, YOU WOULD DARE TO…” she trailed on.
I pleaded with him, “Pastor Mike, no, please understand! This is not what I’m saying! I’m not accusing you of anything! I’m asking a QUESTION!” As he would twist my words in different ways, I would beg him to hear me out. I lost concept of time, but he and his assistant were probably raging at me for 1.5-2.5 hours in the corner of that room that night. He let me know, once we were finished, that “Satan had used me to deeply discourage him” in the ministry. I went to bed, terrified of what was going to happen to me. I knew Mike was volatile and rash enough to have someone storm my room that night, kick me out of the house, and send me on a plane the next morning. I was at the end of ten months of volunteer work; I didn’t have the money to pay for another flight. I knew my parents would bail me out, should I contact them, but I was so messed up in the head at that point that to contact them felt like betraying the call I felt God had given me to Ignite, and I only had one week left.
I knew rationally that what happened that night did not add up. I had never had a conversation like this before in my life. 2+2 simply did not equal 4. For the humility and gentleness I approached him with just to have a conversation, I was getting the full wrath of the heaviest rebuke he could manufacture.
The next morning, our class was called to the house that Ignite 2.0 (second year) female interns were living in for an impromptu meeting. Mike came in with his leadership team, and staged a dramatic meeting. He let us know an “accusation” had been levied against him by an intern. He shared he barely slept a wink that night, and he and Pam were “this close” to shutting down their entire ministry on account of this intern. He told us how he had discipleship all wrong, and if he was really going to train us young adults to follow the Lord Jesus, it was going to have to get a LOT more intense. There was a staircase behind him in the living room of this house, and while addressing us, he shouted, “YOU THINK YOU CAN TALK TO ME LIKE THIS,” and he waved his hand at forehead level, “LIKE PASTOR JIM, OR PASTOR STEVE MILLER, OR PASTOR STEVE VENABLE,” and then he climbed the staircase to the top and shouted, “BUT GOD HAS PUT ME IN THIS POSITION!” and waved his hand from himself, downwards at us.
I knew what he had just said was blasphemous, that no position greater than a pastor existed in Biblical church structure, but it was so immensely confusing at the time, because I looked back at Pastor Steve Venable, who was sitting at the bottom of those stairs, nodding his head along to what Mike said. Whatever mistrust I had toward Mike, I did not share toward his pastoral leadership team. I had had the most enriching experience under the shepherding of the gentle and servant-hearted Pastor Jim Randall. I had sat in hours of classes and knew first-hand the depth of theological understanding and study Pastor Steve Venable had. And I was personally pastored by Pastor Steve Miller, who had just joined the ministry that year, at my home church in Chicago since 2010, and I had greatly benefited from his years of investment, support, and spiritual guidance. How all of these godly men stood alongside Mike, I couldn’t wrap my mind around, and for years, it led me to circle back, “They can’t all be wrong. It must be me.”
At the end of Mike’s address to the class, he threw an envelope at me. I didn’t even have to open it. I knew it was every penny I had ever given the ministry in sponsorship. I had earlier that morning determined that, whatever it took, I was going to make things right with the ministry. I didn’t understand what had happened, but I reasoned that since I felt called to this ministry, God called me under the authority of Mike, and I had somehow transgressed that authority. Mike had laughed in my face the night before at how I, a mere intern, would dare to try to talk to him about how to manage his ministry, when fellow pastors don’t even make this attempt; he sneered at me for how full of arrogance I was. I have always known I have a pride problem. It’s something I consistently repent of and ask the Lord to change in me. So I reasoned that even if I don’t understand how I set him off, he’s saying I’m proud; I know I’m proud; and I can at least apologize for that.
I knocked on the door to his office. He saw me and immediately snapped, “I don’t want to see you!” I threw my hands up in the air and said, “I’m here to repent!” He called his assistant, JoJo, in the room, saying he “needed a witness.” I began, “Pastor Mike, I don’t understand everything that has gone on over the last day, but I recognize that I’m called under your authority, and that I’ve offended you deeply, and I want to take ownership of that and apologize to you for it. I know I have a pride problem, so I want to apologize for the arrogance with which I approached you and ask for your forgiveness.” He immediately sneered, “This? This isn’t repentance!” And it was in that moment that I understood he was not going to be satisfied until he had completely broken me.
Mike Rozell proceeded to berate me in a way I have never been berated in my life. He is very good at reading people and sizing up their insecurities, and he goes after those insecurities viciously. In this office meeting, he shared anecdotes, allegedly one from his wife, Pam, and one from his worship leader, Katie, who both claimed to spiritually intuit from brief snapshot incidents with me, like me stepping out to use the restroom during a Bible study, how I was full of arrogance and pride. In one account, the worship leader reportedly advised, “She doesn’t need to be anywhere near worship.”
Mike told me in his office that, because of my pride, I shouldn’t be anywhere near worship; I shouldn’t be anywhere near ministry. He told me that if I tried to step down as worship leader of Blue Island, I wouldn’t be able to stay in the church, because of the humiliation. He told me I was a joke to my entire class, that when I entered a room they could just smell the arrogance coming off of me, and insinuated that they were only putting up with me. He told me I would never be like him, a “simple-minded” person who could take God at His Word in faith, without getting all heady and trapped in my own intellectualism, and that I would never know the fullness of walking with the Lord as He did, as a result of my own intellectual makeup. He shouted, “PHARISEE!!!! PHARISEE!!!” straight in my face, leaning over the desk that separated the two of us. And his big finish was, “And that boy you want to marry? Dear sister, I beg of you! I beg of you! DON’T DO IT! YOU WOULD RUIN HIM! YOU WOULD RUIN HIM!!!” And it was at that point that he had me in tears, totally broken, blubbering for forgiveness, telling him how I hated myself, I hated my mind, I wished I could have a simple faith, etc. It was at that point he switched gears. He began to comfort me with all gentleness, saying, “This, this is repentance!”
I hated myself in that moment, because I knew at the time he was manipulating me, I was also manipulating him. I didn’t actually believe everything was all my fault. I knew the math didn’t add up. I did resent my own intellectualism, but I had kicked into survival mode and was more or less telling him what he wanted to hear. I left that office so reduced to nothing. We left for an outreach at an Indian reservation that night, and on the long bus ride, tears poured down my face, as I frantically repeated to myself, “I can’t remember the Gospel. I can’t remember the Gospel. I thought I knew repentance. I can’t remember the Gospel.”
The Lord did some beautiful things between Him and I in the next forty-eight hours to stabilize me, and I spent the remaining five or so days staying as under the radar as possible. Mike passed a message on to me through Jim Randall the day after, “Tell Brooke I love her.” I received the message with a forced smile and thanked him. I wrote an apology letter to Pam for how I had offended her and discouraged her in ministry. I apologized to my class for my arrogance and pride problem. Mostly, I spent the next several days refusing to say a word to anyone about what had happened and trying my best to create zero waves until I was on that plane out of Kalispell. I rejoiced inside when I went through security at the local airport on my way home and knew I would never return to this ministry.
For the next year, only my then-boyfriend (now husband), my pastoral authority, and a couple that mentored me prior to my departure for Ignite knew what had happened that last week in Montana. I was so spooked to share any of it. During your time on the field, Potters Field has you reading all of this literature on Biblical submission. They make gossip a capital sin. They’re constantly asking you to question what is Biblical vs what is American, and it’s not a bad question to ask, but when a church authority is redefining the rules of the game to explain their sin (what is real discipleship, what is godly rebuke, what is godly submission), it has a way of really muddying the waters. Never mind what you know in your home church experience, would Jesus do this? Would Paul say this? For probably two years, I felt like the Lord might take my next breath, like Ananias and Sapphira, if I dared to speak against Mike or the ministry, or call them into question. I got bolder to share with my family and close friends what had happened. Only a little over a year ago did the nightmares stop that Mike was trying to kill me or my family.
I consider myself to have experienced real brain-washing from this ministry and have experienced real PTSD. He never drove me to question the existence of God, but he definitely shook my theological understanding and confidence in serving in ministry in ways that I am still wrestling with today. I have healed so much, but there’s still a lingering cynicism and distrust toward God and a skepticism toward church authority that I struggle with, and you can pray for me about that.
I fully endorse the findings of this report by the Phoenix Preacher. I have not witnessed the sexual comments allegation, but I have witnessed first-hand everything else. If you don’t believe me, or reason that I am only an embittered case of failed church discipline, please take time to read the testimonies of other interns in the comments section of the Phoenix Preacher’s posts. It appears the Lord has provided the second and third witnesses that Mike demanded from 1 Timothy 5:19 by the droves…
This is a cult. Where I was hesitant to speak against it in the past, for fear I might be attacking God’s own church, I am bold to speak about it today. Stop financially supporting this ministry. If you care about the work in Guatemala, I can recommend a wonderful church led by Pastor Luis Sanchez that you can support, or wonderful missionaries that run an incredible kids-centered ministry that you can send your money to. But please sever your ties with Potters Field, because they are actively destroying lives and shipwrecking the spiritual walks of young adults who just want to serve the Lord with their whole hearts. They use a lot of intimidation, shaming, and guilt to keep their past or present interns from speaking out against them. They have mandatory social media assignments for all serving in the ministry to promote their work. It is not all as it seems. Please review the testimonies available and withdraw your support of Potters Field Ministries.