From A Mom’s Heart: The Potters Field Story
“How could any parent let their kid…”
PFM had been coming to our church periodically for at least the decade that we’d been attending. We supported them, our church supported them. Our church sent short term missions teams of all ages off and on for years to different PFM locations around the globe. We had multiple young adults go through Ignite and at least one other serving beyond Ignite.
Enter our teenager, a good kid but didn’t know if they were a Christian or if they wanted to be, didn’t have a lot of drive or direction but was never a troublemaker either. They didn’t enjoy going to church, rolled their eyes when we’d ask them to go. As a senior in HS they decide to give their life to Jesus and got baptized. From then, they’re on fire for the Lord. About that time, our church was sending a team for a short term missions trip through PFM. My kid went, and it touched them, ready to go ‘all in’ for Jesus and wanted to pursue missions. While on a short term trip, they learned of Ignite, that sounded like something so fun and close to The Lord. Our church supported us. We held fundraisers and raised the money with friends, family and the the church’s help for our kid to attend Ignite.
We didn’t think much of not hearing from them for a couple weeks. We figured they were off the grid, learning the ropes, serving with the group. Learning a new culture! We trusted them. When they did call they were in love with being in Guatemala, training, learning so much about Jesus, couldn’t get enough of the Bible. They did devotions, my kid was digging into scripture even more, praying and learning about relationship with The Lord like never before. As parents, we were grateful. Grateful for the growth and maturity in the Lord, in traveling after high school since they weren’t sure if ready for college yet. This was a great gap filler helping them ‘find themself’. I’ll take this over falling into a redundant job or partying teenager seeking identity in worldly things. The field assignment was the tour truck, they got to travel all over the US and when they had a couple months of no touring, they were sent for a small time in Cambodia. Traveling the world for Jesus and couldn’t be happier.
After Ignite they came home for a few weeks, a different person, in a positive way. Seemed more mature, independent, Jesus centered and focused. Got up early in the mornings to read their Bible. They went to studies at church and even spoke at a big event and at a Sunday service on how God had grabbed ahold of their heart while in Ignite.
When Mike Rozell called and asked if they’d like to come back on missions staff, what could we argue? It has seemed nothing but positive growth so far.
Now, our church has many missionaries in different programs all over the world. Most of them are donations based funding, they don’t get a paycheck to be missionaries. The church raises funds and/or supports the missionaries on a monthly basis. When our kid found a program that actually paid THEM to be there, we didn’t see it as a tiny wage, we saw it as a blessing that we had a program we didn’t have to constantly fundraise and seek the churches help for. As my kid saw themself, they were a missionary, doing God’s work and was humbled that’s they got paid without having to worry about constant funding. Some of these ‘missionaries’ worked in the Mudman restaurant, it’s all part of the greater mission.
We saw red flags right off the bat. We didn’t understand why they were asked back into missions to work in a restaurant, too many hours a week and only have days off were required in church and bible studies. We rarely heard from our own kid, they were always exhausted. We heard phrases and bible verses from them at times that confused us and seemed twisted from truth, to defend the long hours and small pay. So, we went for a visit, with the thought we’d maybe investigate this situation a bit and probably try to convince them it was time to come home and we’d help find other passions and direction. But when we questioned it, they’d say “I’m going to go to ‘….’ with a missions team, I just need to put my time here first in like everyone else”. We’d also hear “I have a job I love, with friends I love, for a purpose I love. I sincerely think of the little kids I’ve met in Guat and Cambodia as I serve burgers and I wouldn’t have it any other way”. We voiced our concerns and went home, worried, confused. We prayed, we trusted The Lord. God had given me an overwhelming peace and He told me “it’s ok, I have a purpose for them here”.
We soon met another person through our church that had recently been through a horrific “Pastor Mike Survivor Story”. I panicked, I cried and lost sleep. I called and said we were coming to get you ASAP. My child had all the right words, calmed us. Told us the ‘other side’ of that story, about all the terrible stuff that person and many others were causing in the ministry and it’s better now that they’re gone. We were convinced it was fine but we still thought the stories had too many holes.
Now, remember our ‘kid’ was also 18, 19, 20 years old through this time, we couldn’t force them to do anything, just strongly suggest or try to open their eyes to things. The harder we pressed in about the controversies we heard and thought about, the less contact we got. We only had prayer.
Our home pastor notified us that they were investigating the accusations and he even went there and visited to check in on our kid as well. He reported back that he was as concerned and confused as us on the conflicting stories and will continue to press into the situation. We went a second time and had similar conversations. Our kid consistently reminded us that regardless of others’ hearts, conflicts or disagreements, they were in this for God. God the ultimate authority and if Pastor Mike was wrong, or his heart wasn’t right, it would not waiver their own faith. “That’s between Pastor Mike and God Himself”. They genuinely didn’t seem to see all the red flags in any area. We had to step back and watch our own kid walk this path on their own. Our kid, including Ignite, spent a little over 3 years with Potter’s Field Program. The last year was hard because people asked about their progress and are they traveling the world? No, they weren’t doing anything they’d hoped to. We turned from promotion and advocacy to simply smiling & nodding and saying “they’re doing ok!”. We never spoke a word of the controversy. Was our kid in some sort of cult? Are we being over sensitive and they’re fine? We didn’t know and we didn’t want to drag others into our fog of confusion. Or admit that we allowed it to happen to begin with.
My kid chose to leave the ministry on amiable terms. When they finally started seeing the truth, they gave a two week notice. They said they hated to stay and wanted to just come home ASAP. But when their past friends left, overnight, without goodbyes, it hurt, it caused more confusion. So, mine chose to stick out a 2 week goodbye to honor their other friends and not add to the pile of casualty that “left without goodbye”. That time was awful and made them see even more truth. But also gave them the proper goodbyes and letting go they needed. Yes, they had conversations with others about what was going on. There was definitely a fine line with not upsetting the amiable separation, especially in Mikes eyes.
My kid has their own story, it’s theirs to tell. I’m just trying to support parents and defend in many cases, decisions that were made. We not only supported but advocated for PFM and Mudman, when we visited we brought back sweatshirts for family. We shared the stories on social media promoting our kids journey. And now, we are trying to prepare for “OMG, is your kid ok? Was your kid abused? Was your kid in a cult? Why didn’t you get them out? How’d you let that happen? I would’ve done this….” when really we just want quiet and healing. We want to see the change in Mikes stance and the ministry.
Our story is fairly uneventful in the big picture here. MOST of the stories are, uneventful, under the radar. THIS is how so many got through. I kept ‘my kid’ generic here because I know we are not the only ones with this story.
There are scars and lessons learned. I can’t imagine the parents that sent broken kids in, in an effort to find healing and they got them back worse. For the kids that went in spite of parents not wanting them to. So many from broken homes just wanting to belong, have a family, be a part of something bigger. Think and pray before you judge the situations. We made choices and are now helping our kids clean up messes from those choices.
Reading all these stories breaks my heart. I hurt and pray daily for those that have been hurt.
I hope that if any PARENTS are struggling with guilt and shame, you are not alone. We never stop losing sleep, worrying over our children, even our own grown children. We need to find a place of forgiveness and healing. We need to accept and receive the forgiveness that Jesus has, waiting to openly give us.
I hope this just helps a few people know and understand how these things can happen from the outside looking in.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”