Childhood, Compassion, Family, Forgiveness, Holiness Standards, Leadership, Parents, Poverty, Self Esteem, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

You Are Worthy

Today I want to tell you that you are worthy. If you were sexually abused as a child you are worthy. You did not draw that older man into sin. He made his choices and he was an adult. You were a child and children cannot consent. I am so sorry if the church did not protect you, love you, and help you to heal. You deserve love, support, and an apology. I am still stunned at Calvary Gospel’s silence. I am experiencing them as no more loving now than they were when I was a child.

You are worthy even if your family did not dress right, or if you are brown or black, and even if your family did not tithe enough. A child shouldn’t have to pay for their parent’s choices. None of us can control the color of our skin or the family we are born into. We certainly could not have controlled our parent’s actions.

You are worthy even if you made mistakes, snuck into the movies, or listened to top 40 radio when your parents were out. These things are not sins, they are a normal part of growing up. No one perfectly listens to the adults in their life. Normal human development dictates that teens challenge adults, it is how we grow and become independent.

You are worthy if you wore a slit in your skirt, asked too many questions, or got bored in church. If you kissed a boy behind the church camp auditorium when you were supposed to be inside, if you faked being sick to stay home from church, and even if you faked speaking in tongues because you were afraid to disappoint your parents.

I see you trying to pretend that you are ok, trying to heal, trying to deal with the coldness coming from the people who raised us. I see you dealing with trauma, being the family outcast, never being 100% sure if you made the right decision when you left the church. I see you wondering if you should have kept your mouth shut about it all.

I understand not being educated properly and how that stays with you all your life. I understand playing small, staying invisible, always waiting for something bad to happen. I understand feeling weird in the world like you can never quite fit in. I understand the world not understanding where we come from and how exhausting it can be to try to explain.

For the men out there I see you too. Struggling to come to terms with what has happened to the women you grew up with, ministered to, your sisters and friends. I see you having many of the same struggles as I have only different at the same time. I know that there are survivors among you and when you are ready to tell your story we will be there for you as you have been there for us.

Consider this my love letter to all the survivors out there no matter what your damage is. You are worthy. Please don’t let those who refuse to ask for forgiveness, who refuse to take responsibility, and who choose to stand in judgment rather than lend aid define you. I see you as strong, brave, and overcomers. We have overcome the lack of love, support, grace, and normal human kindness we should have received as kids. We have found each other and created a life raft for one another and any new survivors who choose to join us. You are good even if you are not perfect. You are worthy.

 

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Justice, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Letting The Sunshine In

Yesterday was a big day for the survivors of Calvary Gospel Church. Rebecca Martin Byrd and I spoke at a press conference regarding two bills. One would end the statue of limitations for sexual assault survivors and one would deal with the clergy loophole regarding mandatory reporting. You can watch here…

https://www.facebook.com/representative.taylor/videos/506129963263512/

We were also featured in an article in our local paper.

https://madison.com/ct/news/local/govt-and-politics/stolen-childhoods-women-allege-they-were-sexually-abused-as-kids/article_22c01351-890d-5bac-8790-d701b1f31c3a.html

I cannot begin to explain how good it felt to be heard and to receive the support of so many people. This morning I woke up to more survivors coming forward to tell me their stories. It saddens me to know there are more survivors but I’m so happy they have found their way to us. It is my intent to continue to drag these stories out into the light.

I feel that we’re all lighthouses, and my job is to shine my light as brightly as I can to the darkness.”  Jim Carrey

I will not stop not matter how tired I am and right now I’m pretty tired. I have been fighting off tears all morning as I go about my work. Nothing about this is easy and for those who think we are doing this for fame or revenge I cannot begin to tell you how wrong you are. No one seeks out this burden. Putting your darkest wounds out for the public to see is not easy or something most people desire. Nevertheless I will continue to tell my story and the stories of others until we see justice. We have been called devils and and it has been said that we are bringing damnation down on our heads. No one from Calvary Gospel has reached out to speak with us to either apologize or to ask for more information about what happened to us.

“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” Brene Brown

Although many of us have suffered sexual assault that is not the only way Calvary Gospel has wounded people. As much as I want the stories of sexual assault to be revealed I want all of the other stories to be brought into the light. So many people have been impacted by a constant fear of hell and the rapture. Some folks have been severely financially affected, and some have had their self-worth destroyed. Many survivors have struggles with making up for a subpar education and always feeling like they don’t fit in. Social awkwardness is not uncommon. Many of us never recieved any comfort or love following our abuse. We were forced to suffer alone and in silence during our childhood. All this makes just living your life so much harder.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” Brené Brown

People have asked me how they can help. If you are in Wisconsin you can call your representatives and ask them to support the bills that were introduced yesterday. You can also help by sharing our story in as many places as possible. Change is hard and it requires all of us to do our part. If you are a survivor you can help by coming forward and telling your story. We will be here waiting for you and ready to stand beside you.

An extra thanks goes out to Representative Chris Taylor for being our champion. Her willingness to listen to our stories has meant so much. Katelyn Ferral who wrote about us for the Cap Times did an amazing job throwing open the windows and letting the light in!

Warrior Women
Working together for justice!
Leadership, Trauma, United Pentecostal Church

Sabrina Marie’s Open Letter To Pastor Roy Grant

Roy, I do not know if you remember me as I was not in the church for very long. When I was there your father was the main pastor. I cannot look back and say that my own time in the UPC was completely unhelpful in my life. What I can say is that in recent years I have realized that so much was hidden from me and none of it was good.

When you were not the pastor, I loved the down to earth family life you seemed to have. You would throw a pig roast every year, you would talk to other men no matter how involved in the church they were. It didn’t matter if they wore sneakers instead of dress shoes and you even took the time to teach my husband a quick way to tie his tie. I appreciated you and your family. I looked up to your father and I loved and cared about all of you. Even after leaving the church, I always thought your Dad was one of the closest people to God there was. Later hearing you had become a minister yourself as many wanted to see you do, I was happy about it. I occasionally heard snippets of you talking about spiritual warfare and I really appreciated that you were fighting spiritually for the good of the world, the light of the world.

In the past three years, I have heard fact-based truth about things that have occurred not only within the UPCI but many from within your own church. I realize that a lot of them occurred when you were not even ordained yet. I understand that. But at the same time, I’m learning these disturbing things and realizing that the entire Acts 2:38 message by the UPC is cherry-picked from the Bible. That and knowing that you have participated in what has really become narcissistic, controlling, and even cult-like behaviors leaves me feeling disturbed and betrayed.

Imagine if you will for a minute, that at some point in your life you looked up to someone as the ideal, and you trusted everyone in the organization under that person. You believed they were safe and healthy for your family and that they wouldn’t dare tell a lie or cover up something that would continue to hurt others. Then imagine that you found out what you thought might be just idle gossip but then more and more truth came forward with more and more fact, and then your clean, clear vision of that person became fogged, broken, and dirty.

I imagine that you might be reading this and assume that because I have left the church that I can no longer see clearly. You might believe I have been tempted by Satan or that I have just lost my mind to opinions. That is okay what you think of me because it is irrelevant. You were raised in the church and you know exactly what the Bible says. You know exactly what has been right in front of you this entire time. I believe that in your experience there are things you know you should not be dismissing and you know those things are not in alignment with the spiritual warfare, the call of God, or what Jesus would do.

As others and I have requested in these letters, please take a stand for the survivors. Please stop hiding or standing with those who you know are not telling the truth. If you truly care about getting people saved, save their families like mine from being found a fool and from being hurt, deceived, and shamed. Be the one who puts his foot down and says enough is enough.

Please start listening to what is being told to you by human beings, not robots or demons. It is important, it is still happening, and people are still suffering. Your congregation is not safe if you are not willing to step from the podium and confess what you know to those whom you say are faithful servants of God. Finally, if at this moment, as you read this you feel absolutely nothing, I simply have one more question. Is that what he whom you call Jesus would do? Feel nothing? Be blind? He stood up when no one else would did he not? So, forget who I am, and decide who you are.

Thank you,

Sabrina Reynolds

C-PTSD, Compassion, Crime, Justice, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

An Open Letter To Pastor Roy Grant

Roy, it has been a long long time since we have spoken or really had any contact with each other. I have thought about reaching out to you many times but something has always stopped me. I know instinctively that any interaction between us will be painful because neither of us is who we were when we knew each other.

When I was a child I looked up to you as a big brother. You were an adult but just barely and at the time I believed that you understood me. As the youth leader and school monitor, you kept us within the lines without seeming authoritarian. I felt like you understood how oppressive it could all be and so you tried to bring the fun with you when you could. For a long time, you gave me rides to school along with as many kids as you could fit into your old Blazer. I’m sure my mother almost never gave you gas money. It makes me smile now to think of how Norman and Tim would have to hoist me into the truck because I was so tiny and it was so high up. My childhood was a dark dark place and the times when I was having fun with you shine bright in the midst of it all. Even now it makes me smile to remember watching Star Trek in your basement after church and doing donuts in the empty parking lot. I was so scared we would crash and you and the boys would laugh at me. Silly kids stuff but when your home life is so bad things like this make life bearable. When I won a place on the honor roll field trip and my shoes developed a hole I told my mom I would just skip it. She called you and you called around until you found a pair of shoes for me. We never talked about it but you came through for me and it was a big deal in my little life.

I don’t think you singled me out and to most people, these things might not seem like much. Speaking from my child self they were important to me. You just never know how a small act of kindness will impact a child. I always try to remember to smile at kids because I recognize that my smile might be the only adult smile they see that day. Once you stepped back some and John Seidl took over youth group and Sunday school things became harder. He was much sterner and I never felt like I could not let my guard down around him. I’m sure you were not perfect but I always felt like you wanted everyone to feel included. When you were not around school or the youth group as much I felt like there was no adult I could turn to who wouldn’t immediately judge me. Sympathy and compassion were impossible to come by.

This brings us to now. I know that I am probably not your favorite person due to the things I have exposed within my blog. I am sure that you and I disagree on most things. I know that this will probably not bring about the change that I and so many others wish to see but I feel compelled to try. I’m sure it has felt like I’m attacking the church and your family. It has never been my wish to attack anyone. I have only been trying to shed light on my experiences in order to help others and maybe get a little bit of justice for myself. If I thought your father would listen I would be directing this towards him. You are the pastor now and so I’m directing this towards you. I’m writing this to plead with you and Calvary Gospel to change. I’m asking you to acknowledge how bad things were handled with regards to Steve Dahl and countless other abusers. I’m asking you and the church to apologize to all of the people who have been hurt by policies that go a long way towards protecting the church but leave in their path, countless victims. I’m asking you to develop church policies that include going to the police first when a victim comes forward because this is the only way the community at large can be protected from predators and physically abusive people. Lastly, I’m asking that the church no longer tolerate older men dating underage women. It is one of those things that everyone knows about but no one does anything about. By acknowledging the church’s role in the pain of so many survivors you could help bring a tiny bit of healing to my community. We could all rest easier knowing that you are committed to reporting abuse and protecting children. We could all rest easier knowing that another Becky or Debbie is not being groomed within the walls of the church.

I know how hard this kind of change would be and I understand that my posting this publically is going to make things even harder. I’m posting it publically because I don’t believe the church or you will respond any other way. I am also concerned about my words being twisted and this way it is all out in the light for anyone to read. I’m going to sign off for now and I hope that you will be the hero this situation needs. To the other pastoral staff, I’m sure you will see this and I hope you will also be a part of bringing some healing into the lives of so many who have been devestated by Calvary Gospel.

Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

A Second Victim Steps Forward – Rebecca’s Story

Today I’m sharing a new story with you. Another victim of Calvary Gospel Church has decided to tell her story. I have always intended this blog to be a place where victims other than myself can also share their experiences. This is Rebecca’s story.

It’s my turn now. I’ve left Debbie high and dry while I’ve done a lot of processing, now it is time to tell my story. I struggle with where to start, as my story starts in the UPC when I was very young. How do I choose what to say in my first post? So please bear with me as I give the highlights and the can of worms will follow.

My parents joined Calvary Gospel United Pentecostal Church when I was in the 3rd grade. Soon after my sister and I were enrolled in the church’s school. My childhood was completely enveloped by the UPC. Parents were expected to take a backseat roll in favor of teaching whatever the church dictated. My parents questioned nothing, and allowed everything, as long as it was within the church’s walls. Needless to say, we were easy targets for anyone wanting to take advantage of vulnerable kids. If we questioned anything or any of the leaders, we were disciplined and labeled rebellious. Calvary Gospel is a tight-knit community, where any independent thought is quashed and shunning is commonplace, it can be frightening to show any independence. I witnessed parents who disowned children and teenagers forced to make public apologies in front of the congregation. It was built into all of us if the “man of god” said it, it was unquestionably true. I could say more about this but I need to move on.

So I was unlucky enough to catch the eye of one of my Sunday School teachers, who also helped out as a youth leader. Everyone knew he favored me and teased me about him constantly. I was called his “little girlfriend”. He would give me rides, leave notes in my school desk, show up at my house or my friend’s houses if he knew I was there, he came to every youth function, every service, everywhere I was.

In the eyes of Calvary Gospel Church, my predator was a great young man, a burgeoning minister. He was also 17 years older than me. I’m going to refer to him as “Ben”. I was 12 the first time he sexually assaulted me. He never even noticed or acknowledged that I never responded when he’d kiss me. I clearly wasn’t enjoying what he was doing and I resisted when he’d make me touch him. He would take my hand and force it onto his pants. This went on for years until we had full intercourse when I was 14. He was 31. I took my first pregnancy test at his job after hours when I was 15. I went on birth control shortly after.

During this time I wrote letters to a friend of mine telling some of what was happening. She told her sister and her older sister went to the pastor. One night after the evening service Ben found me and was very angry. He pushed me up against a car and told me I had to lie. He threatened me, telling me it would be my fault if he got into trouble, that he wouldn’t be able to able to become a minister. I was terrified of being caught, being humiliated, kicked out of the school, and shunned. So I lied. I told Pastor John Grant Sr. that I made it all up. Strangely, Pastor Grant accused the girl who brought him the letters of making them up herself to get attention, and he kicked her out of the choir. I felt completely responsible. It silenced me even more. Sadly this made me that much easier to manipulate, control, and abuse.

I can’t wrap my head around how all of the church adults knew we were a “couple”. How was it appropriate and acceptable for a 33-year-old man to be dating a 16-year-old girl? And of course, the sex continued. He would show up wherever I was. At my school, my job, at my friend’s houses, and my driver’s ed class. He once picked me up and took me to the duplex he shared with a few other guys. He was on top of me in his bed when he heard one of his roommates come home. He shoved me into his closet and shut the door hiding me so his roommate wouldn’t see. I don’t know how long I was in there. Maybe minutes, maybe an hour. It was long enough that he grabbed some old fast food cups and gave me one so he could tell my mom that he took me there to eat instead of where he had really taken me. All I know is, I felt so demeaned, so ashamed, so lost. I felt hopeless. He controlled my every move. I couldn’t date anyone else, I couldn’t go anywhere, I couldn’t do anything, without him. After every sexual contact, he would make me get down on my knees and read Psalm 51 out loud and repent. Thinking of it makes me sick to this day. I hated it. I never liked praying out loud. I never saw the point in wanting others to listen to me. My prayers were between me and god. But I did it, read the Psalm and begged for forgiveness. “Ben” would assure me that he forgave me too.

Now I see the absurdity of it, forgive me for what?! Being a temptation when I was 12?! But in the Calvary Gospel culture, it was my fault. Men were never held accountable for their actions. I saw younger girls that were also preyed on by older men and watched how the men would be sheltered and protected while their victims the young girls would pay the price. It was reinforced again and again that the adults around me knew and would do nothing. Once when I told Pastor Grant what had happened, when I actually built up the courage, he told me not to “rock the boat” because it would “make the church look bad”. I knew I was being eaten alive by this system. I was hopeless, but like any good UPC’er, I made it look good.

I should wrap this up for now. It’s like a plate of spaghetti, one thought/memory leads to another and another…It’s difficult to stay on one path when I have so many stories and details to add. But I want to add my voice to Debbie’s, and many others, that were and probably still are being victimized by the UPC. After all of these years, I’m not the scared and depressed little girl anymore. It’s my time. I will be heard.

Childhood, Confusing, Leadership, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

So Much Confusion

Childhood can be a very confusing time no matter where or how you grow up. I was a pretty logical kid and so when things did not make sense I would comb over and over them to try to make it all fit. We had a youth pastor at our church and I really liked him. He was fun and not too serious about the rules. It was a relief to be around him because I felt like I could breathe. He worked in our Christian school and so we saw a lot of him. On the one hand it was a relief to be around him but then, on the other hand, it was confusing. He would let us come over and watch television in his basement, and often that would include a chance to make out with whatever boy you liked at the time. He walked in on me once. I was making out with a boy on a bed. The boy was much older than me. The youth pastor said nothing, he just closed the door and walked away. He was permissive. He was also the pastor’s son. I think he was probably in the midst of his own rebellion and I have no idea why they had him in that position. We would sit in church and hear about sin and burning in hell and then the youth pastor would not only condone sin but invite us over to watch television which was considered a sin. He is now the pastor of Calvary Gospel Church.

I’m not saying any of this to throw Roy Grant under the bus. When I was a kid I liked him a lot and looked up to him. I’m sure he was not thinking about how his actions would cause confusion. He always seemed like a big kid himself, I never saw him as pastor material. I do wish he would have stepped in when he saw things like kids being sexual. I was about 14 when he walked in on me with that boy. First of all the boy was too old for me and secondly, it was just inappropriate. It was happening in his home and he was supposed to be supervising me. I would have listened to anything he said, he had influence over me, but he said nothing and just let it happen. He could be a very nice guy. He gave many of us rides to school and I have warm memories of him doing donuts with us kids in the truck with him. I have some weird memories too. On one occasion he had me and one other young teen female over to his house for the weekend. His wife was there but we rarely interacted with her. It was just the three of us hanging out. That’s just odd. From the outside, it probably looked like he and his wife were being kind to two girls in the youth group, but his wife was not around. The strangest part of the whole sleepover was bedtime. He tucked both of us in and gave us both a kiss on the forehead goodnight. That might seem innocent to some but to me, it just seems off. An adult man kissing two teens goodnight and tucking them into bed within a culture where you are not supposed to touch the opposite sex is confusing. I remember the two of us looking at each other after he tucked us in, both of us kind of in shock and without words. I have since heard other stories of unusual behavior coming from Roy, but those stories are not mine to tell. I can’t help but wonder if he is more careful now that he is the pastor?

About halfway through my teens years, the church switched things up. Roy was not as prominent and we had a new youth leader and school principal John Seidl. John was a very different person. He was harsh, judgemental, and by the book. It was like whiplash, suddenly everything became very serious and there was no wiggle room. I suspect they were trying to correct the direction of the youth group and make it more godly. John was stern, unbending, and kind of cold. To be honest I was a little afraid of him. I did not feel like he understood me or would be capable of extending compassion. My worst run-ins with him happened in school. He was my teacher for pretty much everything and he wasn’t very good at it. When I struggled in school he would give me demerits for not finishing my work and then detention. It did not matter to him that I did not understand my work or that I had cried all night trying to figure it out. All that mattered is that I came back to school with unfinished algebra. He did nothing to figure out how to help me and continued to punish me knowing I was stuck and after watching me cry at my desk because I couldn’t understand the problems. Other than that I tried as hard as I could to stay off of his radar. I think he was more focused and harder on the boys. I feel he looked for infractions and I think he was a scorekeeper, not a forgiver.

One thing I learned as a kid was how to adapt. Within the church and my family, you had to figure out what each adult expected from you and then be that person. I could never be myself or let my guard down. The adults around me were not into helping or being compassionate towards young people, they were into being judgemental and gossiping. My mother followed some of the church rules but not all of them so, at home, I could relax a little, but then when I stepped foot into the church or school everything was different.

I knew that they believed the wages of sin were death, but I also knew that Jesus taught plenty about loving your neighbor as yourself. It was confusing because our church seemed stuck on the punitive part of the Bible. They were focused on what you shouldn’t do but not so much on what you should do. The “shoulds” consisted of their rules. No pants for women, no short hair, etc…Not much was being done to feed the poor, love your enemies, or show compassion. Because I knew the Bible so well over time I was able to see them more clearly. It’s all about who you know and who you are related to. They are mostly hypocrites. If your parents are the right people you won’t get heat for doing the wrong things, if you’re not in that crowd look out because they are looking at you. Sadly being judgemental has become part of the lifestyle. When I was a young person I could not understand how the elder’s kid could get away with so much but it felt like they were just waiting for me to make a mistake so they could pounce.

D

 

Childhood, Crime, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

True Colors

When I was a child I was taught that we were not supposed to associate with people outside of the church. The church was very narrowly defined as the United Pentecostal Church. I even got the impression that my pastor did not approve of some of the churches within our Wisconsin UPC district. I know that he thought the church in Janesville was too liberal. If someone left the church they were generally shunned unless the purpose of talking to them was to bring them back into the fold.

It is peculiar to me that so many people from UPC churches here in Wisconsin associate with Steve Dahl. He is not ordained as a UPC minister but that doesn’t seem to matter to them. His doctrine mirrors the UPC doctrine but that usually would not be enough. These are very insular people and they do not associate with outsiders. In my view, there is no bigger outsider than Steve Dahl. I’m sure that not everyone within the district knows about his past but enough of them do. I wonder what he says when they ask why he is not ordained within the UPC? What is even more strange is they preach at his church and he travels to other churches within the UPC. He has followers on his Facebook page who attended CGC when he committed his crimes and yet it seems that time has healed all memory of what he did.

I never felt clean after what Steve did to me. I struggled through my adolescence always feeling judged. As a young person once you have the stain of sexual sin on you it can be impossible to remove. I felt like the adults around me were always assuming I was acting inappropriately. I could never grow past what happened to me. Shame was applied liberally and I soaked it all up. Now as an adult as I try to tell my story from a vulnerable and honest place I am aware that nothing has changed.

Just like when I was a child they prefer the child abuser over the abused child. As I and others have tried to speak out and tell our stories we are scoffed at and declared to be liars by some who don’t even know us or the details of our stories. The church has gone out of its way to be friendly with Steve. They are friends with him on social media and they visit one another’s churches. Just like when the abuse happened he seems to be accepted and I am denied. They did not report his actions at the time and he was taken in by another UPC church. He was eventually put in charge of a daughter work and now it is like nothing ever happened. He does not hold a UPCI license but that doesn’t seem to matter much to them. Meanwhile, when I speak my truth they do not want to hear it. My story is automatically met with denial, disbelief, and scorn. there is no willingness to even entertain the idea that I might be telling the truth. Steve is enjoying a fair amount of support on his page. People are offering him prayers and verbal encouragement as he goes through this difficult trial. Not one person who is still in the church has reached out to me.

It isn’t like this is even a he said she said case. At 12 I had no reason to lie and he was caught in the act with another girl at the same time. At the end of the day, I think accusing Steve would not irritate them so much, what really gets them is my calling out how badly they handled it all. They can’t stand that I am saying Bishop Grant is wrong. They view me as a fallen woman and not as a victim.

Watching how well Steve has been received and how much the church wants to deny all of this has hurt me. When I see people I used to respect, like former Sunday School teachers being friends with Steve online that is pretty hard to witness. The really awful part of this is that Steve is not the only one. I know of multiple men who go on being accepted while the women they abused are labeled liars and troublemakers. As far as I’m concerned they lose all credibility when they behave this way. They are not behaving Biblically or in accordance with their own UPC rules.

I know that the light casts out the darkness and so I have no doubt that the truth is going to come out. I intend to keep working to hold them accountable and I hope that someday soon Steve will have his day of reckoning. I’m going to keep telling the truth. The truth doesn’t change just because people don’t want to believe it.

D