GFA USA 2000-2004
Bernard pioneered the volunteer department and was department head
Jena wrote radio scripts for KP and articles for SEND magazine
Our family came to Gospel for Asia in the middle of 2000. Our children were six, eight and eleven. We had 10 years of campus ministry on staff with the Navigators, and my husband (Bernard) was one year away from tenure as a professor.
At a homeschooling conference, we picked up a free copy of Revolution in World Missions and the book spoke to our hearts. We had always wanted to be more closely involved with preaching the Gospel to those who had never heard, so when we realized GFA was looking for staff, we felt the Lord directing us to go. We sold our home, resigned from the university and raised our support rather quickly. People in our small town rallied behind us and we moved to Texas.
In general, the first couple of years were good. We felt like we were living our life’s calling.
Our family faithfully attended the weekly Tuesday night prayer meetings and noticed that almost every message was about “stay in the battle,” “it’s always too soon to quit,” and “don’t let anyone steal your calling,” which was explained as staying away from anyone who talks negatively about GFA and especially those who have “left the battle” (ex-staff). I was really surprised. Did they think our calling was so weak that it could be easily undermined? Did they think we were about to run away when we had given up everything to be there? Didn’t they trust us to listen to the One who had brought us there?
I excused it, telling myself they were extreme in their thinking, but I could block it out, focus on Jesus, and use my skills for Him. My husband had a harder time dealing with issues at the office. He has a mind for details, so any inconsistency with what he knew about the ministry and what we were communicating to donors really bothered him. He was also uncomfortable with how leadership treated staff. Every week, it seemed, he’d have a long conversation with David C. or John B., but those sessions would just go around in circles, with them trying to reassure him that everything was fine or that his views of things were wrong.
Head coverings for women during prayer meetings was introduced about six months before we left. Anyone who even hinted at disagreeing with KP faced accusations of rebellion and ungodliness. Even fellow staff would report on each other, telling leadership who was voicing concern, or who was not following orders. No one wanted to be viewed as ungodly, especially by KP, the man we all so admired and the one who held power over our paychecks and our social and family ties.
Three months after we left (March of 2005), a friend outside GFA asked why we left and I sent her this email:
“The whole issue of giving your life to GFA is a real problem. People who are ‘single-minded’ and give 110% are the heroes, and anyone else is uncommitted and in danger of losing their way. Ever since we came 4 1/2 years ago, I was amazed at how negatively KP talked to the staff. We had just given up everything, and I mean everything… but all we heard was we aren’t committed enough, we aren’t broken enough, God has to wrench the selfishness out of us.
There is an extreme ‘die to self’ mentality at GFA that over time we began to see as very unhealthy, even cult-like. For a long time, I would chalk it up to, ‘Well, they are just a little extreme in some areas, but overall, it’s a good ministry, and I can live with it.’
There are several things that opened our eyes. I think it all started when they went after Nicole, the young girl (around age 20) who lived with us, led worship and worked closely with KP. It’s a long story, but she went from a vibrant, sold- out lover of Jesus to a scared, self-conscious little thing who didn’t trust herself to make basic decisions without clearing it with KP first.
We’d been in campus ministry most of our adult lives, and this experience infuriated me. And it got deeper and worse by the day. KP way overstepped his bounds in telling Nicole who she could talk to, where she could live, and he told her things he thought about her… like she’s a compulsive liar, she’s no better than her mother and will end up like her (married to a drug addict and divorced), she was demonized, and that he had a vision about her that she had a dark blanket of oppression covering her. [My response was that KP was that dark blanket.]
Nicole would come shaking and crying to me when these things happened. I was not going to put up with this. I didn’t care if they kicked us out. I was not going to let them destroy Nicole. Bernard and I eventually had a meeting with KP where he said he was having a lot of trouble with Nicole and wanted our help. Well, I was ready. I looked him straight in the eyes and told him that he had overstepped his bounds and that he was controlling and manipulating. He looked at me, astonished, and said, ‘In 25 years, no one has ever said anything like that to me,’ and I replied, ‘Maybe that’s why it’s gotten so bad. No one has had the courage to confront you.’
The end of the story is that Nicole got ‘released.’ She was sent away with GFA’s blessing. She went to live in Washington State to have a chance to get to know a guy she was interested in. The guy she wanted to know is someone who was on GFA staff but got kicked out because he gave Nicole too much attention. That’s a whole other story. [You can read Nick’s testimony about that. They are now married and have a little boy.]
Not long after our meeting, KP put out a staff survey to see if other people thought he was ‘controlling and manipulative.’ [You can see the survey and read KP’s response email in the Communication section.] There was great hope. He was acting like my confrontation was a gift from God and that they would change. He apologized to another staff member who had been spiritually abused, and I was so hopeful for change. But then about a month later, KP fired that guy and asked him not to tell anyone that he, KP, had apologized.” [end of email quote]
After our meeting with KP, the survey, and our friend’s firing, KP started treating me differently, giving attention to my job (radio script writing) that he had neglected for months. We suddenly did hours of taping and he gushed praise over my abilities. He even said he wanted to start a radio show and have me on air with him. He said he ‘loved’ me and there was no need for ‘divorce.’
My husband thought he might be able to stay at GFA if he could be out of the office more, traveling to speak at churches and raise money for the children’s ministry, Bridge of Hope. Within a day of telling this to David C., KP said he had the idea that Bernard was supposed to travel and speak for Bridge of Hope. All of this was obvious manipulation to get us to stay.
John B. and David C. asked us not to tell anyone we were leaving until KP could announce it at a staff meeting. We agreed, but since KP was in India half the time, we had to wait at least a month. Bernard spent this time hidden away learning video editing (his choice and a survival tactic) for his supposed new role as traveling speaker.
When KP finally announced our leaving at the end of December, 2004, we stayed in Carrollton until May of 2005 because our son was in private school (we homeschooled the girls). During that time, only one or two of our closest friends at GFA reached out to us. One staff person offered to give us a goodbye party, but then leadership told her to cancel it. We knew that staff were under a lot of pressure to show their loyalty to KP and to avoid any appearance of “rebellion” by associating with us. Even though no one knew of the circumstances of our leaving and KP said nice things about us, still the idea that ex-GFA staff are rebellious and to be avoided is understood by all. I knew that trying to stay friends with people at GFA would put them in a difficult position, so I stayed away and did not try to maintain relationships.
In a nutshell, the realization that led us to finally leave was that KP had been put in the place of God. His commands were to be obeyed unquestioningly and his opinions were not to be debated. No amount of iron sharpening iron was allowed. No questions of interpretation were to be voiced. He often said staff were free to do this or that, but he also said he thought they were stupid or rebellious if they didn’t see things his way.
Our kids were then 10, 12, and 15 and we could not continue to raise them in that idolatrous environment. It got to the point where I told them to ignore the preaching section at prayer meetings, and we’d debrief when we got home. Life is too short to live like that. And we had done our confronting. It was time to go.