GRAPEVINE, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - "Next week they would have been here," says a North Texas pastor who called off the week-long day camp at his Grapevine church.
Pastor Doug Page of First Baptist Grapevine cancelled the camp about one week before it was set to begin for about 200-children in his congregation and the neighborhood.
"I had no reason to think that they had done anything wrong recently," said Pastor Page talking about Kanakuk's leadership.
Kanakuk is a nationally known Christian ministry which hosts an overnight camp, family camps and day camps in many states. Its website states, "Since 1926, Kanakuk has welcomed over 450,000 Kampers from across the country and around the world, equipping them with leadership skills..."
Kanakuk was hosting the camp at the First Baptist Church of Grapevine.
Pastor Doug says Kanakuk has held the camp at his church for the last couple of years, and the church has never had any problem at all; however, Pastor Doug says, this year it was bad timing.
"You know, as a pastor, part of my job is not just to teach, but it's also to shepherd and, and I kind of had one of those parenting moments where I thought, 'You know what, we're just going to come close.'" Pastor Doug decided to use his own leadership and congregation to run a day-camp at his facility instead.
He says his decision to suddenly cancel "followed the Southern Baptist convention's bombshell report" recently.
He says he was also aware that Kanakuk was just the focus of a recent investigation by the national newspaper publication USA Today.
And, this year, the National Center on Sexual exploitation placed Kanakuk on its "2022 Dirty Dozen List" stating on its website, "Tragically, in a deeply troubling array of instances, the safety of children took a back seat to other considerations as years of child sexual abuse at Kanakuk Kamps have been covered up by the organization."
The Grapevine church is not the only church to back out this year. In Missouri, at West Plains Baptist Church, Pastor John King is taking a firmer stance.
Pastor John sent the I-Team the public letter he recently wrote stating depositions show "...there were felonies against children committed in 1999 and in 2003." His letter states Kanakuk "leadership continues to lack transparency." He also makes a plea to other churches to end their partnerships with Kanakuk writing "...until the truth...about what happened with Pete Newman is openly confessed."
Pete Newman is a former Kanakuk counselor now serving two life sentences for sexually abusing boys many years ago at the very popular Christian camp.
Pastor King - and for years, other critics - have said the camp did not react quickly enough and/or covered up the claims.
against Kanakuk one year ago when we brought alleged victims and their loved ones together for the first time ever.
They sat in a darkened room and did not want to show their faces because they say they, or someone they loved, had been sexually assaulted many years ago at a Kanakuk camp.
They told the I-Team, they came together to speak out "for awareness," "lack of of accountability," and as "a cry for justice."
Others told the I-Team they were speaking out for "the individuals at home that haven't come out."
Some had filed lawsuits. And, more frustrating to many of them, some had settled saying they were silenced to never tell their stories. They said they had signed non-disclosure agreements. The relative of one alleged victim said, "My brother was silenced with an NDA."
Those who spoke are all part of an ongoing online campaign where more than 26,000 people have signed a petition to release the victims from their non-disclosure agreements.
Through the site, they also campaign churches to cancel the camps which is exactly what Pastor John and Pastor Doug did this summer.
Pastor Doug stresses nothing inappropriate ever occurred at his church, and he is not accusing Kanakuk of any wrongdoing.
He says cancelling was simply a timely move, but a move he hopes sends a message to all pastors and parents right now.
To pastors, he says, "Don't take for granted that everyone that comes into your congregation is safe. Don't be paranoid, but...with our children and youth, do your homework."
To parents, he says, "Bring your kids close, encourage them, love them, tell them that there is hope. There are things going on in their world."
RESPONSE FROM KANAKUK:
The I-Team asked Kanakuk to provide an interview.
Instead, it sent the following statement.
"Sadly, Pete Newman was a master of deception - fooling family, friends, neighbors, and us as his former employer. Kanakuk will forever grieve the victims of Pete Newman and their suffering and continue to pray for their healing and restoration. We will never stop being sorry for the pain inflicted on victims and their families.
As soon as Kanakuk became aware of abuse, we took action, including immediate termination and reporting of this individual. While we are grateful that we were able to assist law enforcement in the prosecution and conviction of Pete Newman over a decade ago, we also know that victims' pain often continues long after the perpetrator is imprisoned. We continue to offer support to victims, including independent counseling services (which are not shared with Kanakuk), and desire to help them in their healing journey. Any victim can reach out to Kanakuk by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or access several independent victim advocacy organizations such as ChildHelp.org or Rainn.org, which can provide access to local support services, reporting assistance, and educational resources. No victim should suffer in silence - help is available.
For more than a decade following these tragic events, Kanakuk has continued to work tirelessly to help ensure that this deeply deceptive and abusive behavior does not happen again. Our Kanakuk Child Protection Plan, which contains over 340 identifiable and measurable protective elements, is integrated throughout the Kanakuk organization and has been shared with more than 600 youth-serving organizations across the country. We are committed to our vision that today's young adults are the Christian leaders of tomorrow, and we will continue to advocate for their safety as they grow in friendships, faith, and confidence."
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