Janna Chan at the ThouArtTheMan blog stated that they would like to hear my story concerning the bizarre behavior of management at Voice of the Martyrs USA and how I was excommunicated for trying to simply do my job well. So here it is, I write it down almost 15 years after my relationship ended with them.
I have followed the controversy closely based on my experience. I know who went to the police and who Tom White’s victim is. The father I run into on a pretty regular basis. So here it is in all the details. To be honest I am an introvert who would, in my flesh, prefer to stay out of the limelight. However, my conscience drives me to take a stand where I see evil inside the Church.
The story starts in the mid 90’s when my best friend introduces me to the “ministry” by giving me a fundraising mailer that he had received. I trust his judgment and my heartstrings are pulled by the heartbreaking stories I read about inside. I start donating to them regularly and generously as I request to be added to their mailing list. In 2001, my wife and I decide to make a big change in order to be able to help out a cause I believed in. We contact both VOM and Gospel for Asia (another fraudulent “ministry”) and we propose to move to one of these towns where the headquarters are at and have my wife volunteer for a six-month period of time after I find a job to support us. My heart was to try to serve God in a practical way. VOM bites on the offer and we plan a trip to Bartlesville, OK and we place our house on the market. So, we traveled there and met with some of staff and came to a mutual understanding. Houses in our neighborhood sold on a average of 45 days so we expected this to happen fairly quickly. That is not at all how it worked out. In hindsight that was, I believe, the hand of God trying to keep me from making a major mistake but I did not recognize that at the time.
During this time we saw the first red flag which we foolishly ignored. When we met with them they made it clear that they had an over-the-top no smoking policy. They did not want any employees or even volunteers to be caught outside the building smoking. They did not want any visitors thinking that any smokers were involved in any way with their enterprise, not even as volunteers. In hindsight, this priority of putting image over substance was a clear warning sign, as was redefining sin: not by what the scriptures plainly state as sin but by some other standard not found in the Bible. Smoking was talked about as a great sin, while other more insidious things were never mentioned.
At 90 days we switched realtors and lowered the price on our house, but still nothing. I got impatient thinking this was a hurdle to overcome instead of a stop sign from God. In early September 2001 we decided to jump the gun and went back to Bartlesville to find a house to buy. This was against the advice of the VOM contact who told us maybe this is not God’s plan. They were right, though not for the reason that they thought. We pushed past that because I thought we needed to have a change in our life. So we made the trip, found a house we liked very near where Tom White lived at the time, and signed a sales contract with an unusually long 90 days to close. We figured that our house would surely sell by then and everything would work out. We drove back staying in a motel on the way. We woke up in that motel the next morning and the date was 9/11/01. I started to wonder if I had made a big mistake as the economy sank. Our home still did not sell so we had to change realtors again and leave it vacant as we moved to Bartlesville.
Despite the problems we were having we were optimistic that everything would work out in the end. We got settled in and started looking for work. When we had done everything we could, we started doing some volunteering part-time at VOM. We started working with blankets and met a couple of volunteers who were using their vacation time to help out. They became important friends and contacts for things that happened later. My wife found a job and then we had enough income to get by. I became a regular volunteer spending four hours a day in the office. They eventually moved me into the IT department with my background and education. I became friends with another tech there who would become an important part of my story. He was on salary and had worked their for a few years. I was still looking for full time work but finding absolutely nothing. Eventually the IT manager said that “he had rearranged his budget” and that he had created a 90 day half-time contract job for me. I worked there in the afternoons for three months in the spring. The IT manager then told me he made a request to hire me on full time to the VOM board at their next meeting. They voted down that idea which was disappointing at the time, but later I became very thankful that it happened. I did not need to get more involved with what I later came to the judgment was and is a scam.
I went back to doing some volunteering in the afternoons when I did not have any interviews or job leads to pursue. It was during this time that I stumbled upon the second red flag. My tech friend was showing me the software that they were using to track the Internet websites all the employees in the building were accessing. The accounting manager, who was very geriatric, had numerous gay porn websites that he had just accessed according to the log. The tech went to report this to his manager which was their policy. Instead of dealing with the obvious, I overheard the manager chewing out the tech for allowing a volunteer to see what people in the building were actually doing. He was much more concerned with keeping up false appearances than dealing with the reality of internal sin and waste.
We managed to get by financially, even though our house had been on the market now for over a year without a buyer. But then things got worse when my wife told me that she had been having an affair the day before her birthday and 4 days before mine. Things went south that day and stayed that way. The affair started when she got angry at how things were working out. I believe she was angry at God and by extension me as well. She was not the type of personality that was easily tempted by this kind of sin. She was prone to depression and her mood and behavior became erratic. I met with my pastor for counsel and encouraged my wife to meet with our home fellowship leader’s wife. She did, but the help only appeared to last for one day.
The IT manager at VOM was nice enough to recommend me to another international ministry for some project work. This became the second charity that I would work for in the early 00’s. As soon as this project was started, my wife just disappeared. She left for work as normal one day but never arrived. She had taken nothing with her. All of her belongings and clothes were still in our house. It was now a full year since we had signed the papers to buy this house. I received a phone call a few days later stating that she was at her parents house and that she had changed her mind on her way to work to just drive 1,000 miles and run away from her problems. She never even bothered to call her employer and quit. She returned two months later to file for divorce. My hope for a better life while finding a way to better serve God in practical ways turned into a nightmare.
Some people at VOM were supportive and kind. One, when he learned that my wife was back in town, went to have a talk with her. He tried but it did not change anything. Another worker raised some cash for me at his home fellowship group and dropped it off in a paper bag. It was enough to pay bills I had for a few days. It was a dark time and I experienced the kind of grief people do not understand unless they themselves had been through it. Christmas time had come now in 2002 and the IT Manager called me to come to his office because he had a project for me to do.
One of the projects I had worked on during the 90 days was the conversion of the Pastor’s Support database. It was kept on a PC and the size of the database had outgrown the ability for the program to keep up with. They kept having issues with it and it needed to be moved onto an SQL server designed to reliably work with that much data. I completed that project without any issues. Now they had the big database to move for the same reasons: the overseas project database. This was the database that contained the names, places and amounts of all money supposedly spent overseas. They had not allowed me to see any of the data in the Pastors Support database, which is unusual. Normally a contractor would look carefully at all the data moved both before and after the conversion to make sure nothing was lost and that data integrity was maintained. They made it clear that I would never see any of the actual project data for this database as well. This project was different in that they needed some of the structure to be transformed as the way it was laid out was not the most efficient way of designing a database structure. That created a problem where I believe God stepped in.
The problem was that after the meeting I set down to try and figure out how I was going to transform the structure from what they had into what they wanted. I just could not see how to make that happen with the tools at my disposal. I had not run into a problem like that before. I think, in hindsight, that God was keeping me from seeing how to do what they asked for. That caused me to go to a friends house that evening.
He had become a close friend as he went to same church I did and was also going through a divorce. It just so happened that he also was a database programmer and that he knew the IT manager. In fact, he had even worked for him as the manager was once his boss at Phillips. I explained in general terms, without showing him any of the actual structure, what was there and what they wanted to do with it. He almost instantly saw the solution which he tried to explain to me, over and over for sometime. I was still not getting it. Finally I threw up my arms in surrender and told him that I would have to call them up tomorrow and give them the bad news that I did not know how to do what they wanted. My friend told me to hold off of that. He knew the manager and he decided he would call him in the morning and offer to do this himself for free! That was fine with me.
I was not feeling completely comfortable with this offer of work for two reasons: one was that the lady downstairs who kept the top secret information and the IT manager could not stand each other and basically refused to talk to each other unless absolutely necessary. The other was that the IT manager was a database specialist himself. He had originally been hired to help them develop their databases in the first place. He knew how to do the stuff he hired me to do. But I do not recall ever seeing this man doing any actual work, beyond playing with his budget, talking with other managers, giving out orders and taking an occasional phone call. It was the two techs that did all of the work of wiring, dealing with technical issues and keeping everyone’s computer working. I guess he came out of a corporate environment and was used to managers who behave like this. The ministry was small enough that it needed a working manager, which was not what it had. He was making $60K at the time, according to the public 990’s which was more than anyone else in the department, and was a lot in a town where houses are so very cheap. I was relieved to get out of this, even though I could have used the money because I was living in my expensive wife’s house she picked out that I was still paying a mortgage on and I was paying taxes and utilities for the other, vacant house. And so I went to bed.
The next day started out as usual until I got a phone call from the friend I had talked with the previous night. He was both upset and confused at the response he had gotten from the IT manager. His former boss had hung up on him and was so angry that he sounded unhinged at a simple offer of volunteer, free expert help. I was perplexed. At the end of the workday, I received another call, this time from the tech friend I had at VOM. He told me how this manager was yelling and screaming after he hung up on my friend. He ran upstairs and talked with Jim Dau, the CEO. He then ran down to the front desk and put my name onto a list not to buzz into the building. And so I was exiled for trying to do my job. I never heard anything directly from anyone in management. I never tried to get in the building after that. Nor did I ever hear once again from anyone there. The whole thing made no sense to me. VOM management did this in spite of the fact that they knew what was going on in my life. They kicked me when I was already at a very low time of my life. I saw nothing charitable or Christ-like in any of that.
In an attempt to better understand what happened, I sat down with my pastor who is friends with one of Tom White’s family members. He told me that I had been “thrown under the bus.” This was the end of 2002, years before Mark Driscoll made that phrase infamous in church circles. I also sat down and had a meal with the director of the other ministry that I was doing some work for at the time. He has remained a friend and so I explained at length, detail by detail, what had happened and he had no explanation for their actions. I saw it as extremely paranoid and I saw no grace in it. I wonder if the IT manager was merely pissed off that he would now have to do actually do work and talk with the dreaded lady downstairs. When Tom White killed himself almost a full decade later, I recognized that I had actually pierced the thin veneer of false spirituality and fake niceness and had touched on the actual evil substance of the place. Tom was paranoid because he was cheating donors and using those funds to commit a terrible, secret sin. VOM management is a white-washed tomb full of sickness, evil and disease.
This is not quite the end of the story. The IT tech lasted a couple of more years until at the same time of year he had a very bad experience with the same manager. It was a case of true Phariseeism, his boss had tied up a heavy and inappropriate burden on him and refused to lift a finger to help him with it. He could not stand it anymore. He left.
Also, remember those volunteers I had met early on on this journey? In between these two stories, one of them had gone on a trip to a closed country in Africa to see one of VOM’s projects up close. It was a building project that had gone astray. He arrived to find that the man VOM had hired to manage the project had no idea whatsoever what he was doing. He had spent a large amount of the total allocated funds just to build a foundation. And that foundation was several times bigger than the final building was supposed to be. My friend told me he had to improvise and figure out how to use part of the foundation and salvage the project so at least something could be built. He changed it to a now smaller building than originally planned and had to leave the project to be finished by the same construction manager. It was quite likely that the building was never finished and the project ended up being wasted donor money, but you will not see a word about that in their polished up and white-washed regular mailers.
Another story that I heard in between those first two, was the story of how Tom White’s personal secretary got fired. VOM had a policy where when really big checks came in, they were supposed to get special treatment. So instead of being handled like every other small check directly through the accounting department, they were sent upstairs to Tom’s personal secretary. At some point in time, the secretary stopped processing them at all and instead merely dropped them into a folder in the back of her filing cabinet to collect mold. One day a large stash of old checks totaling a very tidy sum was found by someone else. Most of the checks had gone way past the standard 6 month expiration date for checks so this had been going on for years, including the time I was there. They fired her, but I still wonder what transpired between Tom and this lady that would get her so pissed off that she would want to screw this “ministry” in this fashion?
Something else you will never read about is the saga of Pastor Joel who worked as a director at VOM and as a worship Pastor at a local Wesleyan Church. I found out about it shortly after my exile. It appears Pastor Joel started having an affair with his secretary at VOM. He ended up getting fired from both gigs and then divorced his wife so that he could marry the secretary. These events occurred not too long before I came to town. My friend who had so graciously offered to convert their database for nothing started dating Pastor Joel’s ex-wife. So I heard about it from her point of view and from the tech’s too. The tech told me that management had suspected that Pastor Joel had sex inside his office with his secretary. Their solution was to remove the regular doors off of all the offices and replace them with glass. If they had only chosen to do the same thing regarding transparency to their donors, I would not have to be writing this whole testimony down now. VOM buried this situation. I believe that charities owe it to those donors who pay the bills to let them know not just spin about what is going right for them, but also what is not. There should have been some transparency about this moral failure but obviously there never was about either this or anything else immoral that happened inside the organization. They could not hide Tom’s dead body, although they probably wished he had killed himself somewhere else.
One final story from inside the office. While I was in the office, one day two attractive, college age women showed up working inside. I found out that they had just been hired by the accounting department. They were there just a few months and then they both were suddenly gone having been hired and fired as a pair. The tech told me a story of what had happened. He said that the two were very loose, flirting with men in the office including him. One day the two made him a proposition that he responded to with basically a “if I entertained that thought for a second, my wife would kill me” response. He walked away. Soon after that, one of the ladies became pregnant out of wedlock and they both were promptly fired.
In summary, the big lesson I have learned from all this is how much I should hate the worldly and devilish practice of corporate image polishing. The very root of deception in our world is the polished and skilled liar who knows how to spin facts and white-wash what is, in reality, a septic tank. People pretend the septic does not stink. The image is a lie. The reality is something very much uglier than a dozen or so employees and volunteers standing outside the building during break time smoking. I have no doubt that many more stories exist that I have never heard about. I no longer think that merely giving Mammon to organizations is true charitable work. I see being a donor now as a two-edge sword that has blessing on the top side and cursing on the bottom. Give the Mammon to a good person and it still may end up doing great harm without excessive caution and care be exercised from start to finish. Give it to someone evil and you have just funded Satan’s work on this planet. The love of money really is a root of every kind of evil.
Related Reading: Letter by Michael Wurmbrand exposing corruption in VOM