You could say that the way to Vineyard Anaheim had been paved in righteousness—we had been cast out of our home church for doing what was right, and God promoted us. Noble.
How ignoble to discover a darker strain of sin in our own ranks. The hardship we endured in the first desert was a mere test run for the Sahara of our own making. Mercy met us facedown, seconds from death as a ministry.
It seems that a longstanding staff person from Desert Stream had sexually abused at least one teenager who had sought help from us. (I will spare you the details; needless to say, its revelation shattered us.)
Before we as a ministry even knew what had actually happened, one relative of the boy, savvy in the ways of insurance, insisted on a face-to-face meeting with Jonathan Hunter and I. He wrote down an astronomical figure that he insisted we pay out to him, or else. He threatened to take the case to the press and a flamboyant celebrity lawyer in LA. (He assumed that our large and prominent new home–Vineyard Anaheim—had millions for such settlements).
I remember looking at the 7 digit figure then at Jonathan in the unfounded hope that we were mere players in a nightmare. There was no waking up. We were living the dream.
And so we did for the next 3 years—a scourging of our entire ministry through police interrogations, the naked bulb of insurance agents and their lawyers, and Vineyard elders who for good reason wanted to know what was really going on in Desert Stream Ministries.
We the righteous became the scum of the earth—not only the defender of victims, but the predators.
More deeply, we as a ministry were torn in two. The man who had abused was intrinsic to our operation—his influence pervaded DSM. In waking up to the depth of his brokenness and capacity for deception, we were torn in two. His wife had been Annette’s lifelong best friend. Torn in two. Faith in my capacity to discern another’s readiness for ministry: torn in two. Our faith that we as a ministry could endure anything: torn in two.
News of our tragedy, now official on police and court records, attracted our accusers like vultures: ‘Do they change homosexuals or create them?’
We were torn in two. For good reason. We as a ministry had committed the sin of Achan (Joshua 7). In the name of DSM, one man had taken what was holy—a vulnerable life—and had partaken of him hideously. He then hid the evidence.
God’s anger burned at us in the same way that God’s anger burned at the whole nation of Israel for the sin of one man (Achan). He did what our staffer did–he stole Israel’s treasure then lied about it. The blood was on the hands of DSM.
Achan’s sin made us ‘liable to destruction.’ (Joshua 7: 12) As the Israelite’s did, we removed the violator from our midst and got low. We cried out for mercy. We fell face down, over and over and over. We gave Desert Stream back to God.
We knew that if He wanted us to live, we would live. Or He might gently withhold His hand and we would die. He gives, He takes: bless His Name.
At the end of 3 years, the case was settled. Our insurance covered most of the costs. Our groups were reinstated at the Vineyard, with new boundaries and requirements intact. Not one story was printed about the tragedy. God spared us. His mercy leveled and sustained DSM.
‘He who falls on this Rock will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.’ (Matt. 21:44)
‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight that what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’