Jessica’s Story: The Potters Field Case
I lived and worked at Potter’s Field Ranch for almost 2-years (Feb 2007-Nov 2008). My story probably starts similarly to other folks who went to PFR when it was a Discipleship School–I was 20-years-old and I had been preparing to go back to Africa full-time as a missionary when I developed an eating disorder as a result of some significant traumas that had occurred. My little sister had gone to the ranch as a student maybe 1 or 2 years earlier, and my Pastor thought it would be a great opportunity for me to go and refocus on my relationship with God. It was made clear to staff in my application that I had an eating disorder and that was the primary reason for me to go to the Ranch.
I wouldn’t say my term was much different from anyone else. Our second day there we were running (literally) races against one another across fields 4-feet deep with snow, carrying giant logs across shorter distances, running the obstacle course, and of course, hiking up Dog Mountain in the snow while fashioning snow shoes out of branches. It was awful but I thought it was going to help me to humble myself and heal. I cried a lot. We were berated by staff for having a divisive team and told constantly throughout our class that we were the most difficult team to come through.
On February 19th, just a few days into my term, I wrote, “Pastor Mike Rozell is here. He has spoken into the lives of ____, ____, and ____ [all females]. He has such an amazing gift of discernment. God can speak to him and say, ‘Someone here needs to hear about abortion,’ or, ‘you are doubting God,’ and he knows exactly who to go to and God speaks through him. At first I was jealous of the other girls, but God spoke to me through [the staff member assigned to me]. For that, I am blessed.” It would become a recurring theme that with each term of students, Pastor Michael would select a few girls and would single them out to meet with him and he would, “speak into,” their life. Pastor Michael ignored me for the entirety of my term, until Monologue Night. He told me later it was because God told him I was seeking validation from men and he should avoid me.
Like I said, the rest of my term was not much different from any other student’s term. We were put on fruit and vegetable “fasts” and woken up at 5am to run drills and exercise in the snow. I threw up several times from how strenuous it was on my body. It wasn’t great for my eating disorder either, but I was so busy all the time that I didn’t struggle much with it much otherwise. I thought I was healed. There were times we were woken up at 10pm or 4am to switch dorms with the male students while it was snowing heavily. We were told we needed to be prepared at all times. I look back on some of this stuff and though it feels abusive, it was all done under the guise of preparing you for ministry. Every challenge was accompanied by a bible verse and a biblical application. All of it was designed to benefit you. We had signed up for it. It was in the brochures.
We were given personal challenges. For some, they had to be a paraplegic for the week. Another person would have to carry them. Some people were tied together with string and had to accompany each other everywhere. Some people were asked to lead bible studies or worship. Some people were mute or blind. My first challenge was to write a song and lead a bible study. The second time I was given a challenge, it was that I wasn’t allowed to smile at the male staff or students. I was told it was because men were reading into me being friendly and that I was causing them to stumble. The other students were all given challenges like the ones I mentioned previously. I felt ashamed and self-conscious about mine.
About a month into my term on March 17th, I was asked by a visiting Pastor if I would consider moving to Thousand Oaks, CA to stay with his family and work at a pregnancy center his church was affiliated with. I was ecstatic. I prayed about it and talked to my Pastor and his wife back home, and then it was settled. After my term, I would be moving to California.
May 3rd, 2007
“Today Pastor Mike came and told us the visions (our plans for how we would serve God after leaving the Ranch) weren’t big enough… Afterwards, I talked to him and…[sorry, I’m parsing this down for clarity but the parts I’m typing out are word for word] he said, “You guys aren’t a team yet and none of us can figure out why.” He said it then aloud to everyone in the room and left.
“After lunch, he came to ____ and I and brought up the fact that after he had left the room, someone said, “I think we are a group,” and it undermined Pastor Mike. Pastor Mike said God has given PFR to him. He’s seen 8 teams come through–enough to see the difference between those that are unified and those that aren’t. He said we aren’t a team because we all think we still have rights. We think we have the right to say that we believe the authority set above us is wrong. But if it [the leadership structure] goes: God, Pastor Mike, Pastor J and Pastor D, then the rest of the staff, what makes us think we have the right to be the one that’s right?
“God gave Pastor Mike all the rights and his staff does whatever he asks without asking why or telling him what they think he should really do because they all know that they were called to serve there and doing that means having respect for Pastor Mike. He said that we’re wasting near half a million dollars by not being a team because that’s what we’re called here to be, so we’re missing out on the blessings. He said we would be accountable to God for the $13,000 that was paid for us to be here and to use it wisely, fix the problem, and grow. Pastor Mike said that he was crucified by us right here on his own property because of criticism. He asked me if I was all in and I said I was.”
We had our monologues a few days later, around May 7th. Monologue night is basically where all the students put together a 5-10 minute presentation on what God has done in their hearts since they came to the Ranch. Everyone had volunteered which order they wanted to go in, but Pastor Jeff asked me specifically at one point to go up. I found out later from Pastor Mike that he had, “felt a burden on his heart that I should go next.”
Here’s what I wrote on May 7th:
“My monologue was really emotional. I started crying after the second sentence and I’m not exaggerating. It was just really honest and I was very vulnerable in front of everyone. Pastor Mike was crying, ____ was crying, people I’d never talked to before felt what I felt. After I finished, Pastor Mike called for a 15-minute break so he could talk to me and I knew he was going to ask me to stay. I’d had that feeling. I knew he’d ask me once he heard my monologue and he did. He asked me if I was sure I was supposed to go to Thousand Oaks. I said yes, that I’d been praying about it, my family, my pastor, the Thousand Oaks people had all been praying. He told me okay and that he really anted me to stay and do ministry with the girl staff and the students and that I was always welcome to do ministry here. All I had to do was call and J would buy me a plant ticket.
“The next day, two days before Commissioning [that’s when everyone “graduates” and leaves] Pastor Mike called for me and I had to walk down to the admin building. I was terrified because I knew he was going to tell me that God wanted me to stay here and I didn’t want to. I wanted to go to Thousand Oaks. … the last thing I wanted to do was be stuck in Hicksville, Montana in a Christian bubble. I mean, I was tired of feeding myself [the word of God]. Wasn’t it time that I went out and did something radical for Jesus? He had other plans.
“Pastor R from Thousand Oaks had called Pastor Mike that morning and asked him if I could stay because they didn’t have room at the time for me. Pastor Mike said, “It’s funny that you should ask that because I really feel like Jessica is supposed to stay here.” So Pastor R said my invite to Thousand Oaks was considered off the table; God wants me here for longer. Pastor Mike asked me to commit to staying for a year and I said yeah.”
I still wonder to this day if that was true or if Mike just told the other Pastor’s he wanted me to stay on staff and they didn’t argue with him on it because they had a mutually beneficial relationship that they didn’t want to compromise.
I think what really messed me up is that no one had any concerns about me going to the Ranch to recover from an eating disorder. No one thought to suggest that I see a doctor, go to therapy or even rehab. It was just like, “Okay, let’s bring her in.” I watched it happen for the next few terms–girls would apply to the Ranch saying they had eating disorders and we just brought them in without hesitation.
During my monologue, I had talked about how I was healed from my eating disorder. In just 3 months, years of addictive and destructive behaviors just disappeared all thanks to extreme discipline and the constant reading of His word. Saying it now, I realize how ridiculous that is, but I really believed it at the time. I was assigned a mentor, one of the pastor’s wives. We went through a workbook together weekly that touched on topics like sexual assault and eating disorders. I was also assigned to mentor a student for the next term who was struggling with an eating disorder.
May 7th, 2007
i heard that possibly one or two girls that are coming down for the next term may have eating disorders. pastor mike rozell called to talk to me and he was like, “you know that God’s called you here for such a time as this, right?”
i don’t think i’m ready. i know it will stumble me to talk to girls with current eating disorders. i went seventy days without purging while i was here. that’s, the day that i got here all the way until the last week. and i broke down. it was like an old friend. it was familiar and it was the same as i remembered, and yet, i was changed. i am different, so it affected me differently. i felt guilty and ashamed that i’d dishonored something that God loved enough to die for. it’s like i threw it in His face, “yeah, you gave your life for me because you thought i was worth something. but this is what i think of myself.”
i don’t know. i’m just not ready.
During the day I would clean, cook, or work in the coffee shop. I was eventually transferred to the admin building where I worked as an assistant reconciling bank accounts and helping out in the admissions department, and then to the missions department. Things went really well until they didn’t. I heard murmurings that Pastor Mike would yell at people if he thought they were messing up or not respecting his authority, but he pretty much ignored me when he was around. It came as a surprise to me when I asked to be re-baptized in July and Pastor Mike asked if he could do it. He would tell me he loved me as a daughter but he never really talked to me at all.
October 2nd, 2007
one of the pastors here told me the other day, ‘you’re so fake. why can’t you just be real?’ and yet when i told him how i really felt he said, ‘that’s why you talk to ___________.’ so, basically, when i am real, people don’t know how to respond to…what i’m really feeling so i get pushed aside. it wouldn’t be that bad, except that when it’s a man who’s saying he cares but then disregards what i’m saying, i feel rejected and crushed and i can’t emotionally deal with it.
for example, last night pastor michael, the president of potter’s field ranch served every single person at my table other than me. i sat there for several minutes, waiting. he sat with his back to me at a separate table. i waited for him to remember that he had forgotten me, but he didn’t. so i sat for three or four minutes while everyone else at my table ate happily and looked at me quixotically, also wondering why i hadn’t been served. okay, so maybe he didn’t do it on purpose, but it would almost be worse to have just been forgotten. i just don’t understand. and i hate that i take stupid things like that to heart, but i can’t help it. i hate that i do it. i really, really do.
Sorry for all the backstory. I feel like it’s really important for some reason so I’m including it. I think it’s because I want everyone to understand that it’s not just Mike Rozell. It was an entire culture. You are told by those in authority to die to yourself, to be all in, have a thick skin and a tender heart. If you complain or have concerns, you are not trusting the Lord enough. You are standing in your heart. You are prideful. You need to die to yourself.
Things with Pastor Mike stayed the same for the most part through this part of my internship. Hot and cold. I had no idea where I stood with him. It didn’t feel good. He spent a lot of time talking with other female staff members and avoiding me.
We treated the students the same way we were treated–at times we took away their mirrors, technology (internet and phone), gave them personal and group challenges, pushed them to physical exhaustion, fasting, etc. Back then we interns (and some staff) lived on the Ranch property with the students. As one of the first groups of interns, the 3 of us were treated more as staff. We didn’t have an “intern program” per say until months later. I was making $150 per month for +50 hours of work per week on top of the time I spent “mentoring” students. I put mentoring in quotations because I literally had no idea what I was doing and should not have been in the position to be offering advice or accountability to anyone.
April 24th, 2008 is the day that changed the trajectory of the rest of my stay at Potter’s Field. I confided in my mentor that I was struggling with my eating disorder and that another staff member was threatening to tell Pastor Michael. My mentor was hurt that I hadn’t told her and said that it showed that I didn’t want to be better because I have so much opportunity for accountability.
May 1st, 2008
A lot has happened since I last wrote. I had come to the Ranch to pack a bag to go and get ____ and as I was leaving, J said, “Pastor Mike needs to talk to you.” We sat on the couch in the Ranch House and he told me he should have known [that I was struggling]. He said he wanted to help me if I want help…I started crying. He asked if I did want help. I said I did but I didn’t want to get fat. He laughed and brushed the tears from my cheek and said, “you’re not fat, Jessica. You are one of the most stunningly beautiful women that have set foot on this property. I love you desperately. I hope you know that. But you have to stop. Somedays the only thing that keeps me from doing blow are the 30 people serving on staff here. You just don’t care anymore. I don’t want to send you home but you’re going to die if you keep this up. It will destroy this entire Ranch and I can’t have that. If all 30 people here did whatever they felt like doing, do you think there would be a Ranch? You don’t have that kind of leisure.”
Later on, I had a conference call with Pastor Mike and [my mentor]. I was told that I would no longer be allowed to exercise and that exercise is a privilege. He said that I need to meet with C once a week.
I met with C [wife of a board member] the next day. She was a therapist in Florida and worked at eating disorder clinics. She said this is not a rehab facility and she is not treating me. If it got out that I had an eating disorder and wasn’t sent away for help, they could shut the whole Ranch down. If anyone thought C was treating me, we aren’t an authorized facility so they could come in and shut down the Ranch. She had me write up a contract and sign it that if I broke anything I wrote and I didn’t talk to her within 24 hours of breaking the contract, I would be dismissed from Ministry.
Later that evening in a conversation with another staff member, I had made a comment that I didn’t like the negative attention and that I wished I could go back and pretend like everything was fine so I could be treated the same way I had been treated–like every other staff member. The staff member I’d confided in told this to C.
May 1st, 2008
C was mad that I’d said that. She said I didn’t really want help. She said I need to go to a treatment center and the perimeters here at the Ranch aren’t strict enough. I’m being set up to fail. I don’t really want to go to rehab. What will people think of me? She said I’m so sick and that I need to be stabilized before she can work with me.
The thing about C is that she told me I could tell her anything and it would remain confidential. The only person she was accountable to was Pastor Mike and he only wanted to know, “is she getting better or worse?” Anyway, she told him that I [engaged in my eating disorder]. Pastor Mike came and got me. He was yelling at me for what felt like hours. He said that I had to leave. He couldn’t have me stay. He’d done everything he could. [My sister} and ____ were bawling. I was bawling. C was looking into rehabs. Pastor Michael left to go to a leadership meeting and he told all of them I was leaving. One of the pastors cried when he told them. I am upsetting lives and I don’t mean to. I’m the same exact person I was 2 months ago, investing in students, working…it’s not like I’ve wasted this time.
Pastor Mike told me he couldn’t have me stay but he wants me back after rehab. He said there are girls coming in 2009 with eating disorders and that God is going to use me. He said a lot of other things about how I don’t cry out to God, that I’m not sorry, and that I’m affecting the entire ministry.
Lord, please help me. I can’t live like this. I am on 24-hour watch until C gets me into a clinic. ____ is babysitting me.
Honestly, I wish that had happened. I wish Pastor Michael had actually made me leave and that I could have gotten real help.
May 7th, 2008
Yesterday C told me Pastor Michael had said I could stay. C had begged him more than once and he hadn’t consented until he asked [my mentor] what she thought. The day before, she had been strongly against me staying but something that happened–God had changed her heart. I had been burned on her heart and God had given her a hope for me. I was in shock. C told me the rules for if I decided to stay. I’d need to see a doctor. She told me I needed to go on an antidepressant. No cellphone, no internet, 24-hour supervision. Basically, be in rehab. Only I’m here, where my life is.
Everything changed. Everything was controlled from that moment on, down to the little things like banning me from drinking ice water. This wasn’t a treatment center. This was my home. This was my work. These were’t professionals watching me on 24-hour supervision with a distrusting eye. These were my best friends. The people I served alongside in ministry for over a year. My family. It was humiliating. It devastated my relationships with these people. They were told that I was manipulative and that I would do anything to get my needs (my addiction) met. The relationships I built shattered. All the work I had done was destroyed. Nothing I touched was good anymore. I had no power.
May 11th, 2008
I think what’s been so difficult about this is that for the past year and a half, I’ve been treated normally. I’ve built a life and had freedom. Now all of a sudden, [having an eating disorder] is a big deal. I’m like a big fire that they’re trying to put out. Why hadn’t anyone cared when I was playing with matches? It’s not like they didn’t know what they were getting when they saw my monologue, or even when I applied to be a student. Why hadn’t they watched me and given me rules then? Even when I was an intern? Why does my life have to start unraveling before my eyes now? Am I sitting in my heart yet, God?
None of this occurred in private. We had students coming and going, the ministry was still active. One of my rules was that I wasn’t allowed to talk to the students. I felt like a leper. I’m sure the other interns knew something was going on but we didn’t talk about it. This went on for 42-days. It wasn’t just having the rules or being watched for 24-hours a day that was hard. During this time I met with C regularly and she would tell me things like, “you’re angry at God. You have disbelief that He will heal you.” She would say I am not surrendered, that I have pride, I’m not all in this, etc, berating me until I cried and begged for forgiveness and another chance to prove myself worthy. When I would share with my friends that these sessions were really hard and that I didn’t believe all the things C was telling me, they would go back to C and tell her. I felt sick to my stomach every time the phone would ring and someone would say, “It’s C for you.” because I knew she was angry at me for something and was going to tell me I have to leave the Ranch, and I would need to prove all over again that I was “all in,” despite the fact that I hadn’t actually broken any rules. I was just a person going through something incredibly intimate in a very public way. Of course I was going to have feelings about it. I just wasn’t allowed to share them.
May 11th, 2008
I talked to Pastor Michael today. he talked to me about taking it one day at a time and not getting ahead of myself, and that it was God that saved me from being sent home. Pastor Mike had (after telling me I was going home) gone to the upper room and said that he’s not one to put a fleece before the Lord, but if He wanted me to stay, to show him. In the upper room the students were doing teachings and one of the students was teaching on forgiveness. He said, “if someone asks you to forgive them, you forgive them everything.” That’s how I got to stay.
Anyway, he called me a second time and sounded less gruff and told me he loved me and that I’d been having some rough days.
It became a pattern. At least once per week I would expect to be called or visited by Pastor Michael and he would berate me for putting the ministry at risk and tell me how fortunate I was that he was allowing me to stay. Looking back through my journals, I didn’t slip up at all for months, yet every few days I was told I had to leave because I wasn’t repentant and that I didn’t want to be, “healed.” I was still doing everything that was asked of me and more. I was terrified of leaving. I had no where else to go and felt shame about being kicked out of ministry. I spent the majority of my time for the first few weeks crying and praying and asking for humility.
May 15th, 2008
Last night I had a meeting with C and [my mentor] about me staying. C said she wasn’t sure that this was the best place for me or that I was ready. She assaulted/interrogated me with questions that left me confused. I finally started yelling at her, “Tell me what you want! I’ve done everything you asked! I spent 9-hours this weekend doing homework. You asked me for my honest and it’s all there in my food journal. Every dirty thought in my head. I’ll do anything. I don’t know what else you want me to say. Just tell me what you want and stop playing these games.” Well, that was what they were looking for. Passion.
So, this is it. Last shot. I’m not a staff member, still an intern. Depressing because ____ and ____ made a sort of big deal about it and I had to go back to the interns and say, “I’m officially not staff. I’m here by the grace of God. You’ve seen that I’m dealing with some things right now. You can congratulate me on being staff in the future once I allow God to continue working on the areas of my life that I need to change.” I thought I’d be more upset about not being staff, but I’m just grateful for the chance to stay and do this.
The public humiliation was really hard.
June 13th, 2008
C said I’d come a long way and that she thought I was ready to move on to the next phase but she’d have to talk to Pastor Mike first. Not because she didn’t have the authority to move me forward, she just said she’d like to clear it with him.
Pastor Michael was aware of everything that was happening and allowed it. This was all facilitated and approved by the board as C was the wife of a board member. When Pastor Michael wasn’t around, that wasn’t a problem because there were other ministry leaders who were happy to let me know how grateful I should be to have the opportunity to stay after I had put the ministry at risk of being closed down. …and yes, I now realize that putting that kind of pressure on me was an abusive tactic and was meant to make me feel ashamed for being a sinner. At the time I believed it. My journal is filled with words about how vile and wretched I was and how much I just wanted to die for disappointing everyone at PFR.
When I wasn’t being watched by my peers, I was either working or being counseled by C. She demanded more and more from me each time we met, and it escalated to the point that she asked to read a workbook I had gone through that detailed a sexual assault I had experienced. A week or so later she said she wanted to start reading my journals. I told her no and she told me that secrets breed sin and sickness, and that I wasn’t, “all in,” if I wasn’t allowing her to read my private thoughts. I remember I ripped a bunch of pages out and started being very guarded about what I could write. She told me she would read my journals and then tell Pastor Michael the contents, so he started reading them himself. This is disturbing to me as I write in my journal about a lot of things that I would never share with a man–period. Things that would be considered “stumbling.”
I was taken off 24-7 watch on June 18th—42-days later—and it was reduced to 4 1/2 hours per day. Pastor Michael told my mentor that I was being treated, “like an animal.” I still had strict rules and had to ask for permission to do things like go for a bike ride. On June 29th, Pastor Michael and Pastor Don McClure called C to ask where I was at in my recovery because there are students coming and it wouldn’t look right to have people still watching me. Pastor Michael had called me a couple days before that and laid into me about grace and about how lucky I am to still be allowed to stay at PFR, and then said he believes in me and believes I can recover and that I could have all the rules lifted and succeed/thrive again. The next day, he called and again talked to me about staying and said he wanted this to be a “God thing” and he prayed over me. Then I met with C and she’d tell me everyone agrees I need to still go to treatment. I was getting conflicting messages about my future. This went on for months. I didn’t leave the Ranch until November of that year. I was moved from living at the Ranch to living at the Lodge with the other staff members. I was put to work part time at the church we were closely affiliated with at that time. Students came and went and I was still banned from interacting with them. I wasn’t doing anything wrong or being active in my eating disorder, but no one trusted me to do ministry anymore.
In July, I got a letter from a former student. It is not my place to share her story but it is similar to mine. In the letter, she named what was happening at the Ranch for what it was–spiritual abuse. This was the first time I had heard that term. I didn’t agree with her at the time and I was upset she had said that. “After everything the Ranch has done for you and I!” That thought rang in my head because that’s what Pastor Michael and C told me week after week. It feels a little bit like brainwashing.
In October, I was accepted into a free, faith based treatment program. It was a 6-month program and I went with the expectation that when I was finished, I could return to the Ranch and everything would go back to how it was before. I won’t get into the specifics as it’s a story for another time, but the program I went to has had multiple facilities shut down–one for trying to cure anorexia with exorcisms. I called my mentor in Montana about a month into my stay and asked if I had her support to leave. The teachings at this place didn’t align with Calvary Chapel–they told women who were sexually abused that demons of lust were attached to them, you could be healed from addiction and eating disorders by claiming healing in the name of Jesus. If girls got in arguments, they would go on prayer walks through the house with other residents screaming at the top of their lungs, rebuking satan, sobbing, speaking in tongues without a translator. Those are just a few examples.
My mentor said yes. I called and left Pastor Michael a message letting him know why I was choosing to leave the treatment place, that I was doing well and was still healthy. It was a 3 day bus trip back to Montana. 3 whole days Pastor Michael had to call me and tell me he didn’t support my decision. He didn’t do that. I didn’t come home to what I expected. While Pastor J, the B family, and the pastor of the church in Montana I attended all backed my decision to come home, Pastor Michael was opposed. He called and told me he loved me but I had to leave. I had broken my commitment to stay in treatment. I told him I would be staying with my mentors family and he told me I wasn’t allowed to do that. He called the church pastor and asked him to take me in until I could fly home. I spoke with Pastor Michael a few times on the phone after that over the next few months. He still insisted he loved me like a daughter.