Amber’s Story: The Potters Field Case
I began PFM’s Discipleship Training School in January of 2017. My time involved with Potters Field Ministries ended much earlier than I had anticipated. My excitement and joy to live in Guatemala and be a part of community quickly diminished as a result of being at the mercy of Mike Rozell and Austin Hiatt.
Roughly two weeks into my training time in Guatemala I began noticing extreme control and manipulation tactics used to “disciple” interns. One early sign of this was that interns were electronically unplugged for their first two weeks of training. We were allowed one phone call home on Sundays, and the calls had to be made in the center of the compound. We had to be in earshot of the leaders. From this point, we had very limited communication with friends and family back home. I remember sitting on a bench inside of the compound and watching Austin pace around the interns, listening to their conversations. I believe this was an early attempt to isolate interns from friends and family for the purpose of creating an unhealthy alliance with PFM.
I continued watching similar tactics unfold and felt deeply unsettled. Being under spiritual leadership, I decided that it was time that I express my thoughts of returning home after training to both Austin Hiatt and his now wife Shannon. I strayed from telling them my concerns within the ministry and simply expressed my desire to go home. Austin counseled me to stay quiet and said that he would talk to Mike about my desire to leave. I left that conversation with a sense of relief, knowing that I had clearly communicated with those whose care I was in. A few days following, Mike sat me down in the middle of the compound and as he called it, “discipled me.” He laid into me and my character like no one had ever done. He told me that I had no integrity, my generation has no integrity, that he and his wife are prime examples of what the “right” way is and that I didn’t desire to be there in the first place. People walked by and looked at him smiling at me, not knowing that my whole body was sinking into the very bench I was sitting on. No one knew what he was saying because he was extremely calm. He didn’t give any room for me to speak and concluded our conversation by saying that if I so much as thought of going home that I would hear three roosters crow, as Peter did, and be denying the Lord. I walked away from this interaction with Mike terrified and alone. I felt as though I had betrayed the Lord and had to force myself to submit and comply with PFM.
I continued to watch Mike, Austin and the RA’s manipulate the interns to submit and conform to Mike’s expectations. There was one day that Austin taught our class and referenced Mike as his “master,” which furthered my fears of both Mike and Austin, knowing that he was Mike’s protégée. One night after chapel, my class was standing around and discussing our guesses as to where our field assignments would be. Mike charged through my class, got in my face and began to threaten that he would send me to Uganda because it was one of the hardest locations. He told me that I was weak and unfit and laughed as he made me the public image of the black sheep. I cried that night, afraid that I had upset the Lord, afraid that I was being punished, afraid because no one knew what was happening.
At this point, my physical body began to feel weak and I knew it was time to express my observations to someone. During our allotted time to contact home, I reached out to a family member via e-mail, because I was too afraid to speak aloud about what I was seeing, and this individual confirmed that it was a toxic situation. I was almost two months into my training time, and I knew that I needed to leave within the next week. I waited until my return flight was purchased to confront Austin with my decision. I sat down with Austin and told him that I had spoken to a family member and decided to return home. He laughed in my face and told me that there was no fruit in my life, that the Lord truly can’t work in my life outside of being in PFM, and said, “I don’t know what God you are talking to, because it’s not my God.” He continued by saying, that I am walking in darkness and even if I decided to stay, no one would listen to me because I wavered. Our conversation ended by him telling me that they were most likely not going to give me a ride to the airport, so I would have to find transportation on my own. My flight was scheduled to leave within the following 48 hours.
I walked away from that conversation numb, feeling nothing but fear.
The next evening, I was called into the office because Mike was on the phone and wanted to talk to me. I sat down in a room with Matt and Brooke Mcclain, Austin Hiatt and Mike Rozell on the phone. He used the next two hours to lay into me. For two hours I sat there numb as he told me that I was going to open the flood gates at my church when I returned. He said that either no one would believe me or that they would welcome be back with open arms and it would be sin. He told me that because I made a commitment that I wasn’t going to keep that I owed him 15, 000 dollars. He told me that no one from my home church would be accepted into the program again and that it was my fault. There was one intern who really wanted to go to Africa, and Mike told me that he was going to have to remove her from the Africa team and that it was my fault. He also said that if I slept well when I got home, that it would confirm that God had left me in my sin. Matt, Brooke and Austin sat there and listened as Mike drilled into me.
After this interaction, Austin called my entire class into the chapel room and made me confess my sin, that I was leaving and that I wasn’t fulfilling my commitment. Before I went to bed that night, Austin told me that they were in fact going to give me a ride to the airport.
I woke the next morning and boarded a plane. I sat in my seat shaking, looking out over a country I wasn’t ready to leave and wept out of terror.