Patmos: Another Calvary Chapel Cult?
Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale is the swamp from which Bob Coy, Mike and Pam Rozell and Potters Field ministries arose, along with a similar program called “Patmos” run by former assistant pastor Chet Lowe. We have received reports of the same sort of abusive “discipleship” occuring in Patmos as happened in Potters Field. This is one of those testimonies.
In the winter of 2003, I decided to move to South Florida to escape the cold and start over fresh in a new environment. I was 29, single and completely unfulfilled in my life. My career path was not where I wanted to be, and my faith was stagnant. I felt that the familiar was dragging me down and keeping me from growing. My parents were snowbirds and had a home in Boynton Beach where I could get myself started.
The week I moved to Florida the 2003 Luis Palau “Beach Fest” which was a large Christian concert on Fort Lauderdale beach was taking place. My parents had told me about it, and I wanted to go but had no one to go with me. Finally, around 7pm I left my parents’ home alone and headed south. Fort Lauderdale was packed with thousands of people. I had no idea where I was going but somehow landed a parking spot next to the entrance of the beach. There must have been close to 100,000 people there and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. For a Northeast girl, this kind of thing didn’t happen in Christian circles and it really blew me away. There were huge movie screen’s set up all over the beach so everyone could see the stage. As I started making my way to the stage the last band was announced, “Third Day”. I had never heard them before, and I was amazed at how good they were. There isn’t much Christian radio in Boston, so everything was new to me. I started chatting with a guy standing next to me and explained I was new to the area and looking for a good church. He mentioned a few names but the only one I remembered was Calvary Chapel.
The next day, I looked up Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale and could see how much they had going on and they seemed to be a bible-based church. I attended that Sunday with my parents. First off, we were a little curious about the size of the place. It was enormous and we weren’t sure what to think of it. We were immediately drawn in by the beautiful music and Pastor Bob had us laughing and crying by the end of the service. I went to the information booth and left with all the materials I could carry. I was sold.
For the next two years I immersed myself in Calvary Chapel. I attended all their foundations of faith classes so I could be free to serve anywhere in the church. I also enrolled in their bible college and took 30 credits. In 2005 I started working in their accounting office and then I started going on mission trips. I was volunteering in the High School ministry, singles ministry, and mission’s office. I attended home group bible studies, volunteered with the homeless and even lead a bible study in my own home. I felt led to become a full-time foreign missionary in Africa and I was in the process of praying and counseling on my path to get there. The head of missions was a pastor friend of mine named Kelly Lyon. He was a forward-thinking guy and a little unlike the rest of the Calvary crowd.
There were things about my time at Calvary that were huge red flags, but I was new to all of this and drank the Kool aid. I never felt like I fit in but tried with all my being. It never seemed like enough. One red flag that should have sent me packing was their treatment of women. Women were treated like a “sin”. In fact, if you were a male on staff there, you were told that if you encountered a woman alone in the halls or anywhere else, you were to turn around and walk the other direction. There was one pastor who didn’t want another woman touching him. If you touched his shoulder or attempted to “side-hug” him he would scowl at you and lecture you on how the only woman that was to touch him was his wife. Women were second class and expected to behave like little mice.
I have a strong personality and grew up in a family with a very domineering old school Italian father. He had a construction business and was tough but the hardest working person I’ve ever known. He had my brothers and I working hard when we were kids mowing the lawns, shoveling, raking leaves etc. I used to shovel my neighbor’s driveways for money, babysit for the entire neighborhood and clean cottages on Cape Cod in the summer to make money all before I was 13. I was a free spirit and loved to travel, meet new people and learn. Calvary leadership made me feel like something was wrong with my personality. The way I talked, laughed a lot and worked hard seemed to be the opposite of what I was being taught a Christian Proverbs 31 woman should be. Where was my meekness, quiet spirit and desire to submit, marry and have children? I was sometimes told I wasn’t meeting my husband because I had unresolved issues and God was trying to teach me something. I felt like I was always doing something wrong. I longed for acceptance and found myself feeling deeply insecure.
When I started serving as a table leader in High School ministry, I had a group of 9th graders who started sitting with me every week. It was a mix of boys and girls and I grew to really love these kids. When I came on staff they would come over during breaks from school, which was on the CCFL campus, to sit in my office and talk. I would take them all to the CCFL restaurant for lunch sometimes and met up with them a couple times to see a movie. They were an incredible and diverse group of kids. We were close. I would get phone calls from them when they had problems at home or needed a ride somewhere. During their junior year, the ministry decided they were going to separate the boys and girls and the group leaders as well. The kids were beside themselves. I was a big reason they even went to the HS service and I was confused by the decision as well. How are kids supposed to be prepared to enter the rest of the world and be equipped when they are constantly controlled? I left the ministry at that point as everything I had spent two years investing myself into was taken away. I continued to meet with them on my own and I’m still in touch with a couple of them almost 15 years later.
I had a friend who went to Potter’s Field Ranch and she introduced me to Pastor Chet Lowe. He was a gregarious personality and likeable. As I was considering Africa, I became acquainted with Chet and he told me about his new discipleship ministry he was starting in the Bahamas called Patmos. He was potentially considering some leadership roles for the women’s group, but he said you must go through the program first. I resigned my position in accounting and signed up for the first class at Patmos.
Almost immediately I thought this program was insane. I could see the signs of psychological manipulation. They would not allow contact with anyone outside of the program. Isolation. They exhausted us emotionally, physically and spiritually. We were exercised to exhaustion, indoctrinated by “Moses Model” leadership, expected to constantly move our belongings, through injury, sickness and extreme fatigue. We were not allowed to shower, brush our teeth, eat at times for several days, slept in small tents in the pouring rain, made to march around in animal feces with sheets covering our bodies like Muslim women and had peanut butter smeared in our hair for almost a week. Then the verbal assaults and abuse were just terrible. Chet would have each student to his home for a night for one on one attention. This is where he would tell them that God told him that they were supposed to do this or that because he was a prophet and God was using him to speak into their lives.
Most of the young adults there were in their early 20’s and had been raised in the church, attended Christian school and were very sheltered. They didn’t have the capacity to see how very wrong this program was. They were drinking the cool aid. There was one kid named N who was 20 and really struggling. I could see he was an outsider and feeling lost and depressed. I befriended him and he started confiding in me how much he was struggling. We became friends and almost immediately the two of us were taken aside and told that I was fulfilling a sexual need for N and he was fulfilling a husband need for me. It was extremely uncomfortable, and we were told to stay away from each other.
The group knew something was off. We were all together 24/7 and to have two previous friends now obviously ignoring each other put a strain on the group. I could see N really falling into a depression. Chet and the other leaders and students really targeted him and talked behind his back constantly. At times we were blindfolded for days, made to act like we had no limbs, no voice, and had to rely on others to help us. It really was all just a test in obedience. It was a wearing down of the self-will to get us to just do as we were told. It was a cult through and through. I could see the military tactics they were using, and I thought the whole thing was extremely disturbing. One day I was blindfolded and had no use of my arms. I was picked up and thrown down on N who was lying down on his stomach on the floor. I fell on him hard. He was then made to do pushups while I was on his back. It was meant to humiliate both of us. It was all so incredibly disturbing.
N had an injury that needed immediate attention. He lost all feeling in one of his fingers and it was basically ignored. One night on the walk back to our cabins I had a short opportunity to approach him and pray for him. He started crying. He knew I was the only person that cared for him and it broke my heart. I could see him spiraling. About a week later we had a break to go snorkeling. N and I had a chance to chat and we were back to being friends and laughing for the first time in weeks. That night I was whisked away to Chet’s house where I was confronted by the entire leadership team saying I was a jezebel and a harlot, and they were sending me back to Fort Lauderdale. I knew that if that happened not only would my time in Africa be off the table, but I would have no job and no opportunities at Calvary again. Even though it wasn’t true, no one would believe me, and no one would go against Chet. I decided to do the only thing I felt I could do and repent of the thing they held against me and commit to the program. To try to save some face, I shared a personal experience of sexual abuse from peers during high school. I asked for prayer and they laid hands on me. I had a friend who had attended PFM who came to help out as a leader for a few weeks while I was there, and she told me they all were obsessed with breaking me and talked about me constantly.
I fell into a deep depression at that point. I isolated myself and became a shell of myself. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. After the end of the program, we went on a mission trip to Morocco. I got up on the flight over and went to sit with N and we prayed together. We caught up with some laughs as we hadn’t been able to speak for several weeks and ended up falling asleep. After we got settled at our home stays in Morocco, Chet laid into me again saying he was going to send me home, threatening the same things as before. This guy was sick. I spent the trip alone and was targeted like a leper. When we got back, I immediately went to two people at Calvary who were in leadership that had been mentors for me. Dr. Peggy Banks was the women’s ministry director and Steve Williams, the CCA Wrestling Coach and PE Teacher. They were both horrified by my account. They tried to help counsel me through my depression. However, they would not speak on my behalf. They were afraid to. I also told Kelly Lyons the missions pastor. He said he knew it was a mistake for me to go to Patmos. He seemed to know something about Chet and Calvary that he wasn’t telling me. Shortly after I got back, Kelly left to start his own church.
I was not given my job back and I was not allowed in High School ministry. Apparently, I was now some kind of pedophile and word got out. I decided to confront Chet about things, to try to make things right between us so I could salvage everything I felt I had spent the last four years working toward. I met with him alone (mistake number one) and I asked if I could talk first. He would not let me and proceeded to say that I was going around telling people a false narrative and no one was going to believe me over him. That it was my word against his. He then shared a story of how he went against Pastor Bob once and Bob went off on him, yelling about how he was insubordinate, and I was doing the same thing. He said again that I was a jezebel and a harlot, and I was unfit for ministry and I would destroy a ministry if I was sent out on the mission field.
After that, I was completely ostracized by everyone. No one called or reached out to me except Kelly Lyons. I ended up going to his church and found some healing there. A woman that attended his church got me a job working at a local Christian ministry. It was a Christian family foundation and I worked there for 4 years. During that time, I really struggled with my faith. I felt like I had to rethink everything I was taught. I questioned everything. The one saving grace I feel that I took from my time at Calvary was that I knew my bible and I knew who God was and how he felt about me and it was nothing like what I had experienced at Calvary or Patmos. Kelly’s church was dismantled by Calvary. He was labeled a heretic and anyone from Calvary that was either on staff or serving that was involved with Kelly’s church in any way would be excommunicated. They literally had meetings about it with volunteers and staff to make their intentions clear. It ended up failing going from around 300 people the first service to a home bible study group with around 10 by the end of it. I was very angry for a long time and fell into somewhat of a rebellion. I was totally disgusted that God allowed all of this to happen and I felt like He didn’t care about me. I felt like there was no justice.
Over the years, especially after Bob was found out in 2014, I have heard many stories of people who suffered the spiritual abuse of Calvary Chapel. I have often wondered when there would be some accountability. At some point I surrendered vengeance to the Lord.
Reading the stories of PFM mimics my experience at Patmos. Chet learned it from Mike and his wife and was the same way. He is a complete narcissist, a cult leader and sick in the mind. He destroys lives. I remember when I was at Patmos there was news of a young woman who had been at PFM while Chet was there that subsequently died of either an overdose or suicide. Chet seemed completely indifferent to the news as if she deserved it. Knowing that Chet is a senior pastor now out in CA sickens me. He still runs Patmos and promotes it. It just astounds me that this continues. Over the years I have wanted to say something but there are so many “Chetites” and “Calvaryites” that would attack me that I just couldn’t bare putting myself out there to subject myself to the abuse. I look at the people that still support Bob despite what he has done, and I just can’t go back there. I’m finally at peace, 12 years later.
I wanted to share my story, because I had an inside look at a lot of things at Calvary. There is so much more that I could say, and I am open to communicating with you. I felt led to share and trust my story with you in case there ever comes a time you think any of this might be of value to share. My goal is to help anyone else who has been victimized by Patmos/Calvary.