The Voice of the Martyrs Controversy

VOM website, fair use
VOM website, fair use

In April, a source sent a link to a website which is dedicated to concerns about Christian charity Voice of the Martyrs. Unfortunately, it went on the back burner until today. Although there are aspects of the story I won’t be able to assess, I do think it will be of interest to donors and some of my readers. First, I want to link to a website which raises concerns about a VOM affiliate in Nigeria. Then, I want to present VOM’s response and the counter response from VOM’s critics.

VOM’s primary critics attend Reformation Baptist Church in Youngsville, NC. Critics allege that VOM in the United States ignored a serious situation of abuse and corruption in the Nigeria VOM operation. Watch:

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/212739199[/vimeo]

The church has launched a petition at Change.org to call attention to their concerns.

When I raised the issue with VOM in the U.S., I received a rapid response from Todd Nettleton, Chief of Media Relations and Message Integration with VOM. I received the response in mid-April, and don’t know of any more recent comments.

The Voice of the Martyrs Statement on Nigeria Abuse Accusations 

April 13, 2017 

It is heartbreaking for us to consider that someone may have used VOM-USA funds or projects as a means to victimize anyone—especially a child. However, the release of this video is not helpful in supporting our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters, bringing the alleged perpetrators of abuse to justice, or providing aid to potential victims of abuse. VOM has taken wise and appropriate action to see that any victims are helped and justice is served, and is committed to continue to do so as we become aware through the investigation process of further actions that will assist the authorities and the alleged victims.

While The Voice of the Christian Martyrs-Nigeria (VOCM) shares historical roots with The Voice of the Martyrs-USA (VOM), both tracing their lineage to Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, it is important to understand that VOM-USA and VOCM-Nigeria are separate and completely autonomous organizations. Each organization has its own leaders and separate boards of directors. VOM-USA has never controlled VOCM-Nigeria’s operations nor its hiring and management of staff.

After repeatedly raising a variety of concerns with VOCM-Nigeria and seeing an unsatisfactory response, VOM-USA ended all funding of VOCM-Nigeria projects in June 2016. Then, in October 2016, VOM-USA informed VOCM-Nigeria in a face-to-face meeting that all relationship between the organizations had been severed.

VOM-USA first learned of allegations of abuse against Isaac Newton-Wusu (the President/CEO of VOCM-Nigeria) in 2011. The allegations were made by a former VOCM-Nigeria staff member who had been fired by Isaac and VOCM-Nigeria’s board of directors for theft. Despite the questionable source of the allegations against Isaac, VOM-USA undertook a thorough investigation and found no evidence of their truth.

In the years following those initial allegations, VOM-USA staff who oversee ministry work to persecuted Christians in Nigeria grew increasingly concerned about overcrowding and quality of care at The Stephen Centre children’s home (operated by VOCM-Nigeria). In addition, VOM-USA had serious questions about the accountability and financial management of VOM-USA funds by VOCM-Nigeria staff members. These multiple concerns were expressed clearly and in writing to Isaac and the VOCM-Nigeria board of directors.

When VOM-USA received a video on Sept. 1, 2016, including interviews with former VOCM-Nigeria staff members claiming to have witnessed abuse by Isaac, VOM-USA had already cut all financial support to VOCM-Nigeria.

VOM-USA staff were surprised to see former VOCM-Nigeria staff members making allegations of abuse in the video when they had not raised those allegations with VOM-USA staff members who visited Nigeria or had involvement with The Stephen Centre or other VOCM projects.

VOM-USA submitted the video and all related information to the FBI for further investigation. VOM-USA will continue to cooperate fully with U.S. and Nigerian authorities in every way possible. It is our sincere hope that if criminal activities have occurred, the criminals will be brought to justice. The only way alleged perpetrators can be charged with a crime is for victims to file complaints with the Nigerian authorities, and VOM-USA has made a standing offer to pay all legal fees for any potential victim in Nigeria.

VOM-USA is contracting with an outside child safety ministry to evaluate the methodology of VOM’s work in Nigeria and advise our staff in best-practices to ensure that we are providing the best possible care to those we serve in Nigeria and the other 67 countries where VOM is currently serving persecuted Christians.

Since severing our relationship with VOCM-Nigeria, VOM-USA has continued to assist and support the families of martyrs and other persecuted Christians in northern Nigeria through staff and partners who meet our high standards of accountability, transparency and quality of care. We are providing more than $2 million in care this year to widows, orphans and other Christians in northern Nigeria who have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram and other Muslim extremists.

Nettleton’s response was rapid and to the point of my questions, but after it was released publicly on May 3, critics at Reformation Baptist released their response on the church Facebook page and reproduced here:

RESPONSE TO VOM USA
Voice of the Martyrs has just released a statement responding to the allegations in the Persecuting the Persecuted video. The statement is dated April 13, but it was not publicly released until today, May 3. We are thankful that they have acknowledged some of the issues in their work in Nigeria, but we are very concerned that they still refuse to do an independent investigation, and that several statements they made are not open and forthright.

1. “VOM-USA has never controlled VOCM-Nigeria’s operations nor its hiring and management of staff.”

VOM-USA tried to use this same distinction in our conversations with them. As we said in the Persecuting the Persecuted video, we do not believe this is a forthright description of the situation in Nigeria. In our experience, they both had their own staff in Nigeria, and worked closely with VOCM staff. For example, VOM-USA has told us that Zingak Deshi was a VOCM employee, and so they had no role in his firing. However, we know from both Zingak and the former VOM-USA contactor who hired him, that he worked for VOM-USA and never VOCM-Nigeria. Therefore, it had to be VOM-USA who fired him, furthering Isaac’s attempt to retaliate against those who spoke against him.

2. “Despite the questionable source of the allegations against Isaac, VOM-USA undertook a thorough investigation [in 2011] and found no evidence of their truth. “

This statement fails to mention other occasions when these allegations were made against Isaac and they refused to investigate. They also do not answer the allegations in the Persecuting the Persecuted video that their investigation had several critical flaws which led to failure to uncover the truth.

3. “When VOM-USA received a video on August 31, 2016 … VOM-USA had already cut all financial support to VOCM-Nigeria.”

Although it is true that we did not send the video to VOM-USA until August, 2016, that was certainly not the first time we had told them of these allegations. Very soon after we shot the first interviews, in January 2016, we met with a VOM-USA staff member to discuss the allegations. We sent the video to the VOM-USA board in August because we did not believe that VOM-USA employees were handling the situation in a biblical way, and because the video had been requested by a VOM USA staff member to show to other national VOMs (since we didn’t believe that they ever did, we sent it to every other VOM we could find contact information for.) We had also been promised that they would bring in two independent investigators which, since none ever contacted us for the information we had, we believe has never happened.

One thing their statement does not address is why, after they decided to stop funding VOCM because of poor conditions at the Stephens Center and financial misconduct in VOCM, they gave over $100,000 in properties and cars to VOCM, especially as they had already been made aware of allegations of sexual abuse by Isaac Newton, head of VOCM. An employee of VOM-USA even told Jeff Arnette that Isaac Newton offered to buy them back, but they gave them to him and didn’t accept any money.

4. “[Former VOCM-Nigeria staff] had not raised … allegations with VOM-USA staff members who visited Nigeria or had involvement with The Stephen Centre or other VOCM projects, and who had met with VOM-USA staff at VOM-USA headquarters in October, 2014.”

We have every reason to believe this statement is false. We know that Raphael reported these issues to VOM USA when he was visiting the United States in June of 2015. Raphael and Zingak also raised these issues with their VOM-USA contacts on other occasions. However, even though these people were their primary contacts with VOM-USA, those contacts may not have technically been “VOM-USA staff.”

5. “[T]hose who produced the video have apparently made no contact with Nigerian authorities…”

Early in the process, Zingak went to a Nigerian attorney and was told that the Nigerian government will not do anything based on these reports without it being brought before them with sworn testimony from victims, or upon the application of pressure outside the government. Another attorney has told us the same thing. We are still working with Nigerian attorneys to bring this to court in Nigeria in a proper and effective way. Based on VOM’s statement today, we looked for other avenues to attempt to report it and we have contacted the Nigerian embassy in the US, as well as the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Justice.

6. “[N]or have [those who produced the video] been willing to provide the name of even a single alleged victim that VOM could follow-up with or minister to.”

We were indeed asked by VOM-USA to give a list of the names of victims. We were told in the same meeting that VOM-USA would be bringing in outside investigators in investigate the situation. We told them because of the victims’ lack of trust in VOM-USA and because of the security risk, we would only give those names to the outside investigators. This was specifically told to Jim Dau, president of VOM. However, we believe that no serious outside investigation was ever done as we were never contacted by outside investigators.

We did not give VOM-USA the names directly because we wanted to protect the victims from retaliation by Isaac Newton. He was threatening victims with the withdraw of VOM-USA support for their mothers and siblings at the Stephens Centre if they talked. We had been told VOM-USA had worked with him in an improper way before on other investigations by letting him know in advance that the investigators were coming. We concluded that we could not trust them not to give the victims’ names to Isaac.

7. “VOM is contracting with an outside child safety ministry to evaluate the methodology of VOM’s work in Nigeria and advise our staff in best-practices…”

Please note that this is very far from the outside investigation we are requesting. This ministry seems to be in merely an advisor role, with no responsibility or ability to investigate the very questionable actions of VOM-USA in the past, or ability to ensure that VOM-USA staff followed through on any policies that they might have.

If they were serious about dealing with these allegations, we would expect VOM to publicly announce the name of the ministry that they were contracting with, release the full results of their findings, and be open about their policies for handling reports of sexual abuse in VOM ministries. Since they have been ministering in the name of Jesus Christ, they should desire to walk in the light and insist on an outside investigation to clear their name and to make certain that they do not have policies in place that would facilitate this in other places in the world.

8. “We are providing more than $2 million in care this year to widows, orphans and other Christians in northern Nigeria…”

We have been told by VOM-USA and others that after severing ties with VOCM, VOM-USA began directing money instead to Chris Collins. According to witnesses we have interviewed, and the documentation that we possess, Chris Collins partook in the same financial corruption that was rampant in VOCM. Who is currently in charge of VOM USA’s ministry in Nigeria, and have accusations of his financial corruption been thoroughly investigated?

We ask VOM to release another statement that deals in full with the questions raised in the Persecuting the Persecuted video:

-Why would VOM USA donate property worth $100,000 to someone who they had good reason to believe was abusing the people he was supposed to be helping?
-Why didn’t VOM USA act years earlier? What wasn’t Isaac removed after the other investigations?
-Why has VOM USA on several occasions blamed another man for things that Isaac had done?
-Will VOM USA bring in outside investigators to discover why they allowed this evil to go on for so long?
-If this is how VOM USA handles accusations of molestation in their organization, how do we know that children aren’t being assaulted all over the world on their dime?
-Is VOM USA using their money and influence to report Isaac to the Nigerian authorities, or are they just trying to make the problem go away?
-What about the other corruption that is rampant in VOM’s other work in Nigeria?

We continue to pray that God will reveal the truth, and bring justice to this tragic situation.

http://www.persecution.com/public/newsroom.aspx…

As far as I can tell, this is the current status of the dispute. I will add any response from VOM I receive.

Reformation Baptist is asking for additional follow up from VOM which seems like a reasonable request. Perhaps even more reasonable would be a sit down meeting with representatives from both groups to address the specific matters. I hope donors and others will encourage both parties to move toward that end.

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