Thursday, December 20, 2018

Open Letter: Former Youth Group Member Details Grooming and Sexual Misconduct

The following is an open letter from Lindsey Schwartz, a former member of the youth group at Victory Baptist Church of South Boardman, MI. Mark Holston, a former Grace Baptist Christian School student and Grace Baptist College graduate, was her youth pastor at Victory Baptist Church. This letter details the grooming and sexual misconduct that took place.

My name is Lindsey Schwartz and a friend reached out to me wanting me to share my story of what had happened to me in our IFB church. Though nothing illegal had taken place, position of power was abused and details were just swept under the rug.

I started attending Victory Baptist Church of South Boardman, MI when I was 16. My family and I had just left our previous church, Zion Baptist Church in Traverse City, MI for many reasons. A couple of those reasons were that we never knew or were allowed to know where our tithe and offering money went. Another reason was that when my aunt left the church before we did, our family was slandered from the pulpit and my brother and sisters who were in the junior choir were very badly treated by the pastor’s wife. After we left that church we have heard of accusations of affairs by the Pastor himself.

Enough about that church, my story starts when I was 18 at VBC. Two years after we started attending there I got really close to my Youth Pastor and his wife, who at the time were Mark and Leah Holston; both graduated from Grace Baptist College in Gaylord, MI. I would always spend the night at their house after I babysat their son, go shopping with Leah, bus call with Mark; they were my best friends and who I looked up to the most at the time.

I graduated high school in 2012 and had planned on attending Hyles Anderson College in Crown Point, IN. That was also the summer that Jack Schaap was found to be having an affair with one of the teenage girls he was counseling. He stepped down and was eventually put in prison. My family advised me not to attend the college for that reason. They didn’t feel like it was a good time to go there and that I should wait or attend a different college. Mark Holston also advised me to do the same. So I stayed home and didn’t attend college for that semester and just focused on work, church and my youth group. Though I was graduated I was still able to remain in the youth group since I wasn’t attending college at that point. While my relationship with my parents dwindled, my relationship with Mark kindled.

We got so close that we would always tell each other we loved them and had what we called a ‘brother/sister’ relationship. He even got very protective of me while I was talking to/dating a guy from another church that I had met at summer Bible camp and tell me I shouldn’t be dating him. Mark also took him aside one night at the summer camp and talked to him privately one on one and the next morning he told me that what mark said was completely out of line and that he had a definite control over me. We’d joke around and tease each other and for some reason thought it was funny to pinch each other as just a joke or just playing around. I  guess you could say that was our little ‘game’ but now looking back it was only an excuse to make us feel better about what we were doing. The pinching got so bad that I would come home from his house or church at night with bruises and my mom would ask me where I got them from. Id just shrug it off and give a little lie. After a little while we thought it would be even funnier to pinch each other in certain areas that would hurt far worse.  I think you can guess those areas. We’d meet up in private spots; for example: a two track barely driven down; and use the excuse of wanting to hurt and tease each other to touch each other in those areas. Well I’d get bruises and he’d want “proof” and when I was a bit hesitant at first, he would joke “unless you’re too chicken.” I eventually would text him pictures of the bruises in those areas and vice versa. After a while he didn’t use the excuse of wanting “proof” to get those pictures and would also start asking for pictures and videos of me doing certain sexual things to myself. This went on for months. Every so often I would get guilty and say we shouldn’t be doing it, but then he’d start it up again and ask for more pictures and videos and say “It’s not like we’re have sex or anything like that.” so of course that took a little bit of the guilt I had away because if my youth pastor didn’t think what we were doing was completely bad, then it must not be that big of a deal. He also made sure to tell me that if I told anyone about it that it would hurt his marriage and that he would lose his job and I didn’t want to be the bad guy that did that to him.

Yes, I know, I was of age and wasn’t forced to do anything and I definitely should have known better. But having that kind of attention for the first time and during a very hard time in my life by someone who I completely trusted and respected made me vulnerable.

Well, January came and I decided I wanted to attend Grace Baptist College for their winter semester. Though the sexual things between me and Mark stopped, we still remained very good friends. After being there for a month or so I became very guilty of what I did and while I was home for the weekend I was having a conversation with my mom about the whole Jack Schaap situation and she told me if anything ever happened to me like that, that she was there for me and that I could tell her. I don’t know if it was something in my face that made my mom ask me or what but she asked “had something like had actually ever happened to you?” I told her everything. The next day I drove back to Gaylord for school and she called our Pastor; William McQueen, and told him everything that I told her about what happened between Mark and I. He called me up and asked if it was ok that he visit during my lunch hour and if we could talk about what had happened. I told him everything.

Mark Holston was told he had to resign, I wasn’t allowed to play piano anymore for services or be involved in the bus route when I came home to visit and my family ended up leaving the church. My parents had so much trust in him as a youth pastor and even a friend and thought of him so highly that the fact that he never reached out to them to apologize in any way was the main reason they never went back and never felt they could forgive him and thought of him as a coward. I still attended every now and then, but I could definitely tell a difference in how I was treated. While the people who said that they would always be there for me and who I had gotten extremely close to over the years, never contacted me in anyway to see how I was doing or even a simple hello, Mark and Leah started getting random “Thinking of you guys/praying for you” gifts from people in the church. Eventually I stopped altogether. Mark was eventually allowed to preach and run the church bus route again.

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