Protecting the Flock -- Child Safety Measures Matter
*This article contains graphic content.
Chris was a bus kid. Her parents weren’t Christians, but she loved going to church — Sunday morning, Sunday night, youth group, special services — if the church was doing something, she wanted to be there. She grew up seeing church as a bright and loving environment. But in a moment of trust, her world became indescribably dark.
Chris says that Mpact Girls (then known as Missionettes) at the AG church in Indiana she attended really activated her involvement in church. In time, she felt called into the ministry.
“I decided to attend North Central Bible College — now North Central University — in Minneapolis,” Chris says. “I started attending a nearby church and I volunteered immediately, because finding a place to minister was something you just did.”
Chris, then 18, began working as a church volunteer with elementary-age girls, who met on Sunday nights. One evening she had just finished setting up her girls’ room when John, a volunteer in another ministry, asked her for some help. He told her he was throwing a surprise birthday party for one of the leaders and needed some help carrying in the supplies from his car.
THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS
It was Nov. 13 — meaning it was dark and cold outside. Chris, having met John at a new leaders’ dinner several weeks earlier where he was introduced as the fiancé of another church member, agreed to help.
“I went out to his car and he opened up the trunk,” Chris recalls. “When I reached in to get what I saw in the trunk, he reached down, grabbed a log he had hidden under his car, smacked me on the back of the head, and put me into the trunk of his car.”
Unconscious, Chris made no sounds as John left her there, returned to the church, and taught his elementary boys’ class. Chris later learned that John joined in the search for her when she couldn’t be found.
After everyone left the church, John drove Chris to Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis near the falls. Chris, who bled quite profusely from the wound on the back of her head, recalls going in and out of consciousness.
GOOD VS. EVIL
“I remember waking up at one point, lying on the ground,” she says. “I didn’t know what was going on, but I clearly remember the peace of God was present. The peace of God was so strong and real, and I felt the Lord telling me people were praying.”
Carolyn Tennant, the vice president of student life at North Central at the time, recalls that the girls on Chris’ dorm floor stayed up all night praying for Chris when she didn’t return from church that night — fearing something was wrong.
“I look back on that night and the commitment of those girls who prayed and prayed and prayed,” Tennant says. “I believe things shifted because of them.”
Indeed, those prayers likely proved to be the difference between life and death for Chris.
Chris recalls at one point waking up at another place in the park. She was lying on the ground with John next to her feet, and her ankles hurting her. She asked what John was doing. He told her that he was tying her feet together so she couldn’t run away. However, the truth was mind numbingly gruesome.
As the night progressed, Chris says she could literally feel the presence of evil growing stronger and John growing angrier each time she regained consciousness.
As dawn approached, John picked Chris up and set her down on a picnic table. He then confessed what that night had been all about. He was actually a Satan worshipper and wanted to be freed from Satan’s bondage. He believed Satan had given him instructions to make a sacrifice — he was to take a virgin, cut off her feet, throw her body into the Mississippi River, and once he did that, he would be free.
“He was not tying my feet together, he was trying to cut them off,” Chris reveals. “I asked him why he didn’t finish it, he said it was because he was scared. He had purchased a new hunting knife to cut my feet off, but there came a point when the knife stopped working. He could turn and cut bark from a nearby tree, but when he tried to cut my feet again, the knife wouldn’t work anymore.”
Fearful because of the supernatural power he had witnessed, John took Chris to a nearby hospital, claiming he had found her walking alongside the road. Doctors later told Chris that she had lost so much blood, she should have been dead, but somehow she was living on less blood than humanly possible.
Despite the knife no longer being able to cut after a certain point, Chris’s ankles had been destroyed – the tendons, ligaments, and muscles were damaged beyond repair. Originally doctors said she would never walk again. After two operations, the prognosis was upgraded to potentially being able to walk with the assistance of a walker.
“I still have the scars,” Chris says, “but I now run as a hobby, four to five miles a day.”
In fact, Chris returned to college that spring, using crutches, but before the semester ended, she was walking unassisted. “The Lord did miracle after miracle,” she says. “By summer, I was walking without a limp. Although I couldn’t run yet, to see me walking, you wouldn’t know I’d been through that.”
John was arrested within 24 hours of dropping Chris off at the hospital. He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a mental hospital.
A LACK OF PROTECTION
Chris later learned that church leaders had done nothing to protect her or any member of their congregation from predators. It was discovered that John had been recently released from a Florida prison. One of the women at the church had become his pen pal and he had moved to Minneapolis supposedly to be close to her, but the reality was the church was an ideal place to “hunt” for a virgin.
“The church did not screen any of its volunteers,” Chris said. “A background check would have revealed the criminal history John had. I was 18 when this happened, but it could have just as easily been a younger girl.”
Tennant, who served as a vice president and professor at North Central for 30 years, refers to Chris as a remarkable young woman, then and now, who through her strong faith, resiliency, and willingness to accept counsel, has fully healed emotionally and spiritually. She also forgave the perpetrator (John) and the church for its negligence.
“However she had to work hard to get through that and to get healthy,” Tennant says. “Many people (who survive traumatic situations) do not do that — they don’t become whole again.”
Chris is a strong advocate for churches to use established safeguards when it comes to volunteers.
“When someone is a volunteer, there’s an immediate sense of safety and trust,” Chris says, “but if volunteers aren’t vetted, that trust, that is so common in our churches, could easily be misplaced.”
FOR THE CHURCH TODAY
Chris says she recommends and follows the safety guidelines that Richard Hammar, the legal counsel for the Assemblies of God, espouses, including: a person must attend the church for six months before they can volunteer, complete an application form, have a national background check conducted, have references which the church actually checks, be interviewed by church leadership, and always function on the rule of three — no volunteer is ever alone with a child (for a more thorough discussion on Hammar’s recommendations, click here).
Although the physical protection of young and old is of paramount importance, Tennant also points out the spiritual costs. For example, this particular church had a Satanist teaching young children how to live. Or in other situations, where a volunteer abuses a child, a child may later turn his or her back on God due to unresolved trauma — a case where a negligent church becomes the stumbling block for a soul.
Chris’ testimony is one of multiple miracles, but today her concern and compassion is for others.
“If someone reads this story and due to it they implement safety and security measures in their church, that would be amazing to me,” she states. “You never know how many children’s lives could be spared trauma from that decision.”
Chris, who is now known as Dr. Chris Corbett, an ordained AG minister and the Chair of the School of Ministry and Theology at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, has a long history in children’s ministries. Prior to serving at SEU, she was a children’s pastor at two different AG churches, a district children’s ministry leader, and she also served as the director for the Center for Children’s and Family Ministry at North Central University. She and her husband, Anthony, have two adult children.