Naturally, I am not a person to engage in conflict. Rather, I attempt to find ways to resolve it. Perhaps this is my modest attempt. I don’t want to be torn down nor would I aim to tear down others. However, Christians are called to seek justice, defend the oppressed, not show favoritism, and judge our neighbor fairly. This is even more important when we are talking about the victims of sexual abuse. God knows the hearts of men, but he has given mankind the autonomy of choosing how we look after the “least of these.” And a disclaimer, this article assumes a general knowledge of the Newman Kanakuk sexual abuse scandal.
I could write a book on my personal experience around Kanakuk: the good, the bad and the daunting task of making sense of how the two existed together. But for now, I’ll just start the conversation and focus on my title.
I don’t doubt Kanakuk has had a phenomenal reach with the gospel into the lives of young people. I worked there multiple years and got to be a part of that. Flaws will be found in every person and every organization, but the seemingly majority of my experience with “Kamp” was fond memories and impactful work into the spiritual development of kids. However, admittedly, abuse on numerous Kamp grounds, years of (and continued) therapy, and having my own story mostly hidden all have profound impacts on my psyche that I’m positive I do not know the full depths of, so I type out these words with a dose of humility and fear.
I can feel my heart beat harder as I write this, but greater than my discomfort of racking through memories (that should never have been experienced) and questions (no one would hope to have to ask) is my strong belief and conviction that more needs to come to the light. More needs to be talked about, and publicly. Better answers need to be provided. Victims and their families need to be given a voice as well as resources for healing. And negligence needs to be thoroughly admitted before the hurting, as well as this institution, can truly be healed.
I have not seen Kanakuk publicize their knowledge of former camp director Pete Newman’s extracurricular nude activity with minors. Such awareness was had by Kanakuk years before Newman’s actual employment termination. Kamp took their own evaluation of the situation and essentially determined no foul play. Apparently they determined the same thing each of the multiple times Newman was caught in these situations, not to mention the concerns of other red flags brought to Kamp by parents. Again, I’ll leave it to God to judge each person’s heart, but I don’t believe Joe White or anyone else at Kamp had the innate right to make that judgment for the tens of thousands of mothers and fathers who sent their children to Kanakuk deprived of the knowledge of these decisions by the head(s) of Kanakuk.
Mothers and fathers of children who took their children to Kanakuk, would you have sent your child to Kamp had you known that Kanakuk kept a director employed (and even promoted him) after catching him in nude activities multiple times with boys? What if you knew such activity was a fireable offense by Kamp’s own policies? What if you knew of the multiple people who reached out to Kanakuk reporting concerns of inappropriate behavior? If Kamp determined Pete was perfectly suited to be entrusted to the care of your children, then why didn’t Kamp openly share this knowledge with all its constituents? Why weren’t you given this information before sending your own flesh and blood into the hands of a pedophile? I must’ve been a rare exception that Joe White himself, in a private meeting with me years ago, shared his prior knowledge of Newman’s naked four-wheeling and nude basketball games with minors.
This is public information if you look for it, but the language used at kanakuk.com/our-response/ seems to me to be leading readers to believe something completely different. Despite threats (plural) of lawsuits to those who are publicly sharing facts about Kanakuk and testimony from victims, I am taking the words from Kanakuk that they “believe victims of abuse should never have to endure secrecy, cover ups or dismissal” and compose my own words today.
Lastly, for now, I want to publicly thank the victims and writers who have gone before me to share stories and evidence that reveals the bigger picture of what has transpired at Kanakuk. This has and continues to help me process my own abuse. It also encourages me to speak up for the many other victims who have their own lifetime of struggles as a result. Inexcusably, life has been cut short, and I will fight to do whatever I can to help prevent that from happening again. We are not alone. We are worth fighting for. We matter. We, too, deserve justice, for the truth to come to the light, and the chance to speak out to help those who are suffering. All of us are made in the image of God – people so loved that God himself suffered and died to redeem. Let’s move forward in redemption.