“I’m sharing my story to warn people and reach out to other victims.”
Yesterday a brave woman named Jen Willems published her tragic story of being sexually abused during college by someone she should have been most able to trust – the campus ministry leader and pastor. (see screen shot below of her Facebook post).
The sexual assault took place in 2001 when she was an undergraduate at Princeton. Because Jen has given permission to share her story, we are publishing it in its entirety.
Just weeks after launching our blog over eight years ago, Dee and I began to realize that sexual abuse was a HUGE PROBLEM in Christendom. We have dedicated much of our time and energy giving a voice to victims who have been silenced.
Here is yet another account of someone who was sexually abused and subsequently silenced. Thanks to social media, victims are now able to share their horrific experiences far and wide with the click of a button. This reality is sending shivers down the spines of the spiritual elite who prior to the internet have been able to control the flow of information.
As a member of a Southern Baptist church, I recently observed my own denomination attempting to control what is being published via social media when messengers convened in Houston for their annual meeting. Here is the resolution “on Christlike communication and the use of social media” that messengers approved (see screen shots below).
It will be very interesting to see how Southern Baptist leaders attempt to enforce this resolution going forward. Would they come after Jen Willems for sharing her testimony via social media had she been a Southern Baptist?
It is noteworthy that the president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, reveres Tim Keller, who until his recent retirement was senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City (the church mentioned in Jen’s story).
Without further adieu, here is Jen’s testimony. Please keep this brave woman in your prayers. May she find peace in finally sharing this painful experience in a public forum.
I was sexually abused by a former campus ministry leader and pastor
Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse
Note: Yesterday, August 1, an email was distributed to the entire community at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Redeemer City to City concerning the termination of one of its former pastors, David Kim. This email refers to “an individual who made serious allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct by David approximately 17 years ago, when she was a college student and David was the founding director of a campus ministry at her university.” I am that individual. In light of this email and the fact that I believe it gives an inaccurate impression of what happened, I feel compelled to share my story now.
When I was a college student at Princeton in 2001, i was sexually violated by a campus ministry leader, David Kim. I met David in fall 2000. I was a new Christian and had started attending Manna Christian Fellowship, where David was Executive Director. I met with him several times for spiritual guidance. I spring 2001, I was alone off campus working on my thesis. David showed up at the house where I was staying. He said he was going to study with me, and I believed him. However, he had other intentions.
First, he started rubbing my shoulders, but then he quickly progressed to touching all over my body, under my clothes, lying on top of me, and holding me really tight pressed up against his body. As this was happening, I went into shock and don’t remember much until the next day. My memory of what happened that night is in pieces, and a lot of pieces are blurry or blocked out. I was shocked, scared and confused. I trusted David as a spiritual leader who was teaching me about God. I never thought of him as anything else, and I couldn’t reconcile the man who many students revered with the man who was assaulting me.
The next day David asked how I felt about the previous night. I expressed distress and explicitly told him I felt uncomfortable, conflicted and confused. I described two voices in my head: one screaming at me that what he was doing was wrong and dangerous and I should run; the other telling me that David was trustworthy and wouldn’t do anything wrong. His response to my distress was: “Well, nothing happened,” and he prayed with me.
Once he knew he could do what he wanted and get away with it – he manipulated me into trusting him and not telling on him – he did what he wanted. He behaved inappropriately towards me multiple times until I graduated and moved to Texas.
This was never a consensual relationship. I was a new Christian, new to Manna, and a college student. David was a campus ministry leader and the first person who ever really taught me about God. I trusted him as a spiritual leader, and he used that position of trust to betray and abuse me.
By 2005, I had become immensely troubled by what David had done to me, and I was worried that he was doing the same thing to other girls. I sought help reporting David from a highly-respected, professional “Christian” counselor in Dallas, Daren Martin. After telling Daren about the PTSD symptoms I’d been experiencing, I told him what David had done to me. Daren’s response was: “What’s the big deal?” He said I was overreacting and that David hadn’t done anything wrong. He advised me: “Ask David if he has feelings for you.”
Since Daren was no help, I called David and confronted him by myself. His reaction was: “Who did you tell?!” I said I’d told a counselor. He freaked out and was mad that I had talked to anyone about it. All he cared about was that his secret was out. I was not at all equipped to handle confronting him by myself, and it didn’t go well, but I knew he needed to be held accountable. David reported to no one. He was the sole leader of Manna. There was no one above him for me to report him to. He was very resistant to the idea of accountability and kept making excuses. Finally, he agreed to talk to a local pastor. Our agreement, as I understood it, was that he would confess what he did to the pastor and the pastor would know what to do. A week or so later, he called and told me he had talked to the pastor. He also recommended I read a book about shame. I naively believed he had actually confessed to the pastor.
Shortly after my confrontation with David, I received a call from Daren’s office saying that he was no longer seeing clients. No explanation was given. I heard elsewhere that he had been caught sexually exploiting a client, among others. The Texas Department of State Health Services website confirms that Daren Martin surrendered his license for reasons “Related to sexual exploitation of a client.” This explains his horrendous counsel and failure to help me report David. Daren was a sex predator too.
Daren and David both gaslighted me. They both tried to manipulate me into believing that the sexual and spiritual abuse I had suffered was “nothing,” that I was overreacting, that it wasn’t even wrong. Around the same time, I disclosed that I had been sexually violated by David to three women at my church. By then, my health was rapidly failing, and I believed I had done as much as I could at the time.
In the aftermath of the abuse and my attempt to report and confront David, I struggled with a myriad of debilitating health problems: PTSD, breast cancer, Lyme disease, neuro-immune disease, migraines, chronic pain, etc. I had to withdraw from school three times and quit a job and volunteer work, all due to illness related to trauma.
In contrast, David was rewarded with increasing power and success in his ministry career. He continued in his role as Executive Director of Manna Christian Fellowship. He also became the Director of Gotham Fellowship at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, the Executive Director of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and the Vice President of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer City to City. https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-kim-8135289
The recent outpouring of stories of sexual abuse and assault triggered memories of my own abuse and reminded me that there was never any justice in my case. I didn’t know what consequences, if any, David had ever faced for abusing his power and exploiting a student under his care.
I met with the pastor who David had supposedly talked to in 2005. I asked if David had ever confessed to him. He said no. However, as soon as the presbytery told David about my report in May, David immediately called the pastor and convinced him that he had met with him years ago to discuss accountability, but he never told him what he did or to whom “to protect Jen.”
On April 30, I met with two pastors from the metro New York presbytery (governing body comprised of pastors and leaders of local churches in a region) and gave them a detailed account of the abuse both in writing and via video conference. They began forming a commission – a group of all male presbytery members who have no experience or training in investigating sexual abuse allegations – to do an internal investigation involving one of their own pastors. They asked me I was willing, if they decided to have their own trial, “to testify before the commission, which would include answering questions by whoever would represent the defendant?” I told them that the process they outlined is incompatible with addressing sexual abuse allegations and would be re-traumatizing, and that I decided to go directly to Redeemer with my report instead.
On May 15, I notified the Director of HR for Redeemer Churches and Ministries and Redeemer City to City that I had been sexually violated by David Kim when I was a student and he was a campus ministry leader. Five times I requested an independent investigation by qualified investigators to determine if there were other victims. Five times they denied my request. They did not listen to my concerns. Instead they tried to control the process to protect themselves. Ultimately, Redeemer City to City quietly terminated David without informing anyone as to why. On June 6, the HR Director emailed me to say that David was no longer employed there and that “Our involvement in this matter has concluded.” I have emails documenting all my correspondence with the HR Director as well as the presbytery.
At the time Redeemer City to City (CTC) “concluded” their involvement on June 6, there was no investigation. No one notified the thousands of young adults this man has influenced in over two decades as a pastor and campus ministry leader. I questioned how many other victims there might be and how many other people have tried to report abuse at Redeemer and been treated like I was?
On July 25, I shared a short summary of my experience and concerns with a limited audience on facebook. My post quickly spread to Redeemer.
On August 1, I received a copy of an email that was distributed to the Redeemer and CTC communities indicating that they have reconsidered the way they mishandled my report. The email reveals that the individual who reported David was a female student in Manna 17 years ago. There are only a small number of people who fit that description, so I decided to identify myself and address some concerns I have with the information presented.
The email states that when CTC confronted him, “David was forthcoming and, while he disputed several specific claims, did admit to having inappropriately crossed boundaries with the college student while he was a in a position of ministerial leadership… CTC and Redeemer HR… obtained additional third-party information that corroborated David’s acknowledgement of inappropriately crossing boundaries with the student.”
I adamantly oppose the use of the phrase “inappropriately crossed boundaries” to describe what David did to me. That is a gross understatement. David targeted, groomed, assaulted, abused, gaslighted and silenced me. He used his position of spiritual authority to deceive and exploit me. And when I practically begged him to come clean in 2005, he again duped and silenced me. I assume he did not disclose his behavior to Redeemer when he was hired or to the PCA when he was ordained. He has not been “forthcoming.” His deliberate deceitfulness demonstrated over time is even more disturbing to me than the assault.
While I’m encouraged that Redeemer and CTC appear to be moving towards greater transparency and better handling of reports, I’m discouraged at how long it has taken to move in that direction. Their initial response to me was wrong. Their email did not acknowledge that. And I still wonder how many others have received similar treatment or been deterred from reporting at all over the years.
Moreover, no one has informed the Manna community, and they need to know. This happened to me when I was a student and David was a single, young man leading a campus ministry by himself with no oversight or accountability.
Churches should be safe places for victims of sexual abuse to be heard and supported. Far too often, they are the places of abuse, and they are more committed to self-protection and silencing victims than to honesty and caring for those who have been harmed. The damage this causes is immense. For me, the abuse I suffered – both initially and when I first tried to report and confront him – destroyed my health and my life. The cost to me – physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, relationally – is immeasurable. I still struggle with PTSD from it. I am compelled to speak out because I know I’m not the only one, and other victims need to know they are not alone. #MeToo #ChurchToo