NPR: Child Sex-Abuse Cases Rock Ozarks Religious Group

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NPR: Child Sex-Abuse Cases Rock Ozarks Religious Group

Postby jonah22 » Fri Dec 15, 2006 12:50 pm

From http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... Id=6625955 , click link for audio story:

December 14, 2006 · In southwest Missouri, police are investigating allegations of child sexual abuse involving church leaders and church members. Prosecutors in two counties say there are multiple victims and similar patterns of abuse.

Some of the alleged sexual contact may have been committed as part of a ritual or ceremony, crimes that are rare in the United States. NPR has reviewed extensive legal documents in these cases over several months and also talked to most of the accusers, as well as some of the accused.

The area of Missouri where the cases surfaced has been home to extremist and fringe groups in the past. Data show that a high number of cases of child sexual abuse in the same area are reported annually to the Department of Social Services. What makes this story different is that almost all the accusers -- five so far -- and the accused -- five in total -- are related by blood or marriage.

Newton County's Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Bill Dobbs says complicated family ties are involved in the cases.

"We have, in McDonald County, Raymond Lambert, who is married to his stepsister," Dobbs says. "We have George Johnston, who is an uncle to Raymond Lambert. It is alleged by some members of that community that the religious leaders may, in fact, be the biological parents of several children who have been born into this group."

Our story focuses mostly on the pastors Raymond Lambert and his uncle George Johnston. Both men are charged with multiple counts of statutory sodomy or child molestation. Pastor Lambert led his flock on a 100-acre farm. Pastor Johnston led his on a 10-acre farm. They ministered in the family's Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church.

A Close-Knit, Isolated Community

Earlier this year in the spring, 10 people secretly moved out of the 100-acre farm. Most of those left behind were shocked, since members of the religious community were unusually close.

A woman who left with this group agreed to be interviewed, but only on condition of anonymity. NPR agreed to this because she fears for her and her family's safety. She is also an alleged victim named in one of the child sexual-abuse cases. The woman, in her late 20s, says she fled because she realized her extended family was behaving like a religious cult.

"They operate in a cult-like fashion," she tells NPR. "Raymond Lambert sets all the rules for the people who live there. He tells you what to go to school for, he tells you who to marry. He basically controls your life."

Former residents of this religious commune say non-church members were kept at arms-length. While children were home schooled, adults did have jobs outside of the farm. Some worked at Wal-Mart's headquarters in nearby northern Arkansas. The anonymous woman says Pastor Raymond Lambert told her to study music in college, so she became a music teacher.

One day last year, while surfing the Internet, she accidentally came across a cult-awareness Web site. The Bible-based cults she read about began to sound as if they were pages out of her own life. Alarmed, she contacted a California rabbi linked to the Web site. She says he counseled her for months, and in April of this year, she finally found the courage to leave everything she once believed in. Pastor Raymond Lambert not only controlled her, she says, but he also used his role as a minister to sexually molest her.

'This Was Her Way to Heaven'

"The first incident started with taking my clothes off when I was 15 years old," she said. "He touched me from head to toe, every part of my body, and told me that this body belongs to God. And the only way that I could subject myself to God is to give my body to Raymond, who is God in the flesh."

She grew up on the farm, passionately believing in God and church, trusting that her sexual relationship with Raymond Lambert would bring her closer to God.

"I believed that it was right, and that it was OK," she said. "I didn't feel like I needed to tell anybody, because I was believing in that at the time."

In June, she filed child sexual-abuse charges against Raymond Lambert. Not long after, Missouri police began to investigate other church leaders in the community, including Pastor George Johnston, an uncle of Raymond Lambert.

Mike Barnett, Newton County's child-abuse investigator, says another alleged victim, a 17-year-old girl, told him that Johnston sexually abused her, beginning when she was 8 years old.

"It became worse at about 12," Barnett says, referring to the 17-year-old's case. "He would tell her that he was ordained by God, that this was her way to heaven, and that she needed to give her body to him."

Barnett says he investigates child abuse all the time, and cases involving religion are rare. In a police statement, he says 63-year-old pastor George Johnston told this alleged victim that even if she had sexual intercourse with him, she would remain a virgin. In neighboring McDonald County, the state alleges that Johnston gave "angel kisses" to this same young girl, where the kiss would involve touching and fondling of her breasts and other inappropriate areas.

Allegations Heard in Court

At a preliminary hearing in October, another alleged victim, 20-year-old Mackenzie Kyle Aimee, took the stand in the Newton County courthouse. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Bill Dobbs asked her what happened in the winter of 1998, when she was 12.

"I was starting to develop or go through puberty," Aimee said, "and I had some stretch marks coming, and he told me that he could heal them for me, and he touched my breasts."

On the stand, Aimee alleged that Pastor George Johnston, whom she used to call Grandpa, was going to teach her algebra, but instead, "he touched me on my breasts and my vagina."

Months before these allegations, families in the religious community were coping with other disturbing news, says Amey Burkett, who grew up on the 100-acre-farm.

"In April, I learned that my grandfather thought that his daughters needed taking care of spiritually," Burkett tells NPR. "And so in order to do that, in order to keep his daughters, he had sex with them. He then went on to father a child for most all of his daughters, or his daughter-in-laws [sic]."

Her grandfather was the late Cecil Epling, a minister originally from Ohio. According to Burkett, Epling wanted his seven sons and four daughters to become a tight-knit community, so he helped buy them the Missouri farm. When Epling died, his stepson, Raymond Lambert, took over the ministry. George Johnston later joined the family's church.

Family members say Cecil Epling passed his sexual beliefs to both pastors, teaching them that they needed to fulfill the sexual needs of their daughters and selected girls in the church.

"What's inside of them is God, and they think that they have all the power, all that it takes to take care of a woman," Burkett says.

Taking care of a woman meant having sex with her, in some cases from early childhood on. Burkett said that Pastor Raymond Lambert believes that women should be put in their place to make them humble. Burkett said that this usually required stripping off clothes.

"He would always say, if you're spiritually hindered, it's one of two things: your mind or your flesh," Burkett said of Lambert. "By taking off your clothes, and knowing that you weren't ashamed of your body, it did feel like it set you free. And I know that sounds weird. A lot of things sound weird to me now. But it didn't then."

Pastors Deny All Charges

Lawyers for Raymond Lambert and George Johnston say each of their clients deny every charge made by the alleged victims.

"No one has begun to question, why are you talking now?" says defense attorney Dwayne Cooper, who represents Raymond Lambert and his wife, Patty Lambert. "What are their motives in coming forward at this time, all of them simultaneously?"

Pastor George Johnston's attorney, Andy Wood, said the allegations have hit his clients hard.

"George and his wife are just absolutely devastated," Wood said. "This has come out of nowhere. These kids that they did think of as being their grandchildren -- now these kids have made these just horrible, horrendous accusations against him. And obviously, it's ruined their whole life."

I met Pastor Johnston at a preliminary hearing for one of three child sexual-abuse cases against him. He's a balding man, with a moustache and pasty skin. During the hearing, he sat solemn and devoid of expression, rarely looking up at anyone in the courtroom. When I ask him about the charges against him, he declines to speak, referring me to his lawyer.

Lawyers for Pastor Lambert and his wife, Patty, agreed to let me talk to their clients, but with substantial restrictions. I was allowed only to ask about life on the farm, and how the allegations have affected them.

Raymond Lambert is charged with seven counts of statutory sodomy or child molestation in McDonald County. Patty Lambert is charged with child molestation.

In a soft voice, Pastor Lambert describes his life: "You wake up one day and things have all changed. And the whole world now seems to be looking at our lives, and they're accusing us. We've been tried and sentenced in the media already."

Lambert says he loves every person who left the 100-acre farm, including those now accusing him of child sexual abuse. He says the allegations have been tough for his entire congregation.

"God said he was going to try us," Lambert said. "The only problem of it is, we never thought we'd be tried in such a way." While he speaks, his wife Patty holds his hand tightly.

"Everyone that lived there by choice would build, and we would watch each other's children as we went out to work," Raymond Lambert says, recalling life on the farm. "And it was a place of a community -- it was not something of a forced thing."

'They're Not Fearing Me'

Raymond and Patty Lambert say families left the farm not because they feared Raymond, but because of rumors that the FBI or other authorities might take children away from families and put them into foster care.

"They're not fearing me. That's not what this is about," Raymond Lambert says.

Patty Lambert adds, "The fear came from the outside. I have no great fear of these charges, because I'm going to trust my God all the way through it."

Raymond Lambert nods his head in agreement.

"If our love and our truth about one another, and about what God has given us -- and about our relationship, my wife and I -- hadn't been based on something true and strong, this would have tore our life apart," Raymond Lambert says.

"But thanks be to our lord that our love is stronger," he says. "We stand together and we believe as one that our lord is going to make a way, as he's made a way and going to make a way for all those that have left."

The child sexual-abuse allegations have affected more than 30 families. One trial date has been set for Pastor George Johnston in February. No matter what the legal outcome of any of these cases, this community that so many believed in for decades is gone.
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Wow, and a follow-up

Postby jonah22 » Fri Dec 15, 2006 11:29 pm

And a follow-up. From http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... Id=6632499

December 15, 2006 · For decades, the windswept hillside known as Grand Valley Farm -- in the extreme southwestern corner of Missouri -- was home to a small, tight-knit religious community.

But recently, the farm has gained unwanted attention amid allegations of child sexual abuse. Most of the accusers and the accused are related by blood or marriage. All were members of the small family church.

All of the accused have pleaded not guilty. Of the several cases, only one trial date has been set for early next year. Whatever the outcome of the legal process, life has changed dramatically for members of the community.

'We're Normal People'

The land where the farm sits is part of the Ozark plateau, defined by rolling hills, scenic prairies, rivers and creeks. Perhaps that's why church leaders chose this location to build their nest more than 30 years ago. John Lambert, a long-time resident who is not accused of any crimes, gave me a tour of the 100-acre family farm.

John Lambert has seven brothers and four sisters. Until recently, their community numbered about 100 people. John Lambert says his family is not a religious cult, and he's upset that police and other officials have called his home a compound.

"We're normal people," John Lambert says. "We have our own homes here. We lived our own lives. Yes, we are Christian people -- we're Baptists. You know, we're not some kind of cult thing. We never were, never have been involved in any kind of ritual or ceremonial deviant behavior of any kind."

The men in this community built a family church, located at the base of a hill, and 11 homes, scattered off of the steep gravel road. At the entrance is a locked gate. At the top, there's a wooden playground.

"We have swings that I walk by everyday, that children used to swing in, and they sit silent now," says Pastor Raymond Lambert.

Recalling Life on Grand Valley

Raymond Lambert is one of the pastors accused of multiple counts of statutory sodomy and child molestation. He denies the allegations and refuses to speak about them. But he has a lot to say about why life was special on Grand Valley Farm.

"We loved being around one another," Pastor Lambert said. "We used to go play softball, and we would have such a wonderful time. We would go on camping trips and the men would -- we would go on hunting trips. We'd do all kinds of different things together. It's just, just part of family."

Music was also a big part of the family. On one recording, children and adults can be heard singing a song called "Lamb of God." The recording was made during one of their previous Christmas gatherings, which were big affairs. The family even had a country band called Centrefire. They owned businesses such as the Southwest Kennel Supply and Grand Valley Kennel.

Amey Burkett, 33, grew up in the religious community. She says she felt blessed when she lived on the farm.

"They preached all kinds of wonderful, inspiring messages, " she says.

She adds, "You would be just on top of the world after a sermon, and it would be just so enlightening and lifting up and very spiritual. And you'd feel so close to God."

John Steib, who is not accused of any crime, also grew up on the farm. He says those who lived there were just backwoods country people, who worked hard, hunted, fished and went to church.

"We didn't get to go do a lot of things that young people like to do," Steib says. "But we had family around us. We were taken care of, didn't have to worry about nothing. If you take away all the sexual, stupid crap, it was a pretty good life growing up."

'Sexual, Stupid Crap'

The so-called "sexual, stupid crap" was allegedly normal behavior for some in this religious community.

Normal allegedly meant stripping naked in front of Raymond Lambert whenever he felt a woman needed to be put in her place. Normal allegedly meant being kissed with tongue by a pastor. Normal allegedly meant believing their pastor was Jesus. And life could have continued this way, except for an accident that tore this religious community apart.

It happened on the Internet. One of the accusers stumbled upon a cult-awareness Web site last year. That led to questions about what was normal. She decided that what was going on was not normal, so she left. And that led Pastor Raymond Lambert to call a series of meetings at the family's fellowship hall.

Kevin Amey, who attended those late-night sessions, recalls the meetings: "He told me before the meeting that when this is finished, you will either be stronger, and you will be here forever, or you will run as fast as you can."

Those meetings left followers shocked.

Amey Burkett recalls what Raymond Lambert said at the meetings: "He just told everybody that he had sex with Peggy and he had sex with Sandy and he had sex with Laura. And he would have sex with us, too, if that's what we needed to keep our souls."

Kevin Amey adds: "He said during the meeting that sex was a man's desire and a woman's need, and that a woman needed to be kept by a man of God. A woman needed to be taken care of sexually."

Talk of a Family Curse

According to those two, and many others, Raymond Lambert talked about a family curse. The curse allegedly involved a grandfather fulfilling the sexual needs of his daughters.

Kevin Amey says Raymond Lambert turned to some women in the church and asked them, "Did your dad ever take you into the woods and touch you sexually?"

"And he made them answer, and the answers were 'yes,'" Kevin Amey says.

According to Amey Burkett, this is what Raymond Lambert said at one of the meetings: "He told my brother, who has three young daughters, he said, 'David,' he said, 'you're not man enough to go upstairs and f--- your daughters, are you?' And he said, 'No, I wouldn't want to.' And he said, 'Well, I am.'"

Amey Burkett alleges that she learned her grandfather, Cecil Epling, slept with several of his daughters, and may have fathered a child with some of them. It was then that she began to question things in her life, sexual things she says she never discussed with other women of the community.

"During these meetings, I started putting all this together and thinking, 'Oh my goodness, my life is a lie,'" Burkett says.

She says for her, there was no choice but to leave everything behind.

"I realized I had to save my children and my whole family, and myself and everything," she says. "And I just felt like a Mennonite girl or something who took off her bonnet. I mean, it was just, like, the most freeing decision I ever made."

Cut Off for Life

Christina Amey and her family lived on the farm, too. She feared for her children's safety, but she was also afraid of what leaving would mean. Pastor Raymond Lambert had described some who left years ago as being one with the devil, so people who did leave were severed for life. Christina Amey didn't know what to do.

"When we were deciding whether or not we were leaving, we knew that that would be something that would happen to us: We would be severed," Christina Amey says. "And, I mean, that's one thing that held me back, I know, because there are people there that I still love. And to know that you're severed from them is pretty, a harsh thing. I mean, you've got to chose whether or not you can keep going like this, and it will be OK, or you're going to be severed."

She and her husband, Kevin Amey, decided to move out. He says it has taken a lot to adjust to a new life, yet for them, there is a new and welcome dynamic.

"We finally belong to each other," Kevin Amey says. "For the first time, we don't have to have some guy standing here, telling me how to treat her, telling her how to treat me, and controlling every aspect of our marriage."

Others share this same sense of empowerment and liberation. But some are finding it tough to be without the community -- and without Pastor Raymond Lambert.

"That's what hurts," says Amy Burkett. "But what he did, and what he does -- that isn't right. And it doesn't matter how much I love him. I can't let it continue."

Raymond Lambert and his wife, Patty, say they care deeply for all their family members and those in their congregation, including those alleging child sexual abuse.

"Pat and I love them all," Pastor Lambert says. "And we care for every one of them. We've been together so long that I will never be able to be without them. I'll hold them in my heart all the days, no matter the outcome. I love them so."

The accused church leaders are out on bail. Some of the accusers are in seclusion. Families from both sides say until the trials are over, it's going to be difficult to move on with their lives.
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Re: NPR: Child Sex-Abuse Cases Rock Ozarks Religious Group

Postby aburkett » Sat May 05, 2012 8:18 am

When you "google" my name, Amey Burkett, your website shows an article linked to my name. I would like to request that either my name be removed from the article or altered to keep the search engine's from detecting it. Although, I understand that is not an overnight quest.
Can you please help me get my name removed from these search engines? I would really appreciate it! Just trying to move past a really bad time in my life. Thanks so much!
Amey Burkett

viewtopic.php?f=26&t=9876
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