OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An Oklahoma City church is facing harsh allegations, including physical, mental and sexual abuse.
The allegations are being laid out in an open letter to the Church of the Harvest posted online.
“This is what happened. This is what we’ve gone through,” said Elijah Travis, a former church intern and student.
Travis says at 18 years old, church leaders forced him into endless hours of work, at the expense of his own health.
He and other interns say the demands were all made to “strengthen their faith.”
“They were kind of like grooming us to be the servants that they wanted,” said Travis.
“We were told it was the work of God. We’re doing God’s work so we should be grateful,” said Nikiera Everett, another former intern.
Much of the work was allegedly done in deplorable conditions.
“The only way I can explain it is like a compound. They were all cement walls. There were no windows…Mold growing in the wall…Bugs, centipedes, snakes,” said Travis.
“All of the dorms were rat infested. We had to build our own furniture,” said Everett.
Other accusations are physical. Many say they’ve experienced both sexual harassment and abuse.
One victim, whose identity KFOR is protecting, says she’s been trying to heal for 15 years.
“I’ve known I wasn’t the only one for a long time…I gave up hope that anything would ever be done.”
She says she was 20 years old when she came forward to church leadership.
“After what happened to me, I came to him and I begged him. I was begging, with tears streaming down my face, please help me…I was so mentally and emotionally broken. My whole world was shattered,” she said.
Many say they feel betrayed.
“I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights…There are people who are still trying to silence us and still trying to tell us we’re lying about everything,” said Travis.
Victims are now calling for the church to cease all operations. They also want a public apology from leaders of the church.
KFOR visited Church of the Harvest for answers Monday, but the church was closed. We also called Pastor Grant Pankratz. He answered, but when we identified ourselves, the line went dead.
The pastor responding to allegations vaguely in an online sermon Sunday. He says “outside professionals” will investigate.
The church has sent the following statement:
As you have been made aware, there are some individuals who have decided to become verbally aggressive and voice various complaints about the church and its leadership.Lawrence Swicegood
So much of what is posted on those forums is simply false, misleading and hateful.
No church or organization is perfect and we are in numerous meetings and having dialogue with various parties to carefully listen to Valid concerns, to review every aspects of our ministry & staff and to insure policies and procedures that are in place are being followed.
However, we will not be intimidated by, nor enter into dialogue with, or debate people who choose to spread false rumors, direct lies and both verbally and physically threaten members on our staff and people at our church.
We will continue to be a church who cares for this community, cares for our church family and provides spiritual guidance and hope to people during this national & global time of fear, uncertainty and unrest.
We also checked with Oklahoma City and Edmond Police to see if any reports have been filed. As of Monday afternoon, they say no reports have been made, however, one victim tells us she did make a report with an Edmond police officer.