A Whitefish-based ministry that runs a popular burger chain is shutting its doors amid allegations that its leaders used threats of physical violence, verbal and psychological abuse to coerce workers.
Potter’s Field is now sending most of its staff and program participants home in the wake of those allegations, and locals are raising money to help some get there.
Potter’s Field Ministries leaders, Mike and Pam Rozell, both stepped down over the weekend and the ministry’s MudMan Burger locations in Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Kalispell were closed Monday. Calls to Mike Rozell’s office requesting comment went unanswered.
A number of people have been publicly speaking out about their experiences with Potter’s Field and the Rozells since an article alleging the abuse was published on the Christian website Phoenix Preacher last Wednesday.
Mayor of Thousand Oaks, California and a pastor at Godspeak Calvary Chapel Rob McCoy has now stepped in to close the ministry. McCoy denies allegations that the ministry was run like a cult, but does say it was run “poorly.”
“In no way do I defend this ministry or their actions. I’m simply saying that there’s not an ability now to reconcile it, try to heal it and fix it. It’s over,” McCoy said outside of Potter’s Field offices in Whitefish on Monday afternoon. “But the last thing this community needs is the mantra of cult, because that doesn’t exist.”
In public comments on the Phoenix Preacher’s website and in emails and interviews with MTPR, former Mudman workers and ministry participants say they were exhausted by 60-hour-plus workweeks while receiving little pay and suffered hours of verbal and psychological abuse from the Rozells.
According to tax documents, Potter’s Field ran several “sister ministries” that young people over 18 participated in, ranging from missionary training programs abroad to work at its horse ranch and burger restaurants in the Flathead.
Kenzie Kinney is one of those former workers who said she “escaped” from the ministry about two years ago.
“The goal for them is to make sure that you have nothing left so that you can’t go experience anything else. They keep you permanently exhausted by 80-hour workweeks,” she said. “On top of those workweeks, you’re doing random bible studies in the morning and at night and youth group and other projects they have you doing.”
Kinney and others allege that Mike Rozell could be set off by anything and that he would berate people for hours on end or even days, something he allegedly called “strong fellowship.”
Dawn Marie Grice served as the Rozell’s personal assistant for about 12 years. She said her experience and stories like Kinney’s are representative of Rozell’s cult-like tactics.
“If they tell you to cut off your friends, you’ll cut your friends out. If they tell you to cut out your family, you cut your family out because you’re just worn down by these working conditions, which is under the guise of doing it for the Lord,” she said.
Grice and others have set up a “rescue” fund through the Whitefish Calvary Chapel to help others who’ve left Potter’s Field’s programs following allegations.
“Some of them have vehicles, some of them sold everything they have to get to Montana to be a part of this program and were sent by other supporters,” Grice explained. “So, we’re trying to help anyone we can however they need it.”
Several young people remain at Potter’s Field facilities. The ministry said it will help them get home. On Monday afternoon, Theodore Opdenaker and his soon-to-be-wife Autumn Robison stood outside of the Potter’s Field offices.
They say there is some truth to some to the allegations waged against Potter’s Field, but that they’re ready to forgive and forget.
“We’ve had meetings that have lasted a long time and there was raised voices. I grew up in a house with raised voices, so it wasn’t anything really big to me,” he said. “There are things that are being said that are true, that I for sure agree with them and I’m hurt by them. I also know God hung on the cross and that hurt him.”
A handful of people still remain in Potter’s Field’s Ignite missionary program, which participants can pay up to $6,000 to serve in a missionary apprenticeship in Guatemala, Cambodia or Uganda. Potter’s Field’s new leader Rob McCoy said the ministry’s professional missionary staff will keep feeding area children at those camps.
“We don’t want leave them untethered and not being fed. So that’s under new management. I’m overseeing that and applying all the principals to make it healthy,” he said.
Much of the Potter’s Field scandal has been bubbling under the surface for months.
The Rozells had toured almost exclusively at churches in the international Calvary Chapel Association, which severed ties with with the Rozells and Potter’s Field in April. That threw into jeopardy what had been a reliable donation stream from Calvary members.
Requests for comment from the association’s board president were not returned in time for this story. A letter sent to Calvary Chapel pastors said Potter’s Field methods were “not compatible” with Calvary Chapel’s teachings.