In the Case of Jeriah Mast

If the Amish and Mennonite communities are not willing to protect their weakest and most vulnerable members,
then they deserve to be dismantled and become a thing of the past.
~ Paul Yoder

Yet another story has surfaced of sexual abuse related to Amish Mennonites. I first read it in Christian News. I commend Heather Clark for her courage in writing this report. The first step to interrupting the cycle of abuse is to tear the silence that shrouds it, and she has done that.

Jeriah Mast, who was a known pedophile, was stationed in Haiti as a Christian aid worker. Below are quotes from the report:

Christian News Network spoke with Will Rodenhouse, the former director of CAM’s [Christian Aid Ministries] Haiti outreach (2015-2017), who advised that Mast had been working in Haiti long before he arrived. Rodenhouse reported to Eli Weaver, who serves on CAM’s executive committee.

Mast, who was fluent in the Haitian language, had much control and leadership in the various Haiti humanitarian programs, including providing medical aid.

“I was … amazed how the country was his at the taking,” Rodenhouse stated. “He was involved in every off-site project, and I think that was because of his talent — because of his ability to speak the language well, knowing the culture, and his years of experience — that CAM used him for everything. And he was totally unaccountable.”

He said that he was informed that Mast had been sent home for a short time in 2012 due to a “moral failure” and allowed to return. Rodenhouse stated that when he asked what Mast had done, he was told, “[I]t was dealt with and we don’t need to talk about it.”

“I was never warned … that Jeriah was involved in pedophilia. I have three boys. I have two girls. I was never warned,” he lamented.

[…]

Rodenhouse said that it is his understanding that Mast had abused children in both the U.S. and Haiti, and that upon returning to the states, Mast intended on only telling the police about his American crimes and only did so after the families involved stated that they would not press charges.

A friend sent me a link to a very insightful blog post by Paul Yoder called “The Silent Curtain“in which he argues that the difference between abuse cases among the Amish and Mennonites and those in the mainstream culture is the way they are handled. I couldn’t agree more. I highly recommend reading his article.

I am convinced that the process of “forgiving and forgetting” among the Plain People is nearly as vulgar as the crimes themselves because it aids and abets the perpetrators — all in the name of Christianity. At best, it is a gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ message.

Among the Plain People, there is no distinction made between adultery and child sexual abuse. Two young people who love one another and are not married having sex is adultery in their eyes. Sex between a married person with someone other than their partner is adultery in their eyes. Beastiality and child sexual abuse is also adultery in their eyes. This means they don’t distinguish between sex crimes and consensual relations between two adults.

I believe that this black and white thinking is partly due to the lack of education. There is an almost stubborn insistence to adhere to the old ways of thinking, even when that thinking borders on ignorance. Why are the Amish still exempt from compulsory education, when everyone in the mainstream culture has to live by a whole other standard? Wouldn’t we condemn a culture in some foreign land that rests its survival on the premise that their children must not learn too much?

It will be interesting to watch what happens in the case of Jeriah Mast. Will he be prosecuted in the full extent of the law, or will the people around him aid in him taking a slick detour around the laws most people need to abide by?

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22 thoughts on “In the Case of Jeriah Mast”

  1. Aleta Schrock

    My heart breaks for the children. Many people, conservatives especially, have no understanding of the difference between an ordinary sin or mistake and addiction. They don’t understand that it doesn’t matter how sorry or repentant an addict is, they are incapable of helping themselves. I pray that they can come to a clearer understanding regarding addiction and the need for accountability and appropriate consequences. Hopefully incidences like this will help them understand that it’s better for crimes to be brought to Justice at their onset, rather than wait until it’s forced into the open. I hope they start realizing that serious crimes like this need to be addressed by the law. It makes me angry that those parents agreed to not press charges. But at the same time I understand why because of the culture.

    1. Their silence enabled him to continue to offend with impunity. There is no excuse for hiding behind the culture on this.

      And I think we should be careful about calling this an addiction. Calling it an addition lends itself to the thought that he simply could not help himself. This is not true. When he was caught red-handed, look how quickly he fled to the US and confessed. He knew what he was doing. It was calculated, and he bears total responsibility for the willful actions he did over and over and over again.

      I am a survivor of male childhood sexual abuse. Everyone should be careful of language that lessens the magnitude of the crimes.

      1. Daniel, I am so sorry what happened to you, and thank you for your comments. I tend to agree with you that people who commit these kinds of crimes have more agency than is often thought. But I also believe that until they are “found out” there is a certain amount of denial and justification that goes on in their psyche when they are not being held accountable. This is why it is so vital that they do get found out, and then that they are held accountable. Whether we call it addiction or crime, they should not be allowed off the hook for their actions.

        Also, the abused need to have someone they can trust to face the pain of what happened to them, have their truth be heard, and find a support system to help them in the long healing process. And long before there is any emphasis on forgiveness, they need to have a way to express their hurt and their anger towards the person or persons who violated them. What most Anabaptist communities don’t realize is that there is a time and place for feelings of revenge and anger… and if these are squelched, there is no place for those feelings to go except underground into the unconscious. Most of us have to go through a stage of anger before we can reach the sadness that lies underneath. Anger is a defense against sadness so deep we feel like we could drown in it.

        I, too, am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Even though that was nearly a lifetime ago, I am still affected by it.

        Thank you for the courage to speak your truth, Daniel. We are not so outnumbered as we used to be. More people are gathering the courage to tell their stores. Thank goodness.

      2. Aleta Schrock

        Daniel, I am sorry about the horrible crimes committed against you as a child. I also apologize for not having worded things well. I agree that he is totally responsible for every choice that he made and that he willingly chose to not stop and to not go and get help to keep him accountable. What I was trying to say is that conservative people look at all the outward appearances and choose to believe that the perpetrator’s repentant behaviors go heart deep. But as long as the perpetrator’s rewards are still greater than the consequences, he or she won’t stop.

        I agree that hiding behind the culture is not an acceptable excuse. I grew up in the culture and I helped hide some things for years. Things that almost happened to me as a teenager, but thankfully I had a mother who intervened and did not allow them to actually happen. As horrendous as my almost experience was… My heart weeps for the ones that actually did happen.

        I grew up in the culture– grew up thinking like the culture, etc. But some horrible things that had happened to others whom I grew up with have recently been brought to my awareness and I am now trying to figure out how I can use my knowledge of the culture to help change the future of how conservative people deal with these types of issues.

        And if anything else I have worded wrongly hurts you, I am so sorry. That is not and was never my intent.

        1. Thanks for your kind words. You actually didn’t offend me at all or hurt me. And I thank you for clarifying and totally agree with you. I just don’t want people to go to far down the “it’s an addiction route”, because that actually can lessen the culpability if the perpetrator in people’s minds. I think I understood you the first time, so I am sorry if I came across too strongly in my response. I probably could have worded it better!

          I appreciate your willingness to help effect change. God bless you.

    2. Aleta, thank you for your comments. My heart breaks for the children, too. I agree that these crimes need to be brought to justice. Unfortunately, it seems they rarely do until the silence has been broken. Helping to keep the silence around such crimes is nearly as harmful as committing the crime in the first place.

      So often in these insular cultures the abused are victimized a second time when they try holding the perpetrators accountable. But the end result is that wolves roam among innocents. I honestly believe the solution has to come from the outside. Law enforcement, counselors, and social services all need to treat Amish and Mennonite cases same as any other cases.

      1. I really appreciate this post & comments. I didn’t detect the maliciousness that seem to scream from some articles I’ve read.

        So I caution you about splashforripples.

        I found this site by accident and was pleasantly surprised at the clear, concise thought with the lack of anger. A sign of healing.
        I, too, am a survivor.

  2. Pamela lakits

    My hope and prayer is that as more people step forward and bravely tell their story it will not only begin to help heal wounds but give others the courage to step forward and tell their story. It is not going to be easy to stop this kind of abuse (which I understand can go from one generation to the next), but hopefully with more information being brought before the Amish/Mennonite community it can begin. This story was just so heart wrenching,all those poor children.What they had to endure.

    1. Pamela, this is also my hope and prayer. Oh, I know. My heart bleeds for all the children who have to endure abuse. As adults we nearly always have choices about how to get out of these kinds of unhealthy situations, but most children simply don’t have that ability. They are at the mercy of the adults around them.

  3. *Warning* Please know that some of my thoughts in this response are not a blanket indictment of the entire conservative religious system. I am speaking from the viewpoint of being a victim of Faith “Christian” Fellowship, now known as “Shining Light Christian Fellowship.” I was raised with Jeriah and his family. My family was part of Faith Christian Fellowship from the beginning, and I don’t have words for the damage that I struggle to overcome to this day. If any of you have followed this story from the start, you’ll see the massive amount of cover-up that went on before this indictment finally happened. People ask me why I didn’t come forward when my brother was molesting me for years. This situation is a prime example of why. Unfortunately nothing would have been done and it would have made my life even harder, as was evidenced when I finally had the courage to speak out as an adult. I’m very grateful my parents finally saw the error of their ways and separated themselves from that cult, but they will never truly believe my account of what I suffered at the hands of my brother. They didn’t see because they didn’t know HOW to see and simply can’t handle the guilt that comes with that realization. I really hope and pray that this will encourage the general public and legal officials to shine a light on the inordinate amount of sexual abuse that goes on in conservative churches. Not just conservative churches obviously, but those seem to get covered up and hidden so frequently, as if people just can’t believe that a religion which appears so wholesome from the outside can be so internally rotten. My prayers are with his wife and children and his victims. Personally, I hope he ends up having to go to Haiti to stand charges and face their justice system. This whole situation has stirred up a lot of very deep personal issues and emotional havoc that I need to examine more carefully. I buried my pain and emotional trauma in drugs and alcohol for 20+ years, and it is only by grace and a true miracle that I finally found help about 10 months ago. Sobriety came when I was finally shown how to face that trauma head on and let myself truly believe that what happened to me was WRONG, there were/are NO excuses to justify it, and being shamed for it is a horrendous thing for any survivor to suffer through.

    1. R. Lewis, I am so sorry for what happened to you. I chose to keep the silence about the abuse I endured until I had a safe situation to give voice to it. You’re right, the covering up is so very harmful. It happens one so many levels… between perpetrator and the abused; in families in which the parents are not present to protect their children; and within the larger closed community.

      I am so glad you found the courage to face the pain. This is where transformation happens, and it is only after we face our pain and properly grieve what we lost that we can move beyond survival and begin to thrive and become who we are meant to be.

      I agree with you that the professionals outside these insular communities need to confront these abuse cases and stop treating them differently than they would treat anyone else in the mainstream culture.

      I hope you continue to find peace of mind in sobriety. I never had an alcohol or drug addiction, but I did have eating disorders for years. Changing these self-destructive patterns requires digging deep for one’s inner resources at times, but in the end it is worth it.

      Blessings to you!

    2. I am sorry….I grew up in the Mennonites… & I get the impression that the churches that identify with the ones you speak of are even more protective and controlling than the mennonites & amish. I, too, am a survivor.

  4. Pingback: About Amish | Update on the Case of Jeriah Mast

  5. Sally (pen name)

    This man is actually directly related to me. He’s my great-aunt’s son, and everyone in the family is shocked about this news. Most of us didn’t know anything about it, and we all respected him dearly. However, there was controversy in our family about whether he should be punished by the law or not. Some of our family pondered hiding him in barns or basements to avoid punishment, but it is true that this happens far too often in Amish Mennonite communities. It’s like a whole ‘nother world in Amish Country. I mean, people can die or get murdered and as long as “they are forgiven by God”, everything is brushed under the rug.

  6. We must be bold to help expose and stop a bad system (amish men bishops) who help perpetuate the vile destructive sex crimes and subjugation of victims. The whole system has a deep generational problem that now has thousands of hurting silenced victims… and perps who are repeat offenders just keep going free

  7. I have been working to help victims in Belleville PA for over 4 years now. The numbers of victims are into the thousands. This blog is absolutely right and needed. Thank You. Our Team SIIU core team one will bring national attention to this in the next few months. We have in a film maker, national investigative journalists and will broadcast by radio into Belleville and areas. The men-bishop among the amish and Mennonite is an atrocity . I have and will confront them to change they’re whole system. A book is being written about the victims and perpetrators currently and our teams will continue to go there for the next years. www. Pennsylvaniahasasecret. com

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