Ohio-based mission worker accused of abuse in Haiti
A Haitian court is hearing allegations that a worker for a large Ohio-based international aid ministry allegedly sexually abused minors in Haiti.
Christian Aid Ministries of Berlin, Ohio — which is supported by various Mennonite, Amish and related groups — said in a statement Tuesday it became aware of “serious allegations” against the worker several weeks ago, when it “promptly discharged” him. It said it has been cooperating with authorities.
The ministry said the alleged perpetrator -- which the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has separately confirmed to be Jeriah Mast -- left Haiti for the United States amid the allegations. He has not yet appeared before the Haitian court in the city of Petit-Goave to face the allegations.
“We understand that the individual made a confession to leaders in his local church in the U.S. and has reported himself to Ohio state legal authorities,” the Christian Aid Ministries statement said.
Mr. Mast’s church in Holmes County, Ohio, confirmed his confession in a statement Wednesday.
“He confessed multiple instances of immoral sexual relationships with boys, which began in his youth,” the online statement from Shining Light Christian Fellowship said. “He acknowledged to living a life of deception and hypocrisy. He also confessed that he lied to cover up his sins.”
Mr. Mast also met with local law enforcement in Holmes County, the church said, and provided investigators with the names of his victims. Holmes County is home to Christian Aid Ministries and to Ohio’s largest concentration of conservative Mennonites and Amish.
The church statement said that Mr. Mast is no longer allowed to be alone with boys, is going to a licensed counselor for treatment and will be “accounted for at all times” by a support team.
Archives of Christian Aid Ministries newsletters and other reports indicate Mr. Mast worked in Haiti for many years.
The revelations come as survivors of sexual abuse among Mennonites and Amish are increasingly speaking out, calling for church leaders to report abuses to law-enforcement rather than attempting to contain scandals in-house.
As reported in the Post-Gazette’s recent series of reports, “Coverings,” adult survivors of child sexual abuse in those communities say they often were shamed for reporting abuse and pressured to forgive predators who were soon restored to fellowship without safeguards to prevent future abuse.
An advocate for victims in Mennonite and Amish settings, Trudy Metzger of Ontario, Canada, is calling on Christian Aid Ministries to disclose what it knew about Mr. Mast’s alleged actions over the years, and when it knew it.
“I would like their work continue,” Ms. Metzger said of Christian Aid Ministries’ humanitarian work. “But they can’t keep doing this ... looking the other way.”
She traveled to Haiti last week to talk to victims and to observe a court hearing into the charges. While in Haiti, she said she spoke to a longtime worker for another agency in Haiti— Life Literature, where Mr. Mast previously worked part-time — and posted a recording of her interview with him on her blog. In it, the worker said members of both organizations confronted Mr. Mast about such allegations around 2012.
Emmanuel Louiceus, a Haitian attorney, said by email he represents five clients who were allegedly abused as boys by Mr. Mast. He said Mr. Mast faces prosecution and that Christian Aid Ministries faces a civil claim.
Christian Aid Ministries says on its website it aims to be a “trustworthy and efficient channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals to minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world.” It works with orphans, provides humanitarian aid such as food, clothing and medicine to the needy and distributes religious literature.
The organization reported receipts of nearly $130 million in receipts such as donations and grants in 2017, according to its filing under tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service.
The Christian Aid Ministries statement came after several days of ferment about the case on social media and a query by the Post-Gazette.
“We recognize that any form of abuse of a child is both a horrific sin and a serious crime,” the statement said. “We are actively working to investigate and address this situation and to care for those who have been harmed.”
It said the ministries’ representatives have been in contact with relevant U.S. federal agencies.
Brucely Delma, pastor of a church on the outskirts of Petit-Goave, said in a phone interview that Mr. Mast worked at the church and its school between 2008 and 2010.
He said Mr. Mast’s work ended in 2010 when the pastor learned of his alleged abuse of boys, confronted him and excommunicated him from the church. Pastor Delma said Mr. Mast left for the city of Port-au-Prince after that. He said Christian Aid Ministries would have been aware that Mr. Mast was excommunicated.
“I’m quite certain they knew,” he said.
On June 6, Pastor Delma was summoned before a Haitian court in Petit-Goave on a charge of failing to report the abuse to authorities at the time, which Mr. Delma said he now deeply regrets.
He said while he followed the biblical teaching to discipline a wayward member, the Bible also mandates that “we have to respect the law of the land,” he said. If he is ever aware of a case of abuse again, “the first thing I will do is report it to the law,” he said. He said his case is pending.
He said American missionary agencies should make sure their workers are trained and screened from “head to toe” before being sent to Haiti.
Mr. Mast could not be reached for comment. Christian Aid Ministries on Tuesday did not return a request for additional comment.
Shelly Bradbury contributed. Peter Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416; Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette