Dear Harvest Family,

We are reaching out today to communicate about some hazing incidents that occurred at Camp Harvest from July 14–24, 2020. We wish to communicate the findings of our review surrounding this situation, the resulting disciplinary measures we have taken to date, and additional matters for following up.

As a preliminary matter, Harvest Bible Chapel and Camp Harvest do not condone hazing of any kind and seek to create an environment at camp that glorifies Christ and that is safe for our guests, students, and staff. Our intention with this email is to inform our church family while protecting the privacy of the children and families that were impacted. In addition, we want to apologize to you, our church family, not only for what has occurred but also for broken trust.  We wholeheartedly seek forgiveness and healing, and we covet your prayers for the next steps ahead.

The incidents at issue involved two separate, non-sanctioned activities. Both types of activities were entirely unacceptable and outside the bounds of what should be expected from those in a leadership role while at Camp Harvest.

The first was a game called “Silent Football,” which apparently took place in the late hours of the night and involved staff, students, and cabin leaders. Participants were discouraged from disclosing their participation with others, as part of the game. At the end of each occurrence of this game, the loser(s) of the game are required to receive a “punishment” from the other participants. While some of these “punishments” can be characterized as juvenile and immature, other punishments clearly crossed the line of what is acceptable behavior from our cabin leaders and Student Ministry staff. These punishments had a general pattern of embarrassment, humiliation, and gross behavior. And while all these types of punishments are unacceptable to happen at our camp with our students, it is even more unacceptable that they occurred with the involvement of some of our staff and leaders.

The second could be better understood as a dare or a challenge known as the “Icy Hot Challenge”. This challenge was administered by an HBC Student Pastor, who has now been terminated from employment as addressed below. Please note that we found no evidence of any person-to-person contact during this incident, nor was there apparently any moment where any person visibly exposed themselves to others during the incident.

DISCOVERY AND INVESTIGATION

During the second week of camp, our Camp Director and Sr. Director of Operations uncovered information about “Silent Football” while also being contacted by parents informing us of the punishments some of their children had received from the “Silent Football” game the previous week. Camp Staff immediately responded by communicating to all camp leaders that “Silent Football” is prohibited as an activity at Camp Harvest. Additionally, our staff began investigating camp activities and supervision further, particularly to determine what transpired with the “Silent Football” situation and what corrective actions may be warranted.  This investigation then led to the discovery of the “Icy Hot Challenge” situation.

In compliance with applicable legal requirements and out of an abundance of caution, these incidents were reported upon discovery to the state of Michigan’s Licensing and Regulatory Agency (LARA), which handles camper licensing matters, as well to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which handle child safety matters. We have and will continue to fully cooperate with local law enforcement and regulatory agency partners with anything they request from us.  Harvest’s internal investigation and actions are independent of those of the law enforcement investigations.

HBC’s investigation has included extensive interviews and requests for information from staff, volunteers, parents, and students who were or might have been involved in these incidents. HBC has done so through highly qualified and experienced staff, conscientious attention to thoroughly identifying the problems, advice of legal counsel, and other extensive measures toward addressing and correcting the problems as follows.

DISCIPLINARY AND OTHER MEASURES

Based on the internal investigation, we have taken the following disciplinary measures:

1. We have terminated the employment of the HBC Student Pastor for direct involvement in administering the “Icy Hot Challenge,” in violation of multiple policies including HBC’s Child Protection Policy.

2. We have terminated the employment of a Summer Camp Staff Member for overseeing inappropriate “punishments” given to students during “Silent Football.”

3. We have accepted the resignation of another Student Pastor and HCA Staff member for observing situations at camp that should have been reported to leaders. Though not participants, these staff members failed to raise concerns to their leaders in violation of our Child Protection Policy and handbooks.

4. We suspended two Summer Camp Staff Members for some participation in the “Silent Football” punishments that were less severe, but still in violation of the Camp Harvest Staff Handbook.

In addition to those actions, we will send a separate email to impacted families to offer care for both their children and the family. We care deeply for the impacted students that experienced hazing-like behaviors and inappropriate conduct at Camp Harvest from July 14–24, 2020.

We will also continue to evaluate apparent and potential violations of HBC policies, legal compliance considerations, worker supervision, and improved best practices overall. We are addressing such matters at every level within our Camp and Student Ministry departments. If more employee or volunteer disciplinary actions or other measures are warranted, we will take those steps. As a part of this review, all student ministry at Harvest will be held online-only until the completion of this assessment, re-training, and re-certification led by our staff.

CONCLUSION

Again, we apologize to you, our church family, for what occurred with these hazing incidents and for breaking your trust, and we ask for your forgiveness. We ask that you pray for those involved, for our staff in taking next steps for restoration and correction, and especially for each child affected by these very unfortunate events. And through it all, we are asking God to show up in power and use this situation and turn it around for His glory.

—The Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel