In November 2011, Prairie Bible Institute President Mark Maxwell went to media with a story of historical abuses at the Three Hills school, and the school released a statement that administration went to the RCMP.
Recently, there have been presented alleged instances of abuse by individuals connected with Prairie Bible Institute.
To the extent of our information, the incidents in question date back several decades, and the individuals purportedly involved are no longer at Prairie. Nevertheless, we feel it is appropriate to respond and to emphasize our commitment to seeking truth and transparency.
We have taken a file containing many of these allegations to the RCMP, discussed the alleged incidents with them and assured them of our full co-operation should further inquiry be necessary.
Media far beyond Alberta picked up the story. What wasn’t noted by PBI was that the ‘file’ was group abuse survivor Facebook pages which were taken to the local RCMP detachment The file was handed off to a specialized unit in the Calgary RCMP detachment.
It was clear from the beginning that PBI had made it’s decision about how the allegations would be handled by the school, and PBI has stuck to their plans. Students and staff have not commented publicly with the exception of the 2012 student president who went on Facebook to talk with survivors.
As an interesting aside, I’ve wondered if that student was publicly called out in a veiled way by Mark Maxwell in one of his updates, for chatting with PBI abuse survivors. While this students communication with PBI survivors was at times clumsy, it was apparent he was sincere. The student body president has not communicated with PBI survivors since.*(see update below)
As news of a group of former PBI staff kids and students discussing physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse online spread, and the calling of accountability by abuse survivors spread, current PBI students called a chapel meeting to pray for the survivors and for their school. It is completely understandable that current students were concerned, a possible lawsuit had been mentioned, and students needed to know their credits were not being threatened in any way and that their school year was safe. That November 23, 2011 chapel service was taped. It was interesting. Two administrators stood up and read several emails of support from various ministry colleagues and alumni, some who blamed the devil for the ‘attack’ on PBI. It was difficult to listen too. Intentionally or not, the way leadership chose to present, made a clear line between the school and abuse survivors, reinforced the us/them mentality common to many Christian institutions, and further alienated beleaguered PBI abuse survivors. It was apparent the institution would be protected at all costs. That has been the case over the past year. For reasons I can’t fully explain, the black and white approach is embedded in the culture of PBI. I was sickened over the slant being taken in chapel, so I contacted someone whose email had been read.
The person I contacted was surprised their email had been used to imply support for the school, stating that they had not given permission for their email to be shared publicly.
I was left wondering how many other email writers who were used that day would have expressed that same concern if they knew their emails were made public in a way that made PBI’s response to past abuses look good to students and anyone else watching. Would some of the email writers have been as uncomfortable as I was at the alienating of PBI abuse survivors?
As media coverage died down that November/December, Mark Maxwell released a newsletter to alumni outlining the three steps PBI would be taking.
Top of the list was the use of alumni to ‘help’ PBI survivors who had congregated on Facebook.
1) Alumni: We have a truly amazing group of Alumni around the world. Many of them have offered to help in any way possible. A dozen of them have committed a great deal of time to working with those alumni who have stories of pain and injury. This group cares about Prairie as well as the need for the injured to find healing. Their efforts may include raising funds to help cover some of:
- - the costs of travel if someone would like to come back, either to share with us or the third-party group; and
- - the costs related to reconciliation and healing.
- Subject to legal constraints, Prairie will allow these funds to pass through the school so that donors can benefit from a tax deductible receipt. Those who would like to share their stories of pain and injury are invited to contact this team
Initially PBI board member Linda Brinks was assigned to be a contact person for PBI abuse survivors who wished to contact the school. That turned out to be a less than ethical idea right from the time of the initial press release:
At a recent meeting, the Board selected Linda Brinks, one of its members, to be a point of contact for survivors.
Should any individual feel that he or she has been the recipient of abusive conduct by a Prairie staff member while enrolled at Prairie and prefer to not take this to the police, that individual can contact Linda Brinks directly at (xxx). Our board chair, Bruce Miller, will also be so informed and will provide guidance as necessary.
The message: suck it up survivors, we’ll share your information between us at will. Communication between administrators of the Facebook group for PBI Abuse Survivors and PBI administration was already strained and hostile. Now abuse survivors were being told that if they spoke to Brinks, their communication, concerns and pain would be passed on at the very least to the board chair. It turns out that board member Brinks (who is a public health nurse and who should have rethought her loyalties and her professional ethics) was quite chatty. Linda Fossen:
Remember when Mark assigned the nurse from the board to be our point of contact? He encouraged all survivors to confidentially contact Linda Brinks. I had a survivor tell me that she did call and talked to Linda briefly and within a half-hour of that call, Mark Maxwell was on the phone inviting himself to visit this survivor in her home! She was horrified and told him no! One of the first things he said was “I heard you made a call to Linda Brinks”.
Shortly after being assigned as the PBI contact, Brinks disappeared. PBI merely said she had stepped down as the abuse survivor contact for ‘personal reasons.’
Enter the alumni ’Survivor Fund Project/Healing Team’. If you type Prairie Bible Institute into the sidebar search field on the right here at BDBO, you can see several posts on this group of alumni. I have been critical of the concept from day one. I have also been critical of motivation. I contacted a couple of mental health professionals who specialize in abuse, prior to firing off posts on this team, and nothing will change what professionals recommend. It doesn’t matter if a few alumni on this team have good intentions and even some training, the team and it’s purpose is a form of control. It turns out, this ‘team’ itself being controlled, and no amount of flowery language and public reassurances is going to change that.
The Survivor Fund Project initially made it’s approach to PBI abuse survivors online stating that any alumni who wished to donate should send money to PBI so a tax receipt could be issued. This alumni team seemed reluctant to reveal who they were, but after being approached in January 2012, a team member answered some basic questions
Survivors chatting on Facebook were aware that a minister in the southern US had decided to raise $5000.00 to give to this project/team. In December 2011, Ruth Maxwell, PBI President Mark Maxwells sister, spoke at this guys church and I often wondered if she was handed the funds to give to PBI for this team. I wondered how involved Ruth Maxwell was, but there was no way of knowing, for despite the public reassurance the ‘team’ only wanted healing for survivors, and wanted to operate transparently and honestly, it took some time before team members were publicly named. Once again, a warning bell went off for survivors and those of us observing. One named team member was Miriam ‘Mim’ Phipps – the aunt of Mark and Ruth Maxwell and daughter of PBI founder L. E. Maxwell. She is currently listed as a team member on the ‘team’ website. Most of the 20 were never named. One instrumental member who is not named is Ruth Maxwell.
The Survivor Fund Project/Healing Team stated among other things:
“The conversations are confidential; it’s your story to tell, not ours.”
“It is confidential between the survivor and the listener who is walking with that survivor.”
There are at least 20 people available to listen to stories, and from them, 2-3 people who will handle the distribution of funds. We have already had a number of people come to us and receive real hearing and understanding, and are moving forward in their healing journey.
Our goal is that all will find this to be a place of acceptance, support, recovery, and healing, as we offer to listen, respect, love, and share resources to help one another to grow in grace.
In reality, things were quite different, and if the two Maxwell’s who are running this team were reporting to the PBI president, the behaviour online by these two ladies and named members of the team makes sense. Both have blocked PBI abuse survivors on Facebook, refusing to communicate with many of them. Linda Fossen:
Getting back to the healing team. Remember the survivor who got a pre-paid trip to Three Hills and had a “glorious” experience meeting with Mark Maxwell? That was all very much orchestrated by Ruth Maxwell and Mim Phibbs. Funny isn’t it that no other survivor was ever offered this? I remember Mark doing a radio interview with the survivor and saying that she was from “one of the grand families of Prairie”. So apparently nothing much has changed at PBI. In grade school, I remember feeling out of league with those whose names were Kirk, Olson, Maxwell and Rendall. If you weren’t related to them, you definitely were not in the inner circle. It was evident on the playground in third grade.
In keeping control of the healing team, Prairie is able to control what the public finds out. I truly believe in my heart that PBI knows the scope of the abuse of children that was perpetrated by its staff on campus – but they want to squelch that information in order to protect their reputation. When a survivor told Ruth that her abuser was a student and not staff, Ruth replied, “Oh good, that’s so much better.” Better for whom? Better for PBI that’s who! Ruth’s response is telling and really indicative of the attitude of the administration.
The teams public assurances the team was not connected to PBI rang hollow at the time, and are certainly hollow now. Fortunately, PBI abuse survivors (with the known exception of the one) did not approach the team, trusting their gut instincts and holding back. There is something to be said for hyper-vigilance born of childhood trauma.
There is another side note to the control and flow of information, and perhaps speaks to how tight the Maxwell clan may be and how often they communicate to ‘manage’ what they perceive as damage to the institution. The involvement of this family with this team explains the clumsy and slow release of information to abuse survivors.
Did a team spokesperson have to have their copy checked by Ruth Maxwell or Mrs. Phipps prior to making it public? I strongly believe the Maxwell ladies call all the shots with The Survivor Fund Project/Healing Team., and I believe they are in contact with Mark Maxwell. So much for transparency, honesty and good faith. Ruth Maxwell remains friends with the minister from the southern US – he was reported to police for harassment of survivors. There were a few angry, vitriolic and bullying alum who went way beyond disagreement with the goals of the survivors, and beyond disagreement with the fact PBI abuse survivors were speaking up. Their opposition has been ugly and I believe PBI administration has been complicit. While the school is not responsible for the behaviour of adults who attended the school, no PBI admin spoke up and asked these thugs to stop. PBI has preferred to colour survivors as a problem, and paint the institution as victim.
A former PBI alum, who worked in a helping profession and who is a survivor of abuse, wrote Mark Maxwell in September 2012, regarding proposed changes to the PBI harassment abuse and assault policies, and offered assistance.
Prairie’s current abuse policies, revised in 2010, are posted on our employment page and can be accessed directly here. These are being revised to incorporate what we have learned in the past year as well as best practices in place at other colleges and universities.
This person is skilled in policy writing and abuse issues. The goal was to bring to bear whatever possible positive influence she could. The PBI President responded quickly and politely. Six days later, in a somewhat bizarre twist, this former alumni received an unsolicited email from Mrs. Miriam ‘Mim” Phipps of The Survivor Fund Project/Healing Team. Coincidence? It’s possible Mrs. Phipps reads BDBO, but anything is possible, including communication between the Maxwells. I doubt we’ll ever really know, the public and PBI abuse survivors were not supposed to know of Maxwell involvement with the alumni team in the first place. If this alumn, who reached out in good faith, had not been healed of past trauma, what would that unsolicited contact have done emotionally and spiritually?
The PBI policy revision was the third goal listed by Mark Maxwell in November 2011. To date, the policy remains unchanged.
I’m ending with an excerpt from PBI’s Harvester Magazine Winter 2013, “A Note from the President” which ends where this all began. This is the on-going ‘God is on the side of PBI’ belief, the us/them approach to abuse survivors. There is continued projection and blame toward those who found their voice and who speak up about their past abuse while they were at Prairie Bible Institute. No one can deal in good faith when they are manipulated, blamed, and branded as attackers on the side of the devil.
It is easy to lose sight of the fact that countless young men and women have found new life and growing spiritual maturity during their time at PBI, due in no small part to the impact of Prairie faculty and staff both now and in years past. Many of them were instrumental in shaping young lives for the glory of God. We also thank our alumni and friends who have stood with us and given support and advice. It was so encouraging to see the Prairie family come together this summer at our Homecoming celebrations.
An unfortunate result of the social media attacks has been a decrease in donations at a time when they are much needed. And yet it is so evident that God is continuing to work in this place, preparing men and women to impact a needy world. There is a great opportunity here and we are committed to being a part of what God is doing. We’d love to have you join us.
* Update: William Knelsen, PBI student body president says he did not claim to speak for PBI when he went on FB to talk with survivors. He said he was clear he was expressing his personal opinions, that he made the decision to end his conversation, and was not asked to do so by PBI admin. He has not communicated with PBI President Mark Maxwell about his FB conversation with abuse survivors, and he does not believe Maxwell is referencing himself or other students in the September 2012 Q&A. He also says, “In addition to receiving support from Mark about interacting with survivors, I have also received that same support from PBI Board members.”
I appreciate Mr. Knelsen taking time to clarify his position.
He believes I’m not representing Mark Maxwell fairly.
Which begs the question – who is Maxwell referring to in this September 2012 statement? “We do understand that some individuals, including those who claim that they speak on behalf of Prairie, are active in the public forum. While they mean well and we appreciate their support, their opinions are not necessarily those of Prairie or its leadership.”