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Protesters allege abuse at Fairhaven church, school
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Protesters allege abuse at Fairhaven church, school

CHESTERTON | About 150 people standing along Oak Hill Road across from Fairhaven Independent Baptist Church on Sunday night meant everything to Jeremiah Souza and Alison Lavery.

"It means the world. I never expected a turnout like this," said Souza, 26, of Chesterton.

"It is great to know people don't think we are liars. I think the truth will come out," said Lavery, 25, of Chesterton.

The two, along with five others, told stories of alleged abuse during a CNN telecast late last week. The revelations led other former members of the church and the community to organize a protest of the church.

Many held signs reading "Brutality is not Christian," "Jesus doesn't want you to beat your children" and "The Bible doesn't teach humiliation" as they stood across the street from the church just off Ind. 49. Dozens of cars passed by and drivers honked their horns in support.

Church officials, who sat in a pickup truck at the edge of the church driveway during the protest, declined to comment on the gathering.

"We were scared and we were scared for a long time," said Lavery, who attended the church and school from the time she was 4 years old to her freshman year of college and said she witnessed abuse.

"The boys got it a lot worse than the girls," she said, adding she left the church when officials attempted to cut her off from her family.

Souza too was "born in the church" and alleges he was raped multiple times as a child.

Pastor Roger Voegtlin denied any abuse during the CNN interview.

Michelle Ahlfeld said the CNN segment fueled her passion late last week to organize the protest. Using Facebook, Ahlfeld said, she was able to invite about 1,000 people to the event.

Kim York, 46, of Bass Lake, joined the protest more than 20 years after leaving the church. She recalled the humiliation she received at the hands of church officials as a teenager.

"It makes me very angry these poor little kids have had to go through this. I have the exact same stories that these kids are telling now," said York, who attended the church and school in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Organizers said the protests will continue each Sunday until officials recognize the problems at the church and take action. Some spoke about legal action against the church and modifying state laws that would require private schools to abide by the same laws regarding corporal punishment as public schools.

"I don't know what will happen. I know now I'm not the only one out there. If what we did saves one kid, it is worth it," Souza said.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.

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