Looking to find out any info on World Outreach Ministries/Roger Houtsma/Novato, CA
Posted by: Elise1285 ()
Date: January 25, 2020 05:49AM

I was born into what I would call an evangelical cult based out of Novato, California 24 sum years ago. I believe it began in the 80's under the leadership of Roger Houtsma who eventually passed the role of leader onto his son, David Houtsma, and whose other son, Nathan Houtsma, was also involved. It was briefly mentioned in a 1994 book called "Churches that Abuse" but was relatively untouched outside of that.

In the early 2000's there was a split and many families from this cult (including my own) moved to Atlanta, GA, with the intent of starting a new branch on the East Coast. It was originally called Northside Family Worship Center. I believe they did not account for the difference in environment between California (a comfortable ecosystem for spiritual extremists) versus Georgia with its infamous bible belt culture, and after years of failed attempts to get a movement going, they adapted and became much more traditional/conservative in an effort to compete with the mega-churches of the area, undergoing the name change to Eastgate Church and all-but fizzling out entirely.

It's been probably 7 years now since I stepped foot inside their church but the impact that the original California cult had on me is something I still struggle with. In the least dramatic way possible, it ruined my life before it even started and I am still trying to put the pieces together. This isn't easy when you're dealing with such a lack of information, however. My parents have moved on to yet another cult (albeit much more mainstream in the form of Bethel Church in Redding, CA) and refuse to acknowledge the "church" they raised us in as what it was: a cult.

I will be posting another topic under the "former cult members + families" forum on the subject of how people recover from this kind of stuff and how you deal with the resulting isolation, but for this topic, I am looking for anyone who might have any information whatsoever on this cult. It is not a super well-known one and the only people I've been able to talk to about it at all have been my siblings and a couple young women who were also raised in it, but we have the disadvantage of having been children and, therefore, excluded from a lot of things that might give us some insight, as well as the fact that memory is not the most reliable source of information.

So if anyone has any knowledge on World Outreach Ministries/ Christian Life Church in Novato, CA/Northside Family Worship Center in North Atlanta/Roger Houtsma/David Houtsma/Nathan Houtsma/Robin Houtsma/Greg Mervich/Edison Fowler/anyone else you know of being involved, I would appreciate any information I can get as I try to get a clearer view of what I was raised in so that me and other victims can move on with our lives.

Thanks in advance for taking the time to read my story.

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Re: Looking to find out any info on World Outreach Ministries/Roger Houtsma/Novato, CA
Date: January 26, 2020 03:52AM

Hi Elise,
I was a member of MCLC (Marin Christian Life Church) / CLC / now called New Life Church and still located in the same building in Novato, CA. I attended and served there for almost 15 years. During that time there were several church splits based either around how money was handled or the behavior of Roger Houtsma's sons. Each time Roger Houtsma, a self-proclaimed apostle or his wife Janice, a self-proclaimed prophetess would accuse anyone who questioned them, their family or ministry of listening to demonic voices or being led by the flesh instead of the spirit (of God). The final split came in 2000-2001 when Roger's son was found to be having a relationship with a 17 year old girl (he was married and pastoring a church in Chico at the time). This situation was covered up and his son and wife returned to Novato (ironically, where the girl lived and attended CLC).

The coverup by Roger and his family led to many people questioning everything: his doctrine, his ministry and church finances. The church quickly became polarized into two groups: those supporting Roger and those wanting the truth about everything. This led to some people contacting the Assemblies of God to notify them about what was going on. There were 3 main issues: Roger's son and the affair, Roger's heretical teachings and church finance. Others contacted the FBI as there was a large amount of money given to purchase church buildings in Russia and Africa, which were never purchased and the money was spent on crusades and other items. There was supposedly even evidence of Roger keeping leftover money from crusades which were cancelled or when not all money budgeted was spent.

Ultimately, the Assemblies of God refused to do nothing. The FBI said the amount of money, because it was less than $1 million they didn't have the resources to pursue it. And the Novato Police Department couldn't take any action because the 17 year old girl was not allowed to speak with them. Because it seemed no one was willing to take action, the church split. Many families left and were subsequently demonized by the Houtsmas and the church board. The church bookkeeper was fired because she brought financial issues to the Assemblies of God. The church building was refinanced and it was rumored the Houtsmas took about $1 million to Georgia with them. It was also rumored Greg Mervich received a nice payout as well. The church was taken over by Caleb Klinge who was married to Roger's niece Rachel and they still pastor the church today.

Maybe some notes about church life prior to the final split might be helpful. MCLC on the surface was a "typical" charismatic church focused on the "5 fold ministries" and "gifts of the spirit." A big part of Roger's ministry focus was World Outreach where he and others would travel overseas to hold evangelistic crusades and teaching sessions for local churches. Beneath the surface was a highly dysfunctional system of control, manipulation and brainwashing. Children were "taught" (forced?) at a young age to speak in tongues and prophecy under threat of displeasing Jesus. Teens were given places of leadership over adults without. Those with "promise" were treated specially and "called" to one of the 5 fold ministries: apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist.

"Regular" people were monitored to find out if their businesses or careers were taking off. When they did, a board member or pastor's wife would approach them with a message of God bringing them success so they could give more to the ministry. Others were "placed" in careers or positions at companies run by board members or influential people in the church. I know of several people who were promised substantial positions or stakes in a business and then cheated out of it when the business sold. Then of course the annual "faith-promise" service where people were encouraged to give above and beyond - even taking out second mortgages on their homes to give to the ministry.

There's more I could share, but perhaps this is enough to digest for now and I can answer specific questions if you like. Good luck on your journey!

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Re: Looking to find out any info on World Outreach Ministries/Roger Houtsma/Novato, CA
Date: May 14, 2021 10:00AM

Hi Elise,

My family were not members of the church but I did attend the Marin Christian Life junior high for 7th, 8th and 9th grades. It was mid to late 80’s and located on the North Marin campus in Novato. Nathan and David Houtsma attended when I was there. Mr Mervich was the principle. (I grew up attending church but it was a calm Christian church not affiliated with Assemblies of God).

One of the most disturbing things for me at MCLS was “spiritual emphasis week.” During this week we would sit through hours of sermon from guest speakers. We were told if we didn’t obey the lord we would go to hell and hell would be so hot our eyeballs would crunch when we blinked. Kids were speaking in tongues which I had not seen or heard before. It all seemed a bit scary and crazy to me then. Many scare tactics were used.
Kids that did attend the church would share dramatic stories of youth pastors calling kids out in front of hundreds of people. I understood it as an effort to guilt or scare them into admitting wrong doing or walking a straighter line. It was believed that certain kids were informants to the leaders. Then there was the spanking system. I know of a couple of people traumatized over getting paddled over seemingly minor incidents. (Luckily I never got Big-Bertha).

I was out of there at the end of those three years. The experience left such a bad taste in my mouth that I don’t even believe in organized religion and I don’t force it upon my children or tell them they have to believe in God.

I was not surprised when I heard some negative things years later about the Houtsmas and some of the splits. I always thought there was something fishy going on with that place.
I’m not even sure that all of the teachers were accredited to teach. I was recently trying to research the curriculum we were taught. I have a junior higher at home and I kept thinking to myself, I don't remember learning any of this stuff about early civilization etc. Then the lightbulb went off..oh yeah we probably were not taught these topics.

Not all the teachers were bad and we did do some fun activities. I remember it was stressed that we tell others about about how amazing our school activities were as a way to recruit new students.
I don’t know if any of this info is helpful to you or just more of the same. I was not born into the cult but I guess this is more of my experience as an outsider.
My mom acknowledges that sending me there was a mistake but at the time she thought it she was doing the right thing. I have not spoken to many others that shared my experience because I purposely lost contact with most everyone.

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