Kanakuk Kamps is one of the largest Christian camps in the nation. Each summer, more than 20,000 kids from age 7-17 pay thousands of dollars each to stay at the camp in southwestern Missouri. Some of the most prominent leaders in the evangelical world have worked with the camp and its leaders, Joe and Debbie-Jo White.
But a new website, called FactsAboutKanakuk.com claims that “Kanakuk’s reputation and reach conceals a dark secret. For decades, Joe White and other camp leaders knew about and facilitated sexual abuse against scores of children.”
The website, which went live on Saturday, includes links to court documents for six lawsuits in which Kanakuk and senior staff members, including Joe White, were names as defendants. The website maintains that “non-disclosure agreements and significant financial settlements have concealed the truth in order to preserve a ministry brand and economic engine.”
Kanakuk Kamps and related non-profit organizations brought in about $35-million in 2018, the most recent year available. It had a profit (revenue over expenses) of more than $8-million. According to an analysis of Form 990s from 2014-2018 by MinistryWatch, Joe and Debbie-Jo White receive payments from Kanakuk – payments that include salary, rent payments for real estate they own, and other compensation – that usually top $500,000 per year, and some years top $700,000.
The FactsAboutKanakuk website also has a petition demanding that individuals and families who have settled with the camp be released from any non-disclosure agreements or “similar clauses.” MinistryWatch is on record opposing the use of non-disclosure agreements in ministry settings.
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One of the lawsuits filed by “John Doe IX” against Kanakuk and a senior staff member, Peter Newman, resulted in a judgment for the plaintiff for nearly $20-million in 2018. According to the Springfield News Leader, “The judgment ranked as the largest reported plaintiff’s judgment in Missouri in 2018.” However, it is not clear that the settlement has actually been paid by either Kanakuk or Peter Newman, who is now serving a life sentence for multiple counts of sexual abuse perpetrated when he was a senior member of Kanakuk’s staff.
Repeated calls by MinistryWatch to Douglas, Haun, and Heidemann, the law firm that represented the plaintiff, to determine if either Peter Newman or Kanakuk had paid the plaintiff, “John Doe IX,” have gone unanswered.
Kanakuk Kamps told MinistryWatch that, in part in response to past troubles, it has adopted new youth protection policies. Current seasonal staff undergo two days of training on sexual abuse and youth protection policies. Their current policies are outlined here and here.