Our Abuser Remains President of Circle C Ranch

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The Roys Report
The Roys Report
Our Abuser Remains President of Circle C Ranch
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Sixteen women say Pastor Wayne Aarum sexually abused them. Still, he remains the president of the well-known Circle C Ranch in Western New York. In this podcast, two of his alleged victims speak out.

On this episode of The Roys Report, the women—Joy McCullough and Michelle Poulsen—explain how Aarum systematically groomed them in the 1990s at both Circle C and The Chapel, a megachurch where Aarum served as the youth pastor. The women say Aarum touched them inappropriately. And, they describe how that abuse has had a devastating impact on their lives, which they’re continuing to process today. 

According to an exposé by USA Today, the alleged abuse by Aarum spanned decades, even though victims repeatedly reported Aarum’s misconduct to both the leaders at Circle C Ranch and The Chapel. However, in 2020, The Chapel hired MinistrySafe to conduct an investigation which confirmed Aarum’s ongoing patterns of grooming and abuse.

Despite this outside firm’s report, and the women’s testimony, Aarum remains at Circle C with the apparent support of his board. Aarum has consistently denied all claims of inappropriate conduct, stating via e-mail: “I have never had any sexual interaction with anyone other than my wife. I have never touched anyone with any inappropriate motive.”

Both Joy and Michelle say they’re speaking out now to protect anyone else from becoming Aarum’s victim. Their first-hand accounts also equip listeners to better understand the deceptive practices of predators. 

The powerful stories of these two women are difficult and involve mature subject matter, so listener discretion is advised.

This Weeks Guests

Joy McCullough

Joy McCullough, is a wife and mother of 4 who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and currently resides in the St. Louis area. Joy earned a BA in Speech Communication from Greenville University and an MA in Professional Counseling from Liberty University. She has a passion for Jesus and a heart for helping others. She is advocating for healing and justice by shedding light on the truth of her own story of abuse in hopes of clearing a path for others.

Michelle Poulsen

Michelle Poulsen is a 38-year-old mom of 4.  She grew up and lives in a suburb outside the Buffalo area.  She earned a Master’s degree in Special Education. Michelle has been married to her loving husband for 13 years.  Her heart is to see justice and accountability for those who have been harmed by wolves in sheep’s clothing within the Church.  

Show Transcript

SPEAKERS
JULIE ROYS, MICHELLE POULSEN, WAYNE AARUM, JOY MCCULLOUGH
This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.

JULIE ROYS
Sixteen women say Pastor Wayne Aarum sexually abused them. Still, he remains the president of a major Christian camp in Western New York. But today, two of his victims speak out.
Welcome to The Roys Report—a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys.
Just last week, USA Today ran a cover story documenting the alleged abuse by Wayne Aarum. Aarum is the president of the well-known Circle C Ranch near Buffalo, New York. He also is a former youth pastor at The Chapel, a multi-site megachurch in the Buffalo area.
These women say Aarum systematically groomed them, and then touched them inappropriately. Nineteen others told USA Today that they either witnessed or heard about Aarum’s actions.
Yet for decades this alleged abuse continued—even though leadership at both The Chapel and Circle C Ranch were confronted about Aarum’s conduct at least 20 times in the past 24 years.
But in 2020, something changed. After hearing a report of abuse by a former staffer at the Circle C Ranch, The Chapel hired Ministry Safe to conduct an investigation. That investigation found evidence of an ongoing pattern of manipulation and intimacy between Aarum and teenage girls.
Yet despite this report—and the women’s testimonies—Wayne Aarum remains in his position at Circle C. And apparently, he has the support of his board.
Aarum has consistently denied all claims against him of inappropriate conduct, stating in an email: “I have never had any sexual interaction with anyone other than my wife. I have never touched anyone with any inappropriate motive.”
My two guests today say that’s a lie.
They say that in the 1990s, when they were in Aarum’s youth ministry, he groomed them and manipulated them into subtle abuse. But that abuse has had a devastating impact on their lives that they’re continuing to process today.
In this podcast, you’ll hear their powerful story. And I believe as a result, you’ll better understand the deceptive practices of predators.
But before I introduce these women, I want to take a minute to thank the sponsors of this podcast—Judson University and Marquardt of Barrington.
Judson is a top-ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus, the school offers more than 60 majors, great leadership opportunities, and strong financial aid. Judson University is “Shaping Lives that Shape the World.” For more information, just go to JudsonU.edu.
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Again, joining me today are two women who say Wayne Aaram abused them when they were youth group members at The Chapel in the 1990s. The abuse reportedly took place in the youth group, but also at Circle C Ranch, a Christian camp where Aaram was—and remains—the camp president.
Joining me is Joy McCullough, a 38-year-old mom who now lives in downstate Illinois. So Joy, welcome. I’m so glad you could join us!Again, joining me today are two women who say Wayne Aarum abused them when they were youth group members at The Chapel in the 1990s. The abuse reportedly took place in the youth group but also at Circle C Ranch, a Christian camp where Aarum was and remains the camp president. One of the women joining me is Joy McCullough, a 38-year-old mom who lives in downstate Illinois. So, Joy, welcome, and I’m so glad you could join us.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Thank you so much for having us and for giving us a voice.

JULIE ROYS
Well, you’ve already used your voice through articles that were published. But I am pleased to have you on this podcast and so more people can hear your story. Also, joining me is Michelle Poulsen, a mom from Buffalo, New York, who’s also 38. And it’s my understanding that you, Michelle, and Joy, were in the same grade in school. Is that right Michelle?

MICHELLE POULSEN
Actually, yeah, we’re the same age, but we actually were different grades. Joy was a grade older than I was.

JULIE ROYS
So, this is a reunion of sorts for the two of you.

MICHELLE POULSEN
I guess so, yeah.

JULIE ROYS
Not the circumstances that I’m sure that you would hope to be reunited. But again, both of you victims of Wayne Aarum. And, Michelle, I’m just so pleased that you could join us as well. I know that for both of you, this is a really difficult topic. So, I just want to say thank you to both of you. And I’m also sure that the past few days have been just an incredible whirlwind for you. Again, this story first broke the beginning of April. And that’s when I first ran a story on Wayne Aarum at The Roys Report. And I think Joy, that’s when we first connected, I believe through a Facebook thread, wasn’t it?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
I believe so. Yeah, I think I emailed you, because I saw your interactions online. Curious about the story.

JULIE ROYS
Yeah, it’s been interesting, but I’d say heartening to see how things have developed in just the past few days. The Democrat and Chronicle, which is a subsidiary, I believe of USA Today, ran a series of articles, featuring interviews with many of the 16 women who claimed that they were victims of Wayne Aarum and both of you women went on the record with your stories. You even appeared in a group photo with other victims. And so, Michelle, what have the past few days since the release of that article been like for you both emotionally and spiritually?

MICHELLE POULSEN
Well, it’s definitely been a whirlwind. The outpouring of support that we’ve received has been amazing. People reaching out and just saying, Thank you for your courage and your bravery. And I honestly, I don’t even see it like that. I feel like this has been a long time coming, that this story needed to get out. And that we needed to find a way to share the truth. So that light could be brought into this situation. It’s definitely been a range of emotions; there’s some relief, there’s some fear, you know, just overall emotion of like having your heart exposed for the world to see and to judge.

JULIE ROYS
I can only imagine what it’s like being in your shoes. And Joy, you not only were in the article, but you posted your story on Facebook. I love what you wrote about why you posted. I’m just gonna quote a little bit from that post. You said, “I write because it’s right. I write to fight. I’m fighting not just for myself. But for all those victimized. I’m fighting for the truth, and healing and protection. I write to do my part. I wish I had done it years ago. I’m writing for justice. I write to shed light.” Joy after all these years, I mean, how does it feel to finally get it out there and say what happened?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
I can’t tell you the amount of times in my life, in my mind, in my heart, I have thought and considered telling someone. And never ever in a million years, imagined that this would be front page of USA Today. And quite honestly, the timing of it. I don’t understand. I have to trust the sovereignty of God because for me personally, it’s 20 years overdue of a telling, and a sharing that I’ve needed to give. And really, my writing and my sharing online, that’s really not for me. I mean, I did find in disclosing that the responses I’ve received, I mean directly to me, have been 100% fully supportive and encouraging. And honestly like that support and every single one of the words offered back in response, are I feel a little bit of a rescuing of those parts of my heart that have been hidden and buried and this is all part of the process and like you read from part of what I had written. It’s not just for me at this point. Like this sharing and fighting is not for me, it’s for Michelle, it’s for all the other people mentioned in that article, it’s for victims that don’t realize that they’ve even been abused that can’t name it themselves, it’s for victims not even connected to this. And it’s also just for protection for future victims as Wayne has been allowed to be remaining in his position. So that’s where my heart is for healing and protection.

JULIE ROYS
And it’s so amazing when you see victims come together and speak with one voice and begin to support one another. And then to see the community come around them. Because what’s so egregious about this kind of abuse is that it’s the person in power who’s abusing, and the rest are so vulnerable. And so that’s why it stays buried for 20 years. And yet, when it comes out, there is often this support. And I’m glad to hear that that’s what happened. I know that doesn’t always happen. I know some people that have come forward and have been absolutely just crucified publicly for it. And so, it’s so heartening to see what’s happening. And I think we’re in a different age, post #MeToo where people are listening for sure. What I’d like to do is unwind if I could to back when both of you were teenagers. And you met Wayne Aarum, again, as part of the youth group there at The Chapel. I know it’s going to be eye opening for people to understand how subtle and manipulative this abuse was, and how confusing it must have been for both of you. So, Joy, why don’t I just start with you, if you would tell me a bit about your relationship with Wayne and how it developed?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Yeah, the Aarum’s were always a part of our community. I knew them. I had siblings that were older than me that were in youth group before me. So, I knew what I was coming into and was, you know, everyone’s super excited to get into high school and be a part of youth group. And it was a good-sized youth group. And it was very active. And so, I just met Wayne, you know, as I entered youth group, and oftentimes, Michelle and I were actually together when we would spend time with Wayne alone before youth group on Wednesday nights or Sundays, or just other random times, like when there wasn’t actually events happening, we would be there helping to set up and get things ready. And so, we spent a lot of time with Wayne alone. And there were other times too where I was just alone, or I’m sure Michelle was just alone with him. But then just you know, normal interactions, normal activities, normal, just youth group.

JULIE ROYS
From what I understand, Wayne kind of had a gift for making girls feel special.

MICHELLE POULSEN
Yeah, he played favorites. For sure. Like during that time, you kind of knew if you were a, “Wayne’s favorite.” Even from comments from other girls that weren’t, they recognized it. We even had a conversation at one point where Wayne had been admonished by somebody in leadership at The Chapel, that he had favorites. And so, Wayne pulled Joy and I aside at one point and said, I have to address this with the youth group. We have to like say that I don’t have favorites, but you still really are my favorite.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
He pulled us aside because he knew we were sensitive and so he just wanted to kind of you know, touch bases with us before he had to go address the youth group and kind of jokingly but seriously kind of let us know at the end of it. But yeah, you are, you are my favorites.

JULIE ROYS
And that’s part of the grooming, right? Is making you feel important, making you feel special, letting you know you have this special place. And then the physical touching began happening. I’m guessing at first, you thought it was appropriate and fatherly? Is that a fair way to put?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Absolutely. I remember for me specifically, that’s actually the very earliest memory that I have is actually of Michelle and I, together in one of the youth buildings by ourselves. We went up to a room and we were watching a movie and he was sitting in between us, and we were just watching some random movie and he was just holding our hands. He grabbed our hands and was holding our hands. And I mean, I was probably 14 maybe 15 at the time. I don’t remember exactly. I remember feeling really special, feeling really cared about. Just feeling like maybe that was fatherly. I don’t know any different. He’s my youth pastor, I trust him. Obviously, my mom trusts him. I think the other thing I’ve realized in reflecting on these moments has been the fact that Michelle was actually with me. So, like, especially the fact that someone else was there. It almost kind of made it feel even more okay. Like, well, someone’s with me. So, there’s like the safety in that. It made me, that actually created some confusion. I think it made it harder to kind of see the inappropriateness of it when, well if somebody else is there, it’s okay.

MICHELLE POULSEN
My first like memory of Wayne was with another young girl in the youth group. And we were at some sort of picnic of some sort. And him and this other girl were acting very, like flirtatious. And I just remember thinking it was very strange. And then she picked up a piece of ice and was, like rubbing it on his face. And I just remember feeling like a little bit uncomfortable with that. That was like my first memory of him all together. And it just goes to show that it became normalized. All of that touchy feely stuff that he would do. He just did it out in the open so people could see for the most part, and he just normalized it. Nobody even thought twice about it, because he did it so often.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
I think, too, and what Michelle just shared, part of his abuse was double sided in that, on the one hand, for the people that were directly abused, and experienced his inappropriate attachment and favoritism and affection, and touch and words and all that, there was that side of it. But then there was also the side of it, where you were witnessing him doing that with other people. So, if you think of domestic abuse, you can be directly abused, but you can be indirectly abused. If I’m watching my dad beat my mom, that is going to be considered abusive towards me even indirectly. So, a lot of the emotions and the entanglement came in what both of those things created.

JULIE ROYS
The physical abuse. I mean, in some cases that were mentioned in the article that recently came out, there was him actually placing his hand very close or even under girls’ underwear. But it sounds like a lot of the abuse was even more subtle than that. A kiss on the forehead, long front facing hugs, holding hands. Would that be kind of the nature of the physical involvement that both of you experienced?

MICHELLE POULSEN
Yeah, I would definitely say that. I have been very clear from the beginning of all of this, and everybody that I’ve spoken with, that the sexual nature of his abuse with me was not overt, which I think is what makes it so insidious. Because it’s so wrapped up in this emotional and spiritual manipulation and grooming that it was even hard to see. But he never touched me in like, you know, in any of those overt ways. But just the long frontal hugs, kissing me on the forehead, I mean, I still have the feeling of him kissing me on the forehead. It wasn’t like your dad kissing you on the head, like in a fun-loving way. It just felt more intimate than that.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Speaking for my story, specifically, it wasn’t overt. And part of the reason we’re at where we’re at right now is that sexual abuse cases oftentimes don’t even get handled, unless there’s penetration. So, to call it sexual abuse, I think a little bit I don’t know if unfair, but I want to be careful in using those words, because I think how that’s commonly understood, and the connotation that comes with that people generally think of a more overt abuse. And this I do believe. There is an element of sexual abuse to all these interactions. But it’s not just sexual abuse. It’s actually, I don’t want to over exaggerate it, but I also think it’s not fair because it also completely misses the emotional exploitation, and the psychological manipulation and the spiritual abuse that comes into play with all these interactions.

JULIE ROYS
And let’s be honest. If you were guys, you would not have been treated in this way. It was because you were women. It was because he found you attractive. You know, as you said, there was a certain type that he looked for. You know, one of the things that you’ve mentioned when we’ve talked Joy, is and when you mentioned that one incident where you were lying on the floor, and he was holding both of your hands, is that there was jealousy.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Yeah. I mean, this is something that I’ve worked through a ton in counseling, even especially just this year, and some of the memories and things that I’ve repressed and buried for so long, are things some that I’ve literally just painfully said this year, in uncovering and in trying to heal and in allowing myself to say them and kind of release the shame over them. But I had actually, prior to that moment in the gym, I had actually I confessed to my youth pastor, because I was feeling really jealous of the attention he was giving other girls. And I think this actually points to the fact that I already have some emotional attachment with him. He’s already started these behaviors with me and so I’m experiencing his special attention and treatment and favoritism. And then I’m also now seeing him giving that to other people. So, I am hurting over that and confused and feeling jealous and truly I remember as a 15-year-old, really feeling like I don’t want to feel this. I feel jealous. So, I’m like, Well, my youth pastor, like, I trust him. This is a spiritual matter. Like, I had to build up the courage. But I confess to him. I told him, where it was, what I said, how he responded. He heard my confession. And you know what he did, he appreciated it. And he hugged me. And he told me, thank you for telling him that. My husband works in student ministry. If a young girl in the high school, which this wouldn’t happen because he’s not giving attention to girls the way that Wayne did, but say, even if he wasn’t and some girl was jealous, and shared that with him, my husband would have some serious concerns and red flags with that. And the first thing he would do would be redirect her to a female to get help, and then would also set some boundaries in place. That did not happen. I was not protected in that moment. My heart was not protected. And where I needed him, he actually then where I needed his help, he actually helped himself, and he exploited my vulnerability on a spiritual level. I mean, I don’t even realize how inappropriate that is, for me as a 15-year-old to be saying that to my youth pastor. I’m just being honest. Like, I’m trying to do my best to navigate where I’m at as a 15-year-old an insecure, needy, whatever, 15-year-old, which is natural and a normal part of that age. And he had some responsibility there. And not only did he not show up and handle that well, but then yeah, I mean, continued in these behaviors. So then, when I’m laying on the ground with Michelle and Wayne in the dark up in the loft in the gym, no lights on nobody around. And he’s holding, holding both of our hands, but he was holding Michelle’s hand more, and I so appreciate and value Michelle, and our ability to be able to talk through and work through these things now. But he just was totally flirting with her and favoring her and holding her hand. And I remember like, I mean, if you can imagine me as a 15-year-old, kind of like stretching my hand out more for his. Like, I remember asking myself, why is he doing this to me? Especially after I told him that I was feeling jealous, not specifically of Michelle, but just jealous in general, like, why is he not holding my hand as much? Even in my counseling right now, as I’m processing. I’m not even getting the fact yet that, like he shouldn’t have been holding Michelle’s hand either.

JULIE ROYS
What you’re saying reminds me of what one of the abuse victims said in the article that recently published that she’s been working through, is that she said it felt good every time he abused me.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Yes.

JULIE ROYS
Because I wanted that attention. I obviously, that emotional attachment had been nurtured. Michelle, powerful quote by you in these articles too, where you said, “I had no idea at such a young age, how it formatted me. He was my identity.” Tell me about that.

MICHELLE POULSEN
Yeah, well, I’m just starting to, you know, unravel all of that in counseling myself. But I realized that, you know, as a 15,14-year-old girl, and I think even earlier, he started grooming me. But that we find our value in the men in our life and how they portray themselves. And so, his ability to reach into my life and insert himself into that role, and then twist it to what he wanted, and to gain, I don’t know, whatever he was getting from it. And now, you know, as a 38-year-old woman looking back and seeing like, how my life has progressed, yes, I have a good relationship with my husband, and I had an okay, I have a great relationship with my dad. I see that my value, and where, who I am, came from him. And I am just recently starting to discover that I haven’t trusted God with my heart, and that he has not been a safe place. Because if you get close to somebody, or a man or something, they’re going to exploit it. And they’re going to twist it. And he did that. He took my story in my life, and he inserted himself into it, and twisted it to fulfill something for himself. And I’m just starting, I’m just getting to the bottom of the deception and the insidious nature of what he’s done.

JULIE ROYS
Well, and I think part of that is the human condition and the fallenness. For women, our tendency will be to get our identity, instead of directly from God our Father, which is where we should get it. We are bent towards men in our fallen condition. And so, I think that is a part of the human condition, post The Fall. But again, when you have somebody preying on it and, and Michelle, your therapist, Cheryl Chambers, she really emphasized in this article about how adults who foster emotional and physical relationship with teenagers, and use this connection to abuse and manipulate, can really poison the child’s ability to value themselves and recognize true love in relationships. And she said, and I quote, “The thing with emotional sexual abuse is it can have the same kind of damage to a girl psyche as if they had been raped. It confuses them about the role of a man in their life, and it strips them of their dignity in terms of who they are as women.” Michelle, you struggled as a result of this abuse, to feel safe around men, as I understand it. Can you talk a little bit about how this impacted you as a young adult?

MICHELLE POULSEN
Yeah, for sure. And like I said, I feel like my ability to see who I am in Christ, and my ability to find my value in something other than what other people think of me. I tend to be very scared of conflict and very scared of, like anybody being displeased with me. And I struggle with anxiety. When I would enter youth group, and I would have this anxious feeling. Like every time I would go in, like, how is this going to play out? Am I going to get attention today? Is he going to tell me he loves me today? Is he going to pick somebody else over me? The anxiety has been, I’ve carried that with me. I have only been in counseling now for six months. I’ve only just been able to start naming what happened to me. Four years ago, I reached out to a friend and said, I just need to talk to somebody about this. I need to see if this was wrong. I didn’t even realize how wrong it was. And then I have spent the last four years kind of wrestling with it. When after she said, Oh my gosh! Like she was just shocked that I had been through that. And then in like the last year, so many times I’ve like googled, “emotional abuse by a youth pastor,” and I have come up with nothing to help me to work through it. Like, I feel like there was nothing out there to help me talk about this and to realize, like, why am I so damaged by this? What is the reason for this? And then it wasn’t until counseling and speaking with my therapists, like telling me like, “this is this is not right, what happened to you.” Like, “you are suffering from the effects of all of the grooming and the emotional and spiritual manipulation that it formed who you were, because you were in the most formative period in your life when he took advantage of you.”

JULIE ROYS
I totally get it. I remember being in youth ministry. My husband and I were in youth ministry for quite a while and actually one of the youth pastors in our town ended up going to jail for getting sexually involved with girls in the ministry. And I do remember we would do events and his table would always be full of all these girls just crowded around him. I remember saying to my husband, There’s something seriously not right about that. But you could see it was like a drug because the popularity that these youth pastors can enjoy from girls that they probably never enjoyed when they were in high school. They weren’t that popular. But when they’re a youth pastor, and they’re a few years older, that just has an incredible appeal for young women. It really is a vulnerable time. I hope parents are listening, because I think we need to be cautious with our daughters, and even with our youth groups where we hope, and we pray that they’re being protected and nurtured and not preyed on. But Joy as you’re listening to this, this had its own specific effects on you and developed somewhat of an eating disorder as a result of that. Is that right?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
I did develop an eating disorder. There has been much shame in that for me, and much healing for me to speak it. That was something I struggled with on and off in high school and into college. The Lord really intervened in my life. I could not specifically name all of this. I didn’t have a clear understanding of it. I didn’t even fully connect the dots really until recently. But I really feel like the Lord released me from it, even though I didn’t understand it. And not that it overnight, changed everything. And not that I was completely healed. But I do feel like I was given some freedom from that. As soon as I named it, it literally connected the dots to all these other moments in my life. I truly believe I’ve been living with PTSD connected to my interactions and my relationship with Wayne. I’ve not called it that. As a victim, really, of any abuse, but like, especially the nature of Wayne’s abuse that’s so subtle, and not overt and confusing. And then you see everybody around just kind of supporting him and trusting Him, like makes it even more confusing. You have a choice as a victim to either face it and name it, and call it what it is. Or you blame yourself because that’s a little safer, and you adapt to it, and you don’t name it, and you manage it, and you live with it. And for me, I’ve kind of tried to block it out and set it aside and bury it and repress it. And I have been repressing it. And I am so grateful to the Lord for his faithfulness to me. That he has seen me and that he has heard me, and it is truly overwhelming like, and healing this whole process.

JULIE ROYS
Like you alluded, this is something that you kept buried and hidden. You didn’t tell anyone. However, there was a point, wasn’t there, Joy, when you tried to tell your family about what had happened about four years ago?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Yeah.

JULIE ROYS
Can you describe how that went?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
So, 2018, my husband, my precious husband, love him, without my consent, felt that there was a fitting moment with my mom to share that. He didn’t ask me. I was not expecting it to come up. I was not ready for it to come up. I’ve been burying it. “Like what?! You’re just kind of pulling this out? Okay.” So, I talked to my mom and my dad. I mean, right away, they believed me. They were grieved for me. It was hard for me to talk about it. There’s so much shame around it. They still don’t fully know my story. Like, it was hard for me to share the details of it. But they knew enough that they had asked, my mom, you know, it’s really kind of concerned that Wayne was still in the position that he was in. But I was not ready to push forward with that. I mean, obviously, if I had the awareness that I do now of how many were affected. I mean, if I had heard already of someone else coming forward, I would have pounced on that in a second. Because I know my experience, and I like that’s all I needed. But at the time, I wasn’t ready to push forward. My mom needed, asked if she could have a conversation with someone. And so, she had a conversation with someone at the church at that time, really just to ask some questions. She again did not know details. I wasn’t wanting that to go anywhere. I was made aware later that that person did actually take that information to Darryl DeKalb, who is a board member at Circle C. I mean, that’s really how I got involved in all of this. Once Carolyn’s story came forward, and The Chapel had learned of someone pressing charges. I mean, Wayne hasn’t worked at The Chapel in 20 years, but then that got them asking questions. And so then, you know, a few other stories like came forward. So, they started to do their own investigating, and that’s when that person asked my mom if they could reach out to me. And I said, Absolutely.

JULIE ROYS
So yeah, I mean, just for those who aren’t that familiar with the story, Wayne was the youth pastor at The Chapel. But that ended over 20 years ago, but he continued to be the director of this camp, which had a relationship with The Chapel, right? I mean, youth groups would continue to go out there, families would go out there. So, there’s kind of a symbiotic relationship between The Chapel and Circle C. But the catalyst it seems for what’s recently happened with, you know, these 16 women coming forward, was that Carolyn McDonald, who was one of the survivors of abuse, shared her story with The Chapel. And that sort of started a domino, didn’t it?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Yeah. Carolyn was pressing charges. So, I think that that is what kind of emphasized that too, the importance of it. And she has been a huge spark in this process. I’m so thankful for her and for the Lord using her fighting heart.

JULIE ROYS
And did you know her before this?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
On that front cover of USA today, I really have just known Michelle all these years and then I met most of those victims that day that we took that picture. But Carolyn I just met really through this process.

JULIE ROYS
You found out about it, Joy, and then you called Michelle, right?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Michelle found out about it first and then Michelle, contact me right away. And then we together, contacted Carolyn, but we had been in touch with Carolyn because we were fully willing to support her and believe her and share our stories as well. But The Chapel, not knowing that we had already done that, they were doing their own investigation. So, Carolyn’s pursuit initiated The Chapel looking into stories that were now coming forward. And so, they called us. So, John Camardo called me. I gave John Michelle’s number. That’s how this got started on The Chapel’s end.

JULIE ROYS
So, John Camardo, who’s the executive pastor at The Chapel, seems like he’s been sort of spearheading the investigation. Like you mentioned, there was an investigation started where The Chapel hired Ministry Safe to conduct this independent investigation over the summer. Both of you participated in that investigation. Is that right, Michelle?

MICHELLE POULSEN
Yeah, we were able to speak with them and share our story, which kind of led to a bunch of different steps of going to the police in two different counties, the health department, and just to try to bring some more light to it, or to see if there was anything that was criminal in anybody else’s cases. Because we really wanted to get some accountability in this whole thing.

JULIE ROYS
And my understanding is, at this point, it looks like any criminal charges are beyond the statute of limitations.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Yes, that’s what we’ve been told. That either some of the things that could have been considered criminal are outside the statute of limitation, age. But then also grooming behavior kind of falls outside the legal system. So, there’s not much accountability in regard to criminal action in regard to grooming, which is honestly really frustrating and really kind of even speaks to I mean, as a 15-year-old, I remember being like, this isn’t gonna be enough. Even if I’m believed, this isn’t going to be enough. Like, it feels even now frustrating, because here we are, how many of us do we have to have standing with us before action can be taken, before accountability is had? This needs to be enough. And something needs to happen, and it’s falling outside our systems. And what are we supposed to do about that, as victims?

JULIE ROYS
It’s very difficult. And often victims don’t know each other, like you mentioned. You didn’t meet a lot of these victims until you took a picture for a newspaper. Had no idea that they existed, although I will say this, if someone behaves in this manner towards you, they’re a predator and it’s a profile and predators just keep preying. I mean, that’s just what they do. So, there will be more victims almost always. And even now that the case is getting more publicity, there may be more victims that come forward. As you said, The Chapel has been very proactive. They hired an independent investigator, which is so important, because churches do not know how to investigate situations like this. Sexual abuse. They just, they’re not equipped.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
And that’s okay. So, hire someone who is.

JULIE ROYS
Exactly! However, and we do have to mention this, just because it’s part of the story. And I think it’s part of the instructive nature of this podcast, now it’s coming out that The Chapel and this was before even the pastors that have been involved in this investigation with Ministry Safe, they weren’t even on staff at this point. But in the 1990s this woman came forward, Jennifer Adama, she’s now 42 years old, she reported Aarum to the pastors at The Chapel for inappropriately touching her on a mission’s trip. And according to the personnel file that now USA Today has reviewed, pastors at The Chapel met with Aarum at least four separate times between 1997 and 1998 regarding his behavior with these teenage girls, but nothing ever came of it. It looks like it got buried and again, man, is this ever instructive for other people because how many people were victimized between 1997-1998 and when Wayne, you know, everything came to light. There’s also a situation and this was after lead Pastor Jerry Gillis came in The Chapel in 2002. In 2012, Elle Campbell, a staff member and youth leader at The Chapel, went to Gillis concerning an incident between a youth group member and Aarum that apparently, she witnessed, Gillam went to Wayne Aarum’s brother Wes Aarum, who apparently was on staff at The Chapel, and Wes said he’d handle it. Now I know since then, Gillis is like, he’s very apologetic, says, I wish I’d done more, I was uncomfortable. Which I can imagine. I mean, this is uncomfortable.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
I’m sure he wishes he had done more. I bet those pastors that reported and approached Wayne, I bet wished they had done more. And I think culture has shifted, I think that these things are called out and named and handled and should be continuing to move in this direction of handled much more quickly and taken more seriously. You know, we’ve been advocating for ourselves to The Chapel. The Chapel has been listening. I think if there’s anything instructive to a church that I so admire and appreciate about The Chapel in this process, is that they have been listening. And they have definitely made mistakes here and there. But every time they’ve made a mistake, anytime that we’ve made a suggestion that we’ve communicated our need for whatever, they have always listened humbly to us, and responded appropriately to us.

JULIE ROYS
Michelle, how do you feel about things?

MICHELLE POULSEN
Yeah, I mean, I definitely feel that The Chapel has been supportive. Just having John Camardo reach out to me a year and a half ago and say, like, Can you just share your experience with me? That step specifically, just started the healing process for me, because somebody wanted to hear my story. And then the first man that I told, believed me, and did something with it and fought for something. I know some of the things that have been said, we’ve also been referred to as pawns in a process of The Chapel’s trying to obtain Circle C ranches. It’s important to note that that is not something that’s true in this process. I mean, it’s crazy. But we’ve also not always agreed with how things were handled with The Chapel. We’ve walked in the process with them. But we’re on our own. We’re doing this for us. And they’ve helped us do it. It’s not because we’re helping them do anything.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Right.

JULIE ROYS
Well, if there’s a couple of things that I could pull out from this, one, Joy, you’re absolutely right. That as a culture, and I think as a church, we are becoming much more aware of how prevalent sexual abuse is. I’ve talked to a number of leaders who a year ago didn’t know what grooming even was. And now I think people know it’s becoming part of the vernacular of our culture. What sexual grooming is, and what we need to be looking for. Seminaries have to start training pastors in this and what to do when people come forward.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Parents need to talk to their children about it.

JULIE ROYS
That as well. It’s just so important that we start this education process because you’re right, that people can have the right intent and still do the wrong thing. And we need to educate on what to do. And I’ll say this to The Chapel’s credit, that even though they may have really fumbled some things earlier, normally, when an organization fumbles something, then the next step is to cover it up. And so, to be able to say, “We made some bad mistakes, we’re gonna try to do it right from here on out and do the right thing,” that has been refreshing to see that. And it’s never, it’s never too late to do the right thing.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
There is a lot of heartache right now because of what’s happening. And they want to protect all of us. And I think, to know that doing the right thing is often the hard, painful thing.

JULIE ROYS
I would say it’s more painful in the short run. And in this case, The Chapel, for doing this has just been slapped with a lawsuit from Wayne Aarum. So that’s often the church’s worst nightmare, right? Is if we do this, the perpetrator is going to sue us. But good for them that they were willing to take that on. And you know, all I can say to Wayne is, good luck.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
That lawsuit is gonna reveal how manipulative Wayne is. That’s all that that lawsuit reveals. And that will be found out in all the contradictions and lies that are presented in his side.

JULIE ROYS
Are people going to still support him given this?

MICHELLE POULSEN
From what I gathered, there is still a group of people that are still in support of him. I’m not quite sure if they support Wayne specifically, or if they’re saying they support the Ranch and what they’re going to do in regards to all of this. I heard from somebody saying that they’ve heard of people that have actually changed their mind since it all of this have come out. And so that’s encouraging to hear, you know, that there’s people . . . And I’ve had people on social media that always talked about Circle C and how much they loved it there and then reached out to me and said, like, we believe you, we support you, and seeing that like, Okay, this is bringing light to it. And people are now starting to see. But Circle C has such a presence in the western New York area. Like kids have been going there. Everybody has a story about Circle C. If you lived in Buffalo, and you were Christian, like you went there, or you worked there, or you knew somebody that went there. It’s like the one Christian camp in the area.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
The Aarum’s, and their name, like they’re an empire. Like I remember feeling that like, Who am I as a 15-year-old to stand up against that? Like, people love them. People trust them. They’re charming. I truly feel warmth towards them myself. They’re, you know, trusted people, and they hide behind too, right now I know their defense is that we’re winning souls for Christ. And you can’t ignore all the good doesn’t nullify all the abuse. Like something needs to happen to hold it accountable.

JULIE ROYS
Absolutely. And that’s why scripture actually has qualifications for elders for people in spiritual leadership. And if you don’t meet those qualifications, you are disqualified. And you should step down and the church should demand it. Joy, something that you did, which is pretty bold. You wanted to confront Wayne in person. Although, you know, because of COVID.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
I don’t know that I would say I wanted to. I felt like that was my best option. Honestly, I had to decide if I was going to go on record with a reporter. And I felt much more peace and comfort in being the one to tell Wayne to his face first. And him not hear it through the paper, that was just for me personally, I absolutely do not believe that victims have to do that, according to Matthew 18, which I know is something that he’s often presented. But I think I needed that for myself. To feel the freedom to speak even to speak to you. I can speak to you freely because the one person that I think it’d be hardest to say all of this to, and the one person I would like least want to hear all this is Wayne Aarum. And he’s hearing it and he heard it from me first, and he had time to respond. And I had to pursue and fight through six weeks of the most manipulative emails I have ever received in my life. I had to fight for the meeting. I demanded the meeting while he’s in the middle of being on TV. And this I mean, I started the pursuit before he went on TV and news and was lying about things. But he’s in the news saying, Come and tell me. I want to know. All these girls are anonymous. He’s lying. First of all, he knew other people that weren’t anonymous. Second of all, he had emails from me sitting in his inbox that his wife had started to respond to, that he literally I never got a response back from Wayne through these emails. It was handed off to everybody around him. And also, it’s important to know, I confronted Wayne three different times in high school. The best that I could, at that time, according to what I could understand and process and contextualize. I don’t know exactly how I would have phrased things. But I, even one of those times had a friend with me that can vouch for me, that I confronted Wayne three times, which he lied about in his investigation that he put on his website. And so, all of those reasons, just kind of added to my passion to speak truth and be light to these people that I know and that I love.

JULIE ROYS
Well, and let me just piggyback on that. I’ve said this before on podcasts, but it bears saying again and again. Matthew 18, that is for personal offenses. It is not meant to be a prescription for leaders who are sinning. For leaders who are sinning, I Timothy 5:20 makes it very clear that elders who are sinning need to be publicly exposed so that others may take warning. It is way too much to expect victims of abuse to go one on one to a powerful spiritual leader and confront them. But kudos to you Joy that you did it. And you brilliantly recorded this Zoom encounter that you had. It was a long meeting. So, I can’t play that much. But I do have just a clip I would like to play of Wayne’s response to you. So let me play that, and then I will give you an opportunity, which I’m sure you’re itching to do, to respond to it.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Okay.

WAYNE AARUM
Julie and I have been spending our life together, pouring into people actually trying to help them, not trying to, in any way manipulate or harm anyone. That’s never been our intention. And the fact that you felt this way, hurts on a level, it’s actually hard to explain. As you know, last March, my dad did pass away. And I told him I would do, made a commitment to do everything in my power to continue his legacy, his dream for the camp of reaching kids for Christ and helping them reach their friends. And I am committed to that. But at the same time, I also want to be sensitive and aware to you or anyone else who may feel hurt or abused or manipulated in any way. I guess part of my heart wants to say that yes. I hear what you’re saying. It’s going to take me a bit to process. As I’m sure you understand. And the board is here. Their job is to take this information and figure out the best way to move forward, fairly and productively, which I’m sure they will do. But again, Joy, it does break my heart to hear of everything that you’ve gone through. In some way, I hope, this can help the whole healing process for you. And I’m not trying to blow off what anyone says. That’s why I’ve repeatedly wanted to talk and hear perspectives so I can try and process that.

JULIE ROYS
Your thoughts?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
I have way too many, that would be a whole other podcast.

JULIE ROYS
I’m sure.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
In response to exactly what he said there. First of all, I’ve heard Wayne say a few things over and over again. One, that he doesn’t recall things. He doesn’t recall what people are saying to him. Which okay, he doesn’t recall. Then that makes him neutral, a neutral listener, and he can’t claim or deny based on the fact that he doesn’t recall. I very clearly and specifically recalled in detail to him my experiences. So, he cannot recall, that’s fine. It doesn’t change my story. Second of all, it being unintentional. I cannot judge Wayne’s heart. I don’t know his motives. I don’t fully know, you know, why he did things or why he does things. That’s fine. I think it’s important to think about, I don’t know why I keep in my mind, just have these analogies of like, just a few things. Like we can unintentionally get in car accidents. We can maybe as a dentist, say someone say he unintentionally performed his practice wrong. There’s still accountability for that, even if it’s unintentional. And it’s a little concerning when this unintentional behavior is allowed to persist for years and years and years and cause so much damage. And when that damage is presented, it’s dismissed, and it’s manipulated. And whenever I hear the word that Wayne used in that statement to me, him saying he’s “going to take time to process it,” in my mind, that means manipulate. I need to process this so I can figure out how to manipulate it.

JULIE ROYS
Well, let me just jump in here, Joy. According to the article, there had been staff that went to Wayne’s father with this issue years and years ago. And Wayne’s father, even according to sources said, “My son has a problem.” And it was known to him. So, I feel a little bit like maybe we’re giving benefit of the doubt to the point of ridiculousness when this man has been, over decades confronted about it, and now he’s going to claim Wow, gee, I had no idea. Right?

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Yeah, I think my point either way, whether intentional or not, whether you have ideas, there’s still consequences. It’s still, you know, offenses that are cause for firing. That are cause for you to not, if my husband, even just simply my story, if my husband who works in student ministry, if I’d walked in and found my husband holding hands or hugging girls the way that he hugged me . . . One time he was balancing me on a basketball, and he was giving me a full-frontal hug while I’m standing on this basketball with him. And while he’s—and this is like a long hug, it’s not a quick hug. While we’re standing there talking and he says to me, we’re talking about another student in the youth group, and he said that she wasn’t allowed to come to the youth group anymore. And of course, I’m like, Well, why is that? And he said, because her parents think I’m having sex with her. While he’s hugging me, as a 15-year-old student. I have had to process through all that. What do I do with that? Yeah, there’s so much damage even in interactions like that. This isn’t acceptable. But because his family runs the camp, they are brushing it under the rug. Time and time and time again. They’ve been doing that for decades. And the people that are responsible for making this camp safe are not doing their jobs. And literally moms and dads are sending their daughters and their children to Wayne’s house. This is his house. It’s not safe. Make it safe. Wayne can’t be there. They’re going to try to remain open. I’ve heard Wayne say he won’t surrender. As he said in that statement. He said, I’m committed to, and I understand he loves his dad. This is all he’s known is Circle C Ranch. And he’s committed to his dad’s legacy. But I kind of believe that his dad’s legacy would be better left without him there.

JULIE ROYS
Well, he is still there, stunningly. And it sounds like, at least I haven’t heard any statements from the board to the contrary. And so far, they’re on record pretty much standing with him.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Well, they’re supposed to be starting summer camp soon with family camp weekends. So.

JULIE ROYS
Well, it’ll be interesting to see who shows up and how many show up for these family camps. Michelle, let me just ask you, what’s your hope of what will come of coming forward, telling your story and all these women telling their stories as well?

MICHELLE POULSEN
I honestly just want to see accountability for him. I want to see healing for those victims that don’t know that they’re a victim because of the insidious nature of it. You know, I’ve had people reach out to me since saying, “That happened to me, too.” And I didn’t realize how awful that was, and how much that’s affected me. So just bringing light to it, and awareness so that other girls can find healing. And that for myself and for all the women that have been in this process, that they would come to healing so we can move forward, and that there can be accountability for Wayne. And there can be protection for future girls, because he is compulsive, and he will just continue to do it if he’s given the opportunity. And for Wayne, for healing for Wayne. He has a problem. And he needs help himself. And he’s not right with God. So, part of the reason that we continue to pursue justice and healing is so that Wayne could come to realization that he needs to repent, and he needs to make right with the Lord.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
I don’t know, Julie, if you’re familiar with Boz Tchividjian. But there’s a quote him that has just stood out to me throughout this whole process. And it is ‘seeking justice is a demonstration of mercy and love to the offender.’ Our heart towards Wayne, towards his family. You know, the harm that’s happening now is because of his behavior. And his unrepentance and his refusal to accept it and be held accountable. Our actions are for protection for victims. And you know, it’s really hard as a victim to rest and to heal, knowing it’s continuing. And so ultimately, obviously, we don’t have control. You know, at some point, we’re going to have to accept, we can’t control all these things, that’s fine. I want to be able to walk away and say, You know what? I did my part. And I can walk away in peace knowing I’ve done it and leave it there. I can only do what I can do and let whatever else play out, play out.

JULIE ROYS
That is so important. And I think we need to remember that. All we can do is be a watchman on the wall, right? And we can sound the warning. And it’s up to the rest of the church to listen and to take action in situations like this. And I hope in this particular situation, that action will be taken. You can hold a camp, but you can’t really run a camp if you don’t have campers. And so, I think, as in the case of so many of the people that I report on, I hope that the demand would just dry up. And Joy and Michelle, both of you have done really just such courageous work in telling your stories and being willing to come forward. Even confronting Wayne himself. I’m in awe of both of you in what you’ve done. And I just want to thank you for everything that you’re doing, but also for telling your story so vulnerably on this podcast. So, thank you. Thank you so much.

MICHELLE POULSEN
Thank you.

JOY MCCULLOUGH
Thank you so much for listening, for believing us, for being a voice not just for us in our story, but just to victims of abuse in the church especially. In general, that is such a value.

JULIE ROYS
Well, thank you. And thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. If you’d like to connect with me online, just go to JulieRoys.com. Also, please subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcasts or Google podcasts. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a review and spread the word about the podcast. Also, if you’ll share on social media, we really appreciate that as well. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. I hope you have a great day and God bless.

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6 thoughts on “Our Abuser Remains President of Circle C Ranch”

  1. Thank you for sharing this most important information. My heart goes out to these young women. I completely respect their forthrightness in their plea for help – not only for themselves, but also for all young girls – or boys! who could be future victims at this camp or any other camp – and for this man as well: he needs to get help, Also, his father and his legacy needs to be cleaned up so it can be all that God wants it all to be – no more blemished! God is NOT pleased with ANY of this behavior, and this includes the enabling of the problem, from its very beginning. Thank you again for sharing this. May God’s will be done through all this: healing, repentance and restoration according to God’s Word.

  2. I started reading the Roy’s Report after comments I read about Julie at other sites that called her a liar, a Jezebel and other ugly names. As someone who was called a Jezebel for questioning a man’s sexual behavior with his children I wanted to see who Julie was and what she was doing that was making so many people angry.
    After months of reading here it is my opinion Julie is doing the Lord’s work by standing up for woman and children that do not have a voice. As a woman that has reported sexual abuse and was smeared, called names and shunned, it now feels like I have a big sister that is standing up for me. That is the best way I can explain my feelings.
    I pray the more they run their smear campaigns the more people will stop and search for the truth.
    I thank God the dirty secret of turning children into sexual partners is finally coming to light.
    We don’t have to look the other way in shock and shame if we begin to stand together.

    The Lord is asking, who will stand for the children?

    1. Jeanine, I think being called a big sister standing up for victims is one of the best compliments I’ve had. Thank you. By God’s grace, I hope to continue to stand for victims and shine light on these abuse cases that so often get swept under the rug. I know God sees and weeps over every one of these.

  3. Cindy Whetsel

    Looking back at my teenage days, we would have a new (Lutheran) vicar that led our youth group every year. We girls ALWAYS had a crush on the current vicar, despite the obvious gap in our ages. I hadn’t thought about that for years, but this podcast brought back the feelings and have made me realize how thankful I am that none of them (to my knowledge) took advantage of this puppy love that was poured upon them. It must have been a heady feeling for them and when I hear about how Aarum took advantage of/enjoyed this attention and ego strokes – I am thankful for their integrity and faithfulness to God’s direction. Honestly, I think if it had happened and I had gone to my parents and the pastor – it would probably have not been taken seriously and might even have been blamed on me. That was more the mindset fifty years ago. I’m so in awe of these women coming forward to tell their experiences and I PRAY that leadership will finally remove Aarum from a position where he can continue this behavior. Thank you, Julie, for giving them a place to tell the truth. (I was going to say “their truth” but that’s not the right verbage! It’s THE truth – not just their opinion.) I’m praying for this whole situation.

  4. I started attending Christian camps in CA when I was 9 years old and went every year until I was 20. I was even a counselor one summer. I can’t imagine how devastating this kind of abuse is for these women. Fortunately, I did not encounter it. But the church must be aware and not sweep it under the rug. These women are brave and should be encouraged and thanked. The perpetrator should be fired. Parents should not send their kids to Circle C Ranch.

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