Abuse Allegations Prompt Closure of MudMan Burgers, Affiliated Ministries

Former staff and interns describe instances of extreme verbal abuse, low pay and long hours

By Tristan Scott
A Mudman Burgers stand, run by Potter’s Field Ministries, as seen off of US Highway 93 south Whitefish, Montana on July 23, 2019. The ministry and its popular burger chain closed its doors over allegations of abuse by ministry leaders against its workers. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Potter’s Field Ministries has closed its Whitefish-based ministry program and shuttered its affiliated MudMan Burgers restaurant chain following a whirlwind of allegations first shared by former staff and interns on a Christian website, including instances of verbal abuse, sexual harassment and inhumane working conditions.

The founders of Potter’s Field Ministries, Mike and Pam Rozell, did not respond to multiple phone calls, but staff members clearing out Potter’s Field offices in Whitefish on Tuesday morning confirmed the ministries were closing. They declined to speak on the record.

Potter’s Field Ministries is best known in the public sphere for its popular chain of burger joints, which have locations in Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell, as well as roving food trucks that are staffed by participants in the Ignite missionary program, many of whom posted on the religious blog site phoenixpreacher.com about grueling 60-hour work weeks, low pay, verbal and psychological abuse by the Rozells, untenable schedules, interrogations about sexual behavior, and psychological manipulation.

Mike Newnham, who runs phoenixpreacher.com, said he launched it as a platform for people affiliated with the Calvary Chapel Association, which recently cut ties with Potter’s Field Ministries, to speak out about problems within the network of churches. A former member, Newnham said he was ostracized from the association in the ’90s for exposing nefarious behavior in his church, and has remained a harsh critic of the movement ever since.

“They take pride in their churches being autonomous, their pastors being autonomous, and they operate with no central authority,” Newnham, who lives in Oregon, said. “I was kicked out many moons ago because my pastor was in an adulterous affair and was an alcoholic and I brought that to light.”

Newnham created a page on his website for “Potter’s Field Survivor Stories” that was inundated with posts from former ministry leaders and interns. He created the page after the Calvary Chapel Association sent out a letter announcing it was removing Potter’s Field Ministries from its list of affiliated Calvary Chapel churches, of which there are approximately 1,600 internationally.

“After prayer, much consideration, and a unanimous decision, Mike Rozell and Potter’s Field Ministries has been removed from the official list of affiliated Calvary Chapel pastors and churches. We find that the Potter’s Field form of discipleship training and methods of ministry are not compatible with the Calvary Chapel form of ministry taught to us by Pastor Chuck,” according to the letter, which refers to the Calvary Chapel founder Chuck Smith.

Dawn Marie Grice, who worked for Potter’s Field Ministries for more than a decade, likened the organization to a cult. She has established a “rescue fund” to assist young people in relocating following the dissolution of the ministries.

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