Today, I made some very difficult calls to some amazing people at ROCK Church. Their compassion made the calls easier. But my heart is still heavy because I have been deceived by a trusted friend in ministry.
A little over three years ago, I traveled to Nigeria with Ricky Leonard to witness his ministry first hand. Ricky ministers throughout the world. God is using him in an incredible way to lead many to Christ. His heart and generosity inspire me to do more and take bigger risks for the Kingdom. Ricky introduced me to a young pastor named Ezekiel Oyewole who was doing great work in a very dangerous part of the world. ROCK Church partnered with Ricky Leonard Ministries to send expensive well drilling equipment to help Ezekiel’s ministries. I recently returned to minister with Ricky and Ezekiel this past year.
On Sunday, December 8th I shared about a tragic attack on Christians in Nigeria. We had received reports from Ezekiel that a crusade had been attacked by Boko Haram terrorists and 67 people had been killed with others wounded. Among the wounded were several of his team. Ezekiel sent photos of his team in the hospital with serious wounds. He forwarded photos of the fallen bodies of adults and children. It was all heart wrenching and I believed the church should act to help Ezekiel and his team in Nigeria. So I shared what I knew and gave people the opportunity to respond.
Then Monday rolled around and my heart sank even further as we realized the photos were not of the attack Ezekiel had purported. They had been harvested from the internet so that Ezekiel could perpetrate a hoax. This past week Ricky and Mary Leonard, along with others, have worked diligently to discover the truth and give Ezekiel a chance to prove his claims. Ricky has spoken with other prominent pastors in Nigeria, scoured local Nigerian news websites, spoken with Ezekiel and prayed that truth would be revealed. As we have searched, it has become painfully clear that this was all fabricated to fraudulently gain money from churches and ministries in the United States.
Let me be very clear, Ricky Leonard Ministries had no part in fabricating this story. Ricky and Mary are two of the most generous, sacrificial, humble and honest people I have ever had the privilege of serving with. Their character and integrity bring honor to the Kingdom. I believe in their ministry and ROCK Church continues to support them wholeheartedly.
Ricky is working with other ministries on the ground in Nigeria to attempt to recover the well drilling equipment. We love and pray for Ezekiel. However, we will not support ministries that twist truth into lies for their own gain. When I stand before the people of ROCK Church, I want you to be able to trust that your financial contributions are going to people we can trust.
Today, I called and personally spoke with or left messages for those who gave to help with medical and ministry expenses related to this incident. I expressed my sorrow and apologies for the whole situation. The gracious heart from those I spoke with remind me how blessed I am to pastor such generous, loving people. We want to be open, honest and worthy of the trust so many place in me, ROCK Church and Ricky Leonard Ministries. Thank you for believing in us. Thank you for your trust.