This past week in Southeast Pennsylvania, a pastor led an unconventional lesson about missionary work for the church's youth group. The lesson resulted in one girl shedding tears and an angry parent filing a police complaint. The local sheriff's department is currently investigating the incident.
On the evening of Wednesday, March 21, Pastor John Lanza of Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Middletown, Pa., staged a mock kidnapping and interrogation of about 17 teenagers while they attended a youth meeting.
Lanza told The Associated Press that the purpose of the interrogation was to prepare the youth for what they may encounter as missionaries in a different country.
Neither the parents nor the children were notified beforehand of the planned "raid," except one parent whose child had potential health risks.
According to media reports, the raid happened when mock kidnappers ambushed the youth event. The kidnappers covered the students' heads, ushered them into a van, and then interrogated them while driving them to the pastor's house.
One of the "kidnapped" students told TV news station ABC27 that the kidnappers then appeared to be assaulting the pastor while the students waited, their faces still covered, at the house.
The kidnappers then revealed themselves, informing the students that the entire event was staged.
Although Pastor Lanza would not reveal the names of those involved in the staged ambush, he did tell The Associated Press that one participant was a retired police officer, while another was a retired Army captain.
One 14-year-old girl who was particularly frightened by the event told the local news station that she was crying during the fake raid.
"They heard me crying," she said as she showed the bruises left on her arms by the mock kidnappers. "Why not right then and there tell us it was a joke, when you see me crying?"
The 14-year-old's mother was outraged to learn of the fake raid, and has since filed a complaint with the county's police department.
According to ABC27, other members of the church argue that they did not witness any indication of distress in the 14-year-old, arguing that she was laughing and talking with friends during the mock kidnapping.
Fran Chardo, First Deputy District Attorney of Dauphin County, said that legal action could be taken as the teens were unaware of the raid and did not agree to participate.
"It's actually quite serious," Chardo told the news station. "False imprisonment of a child, someone under the age of 18, is a second-degree felony punishable up to 10 years on prison."
County prosecutors are currently investigating the incident. Pastor Lanza revealed that practices such as the fake ambush have been done before, and are meant to teach children about the persecuted church.
Although church officials argue that they will not stop performing such "lessons," they do admit that perhaps in the future, they will ask parents' permission beforehand.