As of Tuesday, Tom Randall, a pastor at Hudson's non-denominational megachurch Christ Community Chapel, was awaiting trial or dismissal from a holding cell in Manila, Philippines, where he has been detained since January 16 on charges related to sex trafficking.
Randall, a former professional basketball player in the Philippines and longtime missionary there, returned to the island nation in December with his wife Karen for a two-month trip inspired in part by the devastation of Super Typhoon Hayan. According to a January 19 video sermon by Christ Community Chapel pastor Joe Coffey, Randall intended to do three things while overseas: distribute meals through his international nonprofit World Harvest; proselytize via an organized basketball game (complete with halftime unicycle show); and touch base with the leadership at the Sankey Samaritan Orphanage (which Randall founded with his wife in 1998) in the wake of misconduct allegations.
As Coffey explained it, the manager at the orphanage, one Perfecto "Toto" Luchavez, was said to have "kissed" a 15-year-old girl there. Those charges were later dropped when the teenager recanted her accusation, saying she made it up because she was angry about having been disciplined. Randall underwent extensive questioning with the Filipino versions of both the FBI and Child Protective Services.
Later accusations surfaced, however, that the orphanage had been operating as a front for sex trafficking, and that many of the children in residence had been suffering repeated sexual abuse for years. Randall was charged with obstruction of justice, while Luchavez and his son, Mark "Jake" Luchavez, were charged with violating the country's anti-human trafficking laws. Thirty-one orphans, several of them under the age of 18, gave sworn statements that they had been routinely raped since 2005, and that Randall had failed to take action after being told of the abuse.
Pastor Joe Coffey, who "know[s] how Tom thinks," and "know[s] how Tom loves," told his congregation that Randall's imprisonment was the result of a necessarily hyper-responsive Filipino government that takes action first and asks questions later. He told one Christian media outlet that the veracity of any claims about Tom Randall's involvement in sex trafficking were "beyond the pale."
Tim Schofield, from Christ Community Chapel, issued a press release on Friday saying that the Filipino government could only legally hold Randall for 15 days (until January 29) before charging or releasing him, and that everyone was basically crossing their fingers, praying a lot, and hoping for the best.
Randall, who has had intermittent access to his mobile phone, has texted Joe Coffey mostly about his health and the evangelization of his cell mates. Randall has been distributing Bibles, establishing bilingual prayer groups, and sharing buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken purchased by his wife and the network of global disciples he's amassed. (Coffey likened Randall to It's a Wonderful Life's George Bailey).
Randall even managed to enlist the public support of Filipino model/actor/cosmetic surgeon Hayden Kho -- himself the subject of a 2010 sex tape controversy -- and has subsequently become something of a celebrity in the steamy, cramped single cell where he's been held with 40 other men and one toilet, according to reports and psalm-laden Facebook posts.
But the "Free Tom Randall" Facebook page, currently with 35,000+ likes turns out to be essentially a Randall propaganda machine, with much more regard for "staying positive" than uncovering the truth about what's actually going on over there.
Scene reached out to Randall supporters on the Facebook page with the intent to get some personal anecdotes about Randall for this story. One responder, a woman named Diane Kavalchek, who attends Christ Community Chapel, said that many Facebook comments had been removed, including a link she posted to a recent Akron Beacon-Journal piece which featured extensive quotes from Joe Mauk. Mauk is the missionary -- and dear friend of Tom Randall's -- who reported the abuse and was thereafter characterized by Joe Coffey as a "rival missionary" with a "personal vendetta."
Mauk's Facebook posts and comments in the ABJ piece tell a different story:
"I am not the one bringing charges," he said. "I did pass on information [about alleged abuse] I received. I passed the information first and foremost to my longtime (33 years) friend and ministry partner, Tom Randall. We have ministered together on many outreaches over many years. He is one of the finest servants of the Lord that I have ever met. I considered him closer than a brother. I, of course, assumed when he heard reports of abuse that he would act immediately. This he did not do, in fact he said he knew of some of these reports and I should leave it to him to handle it himself."
Mauk explains in detail his process for reporting the abuse -- to the authorities and then to a pastoral crisis intervention team -- in comments that were deleted from the Free Tom Randall Facebook page. Mauk says that in the wake of this news, he has been treated like a traitor and a villain.
"Kids were being raped," he told the ABJ. "What did you want me to do?"
The story has morphed from one of a Christian missionary detained overseas to one of a Christian community refusing to acknowledge a potential truth about his detainment. They're praying not for justice and healing, as they claim, but for the image of man they hold in high esteem to remain intact.
"Whenever news breaks that a beloved pastor, missionary or family member is accused of a sexual impropriety or crime, the impulse of many within the Christian community is to discredit the report," the president emeritus of an organization called Missionary Kids Safety Net, told the ABJ. "This is also true when the accusation is one of negligence and/or complicity of not reporting sexual assault to the police and other civil authorities."
Randall, of course, has not been charged with sex trafficking himself. His charge is negligence.
Sen. Rob Portman's office has been contacted by Randall supporters. The senator's team is pursuing diplomatic action with the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines but haven't accomplished much.
"When our staff spoke with the Ambassador in Washington, he pledged to look into the situation, and we will continue to press for more information from his staff and our Embassy in Manila," Portman's deputy press secretatry Michael Haidet told the Record-Courier on January 17. "We do not know all of the details of the situation, but are proceeding with the information that has been presented to us as we further investigate Mr. Randall's detainment."
When Scene followed up on January 24, Haidet could only say that Portman's office was "continuing to work all diplomatic channels."
The bigger political and criminal picture is complicated, and (most likely) really unlucky for Tom Randall. Turns out the Philippines is under intense scrutiny after a UK-led multinational task force busted a massive cybersex trafficking ring earlier this month. According to the BBC, more than 700 suspects are being investigated in conjunction with that case, code named "Operation Endeavor" after the fashion of organized crime task forces all over the globe.
A report by the UK's National Crime Agency diagnosed "extreme poverty, the increasing availability of high-speed internet and the existence of a vast and comparatively wealthy overseas customer base" as primary factors in the increasing exploitation of children by organized crime groups and others in the Philippines. In many instances, the report found -- and here it gets really awful -- children's family members were paid for sexual abuse documented via webcam and streamed live overseas.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency have not responded to requests for comment, so it's unknown whether or not the Sankey Samaritan Orphanage has been linked to that ongoing investigation.
A Facebook update from Karen Randall, who's currently with her husband in the Philippines and visits him daily, indicates that Randall's hearing likely won't be until January 29, but that -- in more cheerful news -- Monday morning he made 33 consecutive free throws in the small basketball court adjacent to his holding cell where he's been permitted to exercise.