Shaken by scandal, hurt and betrayal, these members of IHOPKC ministry look to heaven

Jacob Lee closed his eyes, spread his arms wide as far they could reach. Sitting Wednesday morning in a middle pew at the International House Prayer-Kansas City’s 24-hour prayer center on Red Bridge Road, he tilted his smile toward heaven and basked in the live music.

“Here I am to worship,” sang a softly strumming guitarist. “Here I am to bow. Here I am to say that you’re my God.”

For 17 years, Lee, age 75, has been coming here to praise and pray. It was that long ago that, on his daughter’s urging, the landscape designer picked up his life in California to be closer to IHOPKC. Now IHOPKC is in trouble.

Its founder, Mike Bickle, faces accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual abuse, acts that purportedly go back decades and surfaced last year. The ministry is hemorrhaging money at $500,000 a month. On Tuesday, The Star and other Christian media covering the scandal revealed that IHOPKC, although its attorney is insisting it is not closing down, will be restructuring as a smaller entity while shutting the doors of IHOPKC University in Grandview.

IHOPKC’s prayer room, however, remain open, the ministry’s leaders have said.

As long as it does, Lee said, he and many others will be there, as always.

“Every day,” he said. “Every morning, about two hours.”

That the scandal has caused pain, grieving, and feelings of betrayal is undeniable.

“Our hearts were — how do you say in English? — broken, so much, so much,” Lee said in an accent from his native South Korea. The size of the organization doesn’t matter to him.

“”Whether it’s small, or whether big” he said, “God is always here.”

While others may focus on the betrayal in IHOPKC’s leadership, his choice is to focus on forgiveness, as Jesus taught.

“Human beings can make mistakes,” he said. “All over the world, people, leadership, everybody can make mistakes. We don’t see human beings. We just see God. God is always good.”

Throughout Wednesday morning, worshippers came and went from the prayer center, many willing to stand in the parking lot and share their feelings, although most were reluctant to share their names because of the division the accusations have caused.

”Because it’s a mess,” said one young mother with her daughter. IHOPKC, she said, “changed my life. I have no regrets.”

“Some dear friends have a lot pain,” she added. “And I don’t want to cause them pain.”

Another couple, Ritchie and Aimee — first names only — moved up from Texas to be close to the ministry, which they have been part of for more than 20 years. They also acknowledged the hurt caused by the scandal.

“We’re still … we’ve grieved,” Aimee said.

But it has not shaken their faith in the organization or kept them from coming to the prayer room about once a week.

“We’re all sinners,” Ritchie said. “Jesus said, ‘He who is without sin cast the first stone. Well, I don’t have any stones to cast, man.”

Wherever the prayer center goes, no matter what its size, he said they are likely to follow.

“We’re faithful to Jesus,” he said. “We get to spend time with him in there.”

Sarianne Lee, 21, is a musician who plays at the prayer room. She and her parents also moved up from Texas to be near IHOPKC, about seven years ago.

“I mean, it was distressing for all of us,” she said of the scandal. “It hurt a lot of people. Everyone has had to go through grieving. And everyone’s grieving at different times.

“But, you know, some are just — maybe they’re meant to move away at this time. But those of us that have stayed, have stayed for Jesus, for worship, and the prayer room.”

Yet another young musician, who came from central Kansas, said she has been a part of IHOPKC for 15 years.

“Actually, I’m fine with the changes,” she said. “I know a lot of the outside voices are putting negative thoughts into it. But I feel like the internal community has been very supportive of each other and very life-giving.”

She doesn’t discount the hurt that’s been caused, but felt it was important to put it into perspective.

I mean, I know that this has been a big, disruptive thing,” she said. “But to be honest, this isn’t something that’s uncommon in church history, or in human history, in general. Obviously, a lot of controversy winds up popping up around these things.

“With the personal connection with the people here, and the leaders here, I feel like they have good hearts and are trying to sort it all out, you know? It’s not like they’re trying to be evil.

“It’s a big mess is what it is. But in the midst of it, I just feel like people are still loving God and loving one another the best they know how.”

She also did not want to use her name.

“I have friends on both sides of this stuff,” she said. “There’s a lot of bitterness. I understand how they feel. But when you see good things happening, that’s an indicator not to just …shut the whole thing down.”