Kidnapped for Christ is the first feature film directed by Kate S. Logan. And it was an accident. Kind of.
While in college at Biola University, Ms. Logan was working on a film project at a Christian school for troubled American youth. The school, Escuela Caribe, was located in the Dominican Republic. She learned of it while there on a mission trip. She thought the visit to the school would give her an opportunity to film "a story about redemption." Instead, she witnessed hard labor, forced exercise until children were coughing up blood, humiliation, kids locked in rooms for hours, and physical abuse.
While Ms. Logan had access to several kids at Escuela Caribe, the documentary was mostly about David, a seventeen year old boy from Colorado. Despite having good grades, good friends, and many scholarship opportunities awaiting him after his senior year of high school, he was awoken one night, taken from his bed by three men, and eventually ended up in the Dominican Republic. Why? He came out to his parents as gay.
|Director Kate Logan|
choice about being there, but when he turned eighteen and was not allowed to leave, others got involved. Family friends from Colorado were devastated about David's situation. They held regular meetings planning how to get him home, culminating in a trip by two adults to Escuela Caribe. But despite David being eighteen, he was not allowed to leave the school. Even the US Embassy offered little help in securing David's release.
Meanwhile, Ms. Logan was receiving threatening letters from lawyers: if you make and release a film about Escuala Caribe, we'll sue you. She didn't finish the film. At least not then.
A few years later, David agreed to talk. He had been threatened, coerced, and was frightened. Ms. Logan started her film making again, following David to a meeting of a group called Survivors of Institutional Abuse. There were too many stories like David's, at schools for troubled teens all around the world, even within the United States. And no laws to stop or even regulate them.
I have heard of several institutions like Escuela Caribe over the years. While I knew no details about them, I always thought of them as tough love boarding schools, a last resort for parents of incorigable children who were out of control, involved in criminal behavior, drug abuse, or were destructive to themselves or their families. I never thought one could be sent off for being gay. And I never would have thought of these schools as so demeaning and abusive as what was exposed in Kidnapped for Christ. Most of the filming that took place was with the full knowledge and in the presence of school staff. I hate to think about what happened when the cameras were not around.
“The afternoon that I arrived at Escuela Caribe, this scrawny 12-year-old was being ‘rebellious’… so they staged this boxing match in front of the students and the dean of the school basically beat the crap out of this boy, and the message of that was clear: either conform or be conformed.” - Julia Scheeres, Author of Jesus Land, a memoir about her and her bother’s time at Escuela Caribe
“My parents thought they were sending me to a tough boarding school in the Caribbean run by Christians. I still have nightmares about Escuela Caribe about four times a week.” - Edgar Schoenwald Jr. former student at Escuela Caribe and additional editor on Kidnapped For Christ
“I believe every day [at Escuela Caribe] was a violation of my person … I am diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of my experience in the program.” - Lisa Brown, Former Student at Escuela Caribe
“Out of the country = NO US LAWS ... and they take full advantage of it.” - Chris Kam, Former Student at Escuela Caribe
“I remember being scared nearly every moment of every day.” - Bethany Leeuw (Beerhorst), Former Student at Escuela Caribe
“I was abused under the illusion of 'God's love,' and refused the human dignity to disagree … These tales we tell are terrible & horrifying, but they are true.” - Joshua Sierk, Former Student at Escuela CaribeDespite the title, the film did not put as much focus as I thought it would on the religious aspect of the school. It was a Christian school, but there was not as much proselytizing by school staff as I expected. Despite that, the cruelty the children were exposed to was enough to want to disassociate with any organization or faith that would proudly run an institution like Escuala Caribe. Ms. Logan herself, in her narration of the film, acknowledged that what she saw caused her to question her own faith.
But as much as I would like to have seen more of the religious justification of the abuse of these children, to demonstrate the dangers of such a strong influence religion has over some people and how it is used to justify atrocities by others, it would have taken away from the bigger picture about this school and the many like it. It is not about religion bashing; it is about the children being hurt in this kind of environment, and it doesn't matter if it is secular, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist.
Ms. Logan went from being a documentarian to playing an active role in helping David. While this might violate the rules of making a documentary, I understand if she felt she had no choice.
Kidnapped for Christ was not a big budget film. There were few charts, few diagrams, no special effects, no fancy filmography. But its message was strong, powerful, and well told. I hope it continues to be shown across the country, bringing attention to schools like Escuela Caribe, preventing parents from resorting to sending their children away to these places, forcing law makers to investigate the abuse and regulate them, and putting pressure on the schools to close their doors, or at least reevaluate their methods.
It is a tragedy that so many children have suffered the way David and the other children at Escuela Caribe and so many other schools around the world have. But it will be worse if nothing is done, and the abuse continues, destroying the youth, hope, optimism from so many more children.
Kidnapped for Christ, 2014
The Film Collaborative
Directed by Kate S. Logan
Yada Zamora, Kate S. Logan, Paul A. Levin
Peter Borrud, Stash Slionski, Sam Allen, Joshua Csehak, Bradley Scott, Kate S. Logan
H. Dwight Raymond IV, Sean Yates
Viewed at the Cleveland International Film Festival.
The Thirty Year Itch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.