Hellevang, Mikaela (Kleeb)

It’s time to share my story. I am sharing this because when all of this broke one month ago, I vowed to myself I would no longer be complicit in the problem, I would be a part of the solution. Continued silence contributes to the problem, and I am tired of the weight of secrets.

About 15 years ago, when I was 18, a very good friend of mine called me, distraught. He had found graphic evidence on his mom’s computer of his mom and Jeff Thayer (at the time Jeff was the overseer of Iowa, he is now the current overseer of Minnesota and Iowa) having an ongoing sexual relationship. When my friend confronted Jeff, he was told “what do you think you’re going to do about it? Nobody will believe you anyway.”

This news devastated me. I had respected Jeff and my friends and family in Nebraska and Iowa seemed to idolize him. I couldn’t handle the weight of this alone, so I told my parents. My mom contacted a very close friend of hers in the work, who trusted Jim Price and decided to reach out to him about the situation.

Shortly after this, my then-boyfriend (now husband, Brandon) and I were at the Elizabeth, Colorado convention. I was approached by Jim Price and Barry Barkley and asked to have a private conversation with them. They were not keen on allowing Brandon in, but I insisted. Looking back, I am so thankful I insisted on this. We were brought into a large room. Barry and Jim were in large, overstuffed chairs, and they had placed two small folding chairs directly and closely in front of them.

They proceeded to gaslight, shame, and belittle us for bringing forth the situation with Jeff. We were preached to about Bible verses concerning gossip, told we needed to pray about what we knew versus what we THOUGHT we knew, and to not speak of the situation again. And we haven’t-until now. We entered the room expecting love, empathy, understanding and an apology for how the leadership had failed us, especially as young, impressionable teenagers. Instead, we were met with icy cold evil, intent on protecting a system whose purpose appeared to be protecting those in power while maintaining an appearance of purity at all costs.

We left that room humiliated, ashamed, and broken. With honest eyes, looking back, nothing was ever the same again. We tried to shove the knowledge away that this system is nothing like we thought it was. Every time we looked at a worker we would wonder “what are they really doing? What secrets do they keep? Who are they protecting?”

After this meeting, my parents called Barry Barkley to address the situation with Jeff and our meeting with the overseers. They were also silenced by Barry.

When news broke of Dean Bruer a month ago, I broke. I threw up violently, shook for hours, and sobbed for days. I realized I had allowed myself to be silenced and was complicit in a system that protects child sex abusers. I imagined women and children in those seats we were in, who were told they were making up lies and to just go away. I try to give ourselves grace for the 18 year old kids we were at the time, but I feel a certain level of guilt that doesn’t seem to go away. I am so sorry to the many of you that are victims.

I personally know of several people who have brought forward concerns to those in leadership about Jeff’s sexual behaviors. At this point, I feel as though the only way to remove him is for as many people as possible to know, and to try to force change. Other leaders don’t seem interested in doing so.

Firsthand experience of the depth of secrecy and power hierarchy within the system makes this impossible to ignore. Our system has valued the external appearance of our kingdom over the holiness of God lived out in hidden places and people’s souls. I know God’s heart is breaking in this. The continued silence of so many is deafening.

Feel free to share this with others.

Mikaela (Kleeb) Hellevang
May 2, 2023