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About 20 girls attend Wings of Faith Academy in Stockton, southwest Missouri.

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Another unlicensed Christian boarding school in southwestern Missouri has closed, the second in Cedar County to be closed, The Star has learned.

Wings of Faith Academy, a school for “troubled girls” that has operated northwest of Stockton for 18 years, notified the Missouri Department of Social Services of its closure in a letter dated June 2, according to Caitlin Whaley, principal. DSS policy and communication. .

“For health reasons, the administrators are no longer able to operate the school,” reads the letter, signed by Debbie Martin, who ran the school with her husband, Percy “Bud” Martin. “All students have withdrawn and returned to their parents on May 31, 2022.”

Calls to the school’s phone number this week were not returned. Its website is down, saying it is “currently undergoing planned maintenance”, and the last post on its Facebook page is on May 30. The phone number provided on the letter sent to DSS has been disconnected.

The school is the second of four unlicensed boarding schools in Cedar County to cease operations. In late 2020, the Circle of Hope Girls Ranch near Humansville was closed after authorities fired the students as part of an investigation into allegations of abuse.

Wings of Faith is considered a sister school to Agape Boarding School, which has come under intense scrutiny for nearly two years after allegations of abuse.

Girls’ boarding school operated in several places in the country. It all started in the 1990s as Refuge Independent Baptist Girls Academy in Clinton, Tennessee.

Over the next five years, the Martins moved to at least two other states and underwent several name changes before moving to Stockton in 2004. There they opened the Refuge of Grace Academy and the Martins later changed the name from school into Wings of Faith Academy.

In a 2004 interview with the Bolivar Herald-Free Press, Bud Martin said they decided to move to Stockton after friends from their church in Michigan told them about Agape.

The two schools were closely linked. The girls attended church services at Agape, and Agape founder James Clemensen was listed in Refuge of Grace company filings as vice-chairman of the board. Clemensen died in October.

The closure of Wings of Faith comes as religious boarding schools in Missouri, which for nearly four decades have been exempt from state oversight, have come under increased scrutiny. Spurred by stories of abuse at several unlicensed boarding schools in the state, the General Assembly last year passed a measure that, for the first time, gave the state control over these facilities.

Also last year, authorities launched an investigation into allegations of abuse at Agape, and in September five Agape staff members were charged with assaulting students. Earlier in the year, the attorney general filed nearly 100 charges against Circle of Hope owners Boyd and Stephanie Householder, alleging statutory rape, sodomy, physical abuse and neglect.

Authorities interviewed Wings of Faith students during their investigation into Agape, sources told The Star, but found no evidence of abuse. The DSS told The Star last year that Wings of Faith had not received any reports based on abuse or neglect.

More recently, fewer than 20 girls attended the school, which had an annual budget of $734,122 in 2019, according to the latest tax return available. Tuition was $3,200 per month, with an enrollment fee and $3,400 “start-up fee” due upon arrival.

In 2020, Wings of Faith received $65,000 in loans approved by lenders as part of the first round of COVID bailouts from the Federal Paycheck Protection Program. The school said the loan would be used to pay 14 employees. Records show that all but about $10,000 of the loan was forgiven.

The rules were in the school’s parent’s handbook. Among them: “All incoming and outgoing mail is read… any offensive or negative mail may not be delivered. The student has no right to lie in her letters. Discipline comes in many forms, according to the manual: “Trials, standing against the wall, jumping jacks, running, memorization and detailed work. We don’t spank.

Some former students were delighted to learn of the school’s closure.

“When I found out it was like a burden lifted from me,” said Aimee Groves, who was among the first pupils to attend the school when it opened near Stockton as a Refuge of Grace. “It was like a dream come true. All I could imagine is that they can’t do that to other girls now.

Groves was sent there in May 2004 when her boarding school — Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy near Patterson, Missouri — was closed after years of abuse allegations, multiple lawsuits and a murder in 1996.

At Refuge of Grace, Groves said, the discipline for breaking a rule included excessive workouts, restrictions, standing against a wall for hours and no talking. The students disciplined themselves, she said, there was no television allowed and any music that had a beat was banned as it was considered “worldly”.

The Star also spoke to former students who recently attended Wings of Faith. They described disciplinary tactics similar to those detailed by students who attended years ago.

In addition to painful physical restraints, these former students described brutal training sessions and said they received no professional advice, although many arrived at school with serious problems, including drug addiction.

They also had no privacy, they said – they were watched when they showered and dressed – and all of their letters were screened. If they complained about school or wrote something deemed inappropriate, they said, their letters would be torn up and they would have to write new ones.

Groves left Refuge of Grace in January 2006 when she was 18 and said she was worried about the girls currently at school due to her close ties to Agape. Now, she says, she has another concern — that the Martins can move the school again.

“They’ve been to at least four states already,” she said. “It’s their MO (modus operandi). I just hope they don’t show up elsewhere.

Eliza Lamm, one of the first students to attend Martin’s original boarding school in Tennessee, questioned why the couple gave the state the shutdown, but said she was ” delighted with the news.”

“Their image has always been more important than doing what’s right and honest,” she said. “They have deceived many people, from students to parents, church members, pastors, bystanders and God-fearing Christians.”

Kansas City Star Related Stories

Judy L. Thomas joined The Star in 1995 and is a member of the investigative team, focusing on surveillance journalism. For three decades, the Kansas native covered domestic terrorism, extremist groups and clergy sex abuse. His stories of Kansas secrecy and religion have received national recognition.

Profile picture of Laura Bauer

Laura Bauer came to The Star in 2005 after spending much of her life in southwestern Missouri. She is a member of the investigative team which focuses on surveillance journalism. Over her 25-year career, Laura’s stories of child protection, human trafficking, crime, and Kansas secrecy have been nationally recognized.


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