Eyewitness News investigates the Word of Life Christian Church in our week long series. “What Faith Allows?”
The Word of Life Christian Church had many elements inside the walls of its Chadwicks location, including the congregation itself, a dog breeding business and even a classroom. The Agape Christian Academy was a school inside of a cult.
“Like Jerry, like me, we didn’t want our kids to go through public school,” former member Gregory Ames said. “In light of that, he found a way that we could start a school and have his kids educated through that, so he wouldn’t have to send them to public school. The school was started for Jerry and his kids. He used us because we were members and brought us in on it.”
Nathan Ames and his brothers attended the academy every Monday through Thursday, returning Sunday for church service. While Jerry Irwin preached from the pulpit, his daughter’s role was sculpting young minds.
“When I was in fifth grade, Tiffanie Irwin was my teacher,” Nathan Ames said. “She was only two years older than me. I don’t know what grade she was. I think she had moved up two or three grades more than she should have been, because she stayed home and did a bunch of homework. It was all self-taught, so it was home schooling, but done at a private school building.
“We sat in these desks, and what we would have to do is look forward at the wall, and we would just have to do our homework and raise our flags,” Ames continued. “When they came to answer the flag, either you were doing a check-up on the pace or you were getting ready for a test or you had questions.”
However, requests for help weren’t always answered.
“Tiffanie, she was very controlling. She would look down at everyone like she was better than everybody. She wouldn’t answer any questions,” Nathan Ames added. “I remember one time, just sitting there waiting, and I looked up onto my computer screen, and there was a body standing behind me. It was Tiffanie with a note pad, looking at me with my flag up, and she’s just writing stuff down about me. I was just waiting on her to answer my flag, and this happened a lot.”
Pastor Jerry Irwin held students to strict standards. Those with a grade mark below 90 were considered failing.
“Jerry would tell us our kids are doing this wrong; our kids are doing that wrong,” Gregory Ames said. “Years later, we find out those stories weren’t true. We believed Jerry more than we believed our kids. I’m believing everything he is saying because I believe that his word is the word.”