Abuse allegations against Chi Alpha expand with new lawsuit

Baptist News Global [Jacksonville FL]

January 29, 2024

By Mark Wingfield

Allegations of sexual abuse and grooming by Chi Alpha, a national campus ministry of the Assemblies of God, expanded significantly Jan. 25 with details alleged in a lawsuit brought by an unnamed minor in Texas.

Previously, allegations of sexual abuse have been lodged against two former Chi Alpha leaders — Daniel Savala and Chris Hundl — but the new lawsuit for negligence in care for a minor names additional alleged perpetrators. If the claims made in this lawsuit are proved true, the extent of sexual abuse within Chi Alpha will be far more widespread than earlier indicated.

Stephen Holt of Brazos County, Texas, is the father of a minor child named only as L.H. in the suit. Together, they seek more than $1 million in damages from the General Council of the Assemblies of God, North Texas District Council Assemblies of God, Mountain Valley Fellowship, and Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, College Station.

The suit alleges that even though Savala was a convicted and registered sex offender, he was allowed to participate in leadership with Chi Alpha at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. The suit further alleges that individuals who had been abused by Savala in the past perpetuated the same abuse on others as leaders in Chi Alpha.

The suit names five others who are alleged to have participated in or known about abuse by Savala and others within Chi Alpha and Mountain Valley Fellowship.

The suit names five others who are alleged to have participated in or known about abuse by Savala and others within Chi Alpha and Mountain Valley Fellowship.

Among the graphic allegations are claims that when L.H. was 13 years old, Chi Alpha leader Ryan Hoffart took the youth to Savala’s home in Houston where L.H. was made to “strip off his clothing and sit naked with the two of them in a small sauna”; was asked to “touch Savala’s penis”; had his penis grabbed; and was subjected to “inappropriate comments and engaged in other inappropriate conduct.”

The suit further alleges that Eli Stewart, purportedly one of Savala’s earlier abuse victims, as pastor of Mountain Valley Fellowship “allowed members of the TAMU Chi Alpha chapter … to serve as group leaders to youth and/or be around youth, including L.H., at MVF. He also allowed youth at MVF, including L.H., to be with and around Savala and thereby subjected to his deviant sexual propensities toward minor males.”

In the spring of 2023, Stewart was removed as pastor of Mountain Valley Fellowship.

One year earlier, in August 2022, the suit alleges TAMU Chi Alpha members “took L.H. with them on a leadership trip to Colorado, where, without informing L.H.’s parents, they took L.H. skinny dipping and engaged in other acts of grooming L.H. as they preyed upon his innocence.”

Three months later, L.H. was invited to a Chi Alpha gathering where “Chi Alpha members showed L.H. their penises and played with themselves; a Chi Alpha member stroked his own penis in front of L.H. until he became erect; L.H. was ‘dry humped’ …; various Chi Alpha members showed L.H. their testicles or anuses; various Chi Alpha members pushed L.H.’s face into their crotches and made sexual noises and pulled L.H.’s pants down; and various Chi Alpha members played a game called ‘Fire Truck’ where they would rub their hands on L.H.’s thighs and into his crotch.”

Earlier reports of Savala’s influence on Chi Alpha cited his teaching that nudity and sexual touch is a spiritual act.

Most reports to date have implicated Chi Alpha leaders at Texas A&M University, Sam Houston State University and Baylor University as well as a chapter in Corpus Christi, although the extent of Savala’s influence in Texas is not yet known. Savala is currently incarcerated at the McClennan County jail in Waco, Texas.

In December, the national leader of Chi Alpha resigned in apparent connection with the lack of oversight of the Texas chapters where abuse is alleged to have happened.

On its website, Chi Alpha promotes anti-gay ideologies.