Pictured is the Hephzibah House from across the road, at 2277 E. Pierceton Road. The 51-acre property is also the site of their ministry, Believers Baptist Church. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
Pictured is the Hephzibah House from across the road, at 2277 E. Pierceton Road. The 51-acre property is also the site of their ministry, Believers Baptist Church. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
The assistant director of Hephzibah House is speaking out after a two-part series aired on Dr. Phil earlier this month about the boarding school.

Pastor Dave Halyaman is also the assistant pastor at Believers Baptist Church, and has held the positions since 1990.

Hephzibah House is at 2277 E. Pierceton Road, right outside of Winona Lake, and is a private Christian boarding school for troubled teenaged girls between 13 and 18 years old. The live-in ministry was founded in 1971 by Pastor Ron Williams and his late wife Patti. It operates under the authority of Believers Baptist Church, an independent, fundamental Baptist Church on the school’s property.

Parents must agree to send their daughter to the school for a minimum of 15 months, and consent to all of the rules of the house. The most students Hephzibah has had is 30, Halyaman said. Right now, there are four. The cost of attending is a “few hundred” a month, he said. The families are referred to Hephzibah by other ministries throughout the country. Williams and his wife Glenda travel the country, speaking about it.

The Dr. Phil show spent two episodes on Jan. 13 and 14 talking to former students of Hephzibah, who have been alleging for years that sexual abuse, corporal punishment, child labor and improper nutrition have been taking place, among many other things.

“When this thing aired, Wednesday morning guess who was at our door. CPS with Winona Lake’s police officer Joe Bumbaugh,” Halyaman said. “I took them personally through every single room, downstairs, they wanted to see the storage area, the girls. Then they wanted to talk to the girls. I put Joe and the lady from CPS in a room and closed the door. They went through every single girl and talked to every single staff the day after it aired. And guess what??No problems whatsoever. The girls could have said anything. They could have said anything, they could have maligned us and bashed us, and all they did was praise us.”

Winona Lake Police Department Town Marshal Joe Hawn said his officer reported “it was a very cordial meeting, nice inside and the girls all said there wasn’t any problem.”

“Sheriff Dukes has an open invitation anytime he wants, they don’t need a warrant, and same to Winona Lake police,” Halyaman said. He said he also told State Rep. Dave Wolkins that he would turn Williams in if he ever suspected there was any abuse.

“If he was an abuser or a pedophile, I would know. I’ve known him for 30 years,” Halyaman said of Williams.

According to police records, the last time the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call at Hephzibah House was in September 2018 when protesters were on the property. There are no active investigations into the facility.

“We’re helping parents get their kids back. Satan doesn’t want that,” Halyaman said of Hephzibah House being brought back into the news. “They’re either blatant lies or complete distortions. Some of these very critics were there when I was here, and I counseled them. One of the critics who was on the Dr. Phil show, after she graduated and she left us, she invited all of us – the whole staff, months later – to her graduation party.”

On TV, the former students – who are now women – made many detailed claims. One was that the house had prison-like living conditions, housing them in a dark basement with three-high bunk beds that are equipped with alarms that will go off if they roll around too much.

It is true that they live in a basement, Halyaman said, and sleep in three-high bunk beds equipped with alarms, but he said the basement is a ground-level walk-out basement with many windows looking out to a large yard. That yard, he said, includes a volleyball net, fire pit and 20-foot garden. He said the girls are outside five days a week, and in nice weather, on the weekends, too. He also says there is a 10-foot tall fence that surrounds the yard.

Halyaman explained that the alarm system is to protect the girls from “our present violent culture” and to prevent them from “running and doing unethical things among each other during the night.”

There are also rules when it comes to using the bathroom. There are certain times throughout the day and at night where the girls are allowed to use the facilities. If, however, a girl has to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and wake up a staff member, they get punished.

“You can’t run an organization without structure,”?Halyaman said. “And the staff needs to get a good night’s sleep, too.”

Halyaman said those are called demerits and the consequence is that the girl has to be silent (no speaking) and write Bible verses in isolation. An unscheduled bathroom break would be punishable behavior, along with other things like talking back to staff or just generally being defiant, Halyaman said.

Another accusation made by former students on Dr. Phil was that they were sexually assaulted during a forced vaginal exam by a person who said he was a doctor.

Halyaman said “the pelvic exams were administered by a doctor from Nappanee and it was for the safety of the other girls and a convenience for the parents.”

He said he doesn’t remember if the doctor was a gynecologist or not, but did say that the exams were discontinued in the 1990s. He said the exams took place in a room the size of a small bedroom with the girl, the doctor and a female staff lady or a nurse present. He said the reason for doing these exams were to check the girls for sexually transmitted disease because many of the girls that come to Hephzibah had been “immoral.”

“Would you want us to not do that? Would you want your girl to come and spend a year around other kids with STDs? It was done with written permission,” he said. “It was discontinued because technology is so advanced, you can do blood work and figure out what’s going on. There was no way before. Wisdom says, maybe we should have just not done that.”

Halyaman said Hephzibah hasn’t changed the requirements – students still need to have a full physical exam, now before they come to the house and by their own medical doctor.

When asked about the claim of neglecting to get the girls medical care if needed, Halyaman said if the girl is sick, she will be able to lie on the couch for the day and offered tea and Ensure. Over-the-counter medication is also given, if needed, and also a trip to the emergency room if required.

“We give them like an aspirin, or a spoonful of cough medicine,” Halyaman said. “Everybody on staff is CPR and first aid certified by Lutheran EMS, and I’m a retired advanced EMT.”

Hephzibah does not house students who are on prescription medications.

Also discontinued in the mid-1990s was corporal punishment. The former students who spoke out on TV said they would get taken to a room, forced to lie down while a staff member held each of their limbs, and a chair was placed over their head while they got their butt paddled with a wooden paddle.

Halyaman said corporal punishment was legal in Indiana and it was done with written consent from the parents.

Another allegation made by the former students was that there was child labor going on, and that they were required to sand a bus, dig ditches with 5-gallon buckets, etc.

Halyaman said, in his response to the claim on Dr. Phil, that in the early 1980s, when the buildings were being built, the students did participate in helping with various projects. He said now the girls “do their own laundry, the staff prepares meals but the girls help with the prep work, they sweep the floor, clean the toilets several times a day, all the dishes are washed, wipe off door knobs, clean windows, clean walls, just normal chores.”

It was also said on Dr. Phil that the food at Hephzibah is a problem, specifically that they were served rotten food or food with bugs in it and are told to just eat around it. Halyaman talked about the menu and said a copy of the menu is actually mailed to the parents every week, which included several kinds of meat daily. The girls also grow their own vegetables in the garden out back. They do get to eat outside food sometimes, though, by using money from their “treat money fund.”

“We order Papa John’s a lot, and we get McDonald’s,” Halyaman said. They also have rabbits that they raise and sell for money to go into the “treat money fund.”

“We just had the health department there on Monday. They routinely inspect us like every two to three months, and they’re always happy with us,” he said.

The school day goes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., he said, with time for a half-hour lunch and half-hour clean up. The ministry uses Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum, which is non-accredited. Halyaman said the curriculum is good and from an organization that’s been in existence for half a century. He also said that in most cases, high school accreditation is not required to enter a college, and that Hephzibah House follows the state requirements for a general and/or college prep diploma and that ACE is recognized by the state of Indiana.

When asked about the accusation that Hephzibah is teaching the girls to have no skills but rather just get married and have children, Halyaman said that’s not true, but that many of the girls go on to marry Godly men and have children.

When asked about the accusation that Hephzibah teaches the girls to fear the outside world, Halyaman said that’s not true, but that the girls can’t watch television or read a newspaper. He said they sometimes watch videos on YouTube, with a staff member, “but also Hollywood type videos, ‘Finding Nemo,’ harmless stuff. I let them even watch ‘101 Dalmatians’ one time because they asked.” He said the girls are aware of current events, but when asked how, he said “because I tell them.” He said he doesn’t round them up every morning to tell them of daily news, but “for example, they know the president was impeached.”He added that on the weekends or during holidays, the staff and girls will play games such as Jeopardy-style trivia, and that they love it and that it’s a way to educate them.

“This is the desire of many of the parents. The parents say they have had too much of the world,” Halyaman said. He also denied that the girls are isolated and said they’ve gone to restaurants and this past Christmas they “loaded up everyone in the van, drove to Central Park and looked at the lights from the van. They could get out and take a picture if they wanted, and then on our way home, we’ll get ice cream.”?

He said they went to Shipshewana once for a fireworks event and to eat up there, but that they can’t travel too far because some of the girls get car sick.

Five women staff the house full-time, he said. All of the work done by staff and the ministry do it for free, he said. “The staff ladies are supported as a missionary, so they get their food and room and board, but nobody gets a salary.” The girls are required to write a letter to their parents and pastor every week, and are allowed a supervised call home once a month, and a visit every three months. The girls also wear modest clothing, and the only people dressing like Amish girls are Amish girls who were sent to them by their Amish parents, Halyaman said. Most girls wear almost exclusively what they brought, and are also able to choose from other donated clothing items at the house, he said.

Halyaman said he’s used to Hephzibah coming up in the news from time to time, and that it doesn’t bother him.

“I don’t hate anyone, because I know their influence is satan,” he said. “The enemy here is not the critics of Ron Williams and Hephzibah House. I see it as an attack on Christianity.”