By Colette M. Jenkins
Beacon Journal religion writer
HUDSON: Concern for the Rev. Tom Randall, a Christ Community Chapel pastor who is jailed in the Philippines on charges of child abuse and human trafficking, has shifted from his safety to his health.
“Prison anywhere can be a hostile environment, but the conditions are extremely difficult. He’s locked in a cell with 48 inmates. There’s one toilet and one water spigot. Anything he needs, including food, has to be brought in from the outside,” said the Rev. Joe Coffey, lead pastor at the Hudson-based megachurch. “I found some relief when he texted that God has given him favor with the guards and inmates. Our worry right now is his health. He has some health issues that are being exacerbated in prison and could become life-threatening.”
Coffey said he has spoken to several U.S. government officials and diplomats to petition for Randall’s transfer from jail to a hospital. Randall and Filipino nationals were arrested Jan. 12 in Manila while doing typhoon relief work and missionary work at an orphanage established by World Harvest Ministries. The mission ministry, which was founded in 1990 by Randall and his wife, Karen, is responsible for planting churches and providing a million meals as emergency relief after the typhoon.
A hearing scheduled Friday to determine whether charges would be dropped against Randall was postponed.
“We got word [Friday] morning that his hearing has been delayed and that he is still in custody,” said the Rev. Tim Schofield, executive pastor of ministry teams. “We are trying to get him out of there as soon as possible. We are concerned about his failing health and we are praying for his release and protection for him while he’s there.”
Coffey, who describes himself as a close personal friend of Randall for about 20 years, said Randall has pneumonia and a urinary tract infection.
“He’s in trouble physically. Tom left the Philippines [where he and his wife had moved in 1979] because he had toxic poisoning. Because of that, his immune system is compromised. Being in Manila, where the pollution is horrible, is jeopardizing his health,” said Coffey, who has been overwhelmed by the number of people contacting him to vouch for Randall’s integrity and to ask how they can help.
Randall joined the pastoral staff at Christ Community Chapel in September, several months after he and his wife moved to Stow from Edmond, Okla. He retired last summer after more than 13 years as chaplain for the PGA Champions Tour. As chaplain of the senior tour, he traveled to each tournament and conducted Bible study for golfers and their families, caddies and officials.
Schofield said the Randalls left in December for the Philippines, where they have done missionary work for decades. The couple has had a relationship with Christ Community Chapel (formerly known as Hudson Community Chapel) for about 20 years. During the recent visit, allegations of misconduct surfaced against Randall and two of his workers.
Christ Community Chapel leadership was told that the allegations could not be substantiated through an investigation. But a subsequent complaint was filed with the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines and Homeland Security, which resulted in Randall’s arrest.
Coffey describes Randall as a missionary of more than 30 years and an athlete who has taken players around the world to participate in basketball games and share the gospel.
According to his website (tomrandall.org), Randall participated in four sports — basketball, soccer, cross country and golf — at Judson College near Chicago, were he earned his undergraduate degree in human relations in 1976. The two-time Illinois basketball all-star was inducted into Judson’s hall of fame in 2003 and his jersey number was retired.
Randall has also performed a unicycle and juggling show in Olympic stadiums, on the Wide World of Sports in Australia and at universities, prisons, military bases and leper colonies.
A report published on Inquirer.net, a Filipino national news website, states Randall was arrested for “allegedly abusing children” and that Toto Luchavez and Jake Luchavez were also arrested for allegedly sending “orphaned girls to friends for sex.” The report describes Randall as a former player in the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (the forerunner to the Philippine Basketball Association) and states that the three men are facing charges of human trafficking, rape and child abuse.
Coffey, who shared some of his thoughts in his blog (joecoffeytalk.com), said he is still trying to figure out what happened and is wondering if someone targeted Randall.
“From what I understand, there was an allegation against a worker at his orphanage by a 15-year-old girl who said the worker kissed her. Tom called children’s services to investigate. They found that the allegation wasn’t true. The girl recanted and said she made it up because she was mad at the worker for taking away her privileges,” Coffey said. “The worker was exonerated. Then, all of a sudden, there’s an accusation of molestation and a charge that the orphanage is a front for sex trafficking — something that should be taken seriously and investigated.
“We are deeply concerned about human trafficking and have been working on a personal and community level to do what we can to end this horrible crime,” Coffey said. “Sex trafficking is a heinous thing and as someone who has known Tom for 20 years, I can’t believe there is any truth to it. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing that sticks no matter what the outcome is. We are praying that he’s not being implicated in any of this.”
Coffey said he has spoken to area legislators and the Filipino ambassador to the United States, asking for help in determining Randall’s status and in getting him released.
Christyn Keyes, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. David Joyce, R-Russell Twp., said “our office has reached out to both the U.S. Embassy in Manila and the State Department regarding Rev. Randall’s case and we’re hopeful for a resolution soon.”
Until things have been resolved, Schofield and Coffey said they and the Christ Community Chapel family will continue to pray for Randall and his wife, who is in Manila.
“I love Tom like a brother. He has an infectious personality. He loves people and he loves Jesus. I know that is why he has gained favor with the guards and inmates because, even locked up in that cell, Tom is doing what Tom does — he’s sharing God’s love with them and praying with them,” Coffey said. “He has been able to call — but mostly text — me periodically. I’m pretty sure that’s because of the favor he has found with the guards. The last text I got said ‘trouble in the cell block.’ That’s a little disconcerting. We just want him home.”
Randall is expected to be the topic of the sermon and the focus of prayer this weekend at Christ Community Chapel, which has four campuses in Hudson, Aurora, Stow and Akron’s Highland Square. Members of the church have set up a Facebook page (Free Tom Randall) to encourage prayer and to support the effort to get Randall released. The Facebook page, which was created three days ago, already has more than 15,000 “likes.”