Interview: Anonymous Ignite Life Center Whistleblower Details Psychological Abuse by Church’s Administration

Interview: Anonymous Ignite Life Center Whistleblower Details Psychological Abuse by Church’s Administration

This is the full interview of the man who detailed psychological abuse inflicted against him by the Ignite Life Center church administration in an article published yesterday. He left the church years ago and spoke extensively about Ignite’s celebrity connections, partnered churches, and the day-to-day hardships brought by being a student of the Ignite School of Ministry. 

Q: Over text earlier, you said you initially started going to The Ignite School of Ministry in 2013, right? 

A: Yes.

Q: Why did you initially start going? 

A: Back in 2013, I had a pretty troubled upbringing, so my father thought it would be good for me to attend this summer internship. I am originally from New Jersey, so I was able to fly to Gainesville, Florida, and attend the internship in the summer of 2013.

Q: Do they have a sister church in New Jersey that you were attending? 

A:  Technically. It's kind of like how you’ve seen: people and churches are affiliated with Ignite, and then the youth group would migrate there for the summer.

It was a Pentecostal church. Essentially, in 2012, one of my fellow youth group attendees went and apparently had a great time. When she came back, my father was like, “Oh, he's having a hard time.” You know, I was 16 at the time. He's like, “Oh, maybe if it worked for her, it’ll work for him?”  

Q: When did you leave Ignite? 

A: Between 20 and 22. I’d say around 22 is when I left. 

Q: What was Ignite’s reputation like when you first joined them? 

A: Stellar, no issues; air tight. You couldn’t get enough of them. They were all over the East Coast. Mark Vega was always preaching in New York, New Jersey, and sometimes, I believe, South Carolina. Mostly the East Coast, but especially Florida. 

Q: What was your experience like when you first went to the summer internship? Was it bad or good?

A: It was good. From what I could initially perceive, it felt like it was a family environment. I had recently accepted Jesus as my savior to become a Christian. In 2012, I began my Christian walk, but in 2013, I solidified it at Ignite. The teachers who are like-minded and proclaim to be Christ-like say, “We’re going to teach you about Christianity; we're going to teach you what not to do and what to do.” It was a positive perception; it was very stringent, strict, and structured, but overall it received a positive reception. 

Q: Over the years, how did that perception change? Did any events occur that made you think differently in your time there?

A: One hundred percent. A lot of it started when I questioned things. I questioned why some of the leadership is allowed to talk a certain way. Is leadership allowed to do this? Why am I being chastised for these things?

To give you a brief synopsis, in 2013, I started the summer internship. I was 16. To give you more context, Mark Vega talked to my father because I was struggling in school since my mother passed away when I was 12. My hard upbringing had me expedite my schooling because my father was like, “He’ll attend Ignite,” and after the summer internship, I was like, “I want to do the Ignite School of Ministry.”

To cut to the chase, I was in Florida for three years. You’re probably wondering how I got my high school diploma. Well, Mark Vega promised my father that I would go to a Florida internet school or do some internet programs to get my high school diploma officially. Well, that fell through. Mark, or the leadership, never really did anything. Then they say, “If you’re going to attend the School of Ministry during your first year, you have to get your GED.” In 2014, I obtained my GED.

The reception started to fall off during my second year because I was "disobedient,” as they would call it. One of the leaders, Adolfo Gomez, had me sleep on a hard floor as a discipline technique. Or, they would put you on something called a “word fast,” where if you, I guess, weren't compliant, you couldn't speak for a whole day, or you would get more punitive actions. At the time, it felt like, “Oh, okay, I'm growing in the Lord; I'm learning,” but now, as a blossomed adult who understands the world, I’ve done a full 360. I understand that was a very oppressive and manipulative action, and in the name of God as a leader, that's not acceptable.

Q: I heard there were some rumors of psychological abuse. I heard that they would call it “servanthood" and that some members were forced to pick up rocks under the hot sun or give up their phones for nine months. Has anything like that happened?

A: They would confiscate your phone every internship until one of the Ignite School of Ministry students; her father was a lawyer. So they're like, “Oh, okay. He's a lawyer; we gotta chill out.” They started to reverse policies because they realized that they could get into serious trouble for involuntarily taking phones and not allowing people to have them.

Q: What kind of things did they chastise you for?

A: Dating. You couldn’t date for the first two years of the Ignite School of Ministry. That didn’t just mean you can’t do anything intimate; you couldn’t emotionally date someone either. There was no sense of privacy. Let's say, hypothetically, I had an interest in a girl. Mark Vega was the reigning authority over everything. Let's say I liked Jane Doe, and I did like a couple girls throughout the Ignite School of Ministry, but I kept it to myself and stayed single until I graduated because I met someone else. But that’s a bigger story; we’ll get into the long story later.

Long story short, if you like someone and they don't approve of them, then they're like, “We're not going to allow that, and there will be punitive action if so.” They would change their demeanor. They were no longer as friendly as they once were. Because now, you’re not necessarily adhering to the word of the Lord through Mark Vega or one of the leaders. It’s very manipulative, abusive, and gaslighting tactics to make you conform to their image of what they want. I can go on and on about that, but I want to answer your questions.  

Q: How was the leadership perceived in the church, particularly focusing on Head Pastor Mark Vega? Were there any instances that stood out to you regarding his behavior or his leadership style?

A: Do you mean in the sense of like me personally knowing what he did to me or others, or like his perception superficially among the masses?

Q: I guess both; how is he perceived superficially, and then tell me about the personal experiences?

A: Superficially, he is revered. Even to this day, he's seen as this man of God who started a school of ministry—someone who is, air quotes, “helping people live for what matters most.” He is pretty much like a source of light for people, they’ll be like, “Before Mark Vega and Ignite, I was weak and I was vulnerable.” That's a very big theme. It’s the advantageous tactic of taking advantage of people who are like myself. My mom died when I was younger, and my father didn’t really know how to take care of me. 

Some of the Ignite leaders were in similar situations. Some of the Ignite leaders were very troubled in their childhoods and personal lives; they didn’t have anything, or whatever they did have, they had a lack of. So, not what I feel, but what has happened is that Mark Vega and Ignite would be like, “We’re here for you. We love you. We're going to take care of you.” That's getting into more interpersonal circles than the masses. 

Within the masses, it's this very perfect and spotless pastor who could do no wrong. The masses say, “This man is amazing. We need him to preach at our church. He speaks the word of God one hundred percent perfectly.” He was a public figure, still is, but especially was then; a prolific public figure that could do no wrong, and people revered him very well. With every word, people were like, “Wow, that is true; I need to follow what he's saying.” People would flock to him from all over to hear what he had to say.

Q: What about internally? I'm guessing it's a little different.

A: I was kind of bleeding into it, trying not to, but of course that outward perception is positive; inwardly, it is very different. If you go against him, he’s like, “You’re going against the word of the Lord. You’re out of line.”

This one time, I’ll go deeper into this at another point, but I'll just kind of breeze over it now. When I was dating a girl after I graduated from the School of Ministry, Mark Vega let me stay at his house. So yeah, Mark and Lisa were nice enough to let me see their house. I paid for some rent, but I was still a member of the staff at the School of Ministry because this was in 2017–2018, when I graduated. So I was dating this girl, and Mark Vega and Lisa Vega were like, “Hey, we don't like that girl; if you continue to date her, we will kick you out of the house.”

At the time, I didn't have any living arrangements, so my father got involved and talked to them, and they continued to persist. They continued to be like, “Hey, if you date that girl that we're not approving of, we will make you homeless.” That was their threat. It wasn't, “Oh, you might be homeless.” It was “You will be homeless.” We’re going to kick you out onto the street. 

My father talked to them, and after I spoke to my father, when he was alive, my father told me, “Hey, you're such a good image to them; they don't want to lose that. You're essentially Ignite’s poster child. 

Q: That's a lot of pressure. 

A: What was that? 

Q: No, sorry, I just said that’s a lot of pressure. I didn’t mean to interrupt.

A: No, you’re good, but you see that now; there’s this trend of trying to salvage their identity, or their image, and this pressure where it's like they say, “If you don't comply with what we have to say, we will take excessive measures so that you submit.” It was this fear, manipulation, and a tactic of threatening punitive action to make you crumble; I didn’t crumble.

I was like, “Dude, I’ve been doing this for four years. If I want to date someone, I’m gonna.” It's psychological torture because its like you cannot think for yourself. When I started thinking for myself, that's when backlash started happening. 

When my father talked to Mark Vega, Mark was like, “If we kick him out, and he says anything that's going to affect our image, we’re going to keep him." Essentially, saving face was the only reason. If there weren't any contingencies; without a shadow of a doubt, I would’ve been homeless.

They would’ve said, “Hey, thank you for your time coming here for three years. Thank you for coming to the Ignite School of Ministry and having your father pay $5,000 per year. We’re going to kick you to the street because you’re not agreeing with what we believe is the word of the Lord.” That’s the nutshell of all the interactions. Mark Vega would be very emotionally and mentally abusive.

I actually recall walking around one time and hearing Mark talk to a member, saying, “Hey, I heard you say Ignite’s a cult.” Mark said, “Don’t play around with that.” Mark said to the gentleman, “If you speak against the man of God, there will be consequences.” He was essentially threatening him, because this person's a free thinker. In my personal view, I've always experienced this fear, where I'm like, “If I say something that is not in line with what he wants or what the leadership wants, there's a problem.”

After a while, I started to break out of the psychological mold of being forced to be what they wanted. Then I started to really lash out. Not like the angry type of lashout, but you know what I'm saying? I started to actually become more of an independent thinker and go against what they would be doing—what they would want me to do. There's many examples of that, but his trying to kick me to the street was a big one.

Q: Was he referring to himself as “the man of God” in the third person?

A: It's kind of ironic. Yes, he would say “Man of God,” but it was more so in the sense of him creating this facade of humility. He’d be like, “I care about you. I'm there for you.” You see what I'm saying? I don’t know if it’s called Stockholm syndrome?

Q: Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

A: Yeah, it's like, “Hey, I’m in your corner. I love you. You can do this.” But as soon as you don't do what he wants, or the leadership, but especially him, It's like, “Now we're going to have to take strenuous measures. We're going to have to do something because you're not following God.” That was the biggest thing. It's not like you're just not following Mark; it's the pretense of him being like, “You’re disobeying God through my words. God speaks to me.” It's pretty much how it's said, like the wolf in sheep’s clothing. You come in a pleasant manner, but internally, there's destruction. There's a sense that if you don't comply, there will be severe consequences.

Yes, he would say things like “I’m a man of God,” but for the most part, he would try to be personable. He would try to be like how he’s trying to be now with current events. He’s trying to be like, “Oh, we didn’t know about this happening. We did our best.” He was more often trying to be personable so he could win the trust of so many people.

Q: Did you ever see any examples of him handling anything internally like we’ve seen now? Did you see the article with the supplemental report?

A: Yeah.

Q: Yeah, like in that report, did you see any examples of him or any staff members at the church trying to handle anything internally?

A: There are many examples, but of course, now this is much more severe because there are victims of abuse. When it comes to my time, I would say there were smaller examples happening over the years, but less illegitimate illegal affairs and more misappropriation of funds. 

It's been years since I've been out of Ignite, but I'm just trying to remember. Like when someone doesn’t agree. For example, there was a scandal where one of the big figures at Ignite fell into sin. To give you full context, most things handled internally were not necessarily illegal. Now we are getting to a point where there are illegal things that should not be dealt within the church but dealt within the law. It was never this severe in my time there. 

Q: Was this anyone who has been currently arrested, or was this just a different person?

A: Like with the things handled internally? 

Q: Like with the example you’re talking about?

A: This person isn’t relevant to anything happening currently; it's just an example. This person left the ministry because of sin, and then Mark Vega; well, I guess this wasn’t internally, sorry bad example, but basically, during a Wednesday service, Mark referred to him without mentioning the person, but everyone knew who he was talking about. He said, “This person’s a dog; we need to restrain them.” Mark said he called the ministry this person went to because this person went to another state. Mark was basically exercising the power that he thinks he has. But that’s not relevant, so I apologize.

Q: No, it's relevant; everything is relevant.

A: Essentially, anything that happens would be handled internally because Mark doesn’t have any direct superiors. So if anything's going to happen, he's going to be the reigning authority and make a final decision. But with illicit illegal acts that were condoned internally or not explicitly revealed to the public to be properly scrutinized, that never really happened in the time I was there, thankfully.

Now it seems like since 2017-2018 this stuff has been occurring; that's when I’d say things were handled more internally, and by that time I was out of Ignite but still working at Ignite Refuge from 2017-2020, but I was just working at the foster home. I don’t know if you've ever heard of that?

Q: I heard there was a foster home. 

A: I worked as a resident parent for three years, but I never attended during that time. I just wanted to work with foster children despite cutting my allegiances with Ignite towards 2017–2018. 

Q: So earlier, I think you mentioned there was some type of misappropriation of funds that you saw when you were there?

A: I haven’t seen any embezzlement or anything like that. But I’m going to tell you something that really frustrates me because now I see it in hindsight. What I and many others have personally encountered, let me give you a backstory.

If you had attended the Ignite School of Ministry, you would've had to pay $500 a month for tuition for three years. For two of the three years that I attended, maybe my second or third year, all the students were typically working. They're trying to work and do the school of ministry. And on top of that, Ignite would kind of discourage you from full-time work because God will provide. And it's like, God provides, but how the hell are you going to pay this tuition? Like, what? Like, are you paying my tuition? No. So, for me personally, I had the benefit of my father paying for everything. I was very privileged. However, a lot of people had to pay every month for their tuition. And this is what I'm getting into.

There is a foundation called the MC Foundation. They would allow churches to raise funds for the Ignite School of Ministry, you know, with temporary jobs. They would do Art Basel in Miami and Kentucky Derby in Kentucky; I've even worked for the professional Golf Association (PGA) tournaments in New Jersey. I worked at four or five of these events; I think I did three or four as a student and one as a staff member. Let me tell you the premise of these events. I'll tell you the student version. 

Now that you know that you have to pay $500 a month and you're typically on your own for funds, you have to get a job, and sometimes they discourage you from working a full-time job. They would make you mandatorily do these trips to the Kentucky Derby or wherever. You're working 12 to 15 hours on your feet, and you're raising funds for the Ignite School of Ministry. You’re working five to seven days straight. You're getting maybe one break a week.

This is its context. We’re in like a commercial van or smaller bus. We would drive to Kentucky and eat peanut butter and jelly, like ham and cheese sandwiches. Then you're sleeping on a hardwood floor. The MC Foundation would have like old mattresses you'd sleep on, and then you worked 15 hours a day.

The reason why I’m building up to this is because, as you see, the conditions are not favorable. Maria Godinez is the Chief Financial Officer of the Ignite School of Ministry. She was on her p's and q’s. If you’re not paying your tuition, she’d be like, “We’ll expel you.” Sometimes my father would miss a payment, and she would tell me and my father that if we didn’t pay, I'd be on a flight to New Jersey.

Now I’m going to get into the meat and potatoes of why I’m referring to misappropriation of funds.

Ten to twenty of these students are working on these events about four or five times a year. They’re raising thousands at every event for the Ignite School of Ministry. How much money do they make from their hard work: ten to twenty students; twelve to fifteen hours a day in hot and cold; serving dishes, cleaning cups, and administering food. You’re doing these things that technically make it a food service job. I was like a meat carver. I would get food from the chef and put it in the front. To cut to the chase, how much money do you think? After working twelve to fifteen hours a day on your feet for five to six days straight, five times a year, how much do you think went to our tuition or our compensation? How much of a percentage do you think that was? 

Q: I’m bad at math, but I’m going to guess not a lot?

A: Zero dollars. Here’s the kicker. When the students would return from these events, thankfully, I had my father pay, but a lot of students didn’t have that luxury. They missed work. They would lose their jobs because they couldn't work. They were not even encouraging anyone to work full-time, but part-time, and Ignite would say, “We're doing this for the ministry.”

Ignite would pump out thousands of dollars for the School of Ministry, and then students would be chastised and slammed for their tuition. That is the most inappropriate use of funds that I can think of. Maybe it's not necessarily illegal, but it should be illegal.

The only time people would be paid was when you’re a staff member. I believe there was one year with the PGA tournament in 2016 or 2017, and I got paid like a couple hundred for six days. But you see how you can’t speak up against that. How could you speak against the pastors Mark and Lisa Vega and Chief Finance Officer Maria Godiznez?

Q: So why did you decide to leave? I'm guessing that had something to do with it. Were there any other things that led to your leaving in 2017?

A: A big thing was the relationship aspect, where I was seeing someone who was my girlfriend at the time. I was living at Mark and Lisa Vega's house, and I would see her secretly because they wouldn't let me be with her. I remember the first time I brought her up, they asked, “Is she from God? Do you know that's your wife?” This was when I was just trying to get to know her as a friend, and I’m like, “I don’t know that.”

I remember vividly, “They pulled out her Instagram account on their phone and said, “Look, she’s drinking.” She wasn’t even at the club; it was like a dinner; why do I even have to judge? Now that I’m so much older, I’m like, “Why did I have to justify dating someone?” I get that we're Christians, but what is this? Even back then, when I was saying I wanted to pursue her, they would show me pictures of her and say it wasn’t appropriate and that I shouldn’t date her. I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to do what I want.”

One time I lied, to cover my tracks, just to see her. I told them I was at the dentist. When she was driving me home, I got a call from Maria Godinez’s husband, Eric, and he said, “We know you’re lying. We’re gonna have a meeting.” I’m like 20 years old at the time. What even is this? I get home, and they have a meeting, and Eric says something like, “Oh, she’s not even attractive,” or something like that. Something very out of pocket and inappropriate.

Between 2017 and 2020, a couple of Ignite members and myself got an apartment. I was kicked out for dating a girl they didn’t approve of. What made me leave—that girl that I was dating—she's actually a University of Florida alumni, and you want to know something funny too? She was actually a telecom and journalism major. So she was like, I’m assuming how you are—very attentive and observant. She would see how I was being treated for those three years.

I remember one Wednesday after my ex-girlfriend was telling me to leave, and I told Mark Vega I was formerly leaving. I tried to have a form of cordiality, and Mark’s first response was, “You're not going to find accountability elsewhere.”

Then we had a meeting between the foyer and the front stage so everyone could kind of see. The meeting was “You’re living in sin; tell us.” I did admit that I was having romantic relations with my girlfriend consensually.

Q: What? How are they going to get on you for having a consensual relationship? They have all these people being arrested for non-consensual relationships?

A: You’re telling me. It’s peak irony. I talked to Nicole and Adolfeo Gomez, Mark, and Lisa. We’re in a circle, and metaphorically, they’re throwing darts at me. “You’re living in sin; you need to repent.” Essentially, they are trying to coerce me with the last string they think they have in me. And I'm like, “No, you don't have a string in me.” Psychologically, I finally broke free from this environment where they claim to be family and have your back, but that’s not how you treat your family.

It gets worse. This was one of the main reasons I left. I had a miscarriage with my ex-girlfriend. Let me tell you how they handled it. You could probably perceive not well, right?

When they're like, “Did you sleep with her?” I said “yes,” and I don't know how they came to it, but they perceive that something may have happened, and I cry and say I had a miscarriage. It's hard, and I need support there. I had no family down here. Even though I broke free, there was that residual hope that they would still care. I wanted to try and leave on good terms, but they didn’t let me. I disclosed the miscarriage to them, and let me tell you what Adolfo Gomez told me.

I don't know if you're familiar with this. There’s a story in the second Samuel where David slept with Bathsheba and Bathsheba bore children, like King Solomon, but essentially the prophet Nathan told David that because of this, David’s son Solomon would live but he would have a child die. Adolfo Gomez said verbatim, “Do you know that story about David losing his firstborn because of sin. That’s what happened to you.” You cannot make this up. I was like, “I never wanna see any of you guys again.” This is literal psychological torture; psychological warfare. You cannot tell me the next day you love me when that's how you treat people who don't agree with you, and yes, maybe in a Christian sense, I wasn't doing the right Christian things. I was living in sin. I will admit that, but that's not how you remediate it. That’s not how you bring someone to restoration. At least for me, as a Christian, you need to talk to that person. And why would you meet with me in front of other people? One of my good friends said he remembered years ago that meeting that occurred. So how many other people witnessed this too? It just breaks my heart that people would be treated that way. I can't imagine whoever else has been treated that way. We're seeing this now; it's like the victims are being silenced.

Q: Did you know any of the perpetrators that have been arrested? Did you have any interactions with them?

A: Yeah, I did; Mark’s son Christian Vargas, whom I knew for the most part; Jose Cruz’s son Noel Cruz; and Gabriel Hemenez.

Q: Did you ever see any red flags about them or notice any concerns about their behavior?

A: With Noel Cruz, I can’t really recall anything. With Vargas, he’d sometimes seem a little sneaky, especially being under the direct heat and fire of Mark Vega. I can't imagine him having any type of romantic life.

I do not condone anything he has done. He needs to be judged to the fullest extent of the law for whatever he is guilty of.

What I will say is that you know the psychological structure of a strict parent, where, not that a person's actions are justified, but it's like, you can kind of see where it's going because they're given their liberty. They have to go behind the back of whoever their authority is. I would hear stories of him talking to girls; not being sexual, but he seemed kind of flirty. He was a teenager at the time; I can’t remember exactly how old he was, but that’s kind of natural for an adolescent boy. But sometimes, I would get this feeling that he'd be secretive about things. That he would have to hide things. I don't have a definitive answer, but it's like that vibe. It just seems like he was maybe having to conceal things because Mark and Lisa Vega would obviously not condone anything; it's their way or the highway. I didn't see any direct examples, but just kind of questionable or concerning behavior or the parameters of how things were set.

With Gabriel Hemenez, I unfortunately had a decent relationship with him before everything went down. I was friends with him, his roommate, and some other people. He really had no history. He would say certain people were attractive, but he never said he was attracted to minors or that. The only thing is that he was a masseuse; his hands were his profession, so I don't know if that has anything to do with it, but there are not really any conceivable red flags. It was actually a real surprise to me. 

Q: How did you react when you found out about all these arrests?

A: Like with all three?

Q: Yeah?

A: Pretty surprised. I had no wind of this until I saw it in the news. I did know, as you know, that there're very sketchy things that happen at Ignite. But I just never expected people to go to that extent of taking people's innocence by sexually committing battery against them. I was appalled, but I didn't really expect much. I don't want to say I wished bad for Ignite at the time or even still do, but I knew that it was only a matter of time before something of this nature or caliber would happen because it's such a toxic environment. It's like a cesspool. If you drink, someone's going to get sick eventually, but I guess that's how I would see it. None of it I saw coming, and none of it really made sense to me except for that unhealthy environment. Was Gabriel Hemenz arrested on July 23?

Q: No, Hemenez was arrested on July 6. Vargas was arrested on July 23, and Noel Cruz was arrested in February. 

A: When it comes to Gabriel Hemenez, as you're probably aware, Ignite's last summer internship was in July or August of last year. My brother from New Jersey actually attended.  I didn’t want my brother to go, but it's more because my dad passed away in June, and with his passing, my stepmother wanted him to have a structural environment. She had no idea of this at the time—that this craziness was happening.

Essentially, they were concealing it from me. I kept asking, "Why can’t my brother stay overnight?" Nicole Gomez and Mark Vega said, “We can't tell you.” They wouldn’t give me a starting date, and I’m like, "Guys, we gotta book a plane ticket.” I found out by looking at the news, but they didn’t outright tell me; they were still concealing until I found out. I told Nicole Gomez, “If anything happens to my brother, you all will pay.” I didn’t threaten violence. I just said there would be legal repercussions. It just goes to show you that when this was happening, they were not trying to make it publicly available.

Q: That reminds me, because they had a meeting after Hemenz was arrested that I actually went to; they were all like “transparency, transparency.” Clearly, they were not being transparent with you.

A: Are you talking about the City Hall meeting they had? 

Q: Yeah. It was like a city- or town-hall-style meeting that they held in the church. I had gone because I wanted to see if they had a response to Hemenez's arrest. This was still before Vargas’ arrest, so I didn’t even know about everything at the time.

A: You wanna know something else that’s crazy?

Q: What?

A: Let me ask you a question. When you went to that meeting, it was pretty vacant in the church, right?  

Q: Well, I wouldn’t say all the seats were filled; maybe about 50 or 70 people tops.

A: Okay, it was a reasonable crowd. The reason I mention it is because what I hear from other sources is that they were purposefully not allowing people who were wronged or could incriminate Ignite into that meeting. It seems like Mark Vega was like, “This was unbeknownst to us,” like, no, he knew this was happening for years. Since 2017, he has had knowledge of this. From what I heard from friends and attendees, whatever vacancies there were, they were maybe people who had some sort of damning evidence against them. They did that to satiate the general public, but not anyone who may have been a victim or mad about the situation; they were purposely trying to not allow them in there. People who would know it was concealed.

Q: One thing I wanted to ask: there’s some rumors and a bit of evidence that he’s connected with, or has some friends in the Gainesville Police Department (GPD), and I wanted to ask you about that?

A:  I don’t really know of any specifics, but what I will tell you is GPD had a pretty strong tie with Ignite; you know, Bobby White, the Basketball Cop. I don’t know if he still is, but he was a GPD officer.

Q: Wait, he was a GPD officer? It rings bells now, like a social media thing?

A: Yeah, he brought Shaq to Florida not too long ago. He got famous for that. Bobby White was the one who initiated the donated basketball court at Ignite. It was like $15,000. That’s some strong affiliation with GPD because they were given a basketball court by the Basketball Cop Foundation, and Bobby White worked for GPD at the time. 

Their ties with GPD, I would say, are pretty strong because Mark Vega is a prominent figure in Gainesville. I think he goes to like these luncheons with them or something like that. So they do have strong ties.

Mark Vega and former GPD chief Lonnie Scott

Q: What can you tell me about their connections to the Mariano Rivera Foundation?

A: Mariano was one of the best closers of all time with the Yankees. He and Mark grew up in the Bronx. Mariano Rivera also opened a foundation with Ignite, and there was a building at Ignite they transformed for that. They would take at-risk groups, and one of the people that attended told me they would bring the children up, and Mark would be like, “Look how broken they were, now look at them,” using them as poster children of Ignite’s “greatness.” They would use Mariano as a catalyst for Ignite’s growth. They did that to me when my mom died, testifying about me on stage, saying, “Look at him broken, he wanted to commit suicide; his mom died, but through Ignite he found freedom.” At the time, I thought I was indebted to Ignite, but it wasn’t even like God did the work. It was Ignite. It was sickening.

Mark and him go way back. I’m talking 30–40 years. I’m either sure he knows what’s going on and keeps it on the hush or he doesn’t know because Mark gives him his side of the story.

Mark Vega and Mariano Rivera

Q: Why do people usually leave Ignite?

A: There’s a wide variety of reasons, but it's always the same thread. People are silenced for their decisions, or people see how stagnant Ignite is. Even though it's been 10–11 years as a ministry, their congregation hasn't grown much because it's a click mentality. Some leave because they’re not being fed spiritually. Mark Vega is very cunning in his practices, and essentially, if people would stop drinking the Kool-Aid and step out of the bubbles and be like, “Wow, this is a cult. This is not healthy." With these allegations, there’s now a mass exodus of people leaving. Because finally, the truth is coming out. However, for the most part, people leave silently because if you leave with a trace, you’re kind of demonized for it or made to feel bad.

Q: Were there any internal conflicts within the church community that you were aware of or witnessed in your time there?

A: What do you mean by that?

Q: Like, within the church leadership, was anyone against Mark Vega, or were they all subservient?

A: No, they all fall in line. Even now, I texted them all the verse in James 417, which reads, “It is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” I texted Mark, Lisa, and the leaders that, but obviously it's on deaf ears.

To answer your question, it's either you’re a leader and you’re in the click and a buddy of Mark Vega and part of his counsel, or if you don’t agree with him, you’ll be essentially shadow banned; shunned. If you're against him, you get no privilege. There were some leaders who were against it, but those people left. Most leaders would always adhere to Mark and wouldn’t question him because he has the “Word of the Lord.” 

Q: What do you think needs to be done about this church in the community? Do they need to be investigated by higher authorities? 

A: I believe so, because if these past three arrests were just trickling out for things that happened years ago, God knows how many more victims there are who have been silenced. Only God knows how much more is being concealed compared to what has actually transpired.  

I believe there should be a full investigation of the church. In my personal opinion, the church should be shut down until further notice—until there is actual due process by the leadership. I’m not a legal expert, but Mark, Lisa, and the leadership should be thoroughly investigated. Maybe even be legally prosecuted for concealing evidence. If you have concealed things for years, you are just as guilty, if not more guilty than the perpetrators, because not only has this one isolated event happened, but it has now become recurring, and you have hid it in the closet and swept it under the rug just so it wouldn’t affect you and your image. 

Maybe the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If they do have ties with GPD there needs to be an unbiased authority to do a full investigation of the church and not allow the church to run until the investigation is concluded and anyone concealing things is prosecuted.

Q: Does Mark preach sermons around forgiveness a lot? I noticed that a lot of times in religious communities, when there are allegations of abuse, they will try to create a redemption arc for the abuser instead of putting the attention on the victim. I was wondering if you think Mark does that? 

A: One hundred percent. I have spoken to victims, and I didn’t even know this until you wrote the report, but Christian is in the church. Why is this man in church? It's like those reports corroborate everything I’ve known about this man. Like it said in the supplemental report, “We’re going to put the fear of God in them and set them straight.” No, they need to be remediated in a court of law. They need to be remediated behind bars for any crimes they may have committed. It seems there is foul play, and innocence is being taken.

I’ll mention this scripture because it would be used to keep things internal and not have it spread to the masses. They would use this scripture out of context to coerce the situation. Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his faults. Between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you; every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell them to the church. If he refuses to listen to even the church, let them be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.” Jesus also preached, “Humble yourselves under the natural authority.“


Jack Walden

Jack Walden

Jack Walden is the creator of Gnvinfo and a 2nd year journalism major at Santa Fe College. From general information, to exposing falsehoods and corruption, Jack seeks to deliver the truth.
Gainesville, FL