A church in a Texas college town, a chapter of the campus ministry Chi Alpha, and its sponsoring denomination, the Assemblies of God, are being sued by a father who alleges that the leaders he entrusted to disciple his teenage son instead got him naked in ministry settings and used their positions of authority to sexually abuse him.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, follows a tumultuous several months for Chi Alpha. Since last spring, a serial predator has gone to jail for child sex abuse, chapter leaders across a half-dozen Texas universities have been dismissed, and the organization’s national director resigned.
The majority of the departing leaders had ties to Daniel Savala, a registered sex offender who groomed and abused Chi Alpha students for decades at his home in Houston. He was indicted last year on child sexual abuse and trafficking charges.
Though Savala wasn’t officially a part of Chi Alpha or the Assemblies of God, the list of leaders who have left reflect the reach of his informal network across Chi Alpha in Texas.
The recent lawsuit alleges that Savala molested a 13-year-old in 2021 and that four Chi Alpha students continued to sexually violate the youth group member through naked and inappropriate games in ministry settings.
The teenage victim attended Mountain Valley Fellowship in College Station. The Assemblies of God church had been led by Eli Stewart, a longtime Chi Alpha leader who launched the chapter at nearby Texas A&M University.
The victim’s father, Stephen Holt, is suing the church and the local Chi Alpha chapter as well as the General Council and North Texas District Council of the Assemblies of God for “malice” and “gross negligence” for failing to warn parents and protect children from abuse.
Last year, Stewart was fired by Mountain Valley Fellowship for “sinful practices” and neglecting “his duty to protect his flock from a known predator.” An investigation is ongoing.
Stewart first met Savala at his childhood church in Alaska. He maintained a relationship with him through a previous child sex abuse conviction and continued to endorse him as a spiritual leader until an online forum exposed Savala last year.
The lawsuit alleges that Stewart allowed Chi Alpha members at A&M to lead the youth group and take trips to Savala’s home, even though Stewart was aware of his status as a sex offender.
According to the filing, the minor victim sat naked and engaged in inappropriate contact with Savala in his home sauna in October 2021, which resembles many other accounts of abuse by Savala. The following year, the boy went skinny dipping during a leadership trip out of state and played games involving touching genitals at a Chi Alpha event.
It blames the church for putting the college students in positions “where they would have unsupervised control over minor children and which engendered trust creating an environment where they would have unsupervised control of minor children.”
Holt told CT that a week before learning about his son’s abuse, he had strange dreams. During prayer the next morning, he said he sensed the Lord telling him to prepare for something ahead, but he didn’t know what.
“We were overcome with so many emotions when we found out,” Holt said. “The Lord in his own awesome way prepared us for this, even before finding everything out … This situation could have easily driven us away from the Lord but it has actually brought us closer to him.”
His family has left Mountain Valley Fellowship for another church.
Chi Alpha hasn’t publicly responded to questions around Savala and the investigations other than to refer to an updated statement from the Assemblies of God.
The denomination reiterates that Savala was not officially a part of Chi Alpha and that the national office “made relevant Chi Alpha leaders aware of his status and warned them to cease contact and not permit students or leaders to be around him” after a 2018 report. But multiple chapters continued to visit him, including A&M.
CT reached out to the Assemblies of God by email for comment on the lawsuit on Friday evening and did not hear back by publication time.
Chi Alpha victims and advocates on the “XA and the Lion’s Den” forum have been calling for the organization to take responsibility and acknowledge a bigger problem that allowed Savala to continue to abuse and others to do likewise.
“The entire system in certain parts of Chi Alpha must be reformed, and new leadership needs to be implemented,” one post read. “The Bible says in Galatians 5:9, ‘A little leaven leavens the whole lump.’ So even a little bit of ‘half-truths,’ a little bit of ‘perverted teachings,’ a little bit of ‘group masturbation in Bible studies’ is the leaven that can affect and destroy the entire organization.”
Chris Hundl, who was mentored by Savala and had led the chapter at Baylor University, was also arrested last year for bringing boys to masturbate in Savala’s sauna.
Other campus leaders who arranged for students to visit Savala for mission trips, for discipleship, or for counsel around sexuality have either stepped down or lost their jobs: Jason Bell at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville; Josh Bell at Rice University in Houston; Daniel Young at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; and Johnny Hauck at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
A spokesman for the Assemblies of God confirmed to CT that they “are not serving in Chi Alpha positions” and that “actions taken as a result of the investigations have already resulted in various actions including the dismissal of ministers.”
Chi Alpha’s district director for New Mexico and Texas, Eli Gautreaux, was also suspended during an investigation, and the denomination confirmed he no longer holds the position. Chi Alpha’s national director, E. Scott Martin, resigned.
In 2022, Will Robinson at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi was also arrested on separate child sex abuse charges.
The online forum posted Holt’s lawsuit on Friday with a message saying, “XA Lions Den and our moderation team ask that you please pray for peace and courage for this young man and his family and encourage them with your comments during this time of their life. We ask that you pray for swift justice and complete accountability for all participating parties.”