CHARLES SHARPE, THE founder of Heartland Ministries in Northeast Missouri, passed away earlier this week. You can read his obituary here. Mr. Sharpe was no stranger to controversy and being in the news, and that's putting it mildly.
Heartland is a faith-based ministry and takes in troubled kids and people with substance abuse issues. Say what you want about Mr. Sharpe, but he wore his faith on his sleeve and his fiery sermons were direct and to the point.
Many years ago I covered a trial near Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It was for one of the Heartland employees, if I remember right. Authorities alleged some of the Heartland Christian Academy students were abused when made to clean out manure pits. The trial lasted a week, and it was a joke - the jury found the employee not guilty after deliberating for less than an hour.
Students were removed from Heartland by the state of Missouri in 2004 after allegations of mistreatment. A jury eventually ruled against Heartland, even though settlements were reached with some of the families. Click here for the 2010 Whig story.
I vaguely recall going to Hannibal and covering some of the tedious civil trial proceedings. Mr. Sharpe stopped me in the hall during a break and said, "I like it when you cover our stories, because at least you are fair to us." Well, I tried to be fair to everybody. I appreciated the comments, but I was just doing my job, nothing more and nothing less.
Heartland has undoubtedly helped a lot of people, but it isn't for everybody - there are websites and stories about people who balked at the strict Christian programs. Some of them end up in Quincy when they want out of the program, and I've heard some of the stories. You always have to consider the context and the source, so I don't rush to judgement.
Mr. Sharpe certainly made an impact, and as has Heartland.