Episode 120

Best of 2022: Our Story Part 1, Lori and Jason Adams-Brown Share Their Story of a Hostile Work Environment, Toxic Culture, Gaslighting and Spiritual and Psychological Abuse at a Megachurch in Silicon Valley

In this podcast episode Lori and Jason Adams-Brown share their story of spiritual abuse and betrayal at Echo.Church and Saddleback Church, while remaining hopeful that God will bring restoration, reconciliation and resurrection through their courageous testimony.

Lori Adams-Brown and Jason Adams-Brown are a married couple who share their story of working at Echo.Church in Silicon Valley in order to protect the vulnerable and call out the wolves among us.

Please consider signing the petition by Echo Survivors to release former staff at Echo.church from NDAs so they can share their stories and heal. As of this uploading, 1,329 people have signed in support of this NDA free plea. Go to: https://www.change.org/echochurchNDA

Trigger warning: If you have experienced spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse or any type of abuse especially in a faith-based environment, this episode deals with content that may be triggering. Please feel free to listen in small chunks or if this is too traumatizing, please feel free to not listen until you are ready. We do recommend speaking with a therapist who is trauma-informed. Please take good care of yourself.

"We still hold on to hope and have faith that God can bring restoration, reconciliation, resurrection out of this horrible, awful mess. We believe our brothers, Andy and Felipe, both are behaving very badly. And I wish they hadn't behaved so badly in front of me because then I wouldn't have anything to say. But unfortunately, they did on more than one occasion. And we've not given up on our brothers, and it's because we believe that change can happen and should happen

Lori Adams-Brown and Jason Adams-Brown are a married couple who share their story of working at Echo Church in Silicon Valley in order to protect the vulnerable and call out the wolves among us.


Lori and Jason Adams-Brown had a strong faith and were dedicated to their work in Singapore, but a change in circumstances forced them to make a difficult decision. After weeks of prayer and fasting, they received a Zoom call offering them two jobs at Echo Church. Lori didn't want the job, but Andy assured her they'd fight for her, and she felt God was speaking to her. Though it was not her heart's desire, they accepted the job in obedience and were soon thrown into a whirlwind of abuse and betrayal. Though they suffered, they still held on to hope that God would bring restoration and reconciliation.


In this episode, you will learn the following:

1. How did Jason and Lori Adams-Brown end up working on the Echo Church staff?

2. How does the story of Echo Church and Saddleback Church illustrate spiritual abuse?

3. How does God use suffering to bring about restoration and reconciliation?


Resources:

[Insert links to any other lead magnets or Calls to Action from Guest here]


Other episodes you'll enjoy:

Part 2, Our Story

Dr. Wade Mullen on Spiritual Abuse

Jenai Auman on Spiritual Abuse


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Chapter Summaries:

[00:00:01]

Lori Adams-Brown and her husband Jason share their story of working at Echo.Church in Silicon Valley. They hope to call out the wolves among us so that we can help warn the sheep and also help these wolves get the help that they need. We're not going to share it all at once.

[00:01:37]

We believe our brothers, Andy and Filipe, both are behaving very badly. And so I would just hope people would consider that just to listen with an open heart and open mind. We still hold on to hope that God can bring restoration, reconciliation, resurrection out of this horrible, awful mess.

[00:07:08]

Jason and Lori came to Echo Church while on a stateside assignment in 2017, 2018. Originally wanted to partner with Echo Church and Andy and Filipe and start a church in Singapore. When circumstances changed, Echo.Church offered Lori and Jason jobs.

[00:17:05]

We loved the work that we're doing. There was still more work to be done. I took this role because I knew it was what God wanted. It ended up being a lot of suffering in that journey. But I still stand by the fact that God led us to do this.

[00:18:48]

Lori's main question for Andy in her interview process was what do you believe about spiritual authority. After arriving at Echo.Church, she realized Andy had a very different view of authority.

[00:24:01]

Lori: I've never worked on a staff at a church. There was just so much more of a higher level of stress that I noticed on those that were working at the campus level. The biggest red flags early on where I started to think something's not right.

[00:28:08]

As people who've walked through spiritual abuse, part of the way we heal is to tell our stories. Just you listening today is really a part of just helping us heal. We've done a lot of healing, but with this kind of thing it just takes time.

[00:35:55]

When COVID hit, there was a constant push against Dr. Sarah Cody's lockdown. Andy was constantly pushing against her regulations. In some ways, it felt like the art of pastoring was something I was having to carry a lot of the load for with so many of the Sunnyvale campus's needs during lockdown.

[00:44:39]

Jason: My role was more in helping other churches do outreach. Now looking back, the motivation behind all that was not about loving the community. It was about trying to groom other smaller churches that might then recognize we could merge with them.

[00:48:03]

Within a month of arriving at Echo, staff they were told you would get fired for gossiping. Contagious joy was one of the values, and it was used like a weapon. Lori: It was more like work related conversations I was afraid to have. Looking back, I am ashamed that I was that naive.

[00:54:32]

Andy Wood came into the SLT meeting in summer of 2020, with a new strategy of "driving two cars," the digital car and the socially distanced outdoor services car. "How is it possible to drive two cars?," Lori asked. This was the question. From then on, things have never, ever been the same.


Lori and Jason Adams-Brown share their story of spiritual abuse, emotional abuse and psychological abuse at Echo.church in San Jose, CA at the hands of Andy Wood and Filipe Santos. Their story is by no means the worst story of abuse behind the curtain of Echo.church, but it is one that is not covered by the many NDA's that Andy and Filipe had many staff sign over the years in order to control the narrative and image manage the abuse of particular staff over the years. Many former staff have shared their stories, but due to fear of going public and also the many NDA's, there is much fear. This is part one of their story: The Calm Before the Storm.

Part 2: The Question

Part 3: The Gaslighting and the Flanking

Part 4: The Firing Squad

Part 5: Image Management & Discrediting the Whistleblower

Part 6: Disaster Relief & False Narratives

Open Letter by Gabriel Beddingfield to Echo.church

Open Letter by Echo Survivors to Echo.church

Religion News article by Bob Smietana

Julie Roys's 2nd article

Julie Roys's 1st article

Julie Roys's article after NDA petition reached 700 signatures

Julie Roys's article about the predatory nature of Echo.church's "merges"

Julie Roys's article on the pattern of retaliation

Religion News article on NDAs (that mentions Andy Wood and the Saddleback situation) by Katelyn Beaty, author of Celebrities for Jesus

Lori's appearance as a guest on Talkin' Politics and Religion Without Killin' Each Other podcast with Corey Nathan.

Lori's Linktree for more articles and updates

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Transcript

Hello. We're here today me, Lori Adams Brown, and my husband, Jason Adams Brown. And we're here today to share our story. We've had a lot of people asking about our story of our experience of working at Echo Church here in Silicon Valley because there's been some articles written about it by Julie Royce and Bob Smithana of Religion News Service. I've been on a couple of podcasts and then, of course, we just have had a lot of different people coming to us who have had experiences both at Echo Church on staff and as volunteers and also just noticing something that's not quite right as congregants. And then now that the situation now involves Saddleback Church, there's just a lot of people that have been asking a lot of questions. So the one thing that Jason always said at the end of all of this last year was one thing we can control is who we share our story with and how we share it and when we share it. And so we decided, because of where we're at in our own journey of healing and wanting to just say what is true about what happened to us and to follow what we believe the scriptures say, which is to call out the wolves among us so that we can help warn the sheep and also help these wolves get the help that they need. We have decided to share our story today. We're not going to share it all at once because that's a lot to do. So we're going to take our time with it and then we're going to reserve parts of our story for the Patreon supporters that want to go a little bit deeper into some nuances around our story. But this is just something we're offering to you today, our own particular story. And so we're just going to jump right into it. But I wanted to start with this question for my husband Jason. Some people listening are coming in very skeptical. Maybe they're really good friends with the people we're discussing and they've never seen a dark side of them at all, which was the case with us when we first came on staff as well. Some people listening are sort of maybe they see a few red flags, but it seems to be a lot to handle that somebody would be needing to be removed from ministry based on this story that we're about to tell. So my first question for Jason is what would you like for people to keep in mind as they're starting to listen to our story today in terms of their own posture and their own heart and their own mind? What is something you would like to say as we get started?

Jason Adams-Brown:

Yeah. Thanks, Lori. I think I've said to a number of people that if I hadn't experienced it myself, I don't know what I would believe. In fact, when we came on staff, there were a few people that began to share concerns with us. And at the time we had just come on staff and I noticed that this person did seem somewhat disgruntled and upset. But what I didn't realize is a pattern that was happening was so often the people on staff were not seeing what was happening behind closed doors. They only saw what the person was doing on the outside that was really, really struggling. And so I didn't believe it when someone came to me. And so I do understand for those that have only experienced Andy and Felipe's good side would say, and I just can't see it, I've never seen that. And so I guess I would just hope people would consider that just to listen with an open heart and open mind. And I think another thing that I've said several times is that we're not doing this to hurt anybody. In fact, I have grave concerns for Any and Felipe, and I really believe that if someone really cares about them, they would not want to keep putting them in a position that's going to be harmful to them and to where they could harm others. And so that's some major reasons why we share this. In fact, of course, obviously trying to protect others and to be a voice for those that have NDAs or are still in major therapy and struggling and just do not have the strength to speak out right now. And so we want to speak for them as well. So, yeah, that's a couple of thoughts on that.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Yes, I'm with you on that. Care very deeply about the Wood family and the Santos family. I think that Jason, you make a good point because there are people, it seems as though some people have given up. And I don't know if at some point that might be our posture, this is where we are today, but we still hold on to hope and have faith that God can bring restoration, reconciliation, resurrection out of this horrible, awful mess. And we believe our brothers, Andy and Felipe, both are behaving very badly. And I wish they hadn't behaved so badly in front of me because then I wouldn't have anything to say. But unfortunately, they did on more than one occasion. And many stories came to me in the aftermath. In the last year and a half of people who worked on staff and worked on staff for years before I was even there, and even since the articles came out, have contacted us and shared their story. Even this week, a couple of new ones came to us. And so it's to the point where it is just undeniable that there needs to be some sort of intervention to stop these two men from hurting other people and from the deception that they have surrounded themselves with for so long. We're going to give you some resources in the show notes throughout however many podcast episodes this goes for, because there have been several books and several authors and people who care and love the church and want to see the church restored that have really been helpful to us in this journey. People who've done their doctoral dissertations around this topic. And so there are resources that can be helpful, and that's just what we're hoping for. We've not given up on our brothers, and it's because we believe that change can happen and should happen that we speak out. So that's the posture into which we come into this podcast, and we hope that you will keep an open mind and an open heart, open ears to truly listen to the story. And we could probably never go into all the details of it because we're still unpacking some of it ourselves. But we want to just offer it to you as something that can help you understand the nature of what? Has gone on at Echo, what still is going on in that system, in that church and what is now being brought into saddleback at this point? We just offer it to you as our story. That's pretty much all we have. I'm going to start off with Jason, and he can sort of explain the circumstances under which he met Andy Wood originally and then why it was that we came to start working at Echo Church. Just kind of sum that up in a nutshell.

Jason Adams-Brown:

Oh, gosh, yeah. So we came to Cupertino, actually on a stateside assignment in 2017, 2018. And when we were coming here, there were a number of people who said, hey, if you're going to come to that area, you really should check out South Bay Church. And when I realized who the pastor was, which was Andy Wood back, and I think it was 2011 or 2012. I can't remember the exact date, but Andy Wood came out on a trip with some other pastors that I was in charge of half their trip in Singapore and in Kuala and poor Malaysia and had actually interacted with them at that point. So we're definitely open to like, hey, this could be our church for that one year, for our kids and everything. And so we became involved. We were really excited to see how this was a church that really seemed to want to impact the Silicon Valley, really wanted to reach the community here. And at the time thinking, oh, they're trying to be contextual. They're trying to be almost like someone that's working overseas. They want to really reach this community. And so there are a lot of things that we just didn't see as just coming on the weekends and getting to know them and seeing only Andy and Felipe's good side. So we developed some friendships with them. And at one point I even thought, hey, what if we could partner with Echo Church and Andy and Felipe and actually start a church in Singapore? That could even be a campus, could even be like an extension or a church plant from them, and so began to kind of cast vision to them for that. And so Andy immediately was super excited. He shared with me, hey, nobody knows this yet, very few people know this yet, but we're actually changing our name from south bay to echo church, and that really fits the vision of what happens in silicon valley echoes throughout the world, and so we would love to see the possibility of doing that. And so they came on a three day it was like this crazy three day trip to Singapore. Landed at 06:00 a.m. On a Monday and then left Wednesday evening. And so I introduced them to Singapore, introduced him to friends and people that we knew there some different partnerships and things like that, and just wanted to further the idea of what we could do there in that area. So came back after that three day trip, and after our one year state set assignment, we came back to Singapore. And after a year, some things developed that it was on some personal level related to schooling and stuff for kids and things like that. I was like, not going into lots of detail. There's nothing major, but it was just some schooling issues with our kids. And when it was really it was clear that we needed to come back to the US. And so at that time, I reached out to a number of different people, including annie and Felipe, just saying, hey, it looks like we're going to have to come back to the states. Do you have any roles at your church that you feel like I could help out with and would be useful to echo church? So they came back and ended up offering both Lori and I jobs. I don't know if you wanted to share a little bit about your response when they reached back out to you.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Yeah. So as much as I thought Echo Church was a great place to be during our stateside assignment, we weren't there every Sunday by any means, because we were speaking in a lot of churches because of the nature of what stateside assignment looks like for people who work with the International Mission Board, as we did at the time. So we were often out of town on the weekends, speaking at other churches, but when we were in town and not speaking somewhere, we were often at echo. And so it was, like you said, a great experience. Our kids loved it. Our oldest really liked the students group and the student leader there, and we met people that had come out on a mission trip to Singapore from echo church that were all on staff, minus just a few of them, and just loved everybody that we knew. It was just a lot of good relationships. However, when Jason mentioned some circumstances changed related to schooling for kids and all that, we had to make a decision. So we went to a time of prayer and fasting for about six weeks. We reached out to all of our prayer partners and just said, hey, would you pray with us? We were trying to decide, does this mean we need to figure out where else to be in Asia? Does this mean we need to go somewhere else in the world? Does this mean something's happening here in Singapore that's going to be different schooling wise that we don't understand? So it's really just laying it all on the table around that time. And then for me, even though everything's on the table and you're always putting your yes on the table for whatever God would ask you to do, we all have our preferences. So my preferences would never have been in line with working at a church on a church staff for whatever reason. That was just not something I'd ever wanted to do. There was a previous furlough back when we were in Raleigh at Summit Church, and I remember there being thrown out this option that I could work there in the Summit in Espanol if that was something I was interested in. And as much as I loved that ministry, just the idea of working in a church on a staff, which is something I never really had wanted personally, it's not really where I felt my gifts lie or where my desires were. I always felt like if I stopped working with IMB, I would probably go into something like international Business or international relations or some kind of nonprofit work that was global. But the idea of working in a church on a staff, which is not something I had ever wanted, and definitely the idea of becoming a pastor, although theologically, I believe I'm an egalitarian both at church and in the home. That's what my theology is and has been for a really long time. It wasn't an issue of whether or not I believed women could be pastors, because I certainly believed that it's not an issue of whether or not I have gifts in leadership, because I certainly do. And I've always been told that since I was very young. But it was more just an issue of that's just not where I saw myself. And so when the circumstances came to where Andy and Felipe wanted to do a zoom call this and offer us two jobs, the job for me was going to be if I took an associate campus pastor for the sunnyville campus, which was the second largest echo campus at the time, and the campus that we had actually been involved in being congregants of when we were here during that state side. But when they came to offer us those two jobs on the Zoom call, I really just had no interest. I think there were three different times they asked if I would want to take the job, and I just said, no, I don't want this job. And for all the reasons I mentioned. And also because and I ended up, I think after the third time I said, no, I don't really want to do that. I was going to start thinking if Jason took the job at Go Church, I was thinking I would apply for jobs in Silicon Valley and just some of the tech companies around, like Diversity and Inclusion or Learning and Development, something along those lines. So around the third time I said, I don't really want to take this job. Andy or Philippe can't remember which one said on the Zoom call, why do you keep saying no, you don't want this job? And I explained, really? I don't want to work in a church. It's not a desire that I have. I'll do anything God asked me to do, but it's just not a desire. So unless I felt God strongly leading me, I really wasn't going to do something like that. But also because having been Southern Baptist my whole life, although there's a lot of nuance in the Southern Baptist world in terms of theology around egalitarianism and complementarianism, increasingly over my years in the IMB, it had become more complementarian over time for a variety of reasons. And so I didn't really want to bring that kind of scrutiny on myself or my family, my kids, for people to say things they might say about, oh, your mom's a pastor, she's a heretic, or whatever people might say. And I also just didn't need to have that title or make that point or even have a desire for it. So when I mentioned that, Andy said, oh, that's the reason, well, don't worry. We'll fight that for you, and we just want you to lead and we'll fight that for you. Which was an interesting thing because it turns out at the very beginning of our prayer and fasting time six weeks earlier, I felt very clearly God speak to me through Exodus when I was reading chronologically around the verse where God tells the Israelites, I will fight for you. You just have to be still. And so that had been my posture for the whole six weeks of just being still and listening and watching and waiting for God to fight for me. And so when that statement was said, it kind of shook me. Like I hadn't heard that in the whole six weeks from anyone's mouth in any of the scenarios of our prayer partners reaching out to us. And so I said, well, okay, I really should pray about this then, because it felt like that might be God's answer, even though it wasn't the one I wanted. So we ended the call. I went and sat immediately on the little spot by the window in our high rise apartment where I could overlook the nearby trees and the birds and the hill near us and gwynn view, and I barely had even sat down, and I really sensed God saying, this is me. This is me fighting for you. You're going to go work at Echo Church. And it was good to have an answer. There was a relief in that, like, oh, okay, this is what we're doing. But at the same time, it was not at all my heart's desire. My heart did not desire to leave Singapore. I knew my kids didn't want to leave Singapore. We loved the work that we're doing. There was still more work to be done. I could have seen myself there for many more years, but of obedience. I took this role because I knew it was what God wanted, which is a really hard thing to say because it ended up being a lot of suffering in that journey of that position at Echo Church. And I do have a lot of thoughts around that that we can talk about later. But I do believe that God sometimes allows, but does not cause suffering and allows us to walk through that because God is a God who is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief and has nail scarred hands to show that he has walked through pain and suffering and shows us how and understands spiritual abuse. Being rejected by your own faith community and your own close friends. He had a Jason that betrayed him. And so God understands doesn't mean God causes it. But I still stand by the fact that God led us to do this. And I believe part of it was people were praying for many, many years. I found out in the aftermath when we met a couple that had originally planted the church with the woods and the Santos that had been praying for about seven years for things to be restored and change, and so many others had to. And so our story is a very small part of many, many things God has done and is doing to help restore and bringing resurrection and reconciliation, and it kind of involves taking up your cross if you want to be a part of it, unfortunately, in many situations. And so, yeah, that's kind of the circumstances under which we came to join Echo Church. It was pretty fast when we left Singapore and got here, and it was a bit of a whirlwind. So I'll start off my initial impressions of Echo, and then I'll let Jason kind of give a few of his. But we had been told in the Zoom calls that we would have a couple of weeks to settle in. One of the Zoom calls that we did just with Andy, he called us one night, said, hey, I just want to have a Zoom call with you around this thing. I think he was getting his kids to bed because Stacy was leading students that night, and so he was at home, and it was just kind of like this last minute, real quick one. Do you have any questions for me? And the one question I had for him was what do you believe about spiritual authority? And that was because that's a theology that's very important to me. I had seen not personally, but I had heard stories even in some big Singaporean megachurches, where some pastors had really abused their power with the congregation and in some cases, done some pretty illegal things. There's some famous situations in Singapore where American pastors had come in and advised Singaporean pastors to do certain things that are highly legal in Singapore, and those pastors went to jail, and they weren't allowed to do those things. So I knew there were situations in America where mega pastors in the States were doing things that weren't right. I just never imagined Andy or Felipe would be those people because I knew them. So I guess betrayal, blindness was something I was already a part of even at that point. But I remember asking Andy, what do you believe about spiritual authority? And his answer, looking back, was, he knew exactly what I wanted to hear and said exactly what I wanted to hear. So I'd take the job to appease me. But as soon as I got on staff and started watching the prayer meetings and how it felt like this almost really close to a deification at times of Andy as the lead pastor and separating him above the rest. In a way that was very hierarchical and there were a lot of circumstances around that. I began to realize this is not at all what he said. He really does have a very different view of spiritual authority. My theology is that there's God who's above all, and there's all of humanity who will be in Revelation Seven Nine, all equal before the throne. And then Jesus came to sort of flip that hierarchy and show us in Philippians Two how to serve and how to love, and didn't consider authority something to be grass that took the form of a servant. I did not see that happening with Andy on staff and did not see his staff treating him that way. And he was feeding off of it, and that was part of it, but it was confusing because his original statement to me was very much kind of what I wanted to hear, it felt like. And then also in that original Zoom call, he said, hey, I just wanted to make sure you understand you will not be on our leadership team when you first arrive. And it was sort of like, oh, okay, sure. We didn't know anything about anything. We were just like, okay, that sounds fine. We're new. Sure, makes sense. But for whatever reason, he wanted to be very clear, we would not be in the leadership team. And once again, we just were following what God asked us to do, and we just trusted Him because we had seen his good side, and we felt like, okay, that sounds fine. We trust you. So that was the situation under the one kind of zoom call we had about the job with Andy. And then when we arrived, it turns out within a couple of days while I'm still in jet lag, I was asked to meet with my boss, who was the campus pastor at Sunnyville, and he was not waiting for two weeks for me to move in. So I don't know if there was not a communication about that, if he was just so burnt out and desperate, because it turns out very soon into my job, I realized that he was very burnt out, which was a common thing on staff, and there was a high attrition rate. I began to see and hear stories about very early on in the first month. I also noticed in the first month I didn't have time to move in with my family. It was like, hey, everybody, just get in school and go. And like, I've got to go to work and you guys got to figure out how to walk to school. It was just very intense just right away. And so as I got into things, I started to realize that there were systems that seemed to not be solid for a church that had been around for twelve years or so. It seemed that systems were constantly being reinvented and redone and everything felt like all of a sudden last minute. We always know when Christmas is and when Easter is, but it seemed as though suddenly it was the last minute on a Saturday. Even though we've known about this or last minute change, we're going to reprint this entire bulletin for Sunday and spend a lot of money. So it was of all the work I've done around the world and systems with different teams and global teams with different cultures and different workplaces since college and seminary and overseas that I've been involved in, I had just never seen anything that felt so last minute when everything looked so strategic on the outside. So there were definitely some red flags in the beginning and I was confused by them. And when I would sort of ask about it, people would sometimes say, well, it's because people leave and we have to redo that, which was true. So I started to realize there was a high attrition rate, but also it seemed to be more than that. I couldn't quite put my finger on why everybody was so busy, but not talking about things that could really be proactive and not be so last minute and spend lots of money on things last minute. So what were your first initial impressions when you first got on staff and maybe some things you noticed that didn't seem kind of like what Wade Mullen would describe as something's not right?

Jason Adams-Brown:

Yeah, for sure. And our roles were so different. So mine was a central role that was missions and church planting, and with Lori's being a part of the campus and having to focus on the weekend experience the weekend service, all that stuff. There was just so much more of a higher level of stress that I noticed on those that were working at the campus level. And like she said, things that happened last minute and most people would take would try to take off Friday or Saturday, and then suddenly there would be some major change. And so anybody that was working at the campus had to drop everything or not be able to do stuff. So I'm like noticing these things and I'm like, Man, I know for me personally, I don't know, we talked about this early on, but it was like I just kept thinking, okay, I've never worked on a staff at a church. I know I'm coming in here just like I would with any culture I'm trying to learn. And so I really came in, and I think Lori did as well, where we're just like, okay, there's some cognitive business on some things, but we've never experienced a church staff before, so we kept thinking, okay, maybe it's just that we haven't done this before. But I would say the biggest kind of red flags early on where I started to think something's not right, or at least looking back on it. I think at the time I have cognitive dissonance, but I kind of would push it away. The very first one that I can remember is I don't think we'd been at Echo very long at all, maybe just a couple of weeks. And I remember at this point, Andy and I, we were good friends and would hang out, and even others, I think, had commented to Lori how they thought another person on staff actually said to Lori. They thought, oh, they put a lot of hope in me that I would be able to change things because I had the relationship skills, but also the hard working skills to potentially being able to change some of these issues at Echo. And I just kept thinking when she told me that, that was months later, I'm skipping ahead, where I was just, like, shocked. Like, what in the world? Why would they think I could do this? And they've been here for years and years and years. Why are they waiting for someone like me to come in and do that? Anyway, two weeks in, Andy kind of looks at me with this big grin on his face and he says, hey, man, who do who do you think's more intimidating, me or Felipe? I remember just thinking, what a weird question. I was like, I think I said, like, neither one of you I've never thought either one of you as being intimidating, but it was clear, like, it was this competition between the two of them. Who would the staff actually find more intimidating? I just thought that was such a weird question, and I pushed it aside at the time. But later, looking back, I'm like, oh, this makes so much. Sense. I think another one was where we were working late one day and trying to make some decisions and we realized we needed Andy's input to be able to make a final decision. And I just looked at Felipe, I was like, hey, should I just give Andy a call and ask him? And Felipe looked at me and says, well, you could try. I mean, he still likes you. And I was like, Wait, what a weird. And they've been friends since college. And I do think anyway, at the time I didn't think it just caught me by surprise, but I didn't know what to think about it. But again, it's one of the things I just pushed aside that was a couple of things early on and then of course, just seeing the chaos of the weekend service and how it was just a lot of stress around that for the campus staff and just seeing how much was having to be done there. For sure.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Yeah, we definitely will probably have more to say in little side things that we do for our patreon supporters around some of the details of it, but we'll try to get through sort of the main parts of our story. For those of you listening, just generally speaking here in the audience today. And thank you once again for listening to our story. As people who've walked through spiritual abuse, part of the way we heal is to tell our stories. So just you listening today is really a part of just helping us heal. And when you can empathize and believe the person who's sharing the story, it really does just bring a little bit of healing. So we just thank you for listening and for helping us continue our healing journey. We've done a lot of healing, but with this kind of thing it just takes time. So thank you for listening. I would say that when I began to notice within a couple of weeks that the campus pastor I was working under who's a really great guy and just really love him and his family and he felt like a brother. During the time we worked together, we had some very special moments of working together, but it became very clear to me within a couple of weeks that he was burnt out. And so I had gone to Andy and mentioned it to him at this Alpha retreat that we were on and just said, hey, I think he's burnt out. And he said, okay, well, let's just give him a couple of weeks to get some therapy, but don't tell anyone. You just do his job for him and let's just keep the secret. And that, looking back, was the first time I was asked to keep a secret like that. And I remember at the time, just in my mind, sort of non consciously thinking, but wouldn't people want to know so they could help him? People love him. Like they really do, they would want to care for him and they would be fine knowing he needed help. Of course being in ministry is hard. I think most people know that. And he's young and has a young family, but it was definitely like, we don't want people. That's just something we're going to keep secret, so don't tell anybody. And you just kind of do your job and his job for the next couple of weeks. And so that all happened and then over time, there were a lot of things like that. Let's just not let people know. The image management was already being kind of groomed into me, and I was being trained without realizing I was being trained in this culture. And at the time, like Jason mentioned, we were trained as MKs growing up overseas and also having lived and worked as expat workers for 20 years. Part of our training and value is that you don't go in and just judge a culture. Day one, you don't know. You got to learn the language, you got to learn the culture. So I would say it was a solid year in Indonesia where we were fluent in Indonesian, and we could really understand enough to say, oh, maybe that's right, maybe that's not right, but you don't really know for probably about a year. And so I remember thinking, well, anytime I saw things that weren't quite right and tried to sort of bring it up either fully or just kind of hinting, it would be shut down, like, you just don't know our culture yet. So I remember thinking, well, maybe I just don't know the culture yet, so I'm just going to just observe and watch and learn, which was both of our posture for that first solid year, for sure. There were a lot of red flags, I would say, leading up to a few months. We basically were only on staff just a few months before COVID hit, and I was starting to see enough there. But I think when COVID hit, I realized that because of my experience in tsunami relief, disaster relief, no one's their best self. And that was sort of the thing we would always talk about. That's why everybody needs breaks. This is intense work, so you better not be working more than two weeks at a time straight because you're just going to burn out. So we had rhythms of how to rest that we had to implement in that intense season. And when COVID hit, we both sort of just knew we need to have good breaks. We can be intense for a little bit, but not like more than two weeks at a time. But that was just not at all the posture. I remember the first call and we were on with Andy on a zoom when everything shut down. And I'll let Jason take over from that point because he was on that same call.

Jason Adams-Brown:

Yeah, so even part of that, it was interesting because I was leading the just happened to be leading the prayer time for the staff that Wednesday of the week where it's it's all kind of hit in March 2020. And I remember, like, I couldn't sleep. Like, I just woke up and it was like I just felt like God was like, depositing these just lessons that I felt like I had learned from our time in Indonesia when we were doing tsunami relief work and all of that. And just felt like, man, I mean, at the time, we had no idea how long COVID was going to last. And so I was a little bit nervous because I thought, am I making a big deal about this? But, man, I couldn't sleep. I just got up. I began to write down some different notes and just lessons I had learned during our time in doing the tsunami relief work. And so during the staff prayer time, I just went through all of those different lessons with them, things I had learned and all of that. And so that was really our frame of mind, was around how do we take and a lot of it was not just about taking care of ourselves or that kind of stuff, but it was definitely what's about that? But also not losing the opportunity that we have here as well, to really serve and love the community, because this is going to be a unique time in history for us as a church. And so it was around lessons, like those types of things, but also around watching yourself and realizing there's going to be a strong potential of people burning out by trying to do too much too fast. That was received really well. I don't even think Andy was at that prayer time. I don't think. I can't remember. But was he okay? Yeah. And so later we had a staff meeting, and this is where Andy began to kind of share his thoughts. I don't really remember a lot, but what was really clear to me that was a bit bizarre was like, right at the end of the call, andy got really close to the screen and just said, you all better be working. I just thought, Whoa, that was just weird. It felt like, you all better be working or you're going to get fired. That's what it felt like. But that's not what he said. He just said, you all better be working. And I remember Lori telling me he's like, man, what has happened in his past that made that be his biggest concern right off the bat? But again, we didn't really talk about it much. We just thought, okay, nobody's their best self in COVID. This is hard. There's so much pressure on him right now. There's probably a lot of fear, all that kind of stuff. Give grace. Give grace. Give grace.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Yeah. So give grace was a posture that I took quite a bit, and.

Jason Adams-Brown:

I.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Remember there being conversations, even in the aftermath of that particular one, where they would talk about all these other churches, and that became a part of Echoculture that we began to observe. They would never say Echo is the very best church, but there would be other ways that that would be said on staff. It was often a pep rally on the staff. It felt like to explain why we were the best without just saying those words so well. It was like, oh, all these other churches are at risk right now. They're probably going to have to close, but we operate in the black so we won't have to aka we're better. And that was good. We were comforted, but at the same time there was this fear. There was a lot of power by fear that you better be working really hard. That's why we are like this, that's why we're better and you're going to get fired. I don't remember all the conversations. It was sort of the oxygen that we breathed. And maybe it was because there was such a high attrition rate that you felt like Andy would either make you so miserable you would quit, or would fire you. And we knew he loved Elon Musk and read books by him. And living here in Silicon Valley, I knew we had congregants who had worked at Tesla in the job I've been doing all year. My business that I've worked at is near Tesla, so we know people that work at Tesla, people don't like working for Elon Musk. He's not a pastoral guy. He's not a guy that should be a pastor because he makes other products and business, but he doesn't run his business in a way that his employees really love working for him. And he was somebody that Andy idolized and wanted to lead like and read books by. So I think that that was part of the oxygen we breathed as, oh, he's almost like an Elon Musk type of pastor, but that didn't feel pastoral at all, and it wasn't. And so when COVID hit, I felt like I hadn't seen him pastor for enough months to really know for sure how he was. Just little red flags, like I mentioned. But like Jason said, when COVID hit, I remember thinking, everything's going to go on the grace basket because nobody's their best self right now. And at this point, the original boss I'd worked for, that campus pastor, had moved on to be online pastor. And then they had brought in a new guy, Darren, who's a great guy as well, had worked in tech at Rocket Games for a while, and it was a brand new Christian, the top giver in the church financially. And then came on staff as a pastor, just very generous and has done very well for himself and just being in the right place and working in a really great company for a while. Great guy, love him, had a great working relationship with him, but he had not been in ministry. That's something I had grown up in and ministry family and had been a seminary and worked in ministry for 20 years in many languages around the world. So in some ways, it felt like the art of pastoring and the way of pastoring was something I was having to carry a bit of the load for early on. And especially because he took over just as COVID hit, I knew more people on the campus, even though they'd only been there a few months, than he did. So a lot of the pastoral type calls which were heavy during COVID because people were getting sick with COVID people had anxiety about getting COVID, people had loved ones that were passing away, people were having to delay their weddings. There was a lot of pastoral care needs. But at the same time, Andy had this panic button that got pushed when COVID hit because we shut down. And his whole system of meeting in person, that was this flywheel that he always talked about that you just never changed how things run. Here list flywheel of what happens on Sunday and everything funnels into Sunday and all of our efforts are about Sunday and a big Sunday service. You just don't mess with that flywheel. That was his baby and that was not ever going to change and not even COVID was going to make that change. But unfortunately, you couldn't meet in person in Santa Clara County did not allow us to meet in person, but he was constantly pushing against Dr. Sarah Cody's regulations. She would be brought up in prayer time. Dr. Sarah Cody and it was the prayers around, it felt like prayers that were trying to push her to change her mind so that we could meet in person. Not everybody felt that that was a good way to pray because many of us appreciated in those early weeks of COVID that we were being protected from a virus that was killing people in our community. In the Bay Area, we have multigenerational housing, we have immigrants from all over the world, we have immunocompromised people, we have older people and babies in the same household. And so a lot of at risk individuals. And my posture as a pastor was I didn't want us to be a super spreader. And so many of us were grateful for Dr. Sarah Cody helping to save lives during those early weeks. But it felt like there was a constant push against her in our prayer times and that Andy felt frustrated by those regulations. I think also because Andy has good friends in Dallas, he was always on a plane to Dallas or San Diego, different places, and probably was hearing stories of other people that were more open in their areas. And then he felt jealous or frustrated that he couldn't open his campuses. And Andy really wanted to preach in front of people. He did not want to preach on a screen. He wanted to have people there to hear his sermon. So that became really obvious as well. And there was just a lot of frustration Andy was carrying and a lot of panic. And the way that played out was cracking the whip on all of us, just really pushing us to work fast and furious and not pastoring the staff. We weren't feeling pastured. So all of us, like many of you listening, had kids in online school here in Santa Clara County. That meant a year and a half for us that kids were not allowed to go to public schools in person. And so the workload at home of having kids at home to home school and trying to quarantine when people got COVID and we all know what that was like. It was intense and a lot of anxiety that our kids were carrying. And we were having struggles. Everybody was like, how do we get groceries? How does this happen? While at the same time, as soon as everything happened, Jason and I and Darren and a few others on our campus decided to start something called Echo Compassion because we, having done disaster relief and having heart for outreach, were thinking about our community. Well, we're kind of not in the at risk category because of our age, and we're not immunocompromised, but there are people who are, and how are they going to get their groceries? And what if they have medical needs that need met? And how can we love and serve our nurses and bring them coffee and all those things that we helped start a thing called Echo Compassion. While we were also, for me, doing Facebook lives because we were supposed to try to keep engaging our campuses, because it became clear Andy was afraid he was losing his church and because he was fearful, his power by fear was put onto us. His panic was put onto us. And instead of pastoring us and saying, how are you doing? How's everybody feeling? Are you guys managing this workload well? How can we pace ourselves in a way that we're here for the long term? Instead, it was like push, push, push, more, more, and figuring out new ways to do things. So we were doing a lot more on Slack. I raised an entire team through Slack and with a notion board of trying to project manage an entire team site unseen, recruited 25 people who were a scaled team. And it turns out that is how Echo works. It feels like on staff, you're a pyramid scheme builder. It wasn't told to me that way, but it turns out we hire you and then you bring on a volunteer who leads other volunteers. Who leads other volunteers. So the levels of volunteers underneath me were a lot to make it all happen on a Sunday. But because of our heart for the community, we raised up echo Compassion. It felt like if we're going to put our efforts somewhere, this is where we can really make a difference during this time where people need us. So it was a full time job just to be development director for Echo Compassion. It was a rewarding job. But also I was doing pastoral work that I, as an Associate campus pastor, needed to do for Facebook lives and engaging people and doing worship times online, a lot of stuff, while also trying to take care of our family and our three kids who really were still kind of figuring out America and suddenly were middle school, high school online. Most people on staff were dual income households because in the Bay Area, we have the highest property value in the United States. People live in small houses. So finding a room to quarantine end is almost impossible in most cases with multigenerational housing. And both parents need to work to make ends meet. And so people were really low on energy, people were really struggling. And so I was starting to see this happen. And then I also was having conversations with my boss Darren, because he was often getting into arguments or sort of fights over things in the DLT that he was in, which is sort of the inner, inner circle at Echo Church. And he would often say, hey, this meeting went like this. And pretty much my regular response to him was, nobody's their best self right now, and he's not his best self right now. Let's give him grace. He's really worried he's going to lose his church. He's panicking. And so he's not his best self right now. But looking back on it, now that I know what I know, I was excusing him and had my own betrayal, blindness, where I wasn't seeing that Andy was probably not being reasonable and we were all going through COVID. So why were we so full of sympathy for Andy when all of us really needed a lot of sympathy and pastoral care and no one was pastoring the staff? We were being run ragged and really exhausted within just a few months into COVID. So Jason can explain the strategic leadership team and what that was and the circumstances around which we got invited into it.

Jason Adams-Brown:

Yeah, I think another thing to add that I remember you coming home and saying after Darren was sharing some of the struggles and things that he was having with Andy, but also making the comment that, you know, when you're in tech, if your boss is being a jerk, you can just move on. But it felt like, this is your pastor, this is your church, you have to work through it. You can't just give up. Which I thought now looking back, when we think about spiritual abuse and where you feel pushed and you realize you sometimes are willing to put up with stuff, thinking, hey, this is our pastor. This is our spiritual leader. We need to just take some of this stuff, or whatever, that's like looking back again. It's funny, when you come out of this stuff, you start looking back and you realize certain instances like that and you have another framework to look at it that helps you realize, man, that was already happening. This was what was going on then, even though at the time you just have this feeling in your gut, this is not right. Both Lori and I did stuff with ethical compassion. My role was more in helping other churches do outreach. And so we actually had funding that was coming in, and I was finding ways to partner with even some of our other churches that we had sent funding to for helping out with their church plan or even some other smaller churches that didn't have the funding to support their community. And so we began to actually give resources, actually mobilize volunteers to help them do their outreach, that sort of stuff, and really trying to serve the community. It was like super exciting. And it looked like, man, we're really showing that we're for the community and we're for the other churches around here. At one point, we'd even gave I think it was five churches. I think we gave like $10,000 to super generous, which is great. And now looking back, it's like, I know the motivation behind all that was not about loving the community. It was about trying to groom other smaller churches that might then recognize we could merge with them, which would eventually sell their property, and we would gain resources, which is so sad because in that moment, I was in this ideal state. I even had another pastor friend that was in another part of the Bay Area, and I was on the phone with him and Sharon, hey, man, we just want to partner in that area of the Bay Area. And we're like, this is really just about supporting you. And he was like, Man, I know your heart, Jason. And we'd been on a seminary together, and he was just like super cautionary. He was just like, I just know churches are going to be like, thinking, having second guessing why Echo is really doing this and why they're wanting to do these sorts of partnerships with us, is it really about helping us and there's going to be some trust issues there. I remember just thinking, gosh, man, you're being so cynical. And now looking back, I was like, that wasn't cynical, that was wisdom. Because he'd been around long enough to realize and other passwords around here have been long enough to recognize this. Anyway, then I think it was end of June or something like that, they invited us to be on the Strategic leadership Team. And we thought, okay, we've been here a year. Now we're being asked to be on the strategic leadership team. And we had like in the full year we'd been there Lori. Andy had never asked her opinion on anything. I can remember having my opinion being asked once in that whole year from Andy, and it had to do with some schedule thing, but we thought, okay, which is fine. Again, it's like going into another culture we're trying to learn so that we weren't upset about that, but we just kept thinking, man, is there a space where we can ask questions and try to understand stuff? And no, it was like, it's just about working for now. You'll get it, you'll figure it out. So then we're all asked to be on the strategic leadership team, and we're thinking, it's all those words. It's strategic, it's leadership, and we're a team. And it took a few meetings before we realized it was none of those words. But at the time we thought, okay, this is the space where you can actually challenge and ask questions and even being a part of helping think through some of the strategy and stuff like that. Lori and I have been on strategic leadership teams overseas. We'd been on the leadership team for the whole Southeast Asia and had dealing with much more complicated situations than a church. And not that we weren't upset about it. We just kept thinking, okay, this is the space where we going, were to be able to do that. And so it was the second meeting as we got on to that team. And I'm assuming this is the part you want to tell, because this is you asking the question.

Lori Adams-Brown:

Yeah. Honestly, everything leading up to this moment, I look back on in hindsight as being naive, betrayal, blindness, for sure. And I had had multiple people say little whispers of things that I'd pushed away, and I pushed those away because it was very clear within a month of getting on staff this phrase, you will get fired for gossiping. And I remember thinking, that's very tyrannical. Why would somebody want to silence the staff from talking about things like the punishment doesn't meet the crime? And also, not that I'm a person who wants to gossip or does gossip. I've not been accused of that in my life. That's not who I am. But the gossip definition felt so much bigger than what is actually the definition of gossip. And that also was very clear in the oxygen that we all breathed. So the ocean we were swimming in was just really don't talk about bad things. Contagious joy was one of the values, and it was put up on a poster on the wall, and it would be used like a weapon. So if you said something that sounded a little like you might be even complaining about how things run, it was like, oh, but contagious joy kind of thing. And so that's the nature under which it felt like the fear that you could get fired for saying the wrong thing, even if it was way broader than actually what gossip is so in that vein, I remember, and what I looked back on was probably a fond response to trauma already. And fond response to trauma is where you basically went across every t and dot every I and be a people pleaser and never do anything wrong. And I remember because of the trauma of the power by fear, that was not intense trauma, but it was sort of underlying thing of working on a staff and being overworked and being on the verge of burnout like everybody was. And it was COVID and it was intense and our lives were just when you hear people describe a cult, people are kept so busy they can't think or breathe. And it was like that. We were so busy, we couldn't think, we couldn't make critical decisions, we couldn't have a situation come our way and even know how to process it very well. And so I think that was sort of my fond response, was like people were whispering things to me about the finances at Echo, and I would be like, please don't tell me about that. I don't want to know. It's like, well, have you known this or that? Please don't tell me. Because I just remember thinking, I don't want to get fired because you gossiped to me. And it wouldn't have even been gossip. It was just more like work related conversations. I was afraid to have concerns. It's serious concerns. Looking back, I am ashamed that I was that afraid. I was already being groomed at that point. I was already being ingratiated with all the things that ingratiate you at a place like that where they say everybody wants to work at Echo church, look at our Echo leadership conference. Exponential is held here. Look at all these churches that are dying and sad and old white people and how diverse we are and just all the things that are said, and you think, wow, I guess this is as good as it gets around here, so you don't want to do anything to jeopardize it. And also for us, we had moved here from Singapore. This was our entire network. We lived in the north bay over 20 years ago, but we'd never fully lived in the South Bay other than temporarily on a state side assignment period. But the thought of getting other jobs was COVID, like, that would have even crossed our mind at that point. It's like, this is where we are. It's going to stay for now. So I had seen him get angry at other people and I had heard him call people nicknames behind closed doors. So a lot of the abuse that goes on to Echo is not in large groups. It would be very one on one or three people in the room or just very, very small in Andy's office type of thing. And I'd heard him call there's a couple of women on staff that he called Tweedle D. And. Tweedle Dumb, I remember thinking, and that's a horrible thing to say. They're very hard workers. And he had other little nicknames for people, and he would say things just cutting and laugh about people. And it felt sort of strange and off that people would explain it away. Like, oh, he's just Michael Scott from the office. But we don't want Michael Scott from The Office to be our pastor. Definitely not our lead pastor. But it very much felt like this narrative. Andy's just a toxic rock star. If you want a church that reaches the Bay Area, it's got to be different. He's like, Elon Musk. Elon Musk works here, and this is the kind of pastor you need. And I remember kind of questioning it in my mind, but you're just so busy. You're like, oh, I guess I don't know anything. And that was sort of the gaslighting that went on, that you just kind of do it with each other, because it's like, this is how it is, kind of thing. So in the strategic Leadership team meeting, andy came in, and everything had shut down in March 2020. As we all know, this was July 2020. We were exhausted by this point because there was no lazy sitting around in our pajamas, half working. We were intense. I was doing what felt like two full time jobs, sometimes more, and also trying to home school kids and just get groceries under difficult circumstances. When he came in, he basically said to the whole strategic Leadership team, now we're going to drive two cars. And what that meant was the car we were currently driving, he called the digital car. This was his way of announcing, we're opening up our campuses at a time when that was not happening. By and large, in the Bay Area with churches, you would see it happen, I guess a bit in maybe Texas or other places. But the Bay Area was not doing that because of a variety of reasons. Our situation is very urban, very dense, very intense, and our hospitals could easily get overwhelmed. And also because that happened, and he said, we're going to drive two cars, the imagery he was painting for us was, the first car is the digital car. For me and my Role, that meant the Facebook lives, the worship times online, making sure you're interacting on Sunday service by getting in the chat and reposting. And we were always encouraged to repost social media posts and come up with creative ideas to engage people online and also lead all of the teams. I was leading with Alpha during the week and then also doing Echo Compassion. There was just a lot of stuff digitally. I had a partnership that I arranged with DoorDash for Echo Compassion, and we were getting meals to people, and I was on the phone with Mayor Lucardo's office in San Jose trying to always find out how we could help them. There were just a lot of things we were doing. So the digital car for me was already way more than a full time job. So when he announced we were going to add a whole other car, in my mind I was expecting him to say, so we're going to have to slow the digital car down so we can do the in person outdoor services 6ft apart socially distanced car. But instead he said, you will not slow the first car down. Same speed, full speed ahead, and you will add a whole other car, which is socially distanced outdoor services, which meant not an acoustic guitar being brought outside in a few chairs. It meant what Echo calls excellence. Everything had to be as much as possible, like every other Sunday service had been before, just outside, which meant bringing all the thousands of dollars of equipment outside, having looked nice out there, having chairs look nice, coffee, hand sanitizer. Of course we had to take temperatures, put stickers out there. It was like so much, I didn't know if we were going to have any volunteers show up. So just the announcement of it. I think most of us on the staff that worked on the campuses had a big question mark over our heads, so I just happened to be the one who asked the question. That turns out people told me later they had the same question, and I just only innocently, very curiously asked and respectfully, how is it possible to drive two cars? Basically because I didn't really even understand the metaphor. And that's when for the very first time, even though I had seen Andy angry at other people before, his anger turned, directed straight toward me. And from then on, things have never, ever been the same.

About the Podcast

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A World of Difference
A podcast for those who are different and want to make a difference

About your host

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Lori Adams-Brown

Lori Adams-Brown is a combination of business executive, international speaker, and podcast host of a top 5% global podcast, whose over 20 years of leading global teams have made her a strong and inclusive leader of teams who exceed expectations. As a former international relief & development leader, she has led diverse global teams in multiple cultures where she learned to speak six languages. Lori improves systems, motivates teams with relationship building, and achieves global results. She is a culture connoisseur and a people-first global manager. Her happy place is sipping a flat white coffee while having a deep conversation and enjoying either a beach or mountain vacation with the love of her life, Jason, and their 3 teenagers.