John C. Sapp, Jr.

Delaware Mennonite youth leader convicted for abusing two teenagers in his youth group

John Sapp, Jr. (b. 1985) sexually abused two teenage girls who were members of the youth group he helped lead at Maranatha Fellowship, an Anabaptist congregation in Dover, Delaware, affiliated with CMC (formerly known as Conservative Mennonite Conference, now known as Rosedale Network of Churches). In October 2021, Sapp was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to three of the original 89 charges of child sex abuse. Despite his guilty plea and assertion of remorse, Sapp was recorded vulgarly insulting and blaming the victims just three days before his sentencing.

According to the prosecutor, as soon as Sapp found out that one of the victims had disclosed his abuse, “[Sapp] engaged in damage control.” The charging documents state that Sapp contacted Maranatha Fellowship’s lead pastor in February 2020 requesting to “immediately meet with him,” and then disclosed that he had “inappropriately touched” a girl in the youth group “6 to 8 times.” The pastor soon learned of another possible victim and contacted the police. When a detective tried to speak with Sapp and his wife, an attorney “indicated Sapp [did] not wish to provide statements.”

In contrast to Sapp’s reported “6 to 8 times,” the first victim told the detective that starting when she was age 15, the “sexual acts occurred approximately 2 to 3 times per month for two years,” including at the church and on a youth group camping trip. A report to Mennonite Abuse Prevention (MAP) suggests that Sapp and his wife told Maranatha church members and friends it was “inappropriate touching” and “not sex,” but court records show that Sapp’s abuse included repeated incidents of oral and digital sexual assault, among other crimes.

Sapp was arrested in March 2020 and then released after paying cash bond, and later that month was indicted on 89 counts of child sex abuse including rape and sexual abuse of a child by a person of trust. Some time later, he and his wife left their Anabaptist church and started attending Calvary Assembly of God Church, a non-Anabaptist congregation in Dover, Delaware, where the pastor, a licensed counselor, would tell the judge that Sapp’s actions were “unintentional”:

He wishes he had made better decisions and been trained on how to set appropriate boundaries. John never intended any ill intent or harm to anyone in any way. As a youth leader, he genuinely wanted to care for all the youth under his care. He recognizes boundaries were crossed and regrets the unintentional decisions made at the moment. From the very beginning, his intent was not to seek out inappropriate relationships.

The judge, however, admonished Sapp and his friends for blaming others:

Now, with regard to this idea that your actions were unintentional, I just want to point out you were the one who initiated sexual relationships with two young girls who were 15 or 16 at the time when you were in your 30s. You initiated various sexual contacts with them and performed acts on them. You sent obscene photographs of yourself to these two young victims. … Mr. Sapp, all of these acts were intentional. I want to make that clear. They weren’t unintentional. You didn’t unintentionally send pictures to these young women. You didn’t unintentionally perform sexual acts on them.

Reverend Woods’ comments indicate that you are blaming others for not training you to set boundaries, that you are saying you didn’t intend to harm anyone, and that you just wanted to care for the youth who were under your care. … You need to stop blaming others for the things that you have done and you need to stop making excuses for the things that you have done. … I’m afraid that your many friends do not realize some of these things either; in other words, the seriousness of what you’ve done and your responsibility for them.

Nearly a year and a half after his arrest, as part of a deal to have most of the charges against him dropped, Sapp pleaded guilty to three counts, including continuous sexual abuse of a child and abuse of a child by a person in a position of trust or authority. Despite his guilty plea and the argument by his lawyer that Sapp was remorseful and a changed man, however, Sapp and his wife were recorded just three days prior to his sentencing vulgarly insulting and blaming the victims.

Sapp was sentenced in October 2021 to six years mandatory incarceration followed by a period of home confinement, monitoring, and probation.

Brian Hershberger, executive director of CMC, told MAP that Sapp was not licensed or credentialed by CMC in any way and that in cases of allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse against lay persons in a congregation, “CMC serves the leadership of the church in an advisory role,” which includes advising that they report the allegations to appropriate authorities.

MAP sought comment from leadership at Maranatha Fellowship but did not receive a reply.

Church-related positions

  • Youth leader, Maranatha Fellowship, Dover, Delaware

Documentation

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