LAKE FOREST, Calif. — A now former volunteer youth mentor at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church who reportedly also worked in the “technology, communication and marketing ministries” department has been convicted of committing lewd acts with two teenage boys.
Ruven Meulenberg, 33, was convicted by a jury on Wednesday of engaging in inappropriate conduct with twin brothers when they were 13 and 14, reports the Orange County Register.
According to the outlet, Deputy District Attorney Courtney Thom told jurors that the two boys went with Meulenberg to see a movie, and Meulenberg had one of the brothers sit on his lap. He then allegedly kissed the child on his head and cheek, and then in the mouth. Thom said that Meulenberg asked the boy to kiss him, but he refused.
Meulenberg then did the same with the other boy, and also had the teen sit between his legs on the ride home.
One of the brothers told his mother what had happened when he returned home. She, in turn, called Saddleback to report the incident, and an official there called the police. One of the teens reportedly made a call to Meulenberg with a police officer secretly listening in, and during the call, Meulenberg was stated to have apologized and promised to not do it again.
Thom told the court that Meulenberg had engaged in inappropriate contact with the boys once in 2016 as well.
Meulenberg’s attorney, Brian Gurwitz, argued that Meulenberg is “factually innocent of all charges” and that his client has “zero sexual attraction to boys.” He said that police had been “extremely close-minded” about Meulenberg’s innocence as they failed to check his computer for any child pornography and failed to record an interview with the teen brothers.
Gurwitz pointed to Muelenberg’s work with “countless” children over the years, helping them with their behavioral issues.
As previously reported, Muelenberg worked as a volunteer youth mentor with Saddleback for six years. Saddleback’s website states that its junior high ministry is “designed specifically to help 7th-8th graders connect with Jesus, each other and a caring adult.”
Following Meulenberg’s arrest in May 2017, Saddleback released a statement outlining that all volunteers are rigorously screened and trained, and that Meulenberg did not have a criminal past to cause concern.
“To be considered for volunteering with kids or students, we require fingerprinting, professional background checks, and personal interviews,” it explained. “We also use services that report any illegal activity to us immediately.”
“In this case, the accused volunteer had no record of arrest or criminal charges,” the statement continued. “Also, our church requires volunteers who work with students or children to complete an annual training regarding appropriate conduct. Our system of safeguards has safely served over 40,000 students and children for 38 years.”
However, in expressing concern that Saddleback might be downplaying Meulenberg’s involvement with the megachurch, Lighthouse Trails Research noted that Meulenberg was not only a volunteer with Saddleback’s junior high program, but also served on staff in the “technology, communication and marketing ministries.”
In 2014, leader Rick Warren praised a video game series created by Meulenberg and his brother Efraim—known as the “tornado twins”—as being “an incredible way to experience the stories of the Bible,” and Meulenberg is also credited as having a hand in the Warren study guide “Transformed: How God Changes Us.”
In 2012, in outlining Warren’s efforts to build bridges with Muslims, the Orange County Register reported that Meulenberg’s father, Abraham Meulenberg, was “in charge of interfaith outreach” at Saddleback.
Video footage from the “Tornado Twins” YouTube page shows the brothers leading a club-like glow party for a “junior high party in Southern California,” most likely at Saddleback.