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The 700 Club

How One Family Saved Their Daughter from Disappearing

Father/Daughter Co-Authors, Almost Gone, Howard 2018

John: Business Technology Consultant, works with largest credit card banks

Board of directors: High Adventure Treks for Dads and Daughters/Sons (HATS)

Deacon, ParkwayHills Baptist Church

Married to Stephanie, 30 years

3 kids: Mackenzie, Luke and Michael

Mackenzie: Student, pursuing a double major in Psychology and Child Development

Scuba and Skydiving Certified, has made close to 50 solo jumps

Enjoys adventurous and outdoor activities

Works at PetSmart

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The Baldwins are a close-knit family.  John and Stephanie dedicated their lives to their children, their church and their community.  John, who is on the board for High Adventure Treks for Dads and Daughters/Sons (HATS), often took his family on outdoor adventures. Mackenzie developed an interest in marine animals as a preteen and her parents encouraged her in the areas of swimming, scuba diving and biology.  The Baldwins took every precaution to protect their children, even making the children wait to get cell phones and not allowing car dates until after Mackenzie was halfway through her sophomore year.  John and Stephanie even educated their kids on the dangers of the internet and social media.  

One night in April 2013, the spring of her junior year in high school, Mackenzie was at her best friend’s house. After dinner, she and Mackenzie logged onto Omegle (a social media site that allows random people to connect through video chat or through typing messages).  After a few minutes, one guy from Kosovo began chatting with Mackenzie and later asked her to “friend” him on Facebook.  She never told her parents.  Mackenzie found herself looking forward to his messages.  “I never could have guessed that the person could pull me in and manipulate my thoughts of myself, my culture and even my God,” says Mackenzie.  But that’s exactly what this young man, Aadam, did.  Their conversations were fun and enjoyable, but then when Mackenzie and her boyfriend James broke up, her online relationship with Aadam intensified.  Their frequent conversations and growing familiarity made Mackenzie feel closer to him and Aadam turned the conversations toward his religion.  When he asked Mackenzie questions about her faith, she didn’t have all the answers for him. The religion Aadam spoke about sounded respectable and intriguing.  So Mackenzie asked her dad for a Koran.

John says when Mackenzie asked him for a Koran to compare it to the Bible, her unusual request caused him to pause.  “I didn’t take it lightly,” he says.  John and Stephanie always taught their kids to understand why they believed what they believed and knew that spiritual awakenings often occur during the late teens and early adulthood.  “I’ve second-guessed many times since then,” he says.  “But I answered her request that day because I knew Mackenzie was going to do what she was going to do.”  

Mackenzie studied the Koran with enthusiasm often taking notes in a journal.  John thought her comparison study would run for a couple weeks and then she would grow bored.  “But much to my surprise, she persisted in her study.”  Before long, Mackenzie began questioning her parents about Christianity.  Aadam was bombarding her with videos and other information about Islam.  “Eventually I realized I was no longer comparing the Bible to the Koran,” says Mackenzie.  “I was simply studying the Koran.”  Aadam and Mackenzie began making plans to see each other.

As Mackenzie started her senior year in high school, her parents realized she wasn’t hanging out with her old friends.  “We noticed over the summer she was pulling away from the kids she used to hang out with. We realized we had been seeing them less and less,” says John.  The Baldwins were puzzled as they struggled to grasp what was going on with their daughter.  Night after night, they would argue with her as she challenged them about Christianity. “Nothing we said, nothing we showed her, nothing we offered, made an iota of impact.  It was like talking to a wall,”
says John.  When John and Stephanie announced they were taking the kids to get scuba-certified, certainly something that would excite Mackenzie, they were shocked when she said she didn’t want to do that.  In 6 months’ time, Mackenzie traded her Christian faith for Islam for no apparent reason.  By the spring, Mackenzie was going to the mosque and even wearing a jihab.  

The Baldwins made earlier plans for Mackenzie during her sophomore year to travel to Europe after graduating high school.  With those plans in place, Mackenzie was changing that trip to meet Aadam instead.  At this time, Aadam was becoming extremely controlling with her.  She was getting annoyed by his behavior but felt it was acceptable due to his culture.  

On May 12, 2013 John left for a business trip.  While in a meeting, he got a text message from one of his friends.  John, this is Scot.  Please call me right away, the text message read.  John feared something was wrong and called him right away.  Scot asked John if Mackenzie ever asked him about Islam.  John confirmed that yes, she was exploring it.  Scot told him Mackenzie was planning to leave the country and marry a Muslim guy she met online.  He also said Mackenzie was leaving in a couple weeks!  Mackenzie had been telling Scot’s daughter, Sarah and their mutual friend, Jordyn, about a guy she met on social media.  She told the girls she had recently converted to Islam and that she was going overseas to marry him.  John’s mind was racing.  “I felt numbing shock,” he says.  He began praying.  Once he collected his thoughts, John called his wife to tell her to get Mackenzie’s passport and hide it.  “We decided we needed to keep this a secret from everyone because we were warned if Mackenzie believed we knew about her plan, she would leave the country immediately,” says John.  In an effort to limit Mackenzie’s ability to buy an airline ticket, they moved money from her account to theirs. A friend helped connect John to the FBI office in Dallas who agreed to help.

Ten days after learning of their daughter’s plans, an FBI agent met with John and Stephanie.  They made plans to meet with Mackenzie at their house.  On Wednesday, June 4, FBI agents waited for Mackenzie to come home after final exams.  The gravity of her situation began to dawn on her.  Mackenzie told them the truth.  She was engaged to Aadam, was planning to meet him in Kosovo and that she converted to Islam.  The agents explained what life would be like in an Islamic country and the possibility of Aadam selling her into sex trafficking.  Even as they spoke, Mackenzie was determined to get on a plane for Kosovo.  During the second meeting with the FBI, Mackenzie started to realize that maybe the agent knew what he was talking about.  She texted Aadam who responded verbatim with what the agent said he would respond with.  “That was the moment I broke it off with Aadam,” says Mackenzie.  That night she talked to her mom, called all her friends, and the Baldwin’s nightmare was over.

Afterwards, Mackenzie attended counseling to get over being in a dysfunctional relationship.  “I have an incredible story that I can use to educate young people about the dangers in this world…I’ve come to know the true meaning of love and forgiveness from my family….and most importantly, I have more faith in my Savior, Jesus Christ, than ever before.”

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John & Mackenzie Baldwin
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