Thursday, 27 July 2017

Good Old Biblical Slavery - In The USA Today!

The Word of Faith Fellowship church in Sao Joaquim de Bicas, Brazil.
(AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
They kept us as slaves: AP reveals claims against church

The North Caroline megachurch, Word of Faith Fellowship, can't be accused of not being a traditional Christian fundamentalist church.

The sect, founded by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband Sam, uses slaves taken from Brazil to work for the church and in the businesses owned by it's senior ministers. These slaves are trafficked from Brazil, as a Associated Press investigation has revealed. They are attracted to the USA by a branch of the World of Faith cult in Sao Joaquim de Bicas, Brazil and enter the USA on tourists and student visas.

Jane Whaley with children at the church in Spindale, N.C. (AP Photo)
One such victim was Andre Oliveira who answered the call to leave his Word of Faith Fellowship congregation in Brazil to move to the mother church in North Carolina at the age of 18. Once in North Carolina his passport and money were confiscated 'for safekeeping' by church leaders, and he was set to work for 15 hours a day cleaning warehouses and doing menial work in the business owned by ministers, often for no pay. Any deviation from the church's rules were punished by verbal and physical abuse and public shaming from the pulpit.

According to AP:

After first traveling to Spindale in 2009, [Andre Oliviera] said it took him months to obtain permission to return to Brazil. Back home, he said he and others were forced to move into a minister’s house, where he worked as a cleaner for months until he was told “it was the will of God to visit Spindale — this time, on a student visa.”

When he arrived back in North Carolina, ministers again took his passport and put him to work in companies owned by church ministers, he said. He took a few college classes, but didn’t have time to study.

“A typical day would start like this: I’d start work at 9 in the morning and it would end 15 or 16 hours later — sometimes longer,” he said. “We didn’t stop.” ’Oliveira and others said they had little choice but to follow orders.

“We knew what would happen: We would be screamed at, blasted, hit. And what are you going to do? You have nowhere to go. You don’t know the language. You have no documentation. So you work,” Oliveira said.

The AP report reveals:

An Associated Press investigation has found that Word of Faith Fellowship used its two church branches in Latin America’s largest nation to siphon a steady flow of young laborers who came on tourist and student visas to its 35-acre compound in rural Spindale.

Under U.S. law, visitors on tourist visas are prohibited from performing work for which people normally would be compensated. Those on student visas are allowed some work, under circumstances that were not met at Word of Faith Fellowship, the AP found.

On at least one occasion, former members alerted authorities. In 2014, three ex-congregants told an assistant U.S. attorney that the Brazilians were being forced to work for no pay, according to a recording obtained by the AP.

Jill Rose, a former U.S. attorney, asks three ex-congregants about allegations of Brazilians being beaten.
“And do they beat up the Brazilians?” Jill Rose, now the U.S. attorney in Charlotte, asked.

“Most definitely,” one of the former congregants responded. Ministers “mostly bring them up here for free work,” another said.

Though Rose could be heard promising to look into it, the former members said she never responded when they repeatedly tried to contact her in the months after the meeting.

Rose declined to comment to the AP, citing an ongoing investigation.

Oliveira, who fled the church last year, is one of 16 Brazilian former members who told the AP they were forced to work, often for no pay, and physically or verbally assaulted. The AP also reviewed scores of police reports and formal complaints lodged in Brazil about the church’s harsh conditions.

“They kept us as slaves,” Oliveira said, pausing at times to wipe away tears. “We were expendable. We meant nothing to them. Nothing. How can you do that to people — claim you love them and then beat them in the name of God?”

The Brazilians often spoke little English when they arrived, and many had their passports seized.

Many males worked in construction; many females worked as babysitters and in the church’s K-12 school, the former members said. One ex-congregant from Brazil told AP she was only 12 the first time she was put to work.

Although immigration officials in both countries said it was impossible to calculate the volume of the human pipeline, at least several hundred young Brazilians have migrated to North Carolina over the past two decades, based on interviews with former members.

The revelations of forced labor are the latest in an ongoing AP investigation exposing years of abuse at Word of Faith Fellowship. Based on exclusive interviews with 43 former members, documents and secretly made recordings, the AP reported in February that congregants were regularly punched, smacked and choked in an effort to “purify” sinners by beating out devils.

The church has rarely been sanctioned since it was founded in 1979 by sect leader Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband, Sam. Another previous AP report outlined how congregants were ordered by church leaders to lie to authorities investigating reports of abuse.

The AP made repeated attempts to obtain comments for this story from church leaders in both countries, but they did not respond.

Although there are other branches throughout the world, Brazil is by far the largest source of labour and Jill Whaley and her senior lieutenants fly there several times a year to recruit young people. She tells them they can improve both their lives and their relationship with God by a 'pilgrimage' to the mother church where the brand of worship is much better than the inferior Brazilian brand.

Another typical victim was Thiago Silva, then 18, who expected to use his visa to meet new people and visit the USA. According to AP:

He soon learned, he said, that there would be “no happiness.”

“Brazilians came here for labor. I’m telling you, that’s it,” Silva said. He called the treatment “a violation of human rights.”

Silva, now 34, recounted being among a group of Brazilians working alongside Americans — the locals were paid, the Brazilians were not, he said.

Silva and others also said Whaley took complete control of congregants’ lives on both continents, mandating such daily staples of life as where they lived and when they could eat — and even forcing some into arranged marriages to Americans so they could stay in the country.

The lack of freedom was pervasive, they said: Silva, for example, said he could phone his parents from the U.S only if someone who spoke Portuguese monitored the call.

“There’s no free will,” he said. “There’s Jane’s will.”


The AP reports the experience of several other young people who have now left the church - the source of much of the insider information:

Labeled a “rebel” because she talked back to pastors as a child, Elizabeth Oliveira, who is no relation to Andre, told the AP that she was frequently kept in isolation for days at a time in various ministers’ homes in Sao Joaquim de Bicas.

Being sent to the U.S. was a way to “correct” her bad behavior. She said she was 12 when she made her first extended trip to Spindale and was immediately put to work. She helped out in the school during the day, then sewed clothes and babysat in the evenings, sometimes well past midnight, Oliveira said. She was never paid, she said.

Now 21 and studying medicine in Belo Horizonte, Oliveira said she broke with the church after her eighth trip to Spindale.

“I suffered so much there,” she said. “When I turned 18, I left and was told, once again, that I would die on my own in the world and go to hell.”



Ana Albuquerque speaks about what it is like to be subjected to screaming prayers known as “blasting".
Ana Albuquerque traveled to Spindale from Brazil 11 times over the course of more than a decade, starting at age 5 with her parents. Over time, she said she witnessed so much screaming and shoving to “expunge devils” that she began to see the behavior as normal.

In her final three trips, she joined a group of two dozen other Brazilian teens staying up to six months under tourist visas.

“They come to you and say, ‘You will get to know the United States of America. You will get to go to the malls,’” she said. “But when you get there, everything is controlled.”

Albuquerque, now 25, said she worked full time without pay — as a teacher’s aide at the school during the day and then babysitting congregants’ children at night.

Her reckoning came during her final trip, when she was 16. Albuquerque said Whaley and another minister repeatedly spanked her with a flat piece of wood while screaming that she was “unclean” and possessed by the devil.

“Pray for it to come out of you!” Albuquerque recalled being exhorted during a session lasting 40 minutes.

During her final two weeks in Spindale, Albuquerque said she endured days of forced isolation, Bible reading, threats of being placed in a psychiatric ward and refusals by Whaley to let her call her parents. She finally was allowed to return to Brazil, where she left the church.



Luiz Pires said he was 18 in 2006 when he was encouraged by ministers in the Sao Joaquim de Bicas church to travel to North Carolina for his spiritual betterment.

Upon arrival, he said he found “horrific” living conditions, with eight people crammed in the basement of a church leader’s house, forced to work long hours at church-related businesses. Any payment went to living expenses, Pires said, despite the fact that he and others cleaned and did yard work at the member’s house where they lived.

“There was never time to sit down. We were worked like slaves,” he said.



Former congregant Jay Plummer supervised remodeling projects for a church leader’s business and confirmed that his fellow American workers were paid while the Brazilians who labored alongside them were not.

“Room and board is what they worked for, and they did not have a choice,” Plummer told the AP. “And when they would not want to work and vocalize that, they would just get in trouble.”



Paulo Henrique Barbosa had heard the horror stories about life in Spindale. But the sect’s influence was so great that he said he felt he must comply when church leaders in Franco da Rocha — supported by his parents — told him to travel to Spindale in 2011, when he was 17.

Pastors told him he would violate God’s will if he refused.

“Everybody knew these trips were not about tourism,” said Barbosa, now 23 and working in information technology in Sao Paolo. “I didn’t want to go, but I had no choice.”

Once in Spindale, conditions were worse than he feared, he said: For six months, he helped in the school in the mornings and worked in construction in the afternoons and evenings, sometimes until 1 a.m. He was never paid, he said.

The church controlled everything he did, Barbosa said, even prohibiting snacks between meals. Television, music and certain brand-name products all were off-limits.

Barbosa said he also slept in a church member’s basement, with about 15 other young males. Speaking Portuguese was forbidden.

Anyone in the bathroom for more than the mandated five minutes was suspected of committing the “sin” of masturbation, and Whaley would be called to the house to decree the punishment.

If any of the males appeared to be having an “impure dream,” Barbosa said, everybody would be awakened, ordered to surround him and repeatedly shake him and shriek into his ears to “expulse the devils,” a Word of Faith practice called “blasting.”

Barbosa said he asked to return to Brazil many times “but they always told me no, that it was God’s will for me to stay.”

Leaving on his own seemed insurmountable, Barbosa said. He had flown into Charlotte, more than an hour from Spindale, and had no car and little money. He knew no one outside the church and did not speak English. He was allowed to return to Brazil only when his six-month tourist visa was set to expire.

“From the time you are a kid, you are trained to believe that leaving the church will mean you go to hell, get cancer or get AIDS,” he said.

The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.

Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great,
Chapter 7: "The Nightmare of the 'Old' Testament" (p. 102)
The Associated Press investigation has also identified possible criminal misuse of the tourist and student visas. Work done by Brazilian 'students' is often called 'voluntary work' (for which no payment is received). However, this work often included making alterations to rental properties owned by senior church members or by businesses they control. Since these are 'for profit' ventures, those in the USA on a visa cannot volunteer for the work under the Fair Labour Standards Act.

Students who had nominally enrolled on college course were given such a punishing work schedule that they had no time for study. Andre Oliveira reported that he wouldn't get finished until 4 a.m and had to be up again at 8 a.m. He was simply too tired to study.

Former member Kim Rooper speaks about the role of the “Will of God” in her domestic life.
Strict church rules absolutely forbid marriage to a partner who isn't a church member. This has created an imbalance of the sexes so that there is a large surplus of unmarried females. These are married off in arranged marriages to young men flown in from Brazil. Once married to an American woman they are entitled to stay in the USA. However, these arranged sham marriages for evading the US immigration laws are illegal.

Not long after Kim Roper, an American citizen, joined the church, she was asked to marry a man from Ecuador whose visa was due to expire. She was coached in how to how to make the marriage look legitimate to immigration authorities, for example, by keeping a photograph album. When she found it difficult to consumate the marriage, she was told the marriage was the will of God and it was her duty to submit to her husband. At that point she left the church.

The AP investigative team were:

  • Mitch Weiss reported from Spindale and Charlotte, North Carolina;
  • Holbrook Mohr from Marlborough, Massachusetts, and Jackson, Mississippi;
  • Peter Prengaman from Sao Joaquim de Bicas and Franco da Rocha, Brazil.

AP writer Tamara Lush contributed from Tampa, Florida.

The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at investigate@ap.org

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