"Trapped in a foreign land, he said he was forced to work 15 hours a day, usually for no pay, first cleaning warehouses for the secretive evangelical church and later toiling at businesses owned by senior ministers. Any deviation from the rules risked the wrath of church leaders, he said, ranging from beatings to shaming from the pulpit."
The Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) in Spindale, North Carolina (link to website) has garnered headlines once again. It was a little over four months ago that we published two posts with breaking news regarding accusations against this organization. If you are not familiar with this 'church', you may want to take a look at these two posts for some background information.
Late last week there was stunning news that those in charge at WOFF Spindale were allegedly trafficking congregants from member churches in Brazil to the mother ship in North Carolina to work as forced labor. Here is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The Washington Post:
When Andre Oliveira 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, his passport and money were confiscated by church leaders — for safekeeping, he said he was told.
Trapped in a foreign land, he said he was forced to work 15 hours a day, usually for no pay, first cleaning warehouses for the secretive evangelical church and later toiling at businesses owned by senior ministers. Any deviation from the rules risked the wrath of church leaders, he said, ranging from beatings to shaming from the pulpit.
“They trafficked us up here. They knew what they were doing. They needed labor and we were cheap labor — hell, free labor,” Oliveira said.
The Associated Press has been investigating these claims. According to The Washington Post piece, the AP discovered that church leaders in Spindale were able to funnel a steady stream of young laborers from two Latin America churches (that belonged to the mother church) to the rural 35-acre compound in Spindale. These innocent young people came on tourist and student visas.
The Post article further states:
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.
Here is an Associated Press video which sums up the claims being alleged against church leaders at WOFF Spindale.
Based on interviews with former members of WOFF Spindale, it is alleged that several hundred young Brazilians have come to North Carolna over the past two decades, although immigration officials in Brazil and the United States admit it is impossible know how many were funneled through this human pipeline.
The New York Post published the story today, and this news is being distributed far and wide across the internet. As North Carolinians, Dee and I are upset that these alleged crimes are occurring in our state.
Here is an excerpt from the Post article that mentions Oliverira, who is quoted above:
Oliveira, who fled the church last year, is one of 16 Brazilian former members who said they were forced to work and were physically or verbally assaulted.
He said he was 18 when he left the Word of Faith Fellowship in Brazil for the secretive mother church, whose leaders confiscated his passport and money.
The young man said he was forced to toil 15 hours a day, first cleaning warehouses and later working at businesses owned by senior ministers, the AP reported.
Any deviation from the rules risked incurring the wrath of church leaders — ranging from beatings to shaming from the pulpit, he said.
According to the New York Post, Jill Rose, the US attorney in Charlotte, has been looking into the matter but declined to comment to the AP because of the ongoing investigation. Hopefully, Rose will be revealing her findings soon.
Our local ABC affiliate also reported on this story today. According to that report:
[Jane] Whaley and her lieutenants travel several times a year to the Brazilian branches, in the southeastern cities of Sao Joaquim de Bicas and Franco da Rocha.
She tells the Brazilian members of her flock that they can improve their lives and relationships with God with pilgrimages to Spindale, according to several of those interviewed.
Some said they also were enticed with the chance to attend college, to learn English, to see a bit of the U.S. Others said they felt they had no choice but to travel to North Carolina.
Perhaps to circumvent the rules against employment, church leaders sometimes referred to the forced labor projects as "volunteer work," according to Brazilians interviewed in both countries.
For those not familiar with this so-called church, it was founded in 1979 by Jane Whaley (a former math teacher) and her husband Sam. Under Jane's leadership, the church grew from just a few followers to around 750 members in North Carolina and nearly 2,000 members in its churches in Brazil and Ghana and affiliations in Sweden, Scotland and other countries.
They say where there's smoke, there's fire. WOFF Spindale has come under scrutiny several times this year and appears to have plumes of smoke rising above its compound (figuratively speaking). We are praying that the U.S. Attorney investigating this matter will finally get to the bottom of what's really going on inside Spindale's Word of Faith Fellowship.