Religion

Ex-Church Members: Brazilians Used As Church Slaves (Video)

| by Michael Allen
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Some former members of the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina, say the church funneled in modern-day slaves from its two church branches in Brazil (video below).

According to interviews conducted by The Associated Press, the church brought young Brazilians to the U.S. with tourist and student visas, made them work 15-hour days at a 35-acre compound, and confiscated their passports and money.

The Brazilians were reportedly punished physically.

Andre Oliveira, who came over at age 18, told the AP: "They kept us as slaves. How can you do that to people -- claim you love them and then beat them in the name of God?"

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The AP reports that three former church members told Assistant U.S. attorney Jill Rose about the alleged forced labor in 2014.

A recording of the meeting showed that Rose said she would "take a fresh look at it," but the former church members said Rose did not respond to follow-up attempts.

Rose, now a U.S. attorney, refused to comment to the AP because of an ongoing investigation.

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Jay Plummer, an American and former churchgoer, confirmed to the AP that the Brazilians were not paid as they worked beside Americans who were.

The AP reported in February that church members were regularly hit and choked by those in church leadership in an effort to "purify" them by beating devils out of them.

The AP based that report on secret recordings, interviews with 43 ex-church members, and documents.

In another previous report by the AP, church members were allegedly told by church leaders to lie to authorities who investigated the alleged abuse.

The AP says it reached out to church leaders in both the U.S. and Brazil, but there were no comments.

The church was founded by Jane Whaley and her husband, Sam, in 1979. Under Whaley, the church grew from a small group of followers to about 750 in North Carolina, and close to 2,000 in Brazil, Ghana, Scotland, Sweden and other countries.

According to former church members, Whaley and church higher ups travel to Sao Joaquim de Bicas and Franco da Roch Brazil several times a year, and tell Brazilians that they can improve their lives by doing pilgrimages to North Carolina.

Some ex-church members said they wanted to go to the U.S. to attend college and learn English, while others believed they were required to go.

In a possible effort to get around labor and visa laws, the church leaders reportedly referred to the free labor done by the Brazilians as "volunteer work."

Ex-church members told the AP that females worked as babysitters, while males were put to work in construction jobs that included tearing down walls and installing drywall in apartments that a senior church minister owns.

Rebeca Melo, a Brazilian who made 10 trips to the U.S., summed it up for the AP: "It was slave labor."

Former Brazilian church members said that Whaley enticed males to North Carolina, and once their tourist visas expired, kept them there by marrying them off to female American church members.

"I can count at least five or six Brazilian guys that moved here to marry an American girl," Melo recalled. "They would never, ever, ever consider letting you date somebody outside of the church."

In response to a March report by the AP, the Word of Faith Fellowship website posted several videos by current members attacking former members who spoke out about the church.

Sources: AP via The Charlotte Observer, Word of Faith Fellowship / Photo credit: Pixabay, AP via New York Daily News, Isaac Bowen/Flickr

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