The Word of Faith Fellowship church in North Carolina is already under investigation for physically abusing its members. Now, according to revelations from the Associated Press, the church has been importing members from affiliate churches in Brazil and using them for slave labor.
According to the AP, the church recruited young members from two churches in Brazil to come to the U.S. on tourist and student visas where they were put to work on the church’s 35-acre property for no pay.
Andre Oliveira told the AP that he was forced to work 15 hours a day which resulted in beatings if he failed to comply. “They kept us as slaves,” Oliveira said. “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?”
“They trafficked us up here. They knew what they were doing. They needed labor and we were cheap labor — hell, free labor,” he said.
From the AP:
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.
According to one church member from Brazil, she was only 12 when she was put to work.
The AP’s latest revelations come on top of past reports of disturbing practices carried out by the church. In February, the AP reported on the “years of terror” members experienced “in the name of the Lord.”
“Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to “purify” sinners by beating out devils,” the AP reported, adding that the victims included “pre-teens and toddlers — even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons.”
“I saw so many people beaten over the years. Little kids punched in the face, called Satanists,” said 27-year-old Katherine Fetachu, who spent nearly 17 years in the church.
The church was founded in 1979 by 77-year-old Christian charismatic preacher Jane Whaley. According to the AP’s reporting, she controls church members’ lives with strict rules which include whether they can marry or have children. “At the top of the list: No one can complain about her or question her authority. Failure to comply often triggers a humiliating rebuke from the pulpit or, worse, physical punishment, according to most of those interviewed.” The North Carolina church reportedly has 750 members with almost 2,000 members in Brazil, Ghana, and other countries.
“We were warned to keep the abuse to ourselves. If we didn’t, we knew we would be targeted. … You lived in total fear,” 29-year-old Liam Guy told the AP. Guy fled the church in 2015 after being a member for nearly 25 years.
“You had a strong leader who controlled everything in your life — where to live, work, who to talk to,” Guy said. “You couldn’t do anything without her permission. And she had people around her enforcing her law. Soon, you couldn’t think for yourself. You had to do everything she said.”
Featured image via YouTube