Source: Associated Press
By MITCH WEISS, HOLBROOK MOHR and PETER PRENGAMAN
SPINDALE, N.C. (AP) — 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 evangelical church and later working at businesses owned by the sect’s senior ministers. Any violation of the rules risked the wrath of church leaders, he said, ranging from beatings to shaming from the pulpit.
An Associated Press investigation has found that Word of Faith Fellowship used its two church branches in Brazil to siphon a steady flow of young laborers who came on tourist and student visas to its 35-acre compound in rural Spindale. The Brazilians often spoke little English when they arrived and many had their passports seized.
“They kept us as slaves,” Oliveira told the AP. “How can you do that to people — claim you love them and then beat them in the name of God?”