Word of Faith Fellowship is under investigation for bringing worshipers from Brazil to America so they may perform work for no pay, The Associated Press has reported.
The North Carolina church was already under heavy scrutiny due to an investigation into reports the church had tried to beat homosexuality out of a gay man. Now, it's once again in the news as reports claim the organization imported Brazilian worshipers to work as slaves on the church’s Spindale 35-acre compound.
"They trafficked us up here. They knew what they were doing. They needed labor and we were cheap labor — hell, free labor,” Andre Oliveira, a man who agreed to talk to the AP said.
“They kept us as slaves,” he continued. “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?”
According to Oliveira, he was forced to work 15 hours a day as a janitor, cleaning warehouses and offices owned by the church.
At some point, the man was also forced to work for private businesses owned by ministers. If he failed to do the work, Oliveira added, he would be subject to beatings.
While men did heavy work, women as young as 12 brought from Brazil were forced to work as babysitters or in the church's K-12 school.
These travelers were brought to the United States usually on tourist or student visas, and once they arrived, they told the AP their passports were taken away from them.
According to U.S. law, tourists are not allowed to perform work in exchange for compensation, while students are allowed to do work that meets U.S. requirements. This wasn't the case with the Brazilian travelers under the care of Word of Faith Fellowship, the AP adds.
Claiming to have lived under “horrific” conditions while in the church's care, congregants said they were kept in the basement of a church leader's home. Whenever they made any amount of money, they told reporters, church leaders would then take away the money from them to cover for their living expenses.
Thiago Silva, a congregant who was also allegedly enslaved by the church, says the treatment he received is “a violation of human rights.”
The crime, the AP reported, may go back years, and hundreds of young travelers from Brazil may have been impacted. Jill Rose, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina, is currently investigating.
This horrific revelation may expose the church's long history of corruption and abuse even further, and hopefully, it may help to send out a strong message to other institutions so similar incidents won't happen again.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Flickr user Henri Sivonen