Church used us to make millions

The Sowetan, South Africa/March 20, 2009

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the country’s fastest growing charismatic church, is little more than a money-making scam, say pastors who have been left to fend for themselves after making a fortune for the church.

The unhappy pastors say that they were even forced to undergo vasectomies to prevent them having children so they would not carry around any "baggage".

Pastors and followers of the church (UCKG) are encouraged to surrender their wealth upon joining the church.

Although they had reservations about the church, they decided to break their silence after some of them were off-loaded because of ill-health.

When Pastor Michael Louw, 49, joined the church 16 years ago, his banker wife surrendered her car and her pension.

"When you join, they tell you that pastors are not supposed to own anything, not a house, a car or even a bank account. I used to make money for them, but today I am sleeping in a sleeping bag," said Louw.

"When people warned us that these Brazilians were here to make money we did not want to believe them. But now we know. They brainwashed us into believing that God would take care of us, but when they kick us out we have nowhere to go," he said.

Congregations run as many as six services a day in which members are constantly exhorted to make donations.

"There is not a single service in which we are allowed to preach without asking for contributions," said Louw.

Sowetan recently visited the church in Brixton and in central Johannesburg. Different pastors continually emphasised the importance of giving the church money.

"Give in abundance and you will be blessed," said one pastor.

The congregation was then presented with Nedbank deposit slips to "give to God".

Prophet Paul Sibeko of the Soweto branch in Diepkloof said he made R6million in one campaign.

"When I was shot by intruders inside the church, my leaders never asked what happened. All they asked was if I had made the target.

"I replaced a pastor who was making R7000 a month in Mpumalanga. I ended up making R60000 a month. You are not allowed to make less than the previous amount," said Sibeko, who served the church for 13 years.

Their disillusionment was echoed by George Ndionga, 40, who quit as pastor last year after 11 years.

"My branch in Ebony Park used to make R90000 a month; in Springs I would make between R35000 and R45000. When I left they gave me a mere R6000," Ndionga said.

"What they do is unbiblical. Deuteronomy 15 says you may release a slave after he had served you for six years, but you can’t let him go empty- handed.

"I got nothing. It’s like I just came out of jail," said Ndionga who gave up his business to join the church.

Ndionga said he was sidelined because of a knee injury.

Asked if he believed the church was a scam, Ndionga said: "In the beginning it was a church for saving souls, but things changed. They used to be concerned with the number of people we recruited, but now they are concerned with the amount of money we bring in," Ndionga said

"If you don’t make money, they put you aside. We have been brainwashed," he said.

The church’s chief executive Elvis Presslin dismissed the claims.

"There is no basis to this claim. The UCKG is the only church that has its books independently audited every year even though we are not obliged to do so. All assets belong to the church. The pastors and the bishops do not own anything," Presslin said.

Pastor Godfrey Adolf, 40, said: "They have turned us into their moneymakers."

He has been with the church for 17 years.

"When they came into the country they had nothing, but today they are rich. They told us to give up all we had. We realised too late that these people were a family and were running a business," he said.

Adolf, who heads the Lawley branch near Lenasia, said a congregant once made a R100000 donation.

"When they build cathedrals, it is simply to make more money. The sad part is that this money comes from our poor people. I am also quitting. This is probably my last day," Adolf said.

Pastors Samuel Mpiza and Erick Dube told us that they were off-loaded after the one was injured on duty and the other one was accused of being defiant.

UCKG spokesperson Nametso Mofokeng confirmed that their pastors undergo vasectomies.

"There are countries where pastors are, where conditions may not be as favourable for a pastor with children, and for this reason pastors are advised of this possibility and the challenges they may face.

"No pastor is forced to undergo a vasectomy. Those pastors who have undergone this medical procedure have done so of their own accord," said Mofokeng.

She added that the church has in some cases offered financial assistance for this procedure.

Louw said that aggrieved pastors are invited to attend a meeting at Joubert Park in Johannesburg tomorrow at 1pm.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.