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2004-12-01 16:37:52

Anger Over Bahamas Church 'Scam'

After he performed blessings on the 13 volunteers, the flamboyant pastor called on 43 people to donate $100 each.

Many people who attended a church service last Tuesday are questioning the sincerity a "faith healer" who asked for thousands of dollars before performing "blessings" on volunteers.

The churchgoers, angry about this increasing trend in The Bahamas of "buying blessings," called the entire ordeal a theatrical hoax, designed to rip off poor people in the name of "God."

Pastor Paul Lewis, originally from Jamaica but now a resident of New York, performed the "blessings" in front of approximately 200 people at a tent church at the junction of Blue Hill and Carmichael Roads. He was in the country for two weeks, invited by an independent church, the Good Samaritan Kingdom Ministries, headed by Bishop Leroy Emmanuel and his wife Pastor Miriam Emmanuel.

The Guardian attended the high-energy service and watched Pastor Lewis intently as he called out the full names of people who he claimed he did not know personally. He said God had given him the names because the people really needed a blessing.

He told the congregation that he would perform blessings on 13 people for $1,000 each. Twelve people rose and went on stage hoping for a positive change in their life. However, not satisfied with only 12 people, Pastor Lewis reiterated his call for the 13th person to join the dozen on stage. He continually reassured the congregation that the volunteers were not purchasing the "blessing" but contributing to the work of God.

After about 10 minutes, the 13th person walked on stage and asked for a blessing. The pastor then told the churchgoers that the Lord was answering his call.

Call for more money

After he performed blessings on the 13 volunteers, the flamboyant pastor called on 43 people to donate $100 each. Again he told the people that they were not purchasing the "blessing" but contributing to the work of God.

Soon after the 43 people gathered on the stage, the pastor asked the remaining members in the congregation to donate "whatever they could afford" to receive a "blessing."

Reported healing

One woman who claimed that her right leg was shorter than the left, told Pastor Lewis that her condition was so bad that walking was difficult for her.

The pastor said he would heal her through God's word. The woman then claimed that she saw her right leg grow to match the size of the left. She then walked on the stage showing the churchgoers that she was "healed".

It was not clear whether the people attending the service were working in secret with the pastor. This point arose when some people with ailments showed up at the service unannounced. Pastor Lewis did not identify those people, focussing only on the ones who were invited.

Bishop Emmanuel defends pastor

Speaking to The Guardian on Monday, Bishop Emmanuel said Pastor Lewis was in The Bahamas once before and he regarded him as a man of good character.

"I don't think Paul Lewis has done anything that is not the norm in the Bahamian church or revival or crusade," he said.

"I don't know where his money is going, but he is a preacher and he asked for a offering. A good bit of the money that he got, I am convinced, stayed right here in The Bahamas."

He said if a foreign pastor comes to The Bahamas and rents several rooms in an expensive hotel for two weeks, he would have a lot of expenses.

Asked whether Pastor Lewis used the money to pay his hotel bill and personal expenses, Bishop Lewis said he could not say that with certainty.

"Well, they were not forcing anyone to give $1,000. Churches in Nassau ask for that kind of money everyday," he said.

"And the truth of the matter is that at this point, I haven't gotten one dollar from them. I had no dealings with their offering. I don't know what they collected and none of my people were involved in the counting of their monies."

He added that all pastors ask for offerings, some more than others.

Cedric Moss dismayed

Apostle Cedric Moss, senior pastor of Kingdom Life World Outreach Centre expressed sadness and dismay when he was informed of the $1,000 "blessings."

"Even if the money was going to a legitimate cause, the end does not justify the means. It is improper and it is fraudulent. It makes people feel that God would only heal them if he is paid indirectly through this guy," he said.

"And I believe that the government is being irresponsible, you can quote me on that. Because what that man is doing amounts to gainful employment and the government certainly needs to put in place the kinds of protocols that will cause that not to happen."

He was referring to The Bahamas Immigration Act, which he said needs to be followed. Foreigners seeking permission to conduct seminars or church services where monies are made must get permission from the Department of Immigration since they would be engaging in gainful employment. However, to get around the system, many speakers intent on making money, come here as tourists.

Apostle Moss said Pastor Lewis was able to make more money in two weeks than many hard-working Bahamians make in a year.

Moss has been an outspoken critic against pastors who ask churchgoers to donate monies for spiritual blessings. In the past three years he had spoken against American evangelist and "faith healer" Benny Hinn, who visited The Bahamas in 2001.

He also took issue with Dr Juanita Bynum who was invited by Bishop Neil C. Ellis for a revival in 2003. At that time, Moss charged that Dr Bynum collected $150,000 for previous speaking engagements in The Bahamas.

Mindell Small, The Nassau Guardian

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