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Court supports Muslims’ opposition to construction of church in Zanzibar

Court supports Muslims’ opposition to construction of church in Zanzibar

Zanzibar City - A court on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, ruled on July 20 that a church cannot continue constructing a worship building it has tried to finish for eight years, sources told Morning Star News.

Hard-line Muslims outside Zanzibar City have been fighting construction of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God building since 2009, having demolished the partially built structure twice before then. They claim the party that sold the property to the church was not the rightful owner.


Christians believe the court on the overwhelmingly Muslim island acted out of religious bias. A previous court ruling allowed construction to go forward.

Pastor Amos Lukanula of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God church said last week’s ruling has serious implications for the survival of congregation on the island, and that the church plans to appeal to the High Court of Zanzibar.

“Our church members have persistently worked alongside with me and are frustrated and weary, but we are always hopeful that God will still intervene,” Pastor Lukanula said. “We cannot allow the Muslims to put up a mosque in place of the church.”


The case has dragged on for more than eight years as the area Muslims have forced the church in Chukwani to incur legal costs of $100 per month in an effort to take over its property, sources said.

Pastor Lukanula said the court had been waiting for the church to fail to attend the monthly court hearing in order to rule against it on a technicality. The church purchased the property in 2004 and began putting up a temporary structure, but the area Muslims pulled it down.

The church then spent three years putting up a semi-permanent structure, which the hard-line Muslims also destroyed, sources said.

After a third structure of stone blocks was half-way finished in 2009, the Muslims stopped construction with a court order until the legal dispute could be resolved.

This forced the church to raise 5.7 million Tanzanian shillings, more than US$2,500, to fight the case in court, with an attorney from mainland Tanzania traveling to Zanzibar each month at a cost of $100 per visit.


“We bought the land from Harun Gikaro Wanzo, who passed on in 2009, and now his widow is the one remaining who has a small piece of land,” Pastor Lukanula said, saying the church has allowed Wanzo’s widow, Annah Philippo Barihuta, to remain living on the premises.

“Now she might too lose that land, and she has several children to take care of. We appeal for support and prayers as we appeal for justice to be done.”

On Feb. 21, 2011, a lower court ruled in favor of the church, which then continued with construction. But after the death of Amina Binti Saleh, the seller of the property to Wanzo, area Muslims and Saleh’s daughter, Jilubai Binti Saleh, filed another appeal to stop construction in 2011.

The Muslims claimed that Saleh’s son, Sadik, was not the blood son of her late husband, Abdul Shakar, and hence did not have the right of ownership of the land that was sold to Christians. They held that Saleh’s daughter, Jilubai Binti Saleh, had been the rightful heir.

In the church’s bid to show that Barihuta’s late husband, Wanzo, had the right to sell the land to the church, the impoverished widow and her family have borne much of the costs of the court case. Barihuta is a member of the church.

The Muslims claimed in court that Barihuta invaded Saleh’s land in 2004 and uprooted 20 coconut trees, then put up a house illegally, and that in 2007, Pastor Lukanula illegally put up the church building within a residential area and destroyed trees worth 2 million Tanzanian shillings (US$885).

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  • Origin: GhAgent/wwrn

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    Over the course of two decades, Word of Faith Fellowship absorbed two churches in Brazil, in the southeastern cities of Sao Joaquim de Bicas and Franco da Rocha.

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    Being sent to the U.S. was a way to “correct” her bad behavior. She said she was 12 when she made her first extended trip to Spindale and was immediately put to work. She helped out in the school during the day, then sewed clothes and babysat in the evenings, sometimes well past midnight, Oliveira said. She was never paid, she said.

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    Ana Albuquerque traveled to Spindale from Brazil 11 times over the course of more than a decade, starting at age 5 with her parents. Over time, she said she witnessed so much screaming and shoving to “expunge devils” that she began to see the behavior as normal.

    In her final three trips, she joined a group of two dozen other Brazilian teens staying up to six months under tourist visas.

    “They come to you and say, ‘You will get to know the United States of America. You will get to go to the malls,’” she said. “But when you get there, everything is controlled.”

    Albuquerque, now 25, said she worked full time without pay — as a teacher’s aide at the school during the day and babysitting congregants’ children at night.

    Her reckoning came during her final trip, when she was 16. Albuquerque said Whaley and another minister repeatedly spanked her with a flat piece of wood while screaming that she was “unclean” and possessed by the devil.

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    During her final two weeks in Spindale, Albuquerque said she endured days of forced isolation, Bible reading, threats of being placed in a psychiatric ward and refusals by Whaley to let her call her parents. She finally was allowed to return to Brazil, where she left the church.

    Luiz Pires said he was 18 in 2006 when he was encouraged by ministers in the Sao Joaquim de Bicas church to travel to North Carolina for his spiritual betterment.

    Upon arrival, he said he found “horrific” living conditions, with eight people crammed in the basement of a church leader’s house, forced to work long hours at church-related businesses. Any payment went to living expenses, Pires said, despite the fact that he and others cleaned and did yard work at the member’s house where they lived.

    “There was never time to sit down. We were worked like slaves,” he said.

    Former congregant Jay Plummer supervised remodeling projects for a church leader’s business and confirmed that his fellow American workers were paid while the Brazilians who labored alongside them were not.

    “Room and board is what they worked for, and they did not have a choice,” Plummer told the AP. “And when they would not want to work and vocalize that, they would just get in trouble.”

    Paulo Henrique Barbosa had heard the horror stories about life in Spindale. But the sect’s influence was so great that he said he felt he must comply when church leaders in Franco da Rocha — supported by his parents — told him to travel to Spindale in 2011, when he was 17.

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    Once in Spindale, conditions were worse than he feared, he said: For six months, he helped in the school in the mornings and worked in construction in the afternoons and evenings, sometimes until 1 a.m. He was never paid, he said.

    The church controlled everything he did, Barbosa said, even prohibiting snacks between meals. Television, music and certain brand-name products all were off-limits.

    Barbosa said he also slept in a church member’s basement, with about 15 other young males. Speaking Portuguese was forbidden.

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    If any of the males appeared to be having an “impure dream,” Barbosa said, everybody would be awakened, ordered to surround him and repeatedly shake him and shriek into his ears to “expulse the devils,” a Word of Faith practice called “blasting.”

    Barbosa said he asked to return to Brazil many times “but they always told me no, that it was God’s will for me to stay.”

    Leaving on his own seemed insurmountable, Barbosa said. He had flown into Charlotte, more than an hour from Spindale, and had no car and little money. He knew no one outside the church and did not speak English. He was allowed to return to Brazil only when his six-month tourist visa was set to expire.

    “From the time you are a kid, you are trained to believe that leaving the church will mean you go to hell, get cancer or get AIDS,” he said.



    The AP investigation documented repeated abuses of the tourist and student visas obtained for Brazilian church members.

    Brazilians most often first arrived in North Carolina on six-month tourist visas for church functions, sometimes 20 or 30 at a time. Some Brazilians would leave after a few weeks; others would stay the duration.

    Perhaps to circumvent the rules against employment, church leaders sometimes referred to the forced labor projects as “volunteer work,” according to Brazilians interviewed in both countries.

    Such work included ripping out walls and installing drywall in apartments owned and rented out by a senior church minister and family members, they said.

    Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank focusing on labor issues, said rental properties are “for-profit businesses for which the immigrants cannot volunteer” under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

    Some of those interviewed said they’d been lured to the U.S. in part by promises of obtaining a college education but were unable to study or attend classes because of their punishing work schedules.

    “There were times I would get done at 4 in the morning and I knew I had to get up by 8 to go to work. I would sit there, staring at my books. But how can you concentrate? You’re just too tired,” Andre Oliveira said.

    Former congregants said far more Brazilians came on tourist visas, with several hundred teenagers staying for extended periods.

    The experience of Andre Oliveira, now 24, is illustrative.

    After first traveling to Spindale in 2009, he said it took him months to obtain permission to return to Brazil. Back home, he said he and others were forced to move into a minister’s house, where he worked as a cleaner for months until he was told “it was the will of God to visit Spindale — this time, on a student visa.”

    When he arrived back in North Carolina, ministers again took his passport and put him to work in companies owned by church ministers, he said. He took a few college classes, but didn’t have time to study.

    “A typical day would start like this: I’d start work at 9 in the morning and it would end 15 or 16 hours later — sometimes longer,” he said. “We didn’t stop.” ’Oliveira and others said they had little choice but to follow orders.

    “We knew what would happen: We would be screamed at, blasted, hit. And what are you going to do? You have nowhere to go. You don’t know the language. You have no documentation. So you work,” Oliveira said.

    “It was slave labor,” added Rebeca Melo, 29, who grew up in the church in Brazil and visited the U.S. about 10 times for religious functions and trips with her family.

    Those visits included shopping excursions, but she said things were far different when she moved to Spindale on a student visa in 2009.

    “I did not want to move here. Jane said it was the will of God,” she told the AP.

    Melo said her passport was taken and she was quickly put to work. Despite her student visa, church officials were clear that school was not to be her focus, she said.

    Student visas were just a “means for us to be here legally,” she said.



    Whaley’s brand of “love” also played a key role in enticing Brazilian males to Spindale — and keeping them there once their visas expired, according to 10 former members of the church.

    Some of those interviewed spoke of male Brazilians — as well as church members from various other countries — obtaining green cards for permanent residency and being able to legally work by being “married off” to female American congregants.

    It is illegal to enter a sham marriage for the purpose of avoiding U.S. immigration laws.

    The arranged marriages also addressed the fact that the Spindale congregation has more unmarried females than males, the ex-members said. Under Whaley’s rules, congregants aren’t allowed to date outside the church, much less marry.

    “I can count at least five or six Brazilian guys that moved here to marry an American girl,” Melo said. “They would never, ever, ever consider letting you date somebody outside of the church.”

    Silva said that Whaley often told people that she heard from God who they should marry or used her iron grip over members’ lives to arrange relationships.

    Silva recalled a young Brazilian couple in love who would be unable to stay in the U.S. past their visas if they married. Whaley wanted to keep the man in Spindale so she told him it was the “will of God” for him to marry an American, Silva said.

    With his visa time running down, Andre Oliveira said church leaders found him a bride.

    It wasn’t long after former member Kim Rooper joined the Spindale church that she said she was asked to marry a man from Ecuador whose visa was expiring.

    Rooper, an American who now lives in Tampa, Florida, said she was coached on how to make the marriage look legitimate to immigration authorities, like keeping a photo album of the couple.

    “Long story short, it came time to consummate the marriage and I struggled with that,” she said. “I had a hard time because I didn’t love him, and nor did I have an attraction to him.”

    Church leaders told her it was the “will of God” to submit to her husband, Rooper said.

    “And that’s when I knew I had to escape,” she said.