Pastor embroiled in controversy as lavish lifestyle challenged
Cape Town – A local church led by an American pastor is embroiled in controversy and allegations that money is being spent to maintain its lavish lifestyle.
Joseph Stanford, nicknamed “Apostle,” served for 20 years as the pastor of Ambassadors For Christ World Outreach Ministries in Elsies River.
Now disgruntled members of the congregation have expressed concerns about how the money from the church coffers was spent, including how the pastor was able to afford a luxury 10-bedroom house with seven bathrooms. baths, jacuzzi and swimming pool in Bellville.
The group said they tried to call a special general assembly to record a vote of no confidence in church leaders, but they were shut down. They have now turned to the South African Human Rights Commission for help.
Spokesman for the aggrieved group, George Joseph, said the church has been rocked by challenges for some time and attempts to address the issues have fallen on deaf ears.
“We decided to approach mediators to get everyone to sit around the table and resolve issues that are affecting the church. However, the other group that is still loyal to the leaders refused to do so and prohibited other church members from entering the church building, ”he said.
Joseph alleged that Stanford bought assets including a luxury home, a 28-acre farm in Atlantis, and started other businesses as well, including a wi-fi installation service.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) confirmed that she had been summoned for mediation.
SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen said the situation at the church was “volatile” and the group was “aggressive”.
“When we got there, the police were patrolling the field. After listening to the groups, we have now referred some of the allegations to the Commission on Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights for investigation, as they fall within their jurisdiction.
“We also advised them to refer economic matters to the relevant bodies such as the Serious Economic Crimes Unit.
“The stories were heartbreaking. They built the church but are now locked out. But we still believe that the matter needs mediation and we are ready to play our part, ”said Nissen.
Joseph said the church was not affiliated with any religious structure or body in South Africa.
The church got into trouble with the authorities a few years ago when children who were supposed to be in school were seen selling cookies to raise money for the church.
“The cookie business is a huge money-making business for the church. We sell them across the country to Nelspruit, Richards Bay and Port Elizabeth. A lot of people have made sacrifices for the business, ”said Joseph.
He added that others, including his wife, have made “love offerings” to the church, making huge donations.
“When my wife quit her job, she donated part of the pension payment, about R100,000 to the church. Others have donated around R45,000, taken out loans, or sold their assets to contribute to the church. The church flourished when the ordinary members did not, ”said Joseph.
Joseph said he was a victim because he voiced his concerns and now faced eviction from a church property where he had lived for many years.
He said the church had also brought counter charges against him, accusing him of stealing money.
Joseph said his home’s water and electricity supplies were cut off after the church failed to pay the February bills of last year.
“The finances of the church are managed from church headquarters in Chicago. No one is authorized to make a decision here. The chief directs it in an autocratic manner. And these are the issues that we wanted to tackle but they didn’t allow us, ”said Joseph.
He also claimed that worshipers, including himself, worked on the renovation of the Stanford home but received no compensation.
However, Stanford dismissed the allegations against him and the church as “lies”. He accused Joseph of giving up his responsibilities in the church about six months ago and was therefore no longer considered a member.
“I bought the house 19 years ago. The church didn’t pay a dime. A couple from the church made a deposit of R300,000 for the purchase of the farm, ”Stanford said.
He added that the meeting Joseph called was “illegal” because he had no authority to do so.
Stanford said: “George (Joseph) robbed us, gave up his responsibilities and wanted to extort money from us. He is now bitter.
However, no criminal case had been opened against Joseph, although Stanford said he was now seeking legal advice to “prevent him from spreading lies.”
He said the church’s electricity and water bills remained unpaid because Covid-19 had impacted finances.
Shortly after the church was established about 20 years ago, it also attracted already existing ministries.
Green Pasture Restoration Ministry leader Andrew May and his congregation joined Stanford ministry around 2008 after his own ministry faced a challenge.
“We were looking for spiritual guidance and I was introduced to Stanford. We were a vibrant church at the time and my wife ran an educare center. But immediately after joining the church, we were asked to shut everything down. We have lost the power to make decisions, ”said May.
He said at the time he had at least 250 followers, but when he tried to leave Stanford leadership in 2012, only 26 followers followed.
“We came back to a building broken by piled up bills. But we are slowly rebuilding the ministry and it is doing well, ”May said.
Stanford responded to the claim and said, “I’ve had more hell of preachers than sinners on the streets. I am here because God sent me.
He added that it would take more than a “small group of people” to drive him out of South Africa.
Church member Samantha May supported Stanford and accused the “aggrieved group” of not being able to use “the word and counsel” provided by a man of God.
Stanford said he was unwilling to participate in a mediation process called by Joseph.
“How do we sit with the group, except in court?” ” He asked.