What former members say about FBI-raided church
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The FBI on Thursday raided a church in Augusta that’s part of an organization some former members have criticized as a cult that targets service members.
We spoke to former members of the group who said the walls of the building probably have more stories to tell.
The FBI search at the Assembly of Prayer on Old Tobacco Road took place at the same time as an FBI search of a sister church, the House of Prayer, near Hinesville in the Savannah area. The FBI confirmed the raids were connected.
We spoke to two former members of the Hinesville location. They say many members don’t keep in touch with others outside the church.
“Most of the people, they cut off communication with their family,” said Gladys Jordan, whose son is still a member of the Augusta church.
She said her son hasn’t spoken to her since she left the group.
“I miss him,” she said through tears. “It’s been six years. I don’t know anything about him. If he gets sick, if he gets in a car accident, I don’t know anything about him.”
Jordan left the church back in September of 2016. She says he’s been going to the church since he was 6 but hasn’t talked to her since she left.
“My son stopped calling me. I called him, and every time I would find his phone number, he would say, ‘Ma’am, ma’am.’ He wouldn’t even call me mom. He’s like, ‘Ma’am, how did you get my number?’” she said.
Jordan and another former member, Jenessa Wright, say they started having concerns about the organization years ago when they were attending the Hinesville location.
“I woke up like really woke up when he said the rapture date and he was going the day before to prepare a place for us,” Wright said. “That is when I kind of was like, ‘What is going on?’”
Shamel Powell has lived two minutes from the Assembly of Prayer for the past year. He drives by it every day to get to work.
“I tried to go in one time, and they said I’m not invited. I’m not the type of candidate they’re looking for,” Powell said. “They don’t come out every day, just on Thursdays. The women don’t show their faces, they don’t show their body, everybody really stays on the property.”
Even though the FBI served a warrant, people walked into the church for the 7:30 p.m. service as if nothing happened.
The Coastal Courier has reported extensively on criticism of the Hinesville church, and there are many posts and allegations about the church on a forum of the Cult Education Institute website and at the website http://www.hopcc.com.
As for the authorities, they aren’t saying much about the raids.
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office had personnel at the scene of the Augusta raid but said we needed to talk to the FBI about the investigation.
FBI spokeswoman Jenna Sellitto said: “I can confirm that the FBI is on scene executing a court-authorized search warrant. No arrests have been made. Our investigation is ongoing, so I cannot provide further details at this time.”
A separate FBI staff member at the scene told us to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General to learn more about the investigation.
However, a Veterans Affairs spokesman, Fred Baker, told News 12: “As a matter of course, the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General does not confirm or deny any ongoing investigation.”
It’s unclear why the FBI told us to contact Veterans Affairs, but critics have said the organization sets up operations near large military bases across the country and recruits personnel from the installations to become members.
A person who answered the phone at the church said they had no comment.
On its website, the organization says the Augusta church – which sits just outside Fort Gordon’s Gate 5 – is a ministry to the installation.
We reached out to Fort Gordon about it.
“Fort Gordon was aware of the organization called the Assembly of Prayer church through our law enforcement channels but the installation had no bans against the organization or any official dealings with them (despite their website’s claims),” post spokeswoman Anne H. Bowman said in an email to News 12. “We have no further comment.”
At the Augusta raid scene, most of the activity was taking place inside the church building. Outside were multiple law enforcement vehicles and a couple of Richmond County deputies.
At the Hinesville raid, a group of men and women were seen standing outside one of the buildings on the property being guarded by law enforcement.
There was zero activity Thursday at a storefront location the church also has at 3025 Milledgeville Road in Augusta.
Copyright 2022 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.