Wednesday, March 3, 2010

St. Matthews Churches - Church or Scam?

I got a letter in the mail a few days ago at my home here in Eastern Kansas. I immediately recognized who it was from, as this organization is all too familiar to me. In my years of charity review work, this organization has often come to my attention: Tulsa, Oklahoma's St. Matthew's Churches.

As I generally don't get mail from out-of-state churches not affiliated with my own place of worship, the letter left me with a few questions. Is this organization really a church? What is its mission? So, I did what anyone with questions about a charity should do. I researched it. After I failed to find a recent IRS form 990 (a tax document that publicly soliciting organizations are required to fill out) at http://www.guidestar.com/, I called their office in Tulsa, OK. Apparently, this church hires a law firm to answer their calls. When I stated who I was - I was polite and honest and mentioned that I work for the BBB - I was told that all information about the organization is attorney-client privilege and could not be shared with me. All I wanted was basic information and transparency is an important aspect of nonprofit ethics. I was then given the name - first name only - of someone who would be able to answer my questions, but conveniently this person was out of the office.

The BBB's Wise Giving Alliance, the branch of the BBB that works with nationally soliciting organizations, has a report that simply states that St. Matthew's Churches has declined its requests for information. The Alliance and several BBBs across the country have received inquiries about them. Apparently, they do a decent job of taking people off their mailing lists. Additionally, they are tax-exempt under section 501 (c) 3 of the Internal Revenue Code. While places of worship are excluded from much of the reporting requirements of the IRS, as well as the BBB's Charity Accountability Standards, it is not hard to see how this loophole could be taken advantage of by someone with less-than-noble motivations.

Really, I can't tell you whether this organization is a church or a scam. I honestly don't know. What I do know is that they clearly do not have the commitment to transparency that we at the BBB see as a hallmark of a strong commitment to nonprofit ethics. I trust consumers to make up their own mind about St. Matthew's Churches and any other organization that solicits them. I encourage everyone to think seriously about organizations they wish to be involved with and to do their research.

47 comments:

  1. My best friend's husband has continously been sending money and in return has received communion through the mail (wafer in an envelope)and last envelope had a powder in it that he added water to and drank. Last night he was very ill and it sounded like he had a stroke at first, but he is still sick. Of course he cannot see the correlation between being ill and drinking a substance he had no idea about.

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    1. FYI: The paper rug seems to have a 'watermark' area in the drawing of Christ's face, around the eye area. The instructions state you are supposed to kneel on the rug, or put the rug on your knees - that the rug 'must come in contact with your knees'. What total bunk. The instructions state that when you first see the picture of Jesus, the eyes are closed, and when you look again, the eyes are open and 'looking at you'. Probably when you kneel on the paper, some of the ink might come off on your knees when putting pressure on the paper, revealing an underlying 'watermark' in the area of the eyes, of the pupils of the eyes.

      Does this not seem sacrilegious to anyone out there? This sounds blasphemous to me, to place an image of Christ on the floor and kneel on it!

      From a technical standpoint, one would worry about what this nut is putting in the ink in the drawing on the paper. There are some chemicals that react to oxygen in the air - like the 'Thermawrap' heating pads (for aching muscles) - contain iron oxide type of chemical that reacts with oxygen and becomes warm. Makes poorly educated people think it is infused with a religious quality. At least, the watermark area of ink simply rubs off when you kneel on it, and makes poorly educated people think there is some miraculous quality to the 'rug'.

      I don't think I want to touch the paper rug - it is just paper, loaded with a lot of ink to the point of being limp, to make it look like it is special.

      I was so worried about this weird, unsolicited thing I had received in the mail, I opened it with a pair of kitchen tongs! Don't touch it to your fingers - it is possible today to infuse paper with drugs.

      One would wonder: where is the Federal Postal Inspector in regards to this stuff?

      This scam is a combination of several types of scam: the gypsy type of scam (similar to elaborate instructions to put money in a paper bag and bury it, while saying the rosary 100 times.) The scam involves you in so much elaborate instruction that you forget what you are doing, and the gypsy ends up with your money, while you are digging holes and chanting, and turning around in circles - etc.

      The other aspect on the outside envelope resembles a chain letter - give this letter to another family when you are done.

      The next part is really not very understandable, all the religious stuff with the prayer rug. He wants you to mail all this back to him, and put your name on the envelope.

      I suspect that he is just selling mailing lists. You send anything to him, he gets your name, associated with that preprinted address on the outside of the return envelope. There is quite a lot of money to be made from selling mailing lists of names, to companies wanting to send out commercial mailings, to sell everything from cable TV to cars.

      Stay safe: Don't touch it too much with your fingers, and notify someone - Postal Inspector, - or send it back in the prepaid envelope. Make the guy pay for this mess.

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    2. what--this is a sacrilege

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    3. I have given one such envelope to the PostMaster, in my home town; I gave it to her because the envelope contained a foil packet of OIL that could have damaged their machinery, at the post offices that the mail traveled through, en route to my address. THANK you to everyone who has posted information, here; this is very helpful to me in my decision making process.

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  2. Anonymous I hope your husband is ok.THEY are definetly a scam.An evil one to that!They do not take you of their mailing list no matter what.They keep constantly bombarding you.Stay away,brake the chain of horror and pray. You do not want Satan in your life.

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    1. he already is--and lives in the whitehouse

      Delete
  3. [close]

    St. Matthew's Churches
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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    St. Matthew's Churches, formally St. Matthew Publishing Inc.[1], is an evangelical "Christian ministry". It is primarily a mail-based "ministry" with an address in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with churches in New York and Houston.[2] In 1999 St. Matthew Publishing Inc. reported $26.8 million in revenue.[1] In 2007, it reportedly earned $6 million a month.[2]
    Contents
    [hide]

    * 1 Origins
    * 2 Operations and fundraising
    * 3 References
    * 4 External links

    [edit] Origins

    The ministry is led by its founder James Eugene "Gene" Ewing, a former tent minister, who, according to the Trinity Foundation, lives in Beverly Hills, California.[2][3] Ewing, a native of Kaufman, Texas, was born in 1933 and has written fundraising letters for other evangelists, including Oral Roberts[4] as well as Don Stewart, WV Grant, and Rex Humbard.[5]

    Ewing operates Church by Mail Inc., which had a several decade long struggle with the IRS before being denied tax-exemption in 1992, which was appealed.[1] Ewing was a revivalist in the 1960s with revenue at $2 million.[1] He then began writing fundraising letters for Oral Roberts. By 1971 Ewing renamed organization Church of Compassion as a "mail-order church with half a million 'members'" with income exceeding $3 million.[1] In 1979 he started for-profit advertising and printing "to provide printing and mailing services to nonprofit religious groups."[1] Then in 1980 his business Church by Mail applied for tax-exemption.[1] However, by the 1990s his businesses owed back taxes to state and federal agencies.[1] Nonetheless, in 1993 he bought a $2.2 million, 6,400-square-foot (590 m2) home above Beverly Hills. Subsequently, a year later the U.S. Tax Court ruled Church by Mail Inc. is "operated for private rather than public interests" and "is not a church" within the meaning of federal tax laws.[1]
    [edit] Operations and fundraising

    The ministry has been accused of preying on the very low income and the elderly by using census records to target their mailings. Initial mailings often only speak of the "power of prayer"; once a recipient responds and is placed on the church mailing list, they are targeted with letters saying that monetary donations are required for their prayers to be answered[6].

    Although for several years the ministry operated without a church building and conducted its direct mail donation operation through the Tulsa address, a physical location to hold services — a then-78-year-old Baptist church in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood[4] — was purchased in Houston in 2004. St. Matthew's Churches' lawyer says weekly services draw about 1,000 people.[4] According to the Trinity Foundation, an evangelical watchdog group, the physical churches are only associated with the mail-based ministry as a cover that allows the lucrative operation to retain tax-exempt church status.[7] The status was granted by the Internal Revenue Service in 2000 after a 17-year court battle.[2]

    One of their mailings consisted of a paper "prayer rug", on which recipients were encouraged to kneel and pray. This mailing, along with others, have been mentioned by the Attorney General of the State of Arkansas, among others, as not providing information about their financial and fundraising practices.[8] The South Carolina Fraud Alert Task Force identifies the ministry as a possible mail fraud.[9] While the ministry does hold tax exemption status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, it has been the subject of numerous complaints to the Better Business Bureau, whose evaluation conclusion was that the organization did not meet two standards for Charity Accountability

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  4. The best way to get ride of corrupted religious organizations is to tax them. This should weed out the bad apples, and I have a hunch we will learn who is in it to really guide God's flock, or just for the wealth some so called preachers make.

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  5. I believe that they are using the Internet to find people to send their prayer rug mailing to. Within one week of sending a message to a gospel church about their choir I received this mailing. Ironically, I am a Unitarian and have no connection to evangelicals but did enjoy one choir. Maybe a coincidence but be aware that it is not always a good idea to connect with out of state churches that are unfamiliar. The church I connected with was in Nevada. I am sending my letter to my AG in he event they are following this sort of solicitation.

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  6. Me too, in Oregon.

    It's an outrage that the IRS caves and permits this kind ofl tax evasion. Scientology gets away with it too. Why don't we all start our own religion to stop paying taxes? Seriously, it stinks! While we can barely cover our bills, we must pay thousands in taxes while these "religions" prey on the desperate to send them money in the mail without having to pay a penny in taxes. Freedom of religion - sure. Freedom from taxes? Outrageous! Chain mail fraud and tax avoidance by a so-called church should be stopped.

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  7. I am outraged by this. I started receiving these mailing several weeks ago. Like so many people in this country today, my husband and I are experiencing hard times. I can see how easily people would fall for a scam like this when they are feeling vulnerable. Shame on these people for taking advantage of the good hearts of the American people who are experiencing difficulties in their lives while they reap the monetary benefits! What disgusts me even more is that the government is allowing them to go about this without paying taxes. What the heck is wrong with the people who run our country? Are they just as crooked as these scammers?? God help us!!!

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    1. I agree, wholeheartedly, with all of your comments. I began receiving letters from, "St. Matthew's Churches" after filling-out the "American Community Survey" that arrived in the mail in 2013. Since completing the survey, and returning it (as I was instructed to do, or else, my understanding was that I could be prosecuted for NOT completing the survey) THEN, afterwards, I began receiving all types of unsolicited JUNK MAIL, including the "Prayer by Letters" from St. Matthew's Churches. While my intelligence tells me, that this is a money making scam, pure and simple, my heart & spirit is crying-out for relief from the hard-times we are all experiencing in our nation, and have been experiencing for a number of years now. "Vulnerable" is the key-word here, and this multi-million dollar money making business is taking full advantage of the vulnerable people in our population--me, included. :-(

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  8. Total SCAM! I've been receiving mail from this guy for a long time so I sent him 5 dollars and wrote down the amount of money I wanted (the amount was the Lottery at the time) as a joke. Two weeks later I receive a letter saying "we must have lost your gift". They never sent a letter saying that before. It's like they got the five bucks and immediately sent out a letter saying they lost it so I would send more cash.
    Are these the people Jesus tell "I've never known you"?

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  9. Educate yourself about these people. Their FAQ on their website is expecially interesting (they hire a 'secular' law company to remove your money from the envelopes you send to them... and THEN they get forwarded your prayer requests.

    saintmatthewschurches.com

    I actually wrote "Matthew 7:15" and "You should be ashamed of yourselves" all over the materials I just received and am mailing them back to them (on their dime... postage paid).

    I'm going to see if my neighbors got one so I can send theirs to our Attorney General. We live in a rather impoverished area of CA and I know people in my neighborhood who would send them money in a heartbeat.

    Re: first comment above... white powder in the mail...? That's actually a Federal offense.

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  10. Hi folks, I live in Vermont and got a letter in the mail from these pple,too. Inside was the prayer rug and the "sealed prophecy" . One page of the contents of the envelope wants me to "MAIL THIS PAGE BACK WITH THIS PRAYER RUG":)and at the bottom of the this page solicits a donation. This is such a FRAUD and SCAM!!
    How the heck they got my name is strange unless they buy mailing lists from DONNELLY ADVERTISING or some other ad agency in OK.
    I'm keeping the Prayer Rug.

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  11. We received mailings recently and live in Aurora, CO. 'Saint Matthews Ministries' is preying on the needy and anyone experiencing hard times in this bad economy...that is sad. I knew it was a scam when I couldn't find anywhere in all the stuff in their mailings that mentions where the money goes or who the money will help, nothing like that. This operation needs to be shut down!!

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    1. Yes, I went online, today, to try to find-out information about them--and "where the money goes" too--instead, I have found numerous websites about what a SCAM they are! Wow. I've been taken. :-(

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  12. They just want your money. They said to me I "You're enlightened. Your not at the mercy of fate. You're not at the mercy of the world."
    All of their prediction failed. But 'send us your money and God will bless you.'
    I have a prediction and a curse. The false 'christian' prophet Harold Camping will die of a stroke before his next birthday.
    SPREAD THE WORD.
    Eliminate these lying, thieving 'illigitimates.'

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  13. I have been receiving mailings from St.Matthews also. They remind me of how fortune tellers work. I sent their mailing back to them and asked them to take my name off of their mailing list to no avail. I then asked them again , and this time told them if they don't remove me from their mailing list that i would turn them over to the state attorney general's office. These idiots ignored that also, and sent me two more mailings in 1 week. Now, they have ticked me off, i have a blank form from the state attorney general's office and will mail it in with all of future mailings from them. Maybe then they will get the message. I also have their real address and phone #.

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  14. i have been receiving these for a few months now. no idea how they got my info but i, as many, have been going through a lot of hard times and thought there would be no harm in sending in prayer request etc. i have not sent them any money. i questioned it slightly at first but it seemed they would just send different kind of prayer things such as prayer rug, book of seed principle, etc. well the last letter i received from them i thought maybe i better stop this as it was a little spooky i thought. it said things like i know if i could come sit with you at your dining room table at **** blank street that blah blah etc etc but i just found it kind of creepy they would send a letter talking about coming to my home and sitting with me. i mean i think it's kind of a nice thing to do the prayer circle through mail but just odd so i didn't respond to that at all and don't plan on it. i was getting things about once a week and sending them back but now it's been maybe a week or two and i haven't gotten anything else from them so hopefully now they will figure out they won't be getting my money and leave me alone

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  15. I HAVE RECEIVED LETTERS FROM THEM. I A M MOVING AND CANNOT GET THEM TO STOP SENDING LETTERS EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE ASKED. i AM HAVING ALL MAIL SENT TO IRS SENT THEY FEEL THEY CAN CONTINUE TO OPERATE. IF THIS CHURCH WAS REAL AND FOLLOWING GOD'S WORD, THEY WOULD QUIT SENDING MAIL TO THOSE WHO DON'T WANT IT AND REQUESTED TO BE OFF MAILING LIST, IN ADDITION TO TAKING ADVANTAGE OF PEOPLE. GOD DOES OT LIKE UGLY

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  16. STOP st.matthews LETTERS FOR GOOD! Let's stop these frauds.
    HERE IS HOW: Do as some of us have, fill out form 1500 from the Post Office it's called an Application for Listing and/or Prohibitory Order. I believe this form is correct for stopping these frauds but I myself got this information from another thread about st matthews scam letters, never the less, I still filled out the 1500 form that I got online. the Post office will know absolutly for sure which form is correct. I do know that the only way to stop them is to do something about it, take some action with the Postal Service. Thank you

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  17. What a coincidence?? Notice the mailings are all from people expirincing hardship?? Look up Archangel Gabriel... Allow the Lord to do His job. It is about Faith. It is NOT about money. Next time u get a letter, carefully read through it and realise it's content and how true it may be of ur situation. Should u not want to give to this orginazation. That's fine. But DO seek ur church immediately, God is tryin to heal ur problems. Listen to Him. Obey Him. Trust Him. Serve Him. Thank you.

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  18. I too have repeatively asked this Church to remove my name from their mailing list. From the beginning I would follow their instructions and return the info they had informed me too. However this became tiresome, nothing was changing in my life. Their prohecies were not coming true. I sent them a couple donations and stopped. After they ignored my requests I started returning their mail unopened hoping they would get the message and stop writing me. That still didn't stop them. I did not want to get rude with them or report them but since they will not respect my request I will ask the post office how I can get my name off their list.

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  19. I had received letters for a couple months from St. Matthews Church. In the prayer request form, it is an option to send in money. The writer offers to pray for you and asks what your needs are.

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  20. I have been receiving publications from St. Matthews for quite some time. I have been returning my prayer requests, but never any money. I do not wish to have any more dealings with them now that I have read the inquiries.

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  21. Ha! Just got one of these. It indeed has some sort of watermark on the eyes; when stared at, especially at an angle, you can see pupils and iris (ours only had the left one work, so it looked like Jezzus was winking at us!).

    As much hate as I'll get for saying this, half of the problem are the fools that actually respond (with money) to them. If the fools didn't exist, this "church" wouldn't exist. They share the blame regardless of how desperate they are.

    I'm not religious, but The Holy Bible has many good points and I am definite it warns against "false prophets" ("false PROFITS") and falling for their snake oil. Shame on both parties. Your religion forbids this and warns you adequately.

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  22. In desperate need, and poor judgement, I did send money. They do use the bibles' words to get to you. Look, the scriptures are real and comforting. Read the bible, help eachother, that's what GOD TRULY WANTS US TO DO!

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  23. for three years i have been getting their mailings and have returned to sender them and also returned them the way they requested to get our addr off their list. i have tried to call them only to be waiting for 10 minutes while a prayer recording played and then i finally hung up. I want these to stop coming to us and they wont.

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    1. send it back at their expense--they send us their stuff in spanish--yes f'n spanish

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  24. I am also tired of their mailings every week. My Lord is free, opening the Bible cost nothing .

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    1. I am too, and you are right, access to my God is free; the Holy Bible is open in my home, every day, and I will tithe to those I see as fit--not scammers, like these people. So sad.

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    2. I received letters from st. Matthew also, I recently discovered the three numbers we as Christian don't care to see. The numbers are located underneath the copyright on page 4. This letter have a paper check and a cloth to pin to you clothes while sleeping.

      I have read so my replies and realize there are so many people in the world that cares for others.

      We can give in Jesus name, by helping our neighbor, friends, the person who in line by food to eat, what about that person that's struggling to pay their bills and you know it. Let us began to give to those people who are in need now we have no excuse. God has made a way for us all concerning this reply. Keep in mine child of God, we are the church so let us help those that are in need.
      Let us also read John 3:16 how God so love the world, May the Lord bless us all in Jesus Christ name is my prayer. Now this is free let us began to give to others.

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  25. Pray for their salvation...who will go, who can I send? Maybe America is a bit far for me...but internet brings worlds together, so I will go...who's with me? Let's pray the Holy Spirit open eyes...in this "church" and many others like this one...even in the White House...and in our own parliament - your guy has nothing on our guy...I think you've got the wrong anti-christ...he is sitting right here in my country...but then China and Russia whom we are lately big mates with might have first option there - nope I think your guy stands last in a very long line of anti-christ candidates! That guy of yours, as ours, is just a guy who needs Jesus and we can give them that...as believers let's not complain anymore - let's pray! Think who Paul was before his conversion...he was Saul the Christian-slayer - he also behaved like an "anti-Christ" but someone prayed for him nd the Holy Spirit got him by the short hair! Thank you for the information and thorough research...now let us get to work in Jesus' Name!

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    1. I agree, let us pray! For them and our country and the nation.

      Pray with me concerning these issues everyday at 12 noon no matter where we are we can pray in silence. Let us agree to the will of God and everything else will fall into place. This is free!

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  26. I have been receiving their "prayer Sheets-Rugs-Coins-Oils-Crosses...the list is neverending" for many years. I get them in different names because I wrote to them "Please, you do not use monies for helping anyone else but for your own self, like the infamous "Building Fund" and apparently when I signed it, it came up Doroton, not Dorothy so, I get them in Alice, Dorothy & Doroton LOL I do not send monies, I send request like I need money for I am poor and have no monies to send. Been sending me stuff for years. Does that make the trio of me (me myself & I ) bad? OMG I'm not going to get any more coins?

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    1. Dorothy, they've been doing the same to me as well, also for many years. When they asked for my birthdate to pray for me, I knew something was fishy. God knows my birthdate---why should they have it? I used to just throw the mailings away, but now I think I'll do one better...I'll start mailing my junk mail (no personal info) to them or their junk back to them in the pre-paid envelope they provide for us. Let them pay the postage for their trash requests. If we all did this, maybe they'd get the hint.

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  27. Many years ago, I received the start their mailings. I sent them $40. as part of a tithe. The next letter they sent to me, was asking what my birthdate was. I thought this was strange because God knows my birthdate---what do they need it for? I stopped giving any more money, gave zero info, but they kept sending these mailings, up to 3 per week!!! They've slowed down, I get only about 1 per week now, but it's still annoying. I think I'm going to send them my junk mail (no personal info on it) or their own stuff, in their pre-paid envelope so they can be just as pleased as I am to receive theirs. ***There's a BONUS***now they have to pay the postage!!! :D

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  28. Shame on St Matthew's Church for soliciting their Prayer by Letters to my personal address, which i've never once disclosed to them. They're no better than the Church of Scientology who manages to track down my new residence and send me their unsolicited mail. These people need to stop.

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  29. I first received a letter from this"church" a handful of years ago and unfortunately didn't research these people until later after I had mailed them $5 along with my prayer requests. I was getting letters quite often as others have mentioned. My free gift they sent me was a silver cross that could be attached as a necklace. After I did some research on this group I found all kinds of info regarding them as a big scam and I even remember reading somewhere that the money they receive from us actually goes to video companies in Las Vegas who make porn videos. Not sure if that is true or not but I would not be surprised if it is. Anyway, after I found this information I stopped sending them anything. And eventually after a while I never received anything from them again. UNTIL TONIGHT when I checked my mail one of their letters was in my box. And yes it was the prayer rug letter which I received a number of years ago. Time for me to ignore them again or the next one they send me I'll just return it to them unopened as others have done!

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  30. es puro rovadero la jente que sedeja si lachingan bonito. hay que ayudar a la jente pobre que no tiene para comer y veras que dios tet Ló recompesara con salud.

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  31. the latest one I received told me to open and read alone I am sorry but as a family we share and pray together. then asking for your credit card info please!

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  32. i feel like such a fool, I actually mailed a check for $10.00 and now I an so worried they will try and take(by fraud) what little I have because they have my routing #

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  33. I too have been receiving their mailings. I had my doubts, because all of the "miracles" mentioned were money related. And the last one I received asked me for credit card info. At that point I knew it was just a moneymaking misrepresentation of a church. It is always signed "the old church bishop", but never a real name of a pastor. So sad that it is poor and elderly, I am on a fixed income, that is the target...here in Iowa

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  34. I have been getting these letters also from time to time, the first one I ever got I thought why does the letter look very old and the people in it. so I looked up the name of the church and started reading about it, I also read this site, but never the comments, then I thought it really was from a real church, cause of the Bible quotes, I never sent any money in cause I live paycheck to paycheck, but sent back the letter and prayer request, seeing how the people in the news letter was getting money and I was in need of some, but haven't received huge amounts that some were mentioned they got, in fact over 4 years of getting these letters I never received none, so here I am again and this time reading comments posted that I didn't read before, and yes I believe this is not a real church.

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