Do you tithe 10% of ransom money?
Full Acquittal in Angola for Adventist Pastors Accused of Kidnapping
Do you tithe 10% of ransom money?
On May 15, a two-year legal ordeal in Angola for four Adventist pastors and one layperson finally ended with a full acquittal by the Supreme Court of Angola. These five individuals were falsely accused of kidnapping after a 2015 incident involving a staged abduction (WARNING: graphic imagery) of a former conference president and a demand for ransom money. The five individuals were: Passmore Hachalinga (from Zambia), Burns Sibanda (Zimbabwe), Teixeira Mateus Vinte (Angola), Garcia José Dala, and Adão Hebo.
Interrogation turns to torture
In December 2015, a sixth individual, João Alfredo Dala, was tortured (WARNING: graphic imagery and source is not in English) during a 15-hour police “interrogation.” His captors pulled out his toenail, hit his head with a machete, performed genital mutilation, and more in an effort to coerce him into affirming the false accusations. He died in September 2018 due to complications from the injuries sustained during the torture.
Let my people...er...person go
At 7 am on October 29, 2015, Daniel Cem’s family reported to Angolan authorities he had been kidnapped by armed men. Neighbors witnessed him being kidnapped, but it was 12 hours after the Cem family reported it took place. Witnesses alerted authorities with a description matching the family’s report. Cem called his family informing them the kidnappers demanded 100 million kwanzas (worth $732,000 US in 2015), but after being told repeatedly that neither the union office nor any level of the church would pay ransom, the demand was lowered to 30 million ($200,000 US). Finally, when Pastor Hachalinga begged the church for assistance and was again told “no,” Cem miraculously returned home on November 3. It was alleged that his wife paid the 30-million-kwanza ransom, but an anonymous letter claiming to be from a member of Cem’s family was produced November 28 confessing the entire crime was staged. The letter was turned in to authorities and was used to bring a defamation charge against pastors Hachilanga and Sibanda.
There were several anomalies with the case. If plain-clothes police officers claimed to watch the ransom exchange, why hadn’t they been able to catch the perpetrators? How was the kidnapping reported 12 hours before it happened? And, how did the family get ahold of 30 million kwanzas when the banks were closed? The case proceeded with Cem naming Teixeira Vinte as the organizer and the other men as accomplices. In April 2016, these church leaders were notified that they were under investigation, but nothing happened until October when they were brought in for a pre-trial conference with a public prosecutor.
LAW & ORDER: NEAU
Despite a trial throughout 2017 many claim was a “farce,” all six men were sentenced to one-to-five years prison time on December 30, 2017. Three of the men were administrators in the North Eastern Angola Union (NEAU). The men appealed immediately following their sentencing, but were still incarcerated for 62 days before the Supreme Court deemed their incarceration illegal and ordered their release until the outcome of the appeal was finalized. The Supreme Court of Angola finally acquitted the six men on May 15, 2019, even though João Alfredo Dala would not live to see this day. Daniel Cem had been a leader in a regional office in Luanda, Angola for NEAU. But in 2015, he was not reinstated after audits revealed mishandling of funds and the breaking of church policy.
Word on the street is…
It is alleged Cem orchestrated the abduction out of revenge for losing his position. At this time it is unknown where Cem is or if there has been any effort by law enforcement to bring him in. While many Adventists are saddened by Dala’s death, they are happy these falsely accused men were acquitted.
International Adventist Media Professionals Collaborate on Cross-Media Project
Fathers REST in Uncertainty
International Adventist media professionals met July 9-10 at the Inter-American Division (IAD) headquarters in Miami, FL. Their goal is to create a multimedia project that will focus on bringing hope to those struggling with uncertainty in life. The initiative will include an intercultural documentary film composed of stories from different regions, a book, a social media campaign, and two exclusive productions from the North American Division (NAD) and the South American Division. This project follows the previous films Fathers, a film highlighting the role of fathers, and REST, a documentary about Sabbath - both created with the same method of international collaboration. The project is expected to be completed in March 2020, just in time for next year’s GAiN Europe Conference in April.
NAD re-brands volunteer screening initiative to “Adventist Screening Verification”
Call me by your (new) name
If you’ve recently volunteered at church doing anything involving children, you know that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America requires you to first have a background check and complete an online training program. When the background check company the NAD contracted changed its name from Verified Volunteers to Sterling Volunteers, church leaders decided to establish their own name for the initiative—Adventist Screening Verification. The Office of Volunteer Missions along with all of church leadership say they have put this screening and training requirement in place to help ensure the safety of children in Adventist churches across the NAD, emphasizing the biblical idea of protecting the vulnerable. At the NAD year-end meeting in 2017, it was reported that Sterling Volunteers had screened more than 20,000 church volunteers, flagged nine registered sex offenders, and revealed a 16% hit rate for violations. While many Adventists are happy with the protection measures, some have raised concerns that it is actually just a measure meant to get the Church out of legal repercussions in the event a crime is committed by a volunteer.
Contributors: Emily Weber, Ryan Becker