THE BLOG
05/26/2007 12:20 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Does God Need Your Car?

"If you have it in your heart to help, then please give. Who can give 50,000 shillings?" called out Bishop Gilson Costa of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

"Jangu!" called out the man translating the Bishop's sermon.

"Who can give 40,000?"

"Jangu!"

Who can give 30,000?"

"Jangu!"

The calls continued to ring out through $1.3 million church until each and every congregant had donated some shillings. Bishop Costa stood behind a cut out sign "Jesus Christ is the Lord," illuminated by blue neon, complimented by a large neon cross in a matching blue hue. The semicircle of hard wooden chairs surrounding the podium were filled with mainly women and some few men, dressed well, dressed poorly, but all willing to give. Their prayers rang out above the electric keyboard creating the sounds of a synthesized organ, as some spoke in tongues, some wave their arms, and all were moved.

"Pastor Gerald always said, 'Are you ready to give everything to God? Everything?' But Jesus shed his blood for us - there's no bigger sacrifice," says Frances Adroa, a former member of UCKG now in the middle of a media frenzy over an unusual case against the church.

Adroa is HIV positive. Last year, the leadership at UCKG promised her that if she made a "sacrifice" during their Mount Sinai campaign, her prayers would be delivered to the holy site and she would be cured of the disease wracking her body.

At the time, Adroa had no assets to give but her car.

"I put my car keys in the sacrifice envelope and the pastors took me home," Adroa explained during a recent interview.

"They said all of our problems would be over," says Adroa.

When her HIV status had not changed, Adroa decided she wanted her car back. She is now pursuing a lawsuit with the help of John Kaggwa and Associates.

"God owns everything in this world, so why does he need my car?" asks Adroa.

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The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God came to Uganda just two years ago, but has been operating worldwide since 1977. Not, however, without problems. Founder Bishop Edir Macedo, whose personal fortune is estimated to exceed $100 million, was arrested in 1992 for charges of fraud. He even brought almost $10,000 illegally across the border hidden, of all places, in the Bible. The church, which has over 8 million members worldwide, is said to bring in excesses of $1 billion annually through the aggregation of small contributions from mainly people too poor to be separated from their money.

In Uganda, the first pastor of UCKG was arrested on charges of sodomizing a young boy, and the second pastor for running a brothel out of a rented space on Entebbe road.

"Those pastors were here and they made mistakes, but they're no longer pastors," says Costa in defense of his church. A Brazilian man in Uganda, his salt and pepper hair and neat tie set him apart from his congregants but not from his Brazilian counterparts.

Investigations are being conducted world-wide against UCKG's activities, in Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and the States, where branches are all operating with dubious conduct.

Costa says the $1.3 million to build the Kampala branch of UCKG came from the church in Braziel. "Our intention is not to show people that we are rich but that God is great. People here are so poor we can't just talk about God being great, they have to see it," says Costa, who defends the Church building amidst its congregants' struggles and poverty.

"People hide behind the bible when they are conning others," says Moses Solomon Malay, an evangelist and director of Arising for Christ, one of the organizations attempting to help Adroa in her battle.

Costa, however, when asked about Malay, responded with unfounded allegations: "He's been financed by Muslims to damage the name of Christian pastors. His problem is not against UCKG but against Christians."

Malay insists he is only out to help Adroa recover her rightful property.

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"A desperate person will not use rational judgment," says Malay. "Critical ability is minimal when hope is promised. The sick are giving everything they have for miracle healing."

"One day I was driving when I heard these people calling to me over the radio, to bring my problems, and they would solve them. It was late in the day and I was heading home so I told myself I'd go there the next day," says Adroa on how she joined the church.

She'd already been feeling ill and losing weight, and soon after, Adroa went for an HIV test. After the devastating news that she was positive, Adroa decided to go to church, the one place she's always found comfort.

"I came to church that very day and during prayers I broke down and cried so much. We were all praying and all standing and I was crying," she says, tears coming the surface of her almond shaped eyes but refusing to drip down her cheeks.

She's already cried about this too many times.

The campaign for Mount Sinai began a few weeks later. The pastors promised that if "sacrifices" were made, then prayers would be taken to Mount Sinai and promptly answered.

While she was at first reluctant to donate, Adroa says the pastors told her, ­"'The devil is going to try his level best to keep you from sacrificing.'" Adroa didn't tell her family of her plans to donate the car, or anyone for that matter, because the pastors at UCKG had so thoroughly convinced her they would act as the devil trying to stop her.

Additionally, within the congregation, there was great secrecy about who was donating what and why. One of the signs of a cult, a word often used in conjunction with UCKG, is the willingness to isolate its members from their families and each other - both things that fit UCKG perfectly.

Eventually, frustrated and still ill, Adroa decided to leave the church.

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Bishop Costa maintains that he and UCKG have never forced anyone to do anything and they are not in the wrong in Adroa's case.

"She was deceived by God and not by me, since the scripture says, 'I am the Lord who heals,'" says Costa.

Malay and Adroa's lawyer John Kaggwa insist that UCKG opportunistically took advantage of Adroa's illness to finagle a way into her assets.

It isn't surprising that Adroa was taken in by UCKG's promises. Their brochure promises that if you come to the "Prayer for the Sick" every Tuesday, "even if the doctor cannot help you, the Lord can."

Adroa insists that the pastors didn't care about her health - just her car. When she fell truly ill, they didn't even visit her. "If the pastors don't care for me, who was sick, dying, will they care about other people's problems?" she says.

Though Adroa has gotten her car back, it has incurred over Ush 2 million ($1,000) in damages under unclear circumstances while the church possessed it. She's now fighting to get them to pay the bills.

Adroa is now on ARVs and her health is improving.

Says Bishop Costa, "I'm worried about her salvation. She needs to stop lying."