Not any more

Montreal pastor tends to flock amid scandal

In Canada on August 2, 2010 at 02:54

MONTREAL – Despite allegations of dishonoured debts, more than 30 faithful went Sunday morning to hear Rev. Mwinda Lezoka’s service at Bethel Christian Community, an evangelical church in Ahuntsic.

“We may be under pressure, but we are not crushed,” Lezoka told the congregation in French during his hour-long sermon, quoting extensively from the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians.

The charismatic pastor stressed the importance of unity against evil forces and that what mattered most was God’s opinion.

“The opinion of a group, the opinion of an individual is not the opinion of heaven,” Lezoka said, referring to the allegations that surfaced last week. “The biggest opinion I’m looking for is God’s,” Lezoka said.

This was Lezoka’s first service since July 25, when about 20 parishioners held a vigil outside Bethel Christian Community to protest that loans they made to the church – some as big as $142,000 – have yet to be paid back.

The same parishioners returned Sunday to hand out flyers.

“We are a poor church. We are a small church,” said Fred Robinson, who last week was barred, along with his family, from entering Bethel Christian Community.

“He should never put his faithful in a situation of poverty,” Robinson said.

Céline Vital said she and her sister lent the church $142,000 in 2006 after Lezoka asked for help to buy a new building. She says she was supposed to be paid back in full by now. “We’ll be firm. We want to see the end,” she said, standing outside the run-down building.

The second-floor church, furnished simply with dark blue office chairs and blue and gold drapes, was less than a quarter full at 10:30 a.m.

“In being silent, we trust in God,” Lezoka shouted from the lectern near the end of the sermon. “The best way to do what God wants us to do is (be) silent. … It’s not because we don’t want to talk, it’s so that God can do his work.”

Many of the attendants declined to comment on the allegations against the preacher.

Speaking with journalists after the service, Lezoka insisted the loans had been invested and used to cover the church’s mortgage payments and operating costs.

“Mr. Lezoka has not taken anyone’s money. This is a religious organization,” the pastor said. “We all invested (in it). I am the first victim,” he continued, explaining how he mortgaged his house twice to help run Bethel Christian Community, which he founded in 2002.

Lezoka said some loans have been paid back in part.

“The church wants to keep the situation under control,” he said.

“I’m not defending the pastor. … We are all sinners,” said Mangitukua Zimumina, a member of the congregation since the early ‘90s when he moved to Montreal from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Let the court do its job,” he said on his way out of the service.

Others have also spoken out in support of the pastor, saying he works tirelessly to help the poor and is very empathetic. Lezoka holds a Ph.D. and was also a part-time lecturer at the Université de Montréal. He has been honoured by the federal government for his work in the community.

Lezoka and Actions de Bethel Inc., the charity based at the church, have been involved in several lawsuits in the past, including one for unpaid landscaping work on Lezoka’s former residence.

The allegations against Lezoka, who came to Canada from the Democratic Republic of Congo, have shaken Montreal’s Congolese community, who make up a large portion of the congregation at Bethel Christian Community.

bfantoni@thegazette.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

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