Tag Archives: Apostle Samuel Joaquin Flores

La Luz Del Mundo’s ‘Apostle’ Faces Sexual Abuse Charges. Here’s Why That Has Rattled Many In LA

La Luz Del Mundo’s ‘Apostle’ Faces Sexual Abuse Charges. Here’s Why That Has Rattled Many In LA
By Aaron Schrank on June 10, 2019
https://laist.com/2019/06/10/arrest_of_la_luz_del_mundo_apostle_on_sexual_abuse_charges_rattles_many_in_la.php

his picture taken on August 9, 2017 shows the leader of the Church of the Light of the World, Naason Joaquin Garcia, walking among his parishioners in Guadalajara, Mexico. - The leader of La Luz Del Mundo, an international religious organization based in Mexico, has been arrested in California on charges of human trafficking, child rape and other felonies, authorities said on June 4, 2019. Naason Joaquin Garcia, who heads the organization that claims one million followers worldwide, and three co-defendants allegedly committed 26 felonies in southern California between 2015 and 2018. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ULISES RUIZ/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on August 9, 2017 shows the leader of the Church of the Light of the World, Naason Joaquin Garcia, walking among his parishioners in Guadalajara, Mexico. – The leader of La Luz Del Mundo, an international religious organization based in Mexico, has been arrested in California on charges of human trafficking, child rape and other felonies, authorities said on June 4, 2019. Naason Joaquin Garcia, who heads the organization that claims one million followers worldwide, and three co-defendants allegedly committed 26 felonies in southern California between 2015 and 2018. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read ULISES RUIZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Naason Joaquin Garcia, the leader of the Mexico-based church La Luz Del Mundo, is scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles on June 21. The list of charges is long and disturbing. Among them: rape of a minor, extortion and human traficking.

But what exactly is La Luz Del Mundo? And what role does Joaquin Garcia have among his followers?

WHO IS JOAQUIN GARCIA AND WHY WAS HE ARRESTED?

Joaquin Garcia isn’t just the leader of La Luz Del Mundo. Adherents of the fundamentalist Christian group consider the man now being held on $50 million bail a living apostle of Jesus Christ, like his father and grandfather before him.

Joaquin Garcia was arrested at LAX last Monday on charges including child rape and human trafficking, after four church members from L.A. County filed reports using the California Attorney General’s clergy abuse tip line. The alleged crimes occurred in L.A. County between 2015 and 2018.

Prosecutors say Joaquin Garcia and three female co-defendants coerced underage victims into performing sex acts by telling them that if they defied Garcia’s desires as “the Apostle,” they were defying God.

In a news conference Thursday, Attorney General Xavier Becerra said his heart goes out to the many Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles who depend on La Luz Del Mundo, or The Light of The World church, for support.

“I understand many are probably very frightened and confused,” Becerra said. “Many of these folks are not well-versed in American society, are not totally fluent, and depended quite a bit on what this organization provided to them.”

Still, he urged local members to step forward with any additional evidence of abuse against their spiritual leader.

“I would simply say to them that no law of California, no law of humankind, and certainly no law of God would permit what Naason Joaquin Garcia is alleged to have committed against these young women,” Becerra said.

HOW HAVE LA LUZ MEMBERS REACTED?

Since Joaquin Garcia’s arrest, some members have held prayer services for their embattled leader and church leaders have issued statements of support.

“The church categorically rejects the false accusations against Joaquin Garcia,” La Luz spokesman Nicolas Menchaca told LAist, adding that “the Apostle” has always acted according to the law.

During a service this week at La Luz Del Mundo’s East L.A. church, a crowd of about 100 people gathered — the focus was largely on Joaquin Garcia himself.

“Our reaction has been to come to church and to pray, and to put everything in God’s hands, because we trust that God will answer our prayers,” said Priscilla Granados, 25, standing outside after the service.

The Greek-style, gold-columned temple is the group’s largest in Southern California, with more than 1,200 members. Joaquin Garcia once served as pastor at the East L.A. church. In 2014, he became the international leader of La Luz Del Mundo, based in Guadalajara.

Granados, who joined the church with her family at age 12, said she believes Joaquin Garcia is innocent of the charges against him.

“I only speak of what I know, and what I know of him, for the years that I’ve been part of the church, I’ve never seen anything, witnessed anything, or heard anything relatively close to what’s being spread right now,” Granados said.

Some former members of La Luz Del Mundo have spoken critically about Joaquin Garcia. One online forum is aimed at “exit support” and discussion.

WHAT IS LA LUZ DEL MUNDO?

La Luz is the largest evangelical church in Mexico and the second largest religious body there after the Roman Catholic Church. It’s also a transnational movement with between 1 and 5 million members worldwide and dozens of churches in Southern California. That includes the East L.A. location and a church in Pasadena.

The religious group was founded in Guadalajara in 1926 by Joaquin Garcia’s grandfather, Eusebio Joaquin Gonzalez, still venerated by adherents as the “first Apostle.”

After the Great Depression, Joaquin Gonzalez recruited migrants returning to Mexico from the U.S. In the 1950s, he began to evangelize in Los Angeles.

“This is a migrant church that was born in the most historically and traditionally migrant place in all of Mexico,” said Patricia Fortuny, a cultural anthropologist based in Mexico City, that’s researched the group since 1989. “It has the highest rate of migration to the United States historically, since the 19th century.”

For that reason, Fortuny said California, with its large population of Mexican immigrants, has the largest concentration of La Luz adherents in the U.S.

Joaquin Garcia’s father, Samuel Joaquin Flores, led the church from 1964 until 2014. He was the subject of sexual abuse allegations in 1997, but never faced criminal charges.

WHAT IS THE BELIEF SYSTEM OF LA LUZ MEMBERS?

The La Luz belief system is a mash-up of Pentecostal theology and regional Catholic culture, Fortuny said.

La Luz followers identify as Christians who follow the Bible and believe that Jesus Christ is humanity’s savior. But they’re taught salvation can only be achieved by following the international leaders of their church, past and present.

This belief system fostered an intense connection and trust among many members who view Joaquin Garcia as the key to their religious movement.

La Luz traditions are unfamiliar to many in the U.S. Churches offer three prayer services each day. Male and female worshippers sit on opposite sides of churches. Women wear long skirts and cover their heads with lace veils. Church members aren’t supposed to drink, smoke or gamble. The church does not celebrate Christmas or Easter.

While Fortuny said the religious group is too large and well-organized to be considered a cult, La Luz Del Mundo’s focus on its “apostles” does set the church apart from other Latin American evangelical Pentecostal movements.

“Most Pentecostal churches don’t worship their pastors,” Fortuny said. “Having this ‘living apostle’ is the strongest feature of the church, because it’s fantastic for the people. They feel unique, like they are chosen to be part of the restored primitive Christian Church. But it’s also the weakest feature of the church, because of that coercive power the leader, in this case Naason Joaquin Garcia, has.”

As a minority religion in heavily Catholic Mexico, La Luz Del Mundo members have faced some marginalization and persecution. Fortuny said Joaquin Garcia’s arrest will only worsen relations between Catholics and non-Catholics in Mexico.

“There’s already violent discourse against La Luz Del Mundo in Guadalajara,” Fortuny said. “Now, this is probably going to extend into many other evangelical groups who are not La Luz, and who are not as fundamentalist. Other churches will be painted with the same brush.”

Fortuny also worries about millions of La Luz faithful, whose lives are now thrown into disarray.

HOW WILL THE ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AFFECT THE CHURCH AND ITS FOLLOWERS?

While a faction of believers are defending Joaquin Garcia, Fortuney said there’s likely another faction that believes he’s guilty and will fight to keep the church going without him.

“The church could be divided and weakened, but it could also become stronger,” Fortuny said. “Naason can be perceived as an innocent man wrongly persecuted by the state. This persecution can become symbolic social capital for the Church to use.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Joaquin Garcia’s $50 million bail set a new record in Los Angeles County, because of concerns his followers might be able to raise enough funds to help him flee prosecution.

Last Friday, La Luz Del Mundo officials held a press conference in Los Angeles, introducing the legal team that will defend Garcia against 26 felony charges.

UPDATES:

Wednesday, June 12, 11:52 a.m.: This article was updated with the new arraignment date and details from members.

This article was originally published on Monday, June 10 at 7 a.m.

Aaron Schrank covers religion, international affairs and the Southern California diaspora under a grant from the Luce Foundation.

Former La Luz Del Mundo Member Alleges The Church Ran Child Sex Slavery Ring

Former La Luz Del Mundo Member Alleges The Church Ran Child Sex Slavery Ring
By Aaron Schrank on February 13, 2020
https://laist.com/2020/02/13/la-luz-del-mundo-child-abuse-allegations-holy-supper.php

This picture taken on August 9, 2017 shows the leader of the Church of the Light of the World, Naason Joaquin Garcia, walking among his parishioners in Guadalajara, Mexico. - The leader of La Luz Del Mundo, an international religious organization based in Mexico, has been arrested in California on charges of human trafficking, child rape and other felonies, authorities said on June 4, 2019. Naason Joaquin Garcia, who heads the organization that claims one million followers worldwide, and three co-defendants allegedly committed 26 felonies in southern California between 2015 and 2018. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ULISES RUIZ/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on August 9, 2017 shows the leader of the Church of the Light of the World, Naason Joaquin Garcia, walking among his parishioners in Guadalajara, Mexico. – The leader of La Luz Del Mundo, an international religious organization based in Mexico, has been arrested in California on charges of human trafficking, child rape and other felonies, authorities said on June 4, 2019. Naason Joaquin Garcia, who heads the organization that claims one million followers worldwide, and three co-defendants allegedly committed 26 felonies in southern California between 2015 and 2018. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read ULISES RUIZ/AFP/Getty Images)

A new civil lawsuit filed Thursday against religious leader and self-proclaimed “Apostle” of La Luz Del Mundo, Naason Joaquin Garcia, contains shocking allegations of abuse.

The filing, made in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, came as the religious group is holding its “Holy Supper” event at the Pomona Fairplex, attended by thousands.

It also comes more than eight months since Garcia, the Mexico-based megachurch’s religious leader, was arrested in Los Angeles on dozens of felony child rape and human trafficking charges. He has been held without bail in downtown L.A.’s Men’s Central Jail since then, after the court refused to grant bail citing him as a high-flight risk.

The lawsuit filed by Sochil Martin, a former Luz Del Mundo member, marks the first time a former La Luz Del Mundo church member has spoken openly about abuse allegations. Martin’s lawyers held a news conference Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles to detail her claims against the religious organization, Garcia and other top leaders of the organization.

The 34-year-old woman says she grew up deep in La Luz Del Mundo, primarily attending the flagship temple in East L.A.

Martin says she was groomed as a child, beaten, forced to work for no pay for the church’s communications department, and raped dozens of times over two decades by ‘The Apostle’ Naason Joaquin Garcia and his father, Samuel Joaquin Flores.

Martin’s complaint alleges a ring of child sexual slavery and financial manipulation within the church and points fingers at Naason Joaquin Garcia’s family members and La Luz Del Mundo bishops, many of whom are based in Southern California.

“For nearly 22 years, I was made to work for, travel for, lie for and give my body to an organization who saw me as nothing more than a source of profit and sexual pleasure,” Martin told reporters gathered at the offices of Greenberg Gross in downtown Los Angeles Thursday. “Hundreds, if not thousands of other children before me and after me suffered the same fate.”

Church officials rejected Martin’s account Thursday morning.

“I think it’s just a ploy for attention,” said Jack Freeman, La Luz Del Mundo’s U.S. spokesman and minister of its temple in Redlands. “It’s hatred being manifested towards the Church to disrupt our biggest and holiest event.”

Freeman told LAist he hadn’t read the complaint, but confirmed that Martin was a former church member who had once worked for La Luz Del Mundo’s communications arm, Berea International USA.

WHAT IS LA LUZ DEL MUNDO?

La Luz Del Mundo (full name “Church of the Living God, Pillar and Ground of the Truth, The Light of the World”) was founded in Guadalajara in the 1920s by Naason Joaquin Garcia’s grandfather Eusebio Joaquín González, the church’s first self-proclaimed apostle.

La Luz Del Mundo is Mexico’s second-largest religious movement, after the Catholic Church. It’s a Protestant Christian religious movement that considers itself a restoration of early Christian church.

The Light of The World reports 1,500 temples in 58 countries and between 1 and 5 million members worldwide.

It has a big presence in California, with more than 50 temples, including churches in East L.A. and Pasadena.

Joaquin Garcia’s father, Samuel Joaquin Flores, led the church from 1964 until 2014.He was the subject of sexual abuse allegations in 1997, but never faced criminal charges.

La Luz traditions are unfamiliar to many in the U.S. Churches offer three prayer services each day. Male and female worshippers sit on opposite sides of churches. Women wear long skirts and cover their heads with lace veils. Church members aren’t supposed to drink, smoke or gamble. The church does not celebrate Christmas or Easter.

As a minority religion in heavily Catholic Mexico, La Luz Del Mundo members have faced some marginalization and persecution.

WHAT IS THE HOLY SUPPER?

This event is the U.S. twist on the group’s annual Santa Cena gathering at the church’s historic headquarters in Guadalajara — which draws hundreds of thousands of the church’s millions of members every August in honor of the founding apostle’s birthday.

It’s a sacred rite and ritual for Luz Del Mundo members. Several cups filled with wine (or grape juice) are shared among their thousands of members.

This U.S. version was first held here in 2018, to signal the church’s growing role in the U.S. under Naason Joaquin Garcia’s leadership.

The ritual itself is scheduled to take place Friday evening, in part commemorating the former apostle Samuel Joaquin Flores’ birthday.

“It’s a moment of spiritual renewal where we are able to break bread, drink wine and regain our connection with God and Jesus Christ,” said Genesis Coronado, a spokesperson providing a tour of the Pomona Fairplex. “As humans, we have moments of sin, and this event allows us to reconcile with God.”

Church officials estimated more than 10,000 members showed up to celebrate in Pomona. There are five more sites around the country, including San Diego, Phoenix, Chicago, Dallas and Wanshington D.C.

NEW ALLEGATIONS FROM ‘THE INNER-CIRCLE’

Sochil Martin is stepping forward and alleging years of abuse and manipulation growing up deep inside the religious group’s flagship church in East L.A,, where the jailed church leader and self-proclaimed “Apostle” of the religious movement was once a pastor.

In her civil complaint, Martin says she was trafficked throughout the U.S. and Mexico, beaten and raped dozens of times and even forced to have sex with children — all to satisfy the desires of “the two Apostles,” Naason Joaquin Garcia, and his father Samuel Joaquin Flores.

Martin also claims that since age 16, La Luz Del Mundo’s senior leaders forced her to do more than 30,000 hours of unpaid work for the church’s communications arm, International Berea USA. which is run out of East L.A. and was established by Naason Joaquin Garcia in 2009.

Martin alleges church leaders used their positions of power to benefit from her trafficking and unpaid labor. She named 12 additional people in the lawsuit, including several bishops in La Luz Del Mundo, some of Martin’s former bosses at the Church’s communications department and Naason Joaquin Garcia’s family members.

She alleges a widespread culture of coercion and control inside the organization. Martin says countless members have been forced to work for LDM. The complaint claims most of the employees at Berea International were unpaid.

“For far too many La Luz Del Mundo members, everything they have is taken by LLDM. Every dollar they make goes to La Luz Del Mundo because they truly believe their money will be used to do the work of God on Earth,” Martin said. “But all the hard-earned money goes to making Naason and his enablers rich.”

Martin claims, on one occasion, LDM members in Southern California were encouraged to donate gold jewelry and heirlooms to the Apostle, which were melted down and used to paint the molding on his new home in Los Angeles.

She says members are pressured to give whatever they have to the Church, including homes, which are then either used by the Apostle’s family or rented out to other LDM members for revenue.

“As thousands gather to celebrate the Holy Supper, Naason’s followers will call me a liar and coerce members into giving their last pennies into helping Naason fight me and people like me,” Martin said.

Martin says cash donated at La Luz del Mundo’s temples feeds Naason Joaquin Garcia’s lavish lifestyle. According to the complaint, Naason Joaquin Garcia owns two private ranches in Redlands and South Texas, which house exotic animals and vintage cars.

Sochil left the Church in 2016. Since 2018, She’s been working with authorities to help investigate and prosecute La Luz Del Mundo’s leaders.

WHAT’S HAPPENED IN COURT SO FAR?

Naason Joaquin Garcia and several co-conspirators were arrested last June and charged with dozens of felonies in a case filed by California Department of Justice. Garcia was first held on record high bail in L.A. county, and now without bail oncharges involve three girls and one young woman in L.A. county in recent years. Garcia had denied the charges.

The case has been dragging in the pre-trial phase since Naason Joaquin Garcia’s dramatic arrest at LAX, at least in part because the child victims in the case were guaranteed anonymity when they reported alleged abuse to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office.

But the criminal case filed today is the first where a former member of the church is publicly accusing La Luz Del Mundo and its leadership of manipulation and sex abuse. Sochil’s attorneys, from Greenberg Gross and Jeff Anderson & Associates, said they hoped more victims will come forward.

Church officials and active members maintain the innocence and righteousness of their leader and Apostle. Spokesman Jack Freeman says despite the new allegations, the Holy Supper is going on as planned and has already resulted in hundreds of baptisms around the U.S.

Link to full lawsuit at DocumentCloud

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6776140-Martin-v-Naason-Et-Al-Complaint.html#document/p3/a550507