Member of Qahal Yahweh assembly claims to be a mind readerSunday, November 10, 2019
BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
While investigations continue into the alleged occult practices of the Assembly of Qahal Yahweh in Norwood, St James, where the group has established a communal living space, details of the group's belief system are still shrouded in mystery.
The allegations, bizarre in the mind of many Jamaicans, range from child marriage, to wife-swopping, extreme dietary practices, and flagellation as a form of religious discipline — all of which warrant the big question: Why? Especially with now-defunct members admitting to have voluntarily endured beatings.
When the Jamaica Observer visited the community on Thursday in search of answers, attempts to speak with leaders of the assembly were largely unsuccessful, except for an interaction with one member who claimed to be telepathic.
Dressed in what appeared to be an imitation of traditional Muslim wear, a young man approached one of the two gates to the property, both of which were chained and padlocked. Ordering another man who had also come close to “get back to work”, the man appeared to be in a leadership role.
Addressing this reporter, the man said: “I was the one talking to you earlier. I said 'thank you', but you appeared startled. That is because I was in your mind, and I can tell you what you are thinking,” he claimed.
Someone had in fact blurted “thank you” from a window that was then quickly shut as the news team left the scene the first time around. Quickly changing the topic, however, the member, who refused to identify himself, said he would not be divulging the intricacies of the group's religious beliefs.
“We are not prepared to disclose anything pertaining to our beliefs because people are twisting the truth and using it for monetary gain. We are a people who do not speak lies, we speak the truth. And until you can be willing to speak the truth, cost you what it will, even if you are fired from your job, we are not going to give any comments. We are not going to reason with you. You are trained to do what you do, but I am trained to establish righteousness,” said the man, retreating from the gate, and adamant that he would not be answering any further questions.
Residents at a car wash just a stone's throw away from the compound, were in as much a daze as were members of the public when the news first broke on Tuesday.
“Is since the police go dung deh mi know say a wicked church,” said one young man who explained that the compound comes alive at night or whenever the rain falls with loud singing and shouting.
“If you stand up and listen how them worship and how them can sing, you feel like you would a join them too. When rain a fall them start up with the singing. A di nicest church mi ever hear but, mi never know say a suh them wicked,” said the young man. “A night time yuh hear them a get inna spirit wid whole heap a noise and singing,” he continued.
One female resident who gave her name as Tasha, told the Sunday Observer that she visited the assembly in its early stages, but later decided not to continue because of the strange rules adherents had to abide by.
“I was invited by my cousin who is now a member over there. When you go, you have to take off your shoes, and you can't have sex the day before church which is a Saturday. If you have sex the day before, you have to go into a separate room. You [are]also not supposed to drive in public transportation with people from outside because the rule is that you must not associate with anyone outside or else you are unclean,” the woman explained.
“Everybody mi know join the church turn idiot,” she continued. “The wife of the leader used to be a good good lady doing customer service at Free Zone. From she join the church she stop work and live over deh in a pitch tent. She all sell her car and her house,” said Tasha.
She divulged further that the name given to the leader of the group is the Shaliah, a Hebrew title used in reference to a Jewish emissary or agent, what would equate to an apostle in English.
Reports are that on Thursday, Omar Thompson, who is the leader of the Assembly of Qahal Yahweh, his brother Javaughn Thompson and teacher Vera Woolery were brought before the St James Family Court to answer charges of neglect after security forces stormed the compound on Tuesday afternoon.
Members of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) went to the premises following reports of child abuse, abduction of children, among other alleged atrocities carried out by members of the group against children.
A senior police source told the Observer that there were children living on the compound who were not attending public school, but were being schooled on the premises and that they were sometimes allegedly beaten after they were accused of demonic possession. The group is also accused of forcibly marrying off the children as soon as they reach the age of 16.
These allegations were repeated by residents when the Sunday Observer went to the community on Thursday. One woman claimed to know a little girl who recently stopped attending school.
“She used to go Mount Alvernia and now them have her dung deh dress up like a old woman,” the woman chipped.
When residents were asked to share their observations on the group's genesis in their community, most described it as a rapid growth of believers from outside who moved unto the compound between three to four years ago.
Tasha, the woman who visited the assembly in its early days, explained that the group started out small, with about 15 members. “We were in the house next to that big tent that is there now. It was just a small body when I visited some years ago. When I counted they had about 15 of us including the Shaliah and his wife and they were just launching out, so it was a very small group. They used to have crusade all over the community, and as you can see is a mass population of them now,” said Tasha.
A member of the community's residents association told the Sunday Observer that he had became suspicious of the group when members would shut down certain questions about their beliefs during their initial proselytising phase.
“In the early part them usually up and down about the place a preach pon mega phone. But to me is like a one way thing. Them want to preach to you but you can't really engage or challenge them too much. They are very closed and rigid. Them worship on a Saturday, so fi dem ting semi-Jewish based. When them just start, I was expecting maybe they would try to integrate into the community, but them just close down. After them do them first few months of marching around and preaching, them get very insular. Their militancy is the scary part,” said the resident.
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