SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — On Tuesday, Eyewitness News got an exclusive inside look at the orphanages in Haiti run by the controversial, Scranton-based Church of Bible Understanding.
Inside one of the two orphanages operated by the church, garbage is piled up in bathrooms, bedrooms and hallways. It caught fire last Thursday, killing 15 children.
IRS documents obtained by Eyewitness News show the church claims more then $19 million in assets and spends around $600,000 a year funding those orphanages. Yvonne Trimble, a resident missionary who lives near the orphanage and works with Haiti for Christ Ministries doubts the accuracy of those reports.
“There is no way they’re pouring half a million dollars a year into the expenses of these homes,” Trimble says.
Trimble, who has been a resident missionary since 1978 says the Haitian Social Services revoked the church’s license to operate an orphanage, which they continue to do today.
“There was a rat infestation, there was no proper bedding,” she explained. “That place was filthy.”
Trimble believes Church of Bible Understanding is a cult started by Stewart Traill and operates by taking people’s money with false pretenses for members.
“They are a cult, and a cult that operates with a dictatorship leader who oppresses the people he brings in,” Trimble said.
The Church of Bible Understanding is based in Scranton and owns several properties in the area. Its main office is at Olde Good Things on Gilligan Street, one of the organization’s antique warehouses and businesses in the U.S.
“Everybody would work together,” former member of the church, Ashely Blevins explained. “We did restoration jobs, salvaging jobs, different things like that.”
Blevins spent one year with the church while her father worked with the organization on and off for 30 years. She says it’s a Christian fellowship and money raised through the church’s business helps members and people in Haiti.
“It takes care of everybody,” she said. “It takes care of everything. It helps fund the orphanages, it helps with food, it helps take care of people all together.”
As a former member, Blevins agrees and disagrees with the idea of it being a cult.
“They fully believe and feel that their way is the best way of handling things to be closer to God,” Blevins said.
Blevins tells Eyewitness News if you’re a church member and work at a church business you essentially sign over your paycheck to the organization and in return they will help you out.
According to Blevins, a lot of the antiques at Olde Good Things come from Haiti and are sold for hundreds if not thousands of dollars.