Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago in Controversy over Church for Spiritual Advisor

PM’s link to “prophetess” previously described as “foolish” by Benny Hinn

A couple of weeks ago, the Trinidad Express carried a report with a wonderful headline:

PM denies owning church

In a statement which left a lot unanswered, Prime Minister Patrick Manning yesterday confirmed the church in Heights of Guanapo, Arima, is being built on State lands.

He, however, categorically denied that public funds were being used for its construction. He also denied an allegation that was never made-which is that he owns the church. There has been the suggestion, however, that he has taken a personal interest in the construction because he has visited the site.

…The statement also did not remove the mystery surrounding the relationship between the Prime Minister and the person who laid the foundation stone at the construction site, ‘Rev Apostle Juliana Pena’. It also does not address claims in television and newspapers that Pena travels with the Prime Minister on his foreign trips, at taxpayers’ expense, and is afforded diplomatic courtesies.

Pena is Manning’s “spiritual advisor”, and various sources are noting a news story that reportedly appeared in the Harare Herald at the end of 2005 (original not on-line):

Harare — President Mugabe yesterday met a special envoy of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr Patrick Manning, at State House.

Speaking after the meeting, the envoy, Reverend Juliana Pena of the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Church, said she had come to Zimbabwe to share with the President a vision that she had received from God in which he revealed his desire to see change in Africa.

Her influence over Manning came to attention in 2007 thanks to comments by Benny Hinn in 2007, as I blogged here:

…”Years ago I was in Trinidad…this man was sitting on the platform and I said… you will be the next Prime Minister and he is till now. I was in his (Manning) office a few months ago… he brought with him a very foolish woman who called herself a prophetess.

“He came to the room with this woman and said ‘I have a gift for you’. So he looked at me, said this is the woman, she has a word for you… I was not happy and when I am not happy people will know it.

“He (Manning) said I want her to pray for you and give her the word, I take her with me everywhere he said (Manning).

“God speaks to me through her. She has been a great blessing to the Government. I’m thinking you foolish man.

“This woman reaches out to touch me and I grab her hand in mid air, ‘don’t touch me’ I said. Shaken, I said Mr Prime Minister, I honour you but I don’t know who this woman is…nobody will lay hands on me and I walked out of the room. Whether it is the Prime Minister or President, nobody lays hands on me. I don’t know what spirit is in her. Don’t let people touch you.”

The new church is being built by a Chinese contractor used for various state projects, at a reported cost of $20 million. Questions have also been asked about planning permission. According to another Express report:

When the Sunday Express asked how Pena, who is currently using her mother’s maiden name, would be able to get the funding to build such an elaborate church, [her estranged brother-in-law Trevor] Devonish said, ’Julie have international connections and she is very well connected’.

…Another one of Pena’s brothers also called the Sunday Express offices yesterday and said whatever she was doing was nobody’s business.

Describing himself as the older sibling and a former police officer, he said he wanted the media to stop hounding them down and leave his sister alone because, ’whatever she is doing, wherever she getting money from is none of all yuh business’.

Manning, meanwhile, has made a statement to parliament complaining of persecution and comparing himself to Salman Rusdhie; the Express again reports (in a piece headlined “Beware the Spirit-Lash”):

Citing figures, Manning said millions have been given by the State to the various denominations over the years, particularly the Roman Catholics, Hindus and Muslims among others, but said nobody questions this.

…’In the Roman Catholic Church, Roman Catholics consult with their priests for spiritual guidance constantly. Nothing is wrong with that

…’But when the prime minister decides that he would seek spiritual advice from whoever he wishes, the first thing they say is obeah, seerwoman, prophetess. And prophetess is meant to be a disparaging statement. Mr Speaker, that is tantamount to religious persecution of the prime minister!’

…’You get up and say something about the Hindus and you will find out. You make that mistake. You get up and say something about the Muslims.’

…’Listen carefully to what I am about to say. Two days ago, two journalists from a media house in this country went up to Guanapo Heights and interviewed a lady whom they met there, who heads an arm of the church that at one time was with the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ Church, but there was a split in the church. And after the interview, they had a spiritual experience the likes of which they never had before…’

MPs reportedly heckled with comments such as “spirit lash” and “the second crusade has begun”. The opposition leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, was unimpressed. Newsday reports:

“He has gone off on a tangent — red herrings, distractions — and in a sense he wants to begin a religious war in this country. What he is doing is trying to defend what appears to be the indefensible. He has gone off to create friction among the various religious groups.”

[Other grants] were open, transparent matters, but this (Guanapo Heights) is where he is using State resources but there is no openness, no transparency, no accountability.”

She said Manning’s remarks on his own religious beliefs were a distraction last Friday.

“He was waxing ecclesiastical in the Parliament for 53 minutes at a time when it was a Private (Members) Day — that’s bad enough — but no one wants to hear about his personal religious practices and beliefs. To use the Parliament for that purpose was to distract from the real issue.”

As for the two journalists who Manning claimed had had a “spiritual experience”:

Michelle Loubon and Keith Matthews, of the Trinidad Guardian, yesterday told the Express that they went to Guanapo to do their job and nothing else.

‘I don’t know what the Prime Minister is talking about, I really don’t know. We went up there yes, but we went to do our job,’ Loubon said.

According to the latest reports, the Attorney General is not investigating the construction contoversy.

Pena is described as being in her sixties, and the Express gives some purported background:

She was first married to a Puerto Rican American, then to Trinidadian Russell Andalcio, a former trade unionist who was locked up during the Black Power Revolution. She and her husband migrated to Georgia, the Bible belt, separated, with her husband being given custody of their children. Pena subsequently married Euston Devonish and returned to Trinidad.

She is now estranged from Devonish, and we are told that Pena is her mother’s maiden name (her mother is known as “Ms Pereira”).

Her church is a breakaway from Jesus The Light of This World Ministries, and although a “rift” is suggested the two churches seem to remain close. Loudon spoke with an evangelist from the Light of This World, Shirlain Fermin:

Evangelist Shirlain Fermin said Pena possesses “extraordinary powers.” Fermin said: “She is very unique. She is extraordinary. She doesn’t speak like us. She is very educated. She knows how to carry about herself. She can carry on a conversation with anyone. She can speak well. She is very pleasant.” Fermin related a story in which her sister Yuklan was cured by Pena. She said: “She discovered lumps on her breast. Pena prayed for her and she was cured. Pena is extraordinary,” said Fermin. Before Pena and her reputation for having the ear of Manning, Fermin said the Lord raised her up. She said: “At one time, she was living in her car in the US. The Lord raised her up. She cried out to him.”

Fermin says that she accompanied Pena on visits to Africa. Another Express report features a quote from “Nathaniel Blanc, 31, a pastor-in training at the nearby Jesus The Light Of This World Ministries” about the new church:

‘It is not State funds being used. It is money that we gathered from donations, offering and funds from other countries’

Loudon also met prophetess Cindy Blanc with Fermin, who spoke in tongues (this seems to be the “experience” to which Manning refers):

Blanc told us to be careful. “Your job is a dangerous job. You have to write a report. But sometimes you might not come back,” she said. She also said the story of the church was not a story to be pursued. “Keep it alone. Do not pursue it. God has a hand in it. Whatever we have told you, do not pursue it,” she said. Blanc said, “PM can do what he wants. Anyone that riseth up against me will be brought to nothing.” After the service, Fermin reminded us.”You heard what Blanc said,’Kill the story’.