Father gets kids from WOFF

The Digital Courier/January 12, 2003
By Jim Lewis

Rutherfordton -- A Michigan man came to Rutherford County on Friday and removed his two teen-age children from Word of Faith Fellowship homes with the help of local authorities.

Andre Clark arrived at the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department early on Friday morning and presented custody papers regarding the boy and girl, who were believed to be ages 15 and 17.

The children, who were at separate locations, were picked up by deputies and officers from the Rutherfordton Police Department and delivered to the Rutherford County Department of Social Services where they were interviewed before leaving the state with their father.

Both Clark and the children's mother, Clark's ex-wife, told authorities they wanted the children back in Michigan.

Clark has custody of one of the children while his ex-wife has custody of the other child, said Lt. Wayne Guffey who spoke with Clark.

Guffey said he also spoke with the children's mother who confirmed that she wanted her ex-husband to bring the children back to Michigan.

One former member of the WOFF who was familiar with Clark's children said they had been staying with church families in Rutherford County for about 18 months. It was unclear how the children came to be living in North Carolina instead of in Michigan with their parents.

A telephone call to the WOFF seeking comment from senior pastor Jane Whaley was not returned on Friday.

Whaley and the Spindale-based church have been under growing scrutiny for the past month as a Florida woman, Shana Muse, has pushed local authorities to assist her in regaining custody of her four children, ages 8 to 15.

Two separate investigations into the welfare of children at the WOFF, including one inquiry involving Muse's children, have been launched since mid-December.

A WOFF minister and his wife obtained emergency custody of the Muse children on Dec. 23. The couple and Muse signed an agreement last week which gives the couple temporary custody and Muse visitation privileges.

District Attorney Jeff Hunt asked the DSS to investigate the welfare of Muse's children. That investigation is ongoing, two DSS officials said Friday.

Meanwhile, a separate inquiry into the welfare of children ages 0 to 5 at the WOFF came to light last week.

The inquiry was launched after allegations were filed with the DSS regarding the care of children at the WOFF's child care facility.

The WOFF operates a school and a facility for smaller children.

In a petition filed Jan. 3, DSS alleged that Whaley and her husband, Sam Whaley, and other church officials have not been cooperating with that inquiry.

The church leaders have been ordered to appear in court next Friday where they are expected to be asked to turnover the names and address of all children ages 0 to 5 who are at the WOFF.

Last week, DSS attorney Brad Greenway indicated most disputes about information in child abuse or neglect investigations are resolved before they reach a court hearing. However, Green-way and DSS Director John Carroll indicated on Friday that the case was still set for hearing.

Clark was at one time a minister with the New Family Worship Center, a WOFF-affiliate church based in Saginaw, Mich.

However, the Michigan congregation may have severed ties with Whaley and the WOFF in Spindale in recent weeks.

It was unclear on Friday whether Clark was still a member of the Saginaw church.

A former WOFF member said Friday it had been routine for 15 to 20 members of the Michigan congregation to attend seminars at Whaley's church in Spindale.

Last year, authorities in North Carolina and Michigan investigated allegations that a young girl from the Saginaw congregation had been raped while staying at a WOFF member's home in Rutherfordton. The allegations were directed toward an official with the Michigan-based church who was also staying at the house.

No charges were ever filed in connection with those allegations.

"There was no evidence that that allegation had any merit to it," said District Attorney Hunt.

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