Church takes man's life savings

03:25, Jun 27 2010
Whetu Abraham
WHETU ABRAHAM: The 54-year-old who has head injuries can no longer afford dental care for his rotting teeth.

A Napier church took at least $20,000 in donations from a disabled rest home resident with head injuries and rejected pleas not to take the last of his life savings.

In less than eight months last year, Napier's Oasis Elim Church took nearly $12,000 from Otatara Rest Care and Rehabilitation resident Whetu Abraham who uses a wheelchair.

Rest home manager Lucy Dever said the church now had the last of Mr Abraham's life savings and he could not afford dental care for rotting teeth.

Bruce Collingwood
BRUCE COLLINGWOOD: The church pastor declined to comment.

Mr Abraham, 54, was a partial tetraplegic with head injuries, after being hit by a car in 1986, Ms Dever said.

"He's got no family or next-of-kin on our list, and they've taken everything from him. It is unethical, immoral and I believe un-Christian.

"He used to have a nest egg but now he has no life savings. He believes if he doesn't give it to them, he won't go to heaven."

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About a year ago, when she discovered the rate at which Mr Abraham was handing over his life savings – he gave about $10,000 in 2008 – she spoke to church pastor Bruce Collingwood.

"I explained that he is not a wealthy man. He is nearly on the poverty line and the money he had, he needed. Sure, some could go to the church, but not all of it.

"The pastor said it was Whetu's choice and said it was tithing [taking a tenth of a person's income for the church]," Ms Dever said.

She questioned how it could be tithing as Mr Abraham was "certainly not" on an income of at least $100,000 for the church to take 10 per cent.

Ms Dever said the church rejected her appeal to stop accepting large donations from Mr Abraham and came to the rest home to give him a donation certificate so he could claim a third of the money back from Inland Revenue.

"I guess they wanted that from him too," she said.

The following year the church received $11,895 from Mr Abraham including one donation of $5000 in May.

Mr Abraham said he gave the church money because of his faith.

"Hopefully, my understanding is simple, you help them, they help you. They used to come and visit me [in the rest home] but it's not often now."

Mr Abraham said he also catered for weddings at the church, buying from a local bakery, but he stopped doing that when "I didn't get recognised".

Ms Dever said she spoke again to Mr Collingwood in April this year when she discovered Mr Abraham had exhausted his life savings.

"He [Mr Collingwood] said there was nothing wrong with what they were doing and he has a different outlook on money.

"I said most people would think that accepting huge amounts from someone with nothing is wrong," Ms Dever said. "I tried to reason with him and asked him to give the money back but he wouldn't."

Mr Collingwood declined to comment yesterday.

"I don't like the spin of the media. No comment at all thank you."

A Victoria University religious studies lecturer, Geoff Troughton, said tithing generally meant taking a tenth of a person's income but the word had different meanings for different churches and cultures.

He said Pentecostal churches like Elim were often a "more enclosed complete social world" and tended to take a stronger position on biblical teaching on giving donations than other churches such as Anglican.

The Dominion Post