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May 3rd, 2006

Surreal Slave Song

A young man's struggle to free himself from a Texas church choir

 
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After 18 months, the ministry called the police to start deportation against two choir members. After talking to the two choir members the police referred the case to federal immigration officials and the U.S. Department of Labor. The Labor Department forced the ministry to start paying the choir members and to give them educations. While Kachepa then started receiving a paycheck, he was forced to pay back most of it to the ministry in order to eat and sleep. By this point, several host families had been interviewed by the FBI as a part of the investigation into TTT and former Attorney General Janet Reno had been sent letters about the allegations.

The choir members called immigration officials and asked to be taken away from the ministry as conditions worsened. According to Kachepa, the ministry’s founder, Keith Grimes, used the choir as a money making operation. In Kachepa’s visa application to the federal government, he stated that Grimes said that if the choir members went home the choir employees (all of whom were members of Grimes’ family) would lose their jobs. Though he was recognized by the federal government as being involved in human trafficking, Grimes couldn’t be charged because the federal anti human trafficking law had not yet taken effect.

Ministry Closed

“I have observed Given coming into our family after being a victim” says his adoptive mother. “I then saw him going through depression and post traumatic stress…As he spoke and shared his thoughts he released them and he forgave them. It was part of his ability to be a survivor.”

Following Grimes’ death in 1999 his daughter, Barbara Grimes Martens, took control of the choir. Kachepa said Grimes Martens continued the same pattern. After the ministry was ultimately closed down, Grimes Martens moved away from Texas and has not granted interviews about the situation. A woman claiming to be Barbara Grimes Martens has posted on an internet message board refuting the allegations against TTT. Another Internet posting by Jonathan Elijah Grimes said that the allegations are false and that TTT built several schools in Zambia and provided home schooling for the choir members.

Documents filed with, and accepted by, the federal government as a part of Kachepa’s petition to become a resident alien however stated that no schools were built in Zambia as a part of the choir coming to the United States. The documents state that the proof of no schools comes from previous choir members along with those on the ground in Zambia. As a part of the documents, Kachepa states that he learned from people connected with the first choir, that $250,000 had been generated by the first choir’s recordings.

The resulting federal investigation into TTT and Kachepa’s ordeal resulted in almost $1 million in civil penalties being assessed against TTT.

Survivor

Kachepa was granted a visa and certified human trafficking victims status by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security several years ago. With the help of a local Baptist church, he went to live with a local family active in the church. “I have observed Given coming into our family after being a victim” says Sandy Shepard, Kachepa’s adoptive mother. “[I then saw] him going through depression and post traumatic stress…As he spoke and shared his thoughts he released them and he forgave them. It was part of his ability to be a survivor.”

Now 20, Kachepa is a student at Stephen F. Austin State University. He has been active in speaking about his ordeal and in lobbying the government for human trafficking policies. When not in class, Kachepa frequently travels the country to discuss the human trafficking issue.

In the years following his release from the ministry, Kachepa would doubt his faith in God for putting him through the ordeal, which was supposed to rescue him from the depths of poverty. He went through a depression and had to struggle to reconnect with the faith, which had been his inspiration in Zambia.

He was encouraged to go to church by his adoptive family and slowly regained his trust in God. He became active with a local youth ministry, which was tough since his English was not good at the time and he was struggling with the issues from his ordeal. Now he believes that he is back to where he was, spiritually, when he left Africa. He attends church regularly and goes to a weekly Bible study session on campus.

While Kachepa has turned his ordeal in to activism, his fellow choir members choose different paths. Some returned to Zambia, while others in this country have primarily chosen to enter the workforce. Kachepa said that those in this country have not returned to their faith as he has chosen to do.

“God brought me along slowly and regained my trust,” Kachepa said. “I pray a lot now. I will be watching CNN and see something and I will pray for it. I know God exists.”

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The Author : John Celock
John Celock is a New York based writer. He has written on politics, education, religion, business and public policy for a variety of regional and national publications.
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