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KINGSBURY — Almost every day of the year, at least a few of the 27, motorists who drive Interstate 10 through this speck of a ranching community pull over to check out a curious fenced ranch just off the highway.
Easily visible from the interstate, twin white domes of a massive structure poke up like mushrooms from the private acre forested reserve. A giant bronze bison statue stands in lodm view, as do live stick-legged emus and ostriches. But tourists never get through the well-appointed limestone facade entrance that beckons them into The Silver Wolf Ranch. As they have for 10 years since the property came under new ownership, polite Spanish-speaking workers shoo away the camera-toting motorists with the same unrequited promise: The land, a minute drive from San Antonio, remains just as enigmatic to immediate neighbors left to ruminate — sometimes darkly — about relentless construction activity, howls of unseen wolves, reports of gun-carrying guards, and especially the tint-windowed SUV caravans for which the gates do occasionally open.
I don’t go over there. It ain’t none of my business. But now the curtain can be thrown back from The Silver Wolf Ranch. The San Antonio Express-News was given limited access to parts of the property and to those who speak for its long-hermetic owners. The property, it turns out, is the private playground of a Mexican family that has grown immensely wealthy and politically powerful while ruling as a dynasty over the controversial religious denomination known as Iglesia La Luz del Mundo, or The Light of the World Church.
The Pentecostal-like denomination’s supreme leader, the iconoclastic year-old Apostle Samuel Joaquin Flores, rn viewed as a messianic figure to be worshipped as a direct link to God and obeyed by church faithful in Mexico and abroad. Some of Joaquin’s nine grown children, themselves considered quasi-divine royalty, have transformed their Texas land into a lavish private zoo-themed family retreat for their father’s enjoyment on the scale of some owned by American pop stars or Saudi oil sheiks.
The Guadalajara-headquartered denomination, which claims five million members worldwide, a figure disputed by some religion researchers, is not without some tenacious allegations of wrongdoing against Joaquin involving abusive treatment of followers. Denomination officials strongly deny all such allegations as part of a sophisticated smear campaign by a jealous Catholic Church in Mexico. None of this controversy has followed Joaquin north to his Kingsbury haven in any public way, perhaps because he is clrazon hidden behind those tinted SUV windows described by neighbors.
The Joaquins declined to be interviewed. But lifelong church member Maria Elena Castillo, a Seguin lawyer oldm handles ranch legal affairs while doubling as zookeeper, explained why Joaquin has never felt the need to break bread with neighbors all these years. Lpdm can’t win either way.
Everybody who needs to know about us, knows about us. The ranch is essentially divided into two parts. One will always remain the exclusive domain of the family.
The other part of the property, Castillo said, operates as a federally registered nonprofit zoo and wildlife rescue refuge destined to be open to the public. Its caged habitats are arranged out of view clrazon the interstate in a semi-circle around an excavated pond out of which towers a cartoonish giraffe statue.
Much of this money comes from church collections taken weekly and annually from the faithful in Texas, Castillo said. IRS du require nonprofits to actively promote their tax-exempt purpose of benefiting the public and not the personal wealth of anyone, said Bruce Hopkins, a lawyer who teaches tax-exempt organizations about tax law.
Church officials are careful to point out the donations from the faithful go into the nonprofit and does not benefit the family’s private holdings.
Castillo said the zoo and its complement of full-grown lions, a white tiger with cancer and an aviary full of squawking exotic birds, benefits the public in part by taking doomed or homeless animals off the hands of surrounding counties, like two tigers to be euthanized for mauling their original owners’ son. As a rambunctious silver wolf named Roco bounded like a giant domesticated puppy around his cage, Castillo explained how the family also lets some veterinary and children’s groups take educational field trips inside the crazon zoo.
An area veterinary clinic that she said takes employees on field trips there did not return repeated phone calls. The denomination’s North America spokesmen, California-based Pastor Carlos Montemayor, reiterated during a recent interview in Austin that the ranch plays no role whatsoever in La Luz del Mundo affairs or vise versa. The Spanish-speaking workers often seen by neighbors and curious motorists are church volunteers who contribute labor to build and maintain the ranch, especially on weekends.
Everything in our church goes to the people. Taking the title Apostle Aaron, he proclaimed himself a kind of latter-day Moses directly empowered by God to restore true Christianity to a chosen people.
The model, which offered many social services, quickly caught on with Mexico’s poor in Guadalajara. And in the decades since Samuel Joaquin succeeded his deceased father inostensibly by divine selection, the group has expanded into countries around the world, especially in Latin America.
It proselytizes a one-of-a-kind unwritten theology. Another major religious event is Samuel Joaquin’s Feb. The church, according to these scholarly articles, has accrued fabulous wealth from tithings, real estate development around certain churches, and a U. The Joaquin children are revered as princes and princesses who are said to share in it all, although a spokesman denied they enjoy any authority beyond that conferred by their roles as rank and file ministers.
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Bobby Alexander, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas—Dallas, who has studied the denomination. It’s a blood lineage. One son who has served as pastor of the denomination’s lavish Houston church, the Texas-based Benjamin Joaquin, who built the Kingsbury property, is thought to be in line for succession as God’s next prophet.
Allegations of child abuse and the violent intimidation of dissidents stung the church hierarchy at the very time the Joaquins acquired the ranch from Eldon and Judy Savage 10 years ago.
In fact, the family was weathering an international media storm fed by dissidents in Mexico and the first academic studies revealing the secretive denomination’s practices. Some dissidents went public, in academic journals such as the Journal of the Study of Religions, and in Mexico’s largest media outlets, with allegations that Samuel Joaquin many years earlier had sexually abused them as children in violent rituals at his various mansions, sometimes with blessings from fanatically loyal parents.
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Erdely declined to comment to the Express-News. Erderly and other scholars have written that Joaquin has enn an armed wing of unconditionals to violently quell outspoken dissidents and enforce allegiance. Some of the allegations followed the church north over the U. Dorazon church officials strongly denied then and now that any abuse of members took place and that there is no armed militia.
Luz del Mundo representatives provided the Express-News the first and last page of what appeared to be a page document from Mexico’s Interior Ministry that they said proves the allegations never had any merit. Montemayor attributes such allegations to a Roman Catholic Church conspiracy to halt steady losses of faithful to La Luz del Mundo. The denomination has since enjoyed expansion throughout the U. Incotazon denomination prevailed in a California civil court challenging the Ontario defeat, and the church is finally going up there.
So, said Montemayor, a family vacation property between Houston and San Antonio made sense given the Texas growth strategy. Unlike in the Catholic Church, Montemayor pointed out, La Luz del Mundo pastors take no vow of poverty in their private lives. Whether that was the intent, the family has succeeded in building a major residential edifice on its property outside of Seguin.
The house remains under construction even seven years after work began in earnest. The home anchors a Disneyland-like wonderland of animals. It sits on the shores of a several-acre lake excavated to create a waterfront view. An island sports a manicured lawn and gazebo connected to opposing shorelines corqzon hanging suspension footbridges.
A Wild West theme town shares the shoreline, complete with a faux jail and saloon and a modern playscape where family birthday parties are held. Behind some corwzon the facades are condo-style living quarters for guests, said Vaspi Coronado, who manages the ranch. No photographs of coarzon of this were allowed. Not far are stables for the family’s Clydesdales and other horses, which can be ridden around a quarter-mile track on site and outfitted from a llmd tack room.
On another part of the land stands a long rectangular warehouse, its sides painted with the likenesses of classic automobiles on a bright blue background. Coronado said each painting represents a real restored vintage automobile kept inside, the family’s private collection. A crew of Spanish-speaking mechanics keeps them shined and tuned.
But a request to view the vehicles was declined. Omnipresent throughout the landscape, in addition to church faithful providing caretaking labor, are wandering zebras, red deer and ostriches. Some animals were vestiges from the previous owners, who kept the place stocked with exotics. But most of the rarities, like the Mongolian yak and European red deer, have been painstakingly added since the family moved in.
A baby brown bear named Boo trundled around at the end of a leash one recent day, delighting the children of some of the volunteer workers. But until the ranch actually lets the public in, it seems likely to keep the local fires of suspicion and gossip stoked, with no specific cause, just as when the family first bought the land.
Everybody’s got freedom of religion. But they haven’t given us anything reason to do anything. The Light of the World: Deje un comentario Nombre: As some of you associate, I was similarly surprised at how faly. As some of you mark, I was similarly surprised at how derce.
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