HARRODSBURG, Ky. (BP)–A man accused of conning several Kentucky Baptist churches out of thousands of dollars and tons of donated clothing is behind bars in Boyle County.
Daniel Lubowa, a Ugandan who used the alias Mark Phelps, was arrested June 9 after Larry Redding, pastor of Bruners Chapel Baptist Church in Harrodsburg, filed a complaint against him.
Lubowa faces a felony charge of theft by deception. A preliminary hearing held June 22 in Mercer County District Court determined there was sufficient evidence to send the case to a grand jury.
Lubowa, the son of a Baptist minister in Uganda, reportedly presented himself as a missionary seeking to help needy people in Uganda and neighboring Sudan. Speaking in several churches from Corbin to Georgetown in recent months, he told about overwhelming physical and economic needs in war-wracked Sudan. Several churches responded by donating money and clothing for him to distribute.
However, according to a Southern Baptist missionary who has known Lubowa for nearly 20 years, he owns a hotel in Uganda, drives expensive vehicles and reportedly has not distributed any donated money or clothing.
Larry Pumpelly, a Southern Baptist International Mission Board strategy associate in Nairobi, Kenya, said Lubowa “is not at all a person of any credibility in his own country. He has continued to raise money and goods for Uganda and Ugandans, but as far as I can tell nothing has gotten to Ugandans. I have never known of any of the clothes he raised in the U.S. going to Ugandans in a free distribution.” He added that Lubowa does have a store in Kampala where he sells used clothing.
Mark Kelly, an IMB spokesman in Richmond, Va., said Lubowa has no connection with the Southern Baptist missions agency. “The IMB does not endorse what he allegedly has been doing in the churches,” Kelly said. “Because of Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program approach to missions, we don’t condone anyone soliciting donations directly from individual congregations.”
Redding said Lubowa first contacted him by phone in March. He said Lubowa wanted to visit him and express thanks for the church’s support of the Cooperative Program. Redding, moderator of Mercer Baptist Association, invited Lubowa to meet with him and other area pastors the next day at the associational office.
Lubowa “said he had been sent here by a group in Africa doing undercover work in Sudan starting churches,” Redding recalled. Noting that Lubowa “is very articulate,” he added, “He told about the great poverty in Africa. He said there was no income at all where he ministered.”
After the meeting, Redding invited Lubowa to speak at the association’s Executive Board meeting in early April.
“Everybody was very moved” by Lubowa’s story, Redding said. As a result, board members voted to earmark the association’s annual clothing drive for Lubowa’s ministry efforts. Redding said the project grew from an associational event to a regional emphasis, with churches donating nearly seven tons of clothing.
Lubowa also “started to be invited to different churches in our association,” Redding said. “He touched so many hearts and churches started giving him nice love offerings.”
Earlier this month, associational leaders were alerted that Lubowa’s claims might not be legitimate. Redding and other church leaders discovered that Grace Ministries in Rochester, Minn., and the African Baptist Convention, two organizations with which Lubowa claimed to be associated, apparently were sham organizations he set up.
Uncovering a lengthy pattern of deceptive behavior, Redding said Lubowa “has been doing this for several years in at least seven states.” He said his goal in filing a complaint against Lubowa “is not to get back money; it’s the principle of trying to stop him from doing this again.”
W.O. Wilham, retired director of missions for Mercer and South District associations, sent an e-mail alert last week to all Kentucky Baptist directors of missions. He wrote that churches in Boyle, Fayette and Mercer counties had donated more than $27,000 to Lubowa. He said Lubowa reportedly has conducted similar scams in Georgia, Hawaii, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas.
Lubowa “is a con at everything he claims,” Redding said. “By the grace of God we were able to have him arrested. People are living in poverty and he is a stumbling block because people have lost their zeal to give to missions.”
Although the whole situation “makes me sick,” Redding added, “You have to stop a stumbling block.”