Several businesses in Juneau say they were duped into a giving to a charitable event without realizing the event was intended to be a revival.
“They flat out lied,” said one local business owner, who refused to be named because he said he didn’t want to alienate his customer base. “At the very least they were very deceptive.”
Another local business, whose owner also declined to be named for the same reason, complained it was false advertising, saying no religious affiliation was disclosed in the event’s advertisements.
“It definitely wasn’t made clear initially that it was a religious organization or that it was a religious event,” he said.
Businesses in Juneau have donated more than $25,000 in retail value to Juneau Fest, which is being sponsored locally by Sam Dalin, a volunteer chaplain for the police and fire departments and the pastor and co-founder of his church, River of Glory Church.
The free electronics, sporting goods, toys and household items were to be given out as free gifts and prizes for members of the community attending the event, the business owners were told by a couple tasked with soliciting the donations.
But what the owners did not know until later is that the event was supposed to be a revival.
Fliers had been passed out around town advertising the event as “The Great Awakening” as part of the Great Awakening Tour by the founder of the River at Tampa Bay Church, Rodney Howard-Browne, who is a longtime friend of Dalin’s.
That led many to believe the group was attempting to lure people to the event under the guise of free Xboxes and iPads, including the local church coalition, which chastised the group for being deceptive.
“We disagree with what feels like deceptive, manipulative techniques to bring people into a relationship with Jesus,” Rev. Tari Stage-Harvey, the coordinator of the Cooperative Church Council, said in a phone interview Friday. “That is kind of the bottom line.”
Stage-Harvey added, “There’s nothing wrong with a revival, and go for it, but there’s a lot wrong with tricking people into it.”
By the time business owners were being solicited for donations, the “Great Awakening” fliers had disappeared. The businesses were only shown a new flier that made promises of free giveaways and two nights of honoring the police and fire departments. There was no mention of any religious affiliation.
“Six Festive Fun Nights! Every night is a night to celebrate!” the flier reads in part.
Dalin said the claim that they were attempting to draw people into a revival under false pretenses is baffling. He said by the time businesses were approached, they had already decided to split the event into two — host revival meetings in the morning and the free giveaway for the community at night.
“There’s some things that just baffle me, I don’t really know,” he told the Empire in a phone interview on Thursday.
Although Dalin denied the accusations, he admitted in the same interview that he didn’t think anyone would come to a revival, which gave rise to the free giveaway idea.
“When we start talking about doing a giveaway, then we thought, ‘OK well, people aren’t going to come to a revivalist event.’ Even the police officers that I work with and firefighters that I work with aren’t going to come to a revivalist event. If they want to go to church, they’re going to go to church. So then we tried to flip it over to Juneau Fest, and that’s where the confusion came.”
Dalin noted they have since tried to do some damage control by making new advertisements that include the phrases “Keeping Christ in Christmas” and “In God We Trust.”
“We changed the new advertising after people came and asked,” he said. “And we said, ‘Oh, we’ve never done this before. We’ll change the ads and flip the ads around.’ So that’s what we did. All the new stuff says you know, ‘The spirit of Christmas is keeping Christ in Christmas, and at the bottom it says, ‘In God we trust’ so people will know ‘Hey yeah ... this (is) a religious event.”
Dalin added, “The Juneau Fest is just like I said: Free, free, free. Giveaways, giveaways, giveaways. You know, keep their spirit of Christmas in. And you know, we’re not going to come in and put Christ on the back burner somewhere when we believe the spirit of Christmas is the Christ of Christmas. But the whole event is just to give away to show really, in my opinion, to just show, hey, the Christ of Christmas is a good guy, you know. For God so loved that he gave, so we’re just going to keep on giving.”
Jody and Regis Andrews, the couple who solicited the donations, said they felt no obligation to tell the business owners about the religious aspect of the event since only the morning portion was dedicated to the revival.
“It doesn’t pertain to them,” Jody Andrews said during an hour-long in person interview early Friday morning.
“And absolutely none of this is going to be connected with any of the pastoral meetings in the morning. This is not for that purpose at all,” Regis Andrews said, adding, “None of this that we are doing for the support and all of the goods and services go to the morning, none of that goes to the morning, it is all designated for the community — for the men and women and children, armed forces and firemen and everybody — at night for the community festival.”
Regis Andrews pointed to the recent advertisement, saying it clearly stated the free giveaways begin at 7 p.m. each night.
“7 p.m.,” he emphasized.
But according to the earlier “Great Awakening” flier, Howard-Browne was scheduled to preach at 7 p.m. from Sunday to Friday, in addition to the morning services.
Earlier this week, Juneau was listed online at www.revival.com, the website for the River at Tampa Bay Church, as one of the cities involved in the Great Awakening Tour. By Saturday, Juneau was removed from the website and is no longer listed.
Dalin, who identifies as a Christian revivalist, says the original idea behind Juneau Fest was for it to be a large revival. The revivalist movement is commonly associated with the stories of disabled people who jump out of wheelchairs and walk, healed alone by the power of prayer.
“The vision was simply let’s just call it a revival, period, and come in and do what we do on Sunday morning,” Dalin said.
Dalin said that during the midst of the revival, he also wanted to honor the fire and police departments, whom he has worked alongside for the past 12 and six years, respectively.
Dalin flew to Tampa, Florida to see his friend Howard-Browne last year and asked if he would be interested in preaching to the Juneau community for the event. Howard-Browne said yes and told Dalin to find a venue. Dalin booked Centennial Hall and Convention with the financial backing of his church’s congregation.
Howard-Browne also sent Dalin help by flying about 30 students of their River Bible Institute to Juneau to assist, as well as the Andrews, who are members of Howard-Browne’s congregation. The Andrews say they were not asked to come to Juneau by Howard-Browne, but by Dalin.
Howard-Browne is a controversial pastor who founded the River at Tampa Bay Church and Revival Ministries International, which aims to “see America shaken with the fires of revival, then take that fire to the far-flung corners of the globe,” according to its website.
One theme of the church is to save souls and make non-believers believers. Its website encourages the church members to register the number of souls “won” and features a “Gospel soul-winning package” as a guide on how to save people.
Dalin’s church, the River of Glory, is listed as one of the four “Soul Saving Stations” in Alaska, according to the website. Two are located in Sitka and one in Anchorage.
The website for Dalin’s church streams a videoclip of Howard-Browne in action preaching. The video shows crowds of people praying, then fainting and falling to the floor during the services.
Howard-Browne is known for the widely criticized phenomenon of “holy laughter,” wherein audience members laugh uncontrollably during the services, apparently from joy and healing.
Howard-Browne will be speaking at the morning services at Centennial Hall next week, but not in the evenings during the community giveaways, according to Dalin.
Juneau Fest also raised some red flags with the police department, according to chief of police Greg Browning. Browning said the police did not officially launch an investigation into the giveaways, but that an officer did look into it to make sure it wasn’t a scam.
“It seems suspicious on its face that something’s being given away for nothing, and he kind of wanted to know what was going on, and I don’t think he found anything,” Browning said in a phone interview.
Browning met with Dalin earlier this week to make sure he was clear that the Juneau Police Department is not sponsoring the event. Browning said he had never heard of Juneau Fest until Monday morning when he got back from vacation. He said he received a phone call from the city manager, who wanted confirmation the department wasn’t backing the event.
Browning also said he found a flier and was surprised to see that they were raffling off firearms for members of the police department. JPD officers will not be allowed to accept the firearms due to their rules and regulations, Browning said.
“I think that they were trying to do a good thing by honoring fire and police but in this particular case, like I said, we have to say thanks but no thanks,” Browning said. “And we do that a lot. When people want to give us something, but on the other hand, our officers aren’t even allowed to take like a free cup of coffee because of the implications that could come from that, and we’re real strict about that, so that’s just the way it is.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.