Thursday, November 17, 2005


Drug Charges May Force Pastor's Deportation

Cincinnati, Ohio - A pastor for one of Cincinnati's largest church congregations is facing deportation due to drug convictions dating back three decades.

From serving time in prison to serving God -- that's the choice Pastor Keith Thomas made 35-years ago while in an English prison on marijuana charges.

But despite that life-changing choice, for the pastor of Vineyard Community Church in Springdale, it might not be enough to keep him stateside.

"It would be so wonderful just to wake up in the morning and know where I am going to be the next day," said Thomas, "and not feel my past continues to reverberate into my future."

Serving those who serve the Lord -- that's what Pastor Thomas has spent the past five years doing since coming to the U.S. -- now that all may soon be coming to an end.

Told earlier this year that his green card and work visa request to stay in the country were denied, likely due to questions he answered on a form while trying to stay in the U.S. with his American-born wife.

The question? -- "Have you ever been convicted ... of any drug offense?"

And Thomas had. Twice.

"Big deal," said Beverly Lamby, a member of the Vineyard Community Church.

"I am 74-years-old," said Lamby. "I can remember trying marijuana. Never tried anything else, but did try marijuana. I mean, what is the big deal?"

Lamby joined the congregation long before Pastor Thomas arrived.

"As an American citizen, I feel like I'm being short-changed," said Lamby.

"The immigration office isn't doing their job in the proper way," said Lamby. "They are targeting the wrong people."

Even worse, Thomas hasn't been told when he could be asked to leave the country.

In the interim, the lives of his wife and three children hang in the balance, as well.

"I don't know what is happening next week, let alone next year," said Thomas.

Wally Bates serves on several leadership teams at the church with Thomas.

"We've all sinned, we've all had mistakes in our past and if we act like we haven't -- I mean we are fooling somebody," said Bates.

"Keith's not hiding anything," said Bates, "and he is living a Christ-like life."

"At the end of the day you trust God, he knows what he is doing," said Thomas, "and we will see."

When asked if he had to do it all over again -- if he would tell the truth while filling out the form, listing previous convictions -- he said that he would, even with the prospect of having to leave the country.

Thomas told 9News that not only would he fill out the paperwork honestly --but that anyone who is close to God, would do the same.

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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