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Mumbai, India — A evangelical Christian group that doesn’t believe in vaccinations has contracted polio and a few other preventable diseases following a missionary trip to Dharavi, one of the poorest districts in India.

A breakoff sect from the already controversial Redding, CA-based Bethel church wanted to live “just how God intended them to live: vaccine free.” So the 42-member Worldwide Church of the Almighty, as they called themselves, wanted to “prove their faith” by visiting an area of the world that has some of the lowest vaccination rates and high levels of infectious diseases.

“We trust God will protect us because our faith is strong,” said Church of the Almighty pastor Jesse Caldrum speaking to Record Spotlight, a local newspaper, before their trip. “For centuries, man existed without vaccines and only by His Word. So we like to say we’re vaccinated with the Holy Spirit.”

Although the congregation was bright-eyed and optimistic, the mother of the recent 23-year-old convert Nan Cornet said she was a little worried.

“She told me over the phone the night before she left that she was a little nervous,” said Carol Cornet, Nan’s mother. “But I could hear more in her voice. You know, like a mom can. She was scared. I was hoping that this group would be a positive thing for her, but I’m afraid they’ve turned into a cult. Fortunately, she didn’t get sick, other than a lot of diarrhea.”

Most Became Ill from Preventable Diseases

According to Harold Hunt, during their 3-month mission to the Dharavi district, the parishioners lived like “the locals.” As a result, he spent a great deal of time studying the customs of India’s poorest people.

“That was my job,” said Mr. Hunt recalling their stay. “We did all the things Dharavi people do. We had to carry water for a couple of miles, eat on the floor, and not access basic medical care. Sure, I came down with Typhoid Fever–and it’s awful, let me tell you–but it was all for the greater glory of God.”

Of the 42 who left on their journey, seven contracted typhoid fever, four came down with malaria, three became infected with hepatitis A, and two doctors say they have polio after drinking unfiltered water. The balance of the crew suffered from a variety of intestinal issues.

“We’re just glad to be alive,” said Mr. Caldrum after returning home. “But all glory be to God, for none of us perished. Instead, our faith in Him paid dividends our human eyes can’t see.”

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