Former members of Colleton Co. church allege sexual abuse, say it's a cult
By Harve Jacobs, Reporter
COLLETON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Former members of a Colleton County church have come forward saying they were sexually assaulted by the church's leader.
The leader of Overcomer Ministry in the Canadys community in Colleton County is under investigation after Ralph Stair apparently was seen on video touching a 12 year old girl's breast.
Some say the 84-year-old so-called preacher actually is a predator who preys on young girls and women. A video recently surfaced that apparently shows Stair cupping the breast of a 12-year old girl during a church service.
"I'm gonna touch those things till nobody else can touch 'em," Stair is heard saying in the video.
The video brought back some bad memories for three former members of Stair's church. They all decided to speak out after seeing the (video).
Stacey who asked us not to show her face moved with her family to Stair's farm in 1999. At the time she was 17 years old.
"I think it's that he's really charismatic, he's powerful sounding, at least back then with his words," Stacey said.
Donna Jackson and her family moved to Stair's farm in 1995. At the time Jackson was married and in her 30s.
"It wasn't that difficult for me to do because I was under the impression that this was a man of God and that what we were doing was the right thing," Jackson said.
Lita, who also asked that we not show her face moved to the Overcomer farm with her family in 1997. At the time she was 17.
"We all assumed that ok, he hears from God and whatever he says, do this is what you do," Lita said.
The brochure for Overcomer Ministry portrays the farm as a place where people seek to live together for God and each other. The brochure states residents will "go nowhere, no shopping or trips. Your life will be here on the farm until Jesus comes." Families also were forced to give all their possessions to Stair and his ministry.
"Just everything, we went with nothing," Lita said.
The women say their families learned to be self-sufficient, growing their own food. Soon, they saw some red flags.
"Started giving me hugs and he had never paid me much attention at all except he asked me a couple of times how old I was," Stacey said.
"He made a beeline for me pretty quickly once we moved there," Jackson said.
Lita says she was forced to live apart from her parents.
"That's when I started encountering sexual advances from Stair," Lita said.
Stacey says one day the elderly preacher did the unthinkable to her inside a trailer on the compound.
"He just sexually assaulted me right there. I still couldn't talk. I couldn't say anything. I just basically let it happen. I covered my hands over my face and let it happen because I didn't know what else to do," Stacey said.
Lita says she also was sexually assaulted by Stair for more than a year.
"I was like I don't want to do this. Can you please leave me alone? He's like don't you want to please God?" Lita said.
Jackson says she was attacked but not sexually assaulted.
"He grabbed me and I could feel him if you understand what I mean because he had pressed himself against me that firmly," Jackson said.
Jackson told her her husband about the (assault). The two other women were afraid to speak up.
"Even if you thought in your mind against him you were in danger of going to hell or being judged by God," Stacey said.
"Nobody's gonna believe anything you say. If you say something against him, you are going to hell. You're just like outcasts," Lita said. "I was told to just be quiet and let God handle it which is why this time I feel like I have to say something."
In 2002, Stacey went to the Colleton County Sheriff's Office. Stair was charged with sexually assaulting her. Stacey says prosecutors told her because Stair was old and it was the holiday season, it would be hard to get a conviction.
Stair pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of assault and battery.
Lita did not ask for charges to be filed.
The former members now say what they initially thought was a church is something else.
"It's a cult, it's absolutely 100 percent cult," Stacey said.
"Today I call it a cult. Then I would have said it was a church community," Jackson said.
"It's brainwashing at its finest," Lita said.
Now years later, the women say the recently posted video looks all too familiar.
"Now he's abusing children in front of an entire congregation and not only in front of an entire congregation. He's actually bold enough to videotape it and put it on his website," Stacey said.
"I was disgusted but I wasn't surprised because this is something he was doing forever," Jackson said.
"I was tore up," Lita said. "It's like everything that I've kept hidden for all these years. All of those emotions and feelings just came rushing back up. I was messed up."
Reporter Harve Jacobs went to the Overcomer compound to try to get a response from Reverend Stair. There are no trespassing signs outside the gate, so he called for a comment. Harve was told Stair was not available. He left his number but never heard back. The former church members who came forward all eventually left the ministry.
All say they still bear scars from their time at the farm.
"All he does is destroy families in the name of Jesus, that's what he does," Lita said.
"I want people in Walterboro and in Colleton County to realize that is going on right there around you and people that can stop it are not stopping it," Stacey said.
"I would just really admonish everyone, anyone who's ever thought about going there, don't do it, you will regret it," Jackson said.
So far no new charges have been filed against Stair.
The Colleton County Sheriff's Office with the assistance of the State Law Enforcement Division is investigating Stair after the latest video that surfaced.
(Story contains video)