LOS ANGELES -- Within hours after news broke that "the Apostle" had been arrested on human trafficking, rape and child pornography charges, bishops of La Luz del Mundo exhorted church members via video to start praying for their leader, and not stop.
The doors of Naason Joaquin Garcia's church in East Los Angeles -- one of about 40 in Southern California -- were left open overnight so the devout could petition God on Garcia's behalf.
Members of the Guadalajara-based faith, if they were willing to talk at all on Wednesday, said they believe their 50-year-old leader is the target of a smear campaign. It is designed, they said, to tear Garcia down, along with the church his father led before him, the one his grandfather founded 93 years ago.
"We're united in prayer," said Jack Freeman, a minister who has been with the church for 27 years. "An attack like this, which is meant to stumble us or bring us apart, it actually brings us closer together. ... We're not giving up. The church is still going to go forward. We believe this is still the church of the Lord."
Garcia and his three female co-defendants are all affiliated with La Luz del Mundo -- Light of the World -- which is the largest evangelical church in Mexico. It has branches in 50-plus countries and boasts more than 1 million members. The accused are alleged to have committed 26 felonies in Los Angeles County between 2015 and 2018 while leading the religious organization.
Late Tuesday, a judge granted state prosecutors' request to raise Garcia's bail to $50 million. Prosecutors cited new findings from a search warrant.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra began investigating Garcia; Alondra Ocampo, 36; Azalea Rangel Melendez; and Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, in 2018, prompted in part by a tip to the state Department of Justice through an online clergy abuse complaint form.
Prosecutors allege that Garcia sexually assaulted three girls and an adult mentioned in the criminal complaint filed in L.A. County Superior Court on Tuesday.
The complaint is filled with graphic and disturbing details about a church leader who allegedly was a sexual abuser and the women who prosecutors say helped procure and prepare young girls for the pleasure of the man they knew as "the Apostle of Jesus Christ."
In one incident outlined in the complaint, Ocampo called a girl to Garcia's home and directed her to serve him coffee in his office -- without wearing any clothing. She is identified only as Jane Doe 1. She has yet to celebrate her 16th birthday.