This story originally aired and published on Sept. 19, 2016.

A couple weeks ago, I got this call from a number with a Dallas area code:

“Hello. This is St. Mary’s Prayer Center Ministry calling today to see if you need urgent prayer. If you would like to have someone from our center pray for you, please press 1. If you would no longer like to hear from us, please press 3.”

I pressed one. A few days later I got another automated call. I wasn’t recording at the time, but the voice on the other end of the line said someone would indeed pray for me – and asked for a monetary donation. I hung up.

After a little Googling, it seemed lots of people received the same call, with the same solicitation.

Then, I got another call.

The struggle is over! The struggle is over in your finances, in your household, even in your body, even in your relationship. The struggle – every setback, is about to turn into a setup!

After about seven minutes of this, the recording got down to business.

I want you now to step out with that seed, representing it shall come to pass. That $47 seed, that $147, that $30 seed adding the 47 cents…. Please hold as I connect you to my blessed, prayerful operator now.

A call center operator who said she was from the Philippines asked how much I’d like to donate. I gave $1.47. My idea was to see the organization’s name show up on my bank statement to get more information, but that plan failed. It showed up as a PayPal transaction.

But I didn’t have to look to hard to find out who made the call. It came from Manasseh Jordan Ministries, an organization based in New York and run by a man who calls himself Prophet Manasseh Jordan. He has tons of videos on YouTube – a young guy, sharp dresser – of his preachings and healings.

I reached out to Manasseh Jordan Ministries for comment on this story. They didn’t return any of my calls or emails. But I’m not the only person getting these calls. Not by a long shot. Dozens of people have sued the group over the calls. Each case has either settled out of court and sealed or is still pending.

Sam Meyler, a consumer advocacy lawyer with an office in Austin, represents about 75 clients who are suing Manasseh Jordan Ministries. Most of his clients are from Texas.

“Part of the reason it’s such a pervasive problem is because of the systems that they are using,” Meyler says. “It’s not an individual that’s sitting there in some office in a church. It’s nothing like that. You’ve got some kind of equipment, technology that is being used to autodial people – hundreds, thousands, in a very short period of time.”

Some of Meyler’s clients have received just a few calls, others got over 100. The lawsuits filed against Jordan’s ministry say the calls violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. It’s a law designed to protect people from invasive calls, including computerized and autodialed calls.

Clients started bringing these cases to Meyler a little over a year ago. But even though the calls may be fairly new, direct solicitations from religious groups are not.

“In the 1980s, there were quite a few religious organizations around the country that were using direct mail to send out notices that they were caring for the spiritual lives of people, and they’d like to care for you,” says Quentin Schultze, a professor of communication emeritus at Calvin College.

Schultze, who studied televangelists, says the letters would tell people to send in money or a coupon for further blessings, and this back and forth exchange would start. Schultze says this kind of direct outreach is really effective with some people.

“There are enough hurting people out there spiritually that if you can reach them inexpensively and they will find some people who will respond positively, and it doesn’t take a lot to make it profitable,” he says. “All kinds of different people, every walk of life. And I think what it really comes down to more than anything else is the psychological and spiritual condition of the people who receive the messages. If they are in a vulnerable state, let’s say they’ve lost someone recently, they’re much more likely to get involved.”

But there are also other consequences.

You may remember that the first organization I heard from was called St. Mary’s Prayer Center. Some people who received the same call were confused or unhappy about it. So they called St. Mary’s to give them a piece of their mind. Problem is, St. Mary’s is a pretty common name for a Christian institution.

Churches like St. Mary’s Cathedral in Amarillo and the St. Mary’s Catholic Center in College Station got an earful. Marcel Lejeune, associate director of campus ministry at St. Mary’s in College Station, says pay-to-pray services trouble him. He says his ministry regularly calls supporters and he’s worried that some of those folks will confuse the robocalls with his calls.

“The problem with a pay-to-pray is there’s an exchange, almost like a market of spiritual goods,” Lejeune says, “and that’s not the way it should happen. We have a large campus ministry, we rely on these donations. We have to have good relationships with them, and we take prayer requests, even.”

Lejeune says if the calls persist, he may look into taking legal action.

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  • Anonymous February 16, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    knock off the robo calls

  • Anonymous February 15, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    I received a call from 216 465 6688 St Mary’s call center (I find it very intrusive ) I can not believe that any Church or religious organization would conduct themselves with such low esteem to use an auto dialer YOU ARE A SCAM

  • Ken February 12, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    909-323-6634 Same as above. I am trying to donate my life savings to them, but they won’t take it in pennies that they would need to come collect in person. Seems odd. Pennies are monies too, right?

  • Mark Simonson February 11, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Great idea Nick! Hit me up also if you’re a lawyer. Unsolicited calls are illegal if you’re on the Do Not Call list. My email is [email protected]

  • Hunter J Schulz February 10, 2018 at 7:40 pm

    I received this call from an Oklahoma mumber just a couple a minutes ago

  • Heather February 9, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    How do these people get our phone numbers and how dare they contact me with some BS like this. So offensive, I can’t stand stupid calls like this.

  • jolie February 3, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    I got a call from 2164656688 today and answered it – it was St Mary’s Prayer Center asking if I needed prayers….wtf? If I wanted a prayer, press 1, if I didn’t want them to call again, to press 3. So I pressed 3…..we’ll see if they really take me off their list, I am in Columbus, OH.

  • Randy Wood February 3, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    I just received a call from a 252 area code. I live in North Carolina. I don’t answer numbers I don’t recognize.. I called the number back and it said that someone would be in contact with me within 24 hours.

  • Dwelter February 2, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    Just received this call from: 218.277.1199 up in minnesota

  • Kelly January 31, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    I just received this call from the 209-268-0954 and only picked it up because I have family in that area code. First time I received a robot call asking if I needed prayer. Will put notice of FB for people not to fall for it. Make sure we advise our elders too as they fall prey to things like this easily. 🙁

  • Scott January 29, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    I got the call from a 404 number tonight. I’m in eastern Georgia

  • Nick Feldhouse January 29, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    I just got one as well and i’ve been on the Do Not Call list since 2012. Not to mention this is my cell phone. So any lawyers reading these feel free to contact me if your filing lawsuits. The number the autodialer called from was today 628pm from 252-888-1079

  • Nancy chung January 28, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    Southern California number. Got just noe

  • Caitlyn January 26, 2018 at 7:22 pm

    I’m in Toledo, Ohio, just got this call from 12164656688. I pressed 1, after considering. I’ve been struggling. As soon as they asked me to record my name I hung up. I called back and got a message saying I’d get a call back in 24.
    Decided to Google and found this article. I’ve blocked the number and will be sharing this article on Facebook.

    • Anonymous February 3, 2018 at 9:42 pm

      Just got the same call from the same number.

  • Mary A. January 24, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    I received the exact same St. Mary’s Prayer Center call. I live in Upstate South Carolina. The number was
    803-281-3615. The message was left on my voicemail.

  • Eribelle January 20, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    I live in GA and got this call from (404) 600-0030. Pressed three. They called back a few days later – not an automated call – and asked why I opted out of the chance for prayer. I told her I was Pagan and didn’t appreciate the annoyance of their scam. Never called me back again

  • Josh January 19, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    I just got this call, I didn’t progress any further, I pressed 3 to opt out of the call. People don’t call randomly to pray for you! If you need prayer, join a prayer group or ask for it from a friend or fellowship member at church! Stay safe everyone!

  • Tina January 15, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    I just got this call from 209-268-0954

    • I.V. Haddit January 19, 2018 at 3:09 pm

      Same here in Southern California. Considering a prayer request for call blocking, or a direct line to Hades, so I can refer them.

  • Aida January 14, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    I just received a call from the same number in San Antonio and I live in Houston,Tx. The message was a recording with exactly the same words. Be careful everyone.

  • Heather January 14, 2018 at 1:52 pm

    I just got this call from 210-664-2602

  • Kris January 10, 2018 at 6:59 am

    I live in New Brighton, MN and received this exact same message yesterday from a phone number in Crookston, MN. How fitting.

  • Caleb January 7, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    I live in Ontario, Canada and just got this call. Sickening.

    • Anonymous January 16, 2018 at 9:58 pm

      I got one yesterday 909 area code. I’m in Cambridge and my sister’s friend from Sarnia got one while visiting Las Vegas over the weekend

  • Mary December 14, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    14 Dec 2017 just got one from San Antonio St. Mary’s, I live in the Dallas region. Watch out people.

  • Mike December 12, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    I just received this exact recording from a San Antonio number

    • Scott December 15, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      Just got the same message – Google brought me here. Spoofed phone number.

    • Anonymous January 10, 2018 at 4:24 pm

      They have starting calling me from S.A. # as well.