Andrew Wommack, a huckster of Christian books, CDs and salvation, has built a lucrative operation that spans nine countries and counts $17 million in assets. He produces a television program that he claims can reach nearly half the world's population, and he lives in a secluded mountain home north of Florissant worth $434,000.
Not bad for a nasally voiced, self-described introvert who used to be "absolutely terrified" to speak to crowds.
He's still not wild about talking to media, apparently, refusing to be interviewed for this report. But materials on his website make it possible to sketch the arc of his career. It started on March 23, 1968, when a "supernatural encounter" set an 18-year-old Wommack on the course of "helping others walk in this unconditional love I discovered."
Answering the call, Wommack quit college, was drafted into the Army, served in Vietnam as a chaplain's assistant, and got out in 1971. He married his wife, Jamie, the next year and, while driving through a tollbooth in Dallas, got another message from the man upstairs:
You should teach the Gospel, God commanded.
Wommack, whose literature never shares exactly where he grew up, started small. He spent time at churches in Garland, Seagoville and Childress, Texas. In Childress, he began his broadcast career at a small country-western radio station.
He also tells this story from that era in an "interview" posted on his website: "Back when we were first getting started, we went to a Bible conference on prosperity. We desperately needed to hear this message, as we ran out of gas on the way to the conference. ... Well, we had absolutely no money. I prayed over the car so it would start, and it ended up running for a whole week with no gas!"
From Childress, the Wommacks headed to the tiny southeastern Colorado town of Pritchett in 1976 to host a Bible study.
"While we were there," he says in the interview, "God used me to raise someone from the dead. Everyone was so astounded, they wouldn't let me leave."
He stayed for six months.
Had that happened, one might expect it to be the talk of the local coffee shop. But state Rep. Wes McKinley, a rancher who's lived in the Pritchett area for all his 71 years, says, "Absolutely not."
"I was right close there, and I never heard of anything like that," he says.
McKinley did some checking with other longtime Pritchett residents, and found none who recall such an incident. "I would have thought with those three or four people being there and never leaving, they would have known if someone had raised someone from the dead," he says. "[One couple] knew he was there, but he didn't create much of a sensation."
After Pritchett, Wommack made his way to Colorado Springs, where he says he launched a radio program. Donations started to trickle in, and Andrew Wommack Ministries, Inc., was established in 1978.
Two years later, the ministry bought a 3,353-square-foot stucco building at 1 Pawnee Ave., in Manitou Springs for $126,000 — his ministry's first headquarters, which he financed through a loan with the sellers, land records show.
It was the beginning of a parade of land deals that led to his current holdings, which exceed $11 million.
In 2002, the ministry bought a 103,245-square-foot building at 850 Elkton Drive for $3.45 million. The ministry paid $210,000 down and financed the rest. This is important, because the land records contradict Wommack's comments in a video on his website.
"When I built the building that we're in now," he says, "the Lord told me to do it debt-free."
First, Wommack didn't build his current headquarters. It was already there when he bought it. Second, he borrowed money to buy it. As for Charis Bible College, which Wommack started as part of his ministry and plans to move to Woodland Park, its Colorado Springs building was purchased by the college in 2008 for $850,000, with the college putting $235,329 down and financing the balance at a 6 percent variable rate, according to land records.
Wommack's spokesman, Jim Ertel, explains Wommack's comments like this: "For people who listen to or watch Andrew regularly, they understand what this means. He just doesn't tell the whole story every single time he talks about the project. We purchased this current building and borrowed money to do so. ... The build-out of the interior was the part that was done debt-free, or you could say it was pay-as-you-go."
Now, Wommack is preparing to build his biggest project yet — The Sanctuary in Woodland Park. And he wants to do it without borrowing money.
"I've made a decision not to go in debt to do this," he says in a video. "... I've prayed about this a lot. ... I think that's what God wants me to do. ... I've seen the damage that going in debt does to many people. It puts them under financial pressure, and then they get to where they have to quit preaching the gospel and start raising money. They compromise their convictions, and I've just seen it change more than one person."
Wommack's operation is thriving, by all accounts. Not only are donations increasing annually, but he sells study materials, such as a 16-CD Christian Survival Kit for $85; a six-CD set, The Believer's Authority, for $40; and books for $14 in paperback. According to the IRS, Wommack was paid $224,111 last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2010. His wife, Jamie, the organization's secretary, was paid $88,987.