A commune that relied on faith to meet all of its needs, resulting in the preventable deaths of several members

1896 - 1920

"I have endured the tortures of hell since I joined. . . They have taken all my money, deprived me of my family, ruined my health and were starving me to death."

-Testimony of an unnamed member

Shiloh was a commune started by Frank Sandford, who only had three cents to his name, but strongly believed in the power of faith. Many flocked to this community and joined Sandford in rejecting food, medicine, and even working for money because they trusted God would provide for them. Initially, this plan was successful; overcoming all odds, the members prospered and witnessed several miraculous events, which were published in newspapers throughout the nation. However, their fortune soon ran out as members died from malnourishment and treatable diseases. This desperation only helped unite the community, though, as they interpreted their misfortune as punishments from God for their lack of obedience to the leader.

Eventually, Stanford overcrowded a ship with several of his community members and traveled throughout the Atlantic, trusting God to supply their needs. Subject to whatever Sandford happened to believe was the will of God at any given moment, the cult starved as Stanford kept refusing stops for supplies. For months, the crew struggled to survive on crackers and rainwater as they slowly watched their friends and family members die. Eventually, the crew was about to be saved from their torture as the ship was about to arrive back home in Maine. However, they had to watch in horror as God commanded Stanford to keep sailing until they reached Greenland.  As the crew faced severe desperation, there were reports of a planned mutiny. However, the cult members were too weak to even move throughout the ship, making any hope of survival increasingly futile.

When Sandford finally agreed allow his passengers off the ship, he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison. Yet, even after their abuse, his followers remained loyal to him, and the community stayed strong. When he was released, he helped revitalize the spiritual strength of the community, allowing God to favor them again. Finally, the cult members had sufficient food and experienced miraculous healings, just like in the early years of the sect.

However, Sandford's troubles were not over yet. One former member fought and won a custody battle for the children after the court learned that the members refused to work for food, even when they were starving. Afterward, authorities recommended that all children be removed from the community, and Shiloh soon became defunct.

Overall, Shiloh significantly influenced the developing Pentecostal movement, and Sandford continues to have devoted followers today.

Religion: Christianity

Denomination: Pentecostalism

Founder: Frank Sandford ("Elijah II"; "Elijah the Uncrowned King")

Founded: 1896

Ended: 1920; although followers of Sandford still exist today

Size: about 400 on average

Location: Durham, Maine, United States

Also called: The Holy Ghost and Us; Sandfordites; Holy Ghost and Us Society; Holy Ghost and Us Bible School; World's Evangelization Crusade; Church of the Living God; The Kingdom; Holy Ghost Station; The Legion of God; Shilohites; Kingdom Christian Ministries

Frank Sandford (Leader)

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Parable of the Drowning Man

A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.

Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.” The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the rowboat went on.

Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the motorboat went on.

Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.

Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”

To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

Overview of the Sandford and his influence on the broader Pentecostal movement