NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Thousands of women are owed money after a North Texas-based company abruptly cancelled a nationwide Christian women's tour. The Belong Tour was a spin-off of the hugely popular Women of Faith tour, which featured Christian motivational speakers and singers.
More than five million women have attended Women of Faith events in the last 20 years. "It's the backbone of Christianity," said Holly Elrod. "They are amazing women who lead, a lot of them are authors... they just have a lot of inspiration for women." Elrod says she bought tickets for her church group every year.
Women of Faith held a farewell tour in 2015, and rebranded the event as the Belong Tour in 2016. "We wanted to create something new to reach a younger audience," said Christina Shelton. She worked for Women of Faith for nearly seven years, and helped launch Belong. "We knew we had room to grow... but we were really happy with the success of the first year of Belong."
Shelton says they sold tickets for 2017 during the entire 2016 tour. She says they had no idea the company would soon be sold to Gary and Alita Reynolds. The Nebraska couple previously worked for ViSalus, a multi-level marketing company that sells weight loss and fitness products. Online, Gary Reynolds calls himself a "Vi millionaire." YouTube videos from 2014 show the couple receiving $350,000 in bonuses from the company.
The couple bought Women of Faith and the Belong tour in March 2017. In April, they began selling tickets for the 2017 tour to the general public. "At that point we did close to a half a million dollars in ticket sales," said Shelton.
But one month later, Reynolds dropped a bomb. "He let go of [nearly] the entire team and said 'we are taking the company in a different direction,' " said Shelton. She says she returned to the Plano office the next day to gather her things. "There were moving trucks -- he had packed up the entire office." Shelton says there was a sign on the door saying the company had stopped paying rent.
In July 2017, a month before the Belong tour was scheduled to kick off, the company cancelled the event due to "low ticket sales." The Women of Faith website said customers would be refunded by the date of their event. Shelton says that doesn't make sense. "If you are cancelling an event, just refund everybody when you cancel."
The tour was scheduled to run from August through December 2017. As each date passed, women posted online wondering when they would be getting their refunds. Many said they couldn't get answers from Women of Faith; they said calls and emails went unreturned. "We haven't gotten any correspondence... no phone calls, emails, social media, nothing," said Elrod. She joined a Facebook group called "Belong Tour Cancellation-Waiting on our refund!" and found dozens of other women in the same situation. Many had waited for answers from Women of Faith without realizing they had missed the deadline to file a dispute with their bank or credit card company. "And it's all across the U.S.," said Elrod. "Not just DFW. And it's frustrating!"
Several of the speakers scheduled to appear on the tour say they too are upset at how the refunds have been handled. Jen Hatmaker sent a statement to Consumer Justice which says in part, "We are angry, embarrassed, and stunned at their refusal to refund tickets. We are deeply sorry, and we stand in support of your efforts to secure refunds." You can read the full statement below.
Consumer Justice contacted Gary Reynolds, who said half of the ticket holders had already gotten their money back and he was doing his best to refund the rest. The very next day, he and Alita posted a video apologizing for the delay in refunds and blaming "huge holes" in the company's finances, calling it "a sinking ship." Reynolds said they only learned of the financial issues after purchasing Women of Faith. In the video, he said, "All tickets purchased have ticketing terms and conditions and they stated no refunds, transfers, exchanges and all sales are final. However, we felt it's the right thing to do to provide refunds." The couple also asked for "Christ-life patience and understanding" from the people waiting on refunds.
The couple has also outlined the steps to take if customers are still waiting on refunds.
Meanwhile, the Reynoldses are planning another Women of Faith event. This one is in Breckenridge, Colorado, in April 2018. Alita Reynolds is a keynote speaker; tickets cost $549.
"They are attempting to produce another event," said Shelton. "I mean, that's crazy town."
Full statement from Jen Hatmaker, Shauna Niequist, Nichole Nordeman and Deidra Riggs:
On July 8, 2017 we shared with our community the sad and shocking news that the 2017 Belong Tour had been cancelled by its new owners. We had cleared our fall calendars for it, and we were thrilled about the upcoming schedule. We had poured a year of energy into this tour, and we all were crushed. We know many of our loyal friends had bought tickets, and there is no way for us to say how sorry we are.
This was not a decision we had any part in, or were able to control.
As instructed, we shared the link to the Belong Tour website for people to get details to process their refunds. As we discovered later, contact information on the website was removed and women stopped receiving replies. To say we are shocked and devastated is an understatement. We have attempted numerous times to contact the new owners, urging them to refund the sold-through tickets.
To be clear, the new owners had no part in the original Belong Tour or the Women of Faith brand they purchased. There is no crossover between previous staff, speakers, or artists and the current leadership, nor do any of us have access to them. Let it also be clear that the speaking and worship team were not compensated for the cancelled tour, nor have we received any of the proceeds from unrefunded ticket sales. We have not benefitted financially in any way at the expense of the women who purchased seats in advance.
We are angry, embarrassed, and stunned at their refusal to refund tickets or even issue a response. We are deeply sorry, and we stand in support of your efforts to secure refunds.
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