My name is not Nandipa, but that may be the name under which you have heard my story. To most people, I am nameless, just a girl who went through a horrendous experience at the hands of Dr. Samuel Pipim. But today I am not writing to appeal for help for myself. I write on behalf of hundreds of thousands of women like me.
Five years ago when I first became a Seventh-day Adventist, I was plagued by grief and nightmares because even though I'd been converted and baptized, I struggled with understanding how God could forgive me for past sins. I was searching for understanding and when I heard Pipim speak, I was touched by the power and eloquence of his sermons. I was convinced that this was a mighty man of God and believing he could counsel me about how to deal with the guilt of my past, I approached him for help. He appeared to understand and suggested that we meet at his hotel room where he said he was counseling others. There he sexually violated me, keeping me overnight against my will, and in the morning violating me a second time.
At first I was paralyzed with shock and horror. However, after some time, I spoke to a pastor about what had happened. He told me to remain silent so I would not damage the work God was achieving through this mighty evangelist. He said that according to Matthew 18, I must write to my abuser, and that the matter was to be handled solely between Pipim and myself. I took this pastor’s advice and when I approached Pipim he told me God had appointed him to be my spiritual father for the rest of my life. He told me that only by remaining in constant contact with him would I receive deliverance from depression and suicidal thoughts I was experiencing. He promised he would be there for the rest of my life. He called me his “baby eagle” and his “little girl,” all the while weaving sermons, scriptures and spiritual insights into his letters and calls. During this time, he continually assured me of his love and prayers on my behalf.
Now when I read his letters, I am angry at his betrayal of trust. I see how he used clever, manipulative tactics to silence me and keep me under his emotional control. But at that time, I was too weak to recognize his continued abuse and to understand what was happening to me. I know it may be hard for some to understand why I could not recognize the abusive nature of this man. But I was a traumatized young woman going through intense suffering. I found it easier to believe that somehow my exploiter was a godly man who perhaps made a momentary mistake. I was incapable of imagining that he was in fact a serial sexual abuser posing as a minister of the gospel. It felt unreal. I believed he was my only help.
Everyone respected Pipim. Where once I had been a “nobody” struggling to understand how God could ever forgive my past, I had been noticed by him and was now valued and loved by this mighty man of God. In the aftermath of the sexual violation, it was easier for me to put the puzzle pieces together in a less painful way than to experience the pain of reality. The easiest path was to believe Pipim and therefore I convinced myself that things were all right now. All I needed to do was to forgive and forget and seek to accept God’s love that my abuser kept assuring me was flowing through him to me, because I was his spiritual daughter.
BUT THE AGONY OF LIVING IN DENIAL ATE ME LIKE ACID
In the midst of my darkest despair, when I longed to die, I found courage enough to write to a godly woman on the other side of the world. I had heard her sermons, messages of hope, and I desperately wanted to break away from my chains of hopelessness. Through this woman’s ministry, I was put in touch with others who worked closely to help me break free.
I gained courage enough to speak to conference leaders about Pipim’s assault, but blinded by his public persona, they would not believe me. By this time, I knew that what Pipim had done to me, he had done to others, and I feared and believed he would do it again. Therefore, I wanted to spare other young girls the pain I had experienced at the hands of this man. Trembling, I recorded him the next time he called.
And now finally, after hearing Pipim’s telephone conversation, conference leaders took action and he was forced to resign and lost his credentials. Through the successive months and years, I have continued to try to put my life back together, and have been deeply blessed by the support and counsel I have received from women (and some men) on the other side of the world. Sadly however, Pipim continues to promote himself as a mighty spiritual leader—even though we now know of several other women he has sexually violated, and have reports of other attempts. Like most victims of sexual abuse, I have never received any acknowledgement of remorse from my abuser for what he did to me.
However, through these experiences and the pain I continue to suffer, I have learned deep lessons. Indeed, my faith has been tried severely, and I still struggle because of the assaults, but I know by God’s grace I can make it through anything now, and that God’s kingdom is not far away. Someday my battle will be over, and I will hear “well done.”
I hope to go to Andrews University to do a master’s program, to make a new start and to become a better communicator. As a woman who has suffered abuse, I want to empower other women to identify abuse and understand how to break free from its cycles of pain. I know these are lofty dreams for a little African girl, but with God it may be possible.
I AM ONLY ONE PERSON
I believe women in Africa and around the world need to hear about the liberating gospel for women. Therefore our church must also recognize the plight of abused women and respond to a need for change. The testimonies you hear about the glorious ways that the gospel is spreading like wildfire throughout Africa are true. But you must understand the rest of the story too.
We desperately need a system within our church for women to minister to women. This is especially true in areas like Africa and Asia, where we women are under male authority for almost every aspect of our lives. In fact, nearly everything we do first requires men’s permission. Those who do not live in the African culture probably cannot understand this. In cultures like mine, our fathers, brothers, uncles and husbands make the big decisions (and often even the small ones) for us. Pastors and men who are older than a woman are given spiritual authority over all females, from birth to old age. It means that when men tell us to do something our cultural background leaves us with little choice but to do what we are told. This is partially why I was so vulnerable to Pipim’s continued abuse after the initial incident.
This must change. All women in my culture who suffer under the authority of abusive men need to be educated that first and foremost we are morally responsible to God. And we need to be equipped with understanding and skills. We need to know how we can make our communities safe for our daughters. We need to learn how to teach our sons to be loving and respectful to their wives, daughters and sisters. We need to be able to minister to other women.
It is true, my life has changed and I will survive. But, I will do more than that. I will break free and thrive. No matter how long my struggle continues, I am not going to let this drag me down. However, I recognize this is in large part due to the expertise of a few women living on the other side of the ocean, who helped me at no cost, investing huge amounts of their time. These women talked to me and walked me through biblical healing. To this day, some of them continue to pray with me and remain in contact, still helping me in my journey for healing.
Therefore, I am compelled to help other women like me. Tens of thousands of women within our church are afraid to come forward about a sexual assault because of the shame—and even re-victimization—they may suffer. Often even sympathetic and willing pastors are not trained to help us in our crises, and due to cultural pressures, few are willing to confront their friends. It is unspeakably difficult to talk to anyone about such anguish, but it is especially hard to confide in a man. And even if we are willing to talk to someone, can we safely go to men? Is it possible that broken and vulnerable women put men, who are empowered with authority, in positions of temptation to lust when we come to them for protection?
As a church, we must look at the larger picture of how desperately women need other women to minister to them. The issue of sexual assault is only one of many. Women in troubled marriages need other women to come alongside them. Women facing depression need other women to pray with them and encourage them. While all of us are called to minister to others, some forms of ministry require training and time. Should trained women work with no remuneration?
We need a system by which women can be equipped and qualified to help other women in deep personal pain. We need a system by which those women in pain can find help from trained women counselors. We need to pay these counselors, and empower them to stop the men who are abusing women. We need women in ministry to teach us from birth. Women need to learn how to think, how to recognize abuse and how to walk with God. Either we need to modify our present system of putting people into ministry, or we need to set up a new one. And with the epidemic of pornography and sexual addiction sweeping the world, the women of the world cannot wait any longer.
Hundreds of thousands of African, South American, Asian and other women around the world suffer intensely. I know. My life would have been so different if I had had a woman in ministry to whom I could have turned when I was first struggling with the guilt of sin in my life. I would never have entered that hotel room and I would never have allowed the continued abuse. I would not have been trapped with only men in ministry to whom I could turn.
We must focus on what matters. Not on a ceremony that sets a person apart for authority over others, but on setting up a system that enables ministry to the women and girls of our church to break the shackles of abuse, and find emotional healing and freedom. What can we do as a church to set women aside to minister to women? How can we train and empower them for service?
These are the questions upon which the salvation of hundreds of thousands of your African, Asian and other sisters depend. Silence nearly cost me my life. It was godly women who cared about what happened to me, a little African girl, and godly women spoke on my behalf. Today, I plead with you. Do not remain silent any longer. Do not turn your back on our need.