A young UK-based Zimbabwean woman is determined to fight for justice after being “cruelly abused by a religious man who controlled” her.
Jean Gasho says she was “abused, betrayed and humiliated” by Pastor Walter Masocha, the founder and leader of the Agape for All Nations Ministries International Church.
Her courage to talk about the sexual assault and many life threatening emotional abuses she experienced with Dr. Masocha, has caused her so much trouble.
The church members, especially women refer to Dr. Masocha as “Daddy”. “I struggled initially to call him Daddy but he kept calling me his beloved daughter, and in the end I could not stop calling him Daddy and I even saw him as a father figure in my life, more important than my own biological father,” Jean says.
She is still unable to understand how a man of God, a man she trusted to an extent of calling him “Daddy”, ended up ruining her life and family.
Pastor Masocha, who is also originally from Zimbabwe, was recently arrested and is currently facing two charges of sexual assault – one on a child and one on an adult.
He was Jean’s spiritual father for about two years, until last year. “During those two years I watched the man I had trusted as my father slowly turn me against my husband and manipulate me in ways that were so cruel and almost inhuman. I used to confide in him and shared all my weaknesses with him, as he said I was supposed to tell him everything. He then started using the information I shared with him against me,” Jean says.
The pastor, Jean says, put her in the spotlight in the church. She was actively involved in various activities including drama, magazine and artwork for the ministry. “This caused a lot of the women in the church to resent me and bully me, yet Dr. Masocha never supported me or shielded me from the bullying,” Jean says.
She was later on surprised to find out that Dr. Masocha “was even behind the bullying.”
Dr. Masocha “orchestrated an ambulance being called in the middle of a church service to section me under the mental health act,” Jean says. “He also planned to have my children taken away from me. As if this wasn’t enough, during prayer surgeries he used to extend his hands and touch me on places that are only meant for a husband to touch his wife. I felt violated and would even come home and tell my husband, but my husband would say the Archbishop was a prophet and he knew what he was doing.”
Asked what made her rebel and break the silence on these abuses, Jean says: “Just before the ambulance incident, my eyes were starting to open and I saw the deception in the church, especially among the pastors. There was so much bullying and every Sunday I dreaded going to church.”
Jean’s husband however, never listened to her fears. Whenever she refused to go to church, her husband called her “demonic” and even reported her to Dr. Masocha.
“My marriage was so strained by the church, emotionally and financially, and Dr. Masocha was doing nothing to help us. I got to a point where I couldn’t do it anymore, for sanity’s sake,” Jean says. “My husband was becoming more and more abusive, and everything he was doing he said he was being instructed by Daddy. I started to see that slowly it was Daddy who was destroying my life.”
Jean says she was also “humiliated and labelled mental in front of the whole church” by her sister in law who is a pastor in the same church.
The church’s attempt to section Jean under the mental health act failed because the medical staff saw there was nothing wrong with her. “The backlash from the church was unbelievable as they were outraged that I was not sectioned. I was then badly beaten by my husband who was also outraged that I was not sectioned,” Jean says.
At that stage she decided to flee her matrimonial home and sought safety in a women’s Refuge. “In the Refuge I had lost everything and I felt I had nothing to lose. I had reported the sexual abuse to the police and I felt nothing was being done to bring Dr. Masocha to justice. Without a voice and in despair, I started a blog and started writing my own online diary of my horrendous experiences in Agape. The blog created a huge public interest for some reason, and victims of Dr. Masocha started speaking out.”
Jean’s decision to speak out about her bad experience in the church marked the end of her marriage. “My husband chose to side with his mother and sisters and Dr. Masocha, and he forsook me and his children. As I speak today, he is busy preparing to testify against me in court in support of Dr. Masocha. It’s been a very painful experience for me,” she says.
Jean admits that her experience at Agape seriously affected her faith. “I am human I won’t lie. I felt confused especially about the very nature of God. At one point I believed Dr. Masocha was a real man of God, then the next minute I could not see God in him. I struggled with that, and even still do to some extent,” Jean says. “I am now very sceptical of churches and men of God, but I have fought within myself to keep my faith. My daughter once asked me why God had allowed what happened to us to happen if He was a God of love. I didn’t know how to answer her, but I could only say maybe one day it will all make sense, if we continue to trust in the Lord. In all this I have learnt that bad things happen to people, even though we may not understand why. I still love the Lord, and it’s my faith that keeps me going.”
Jean is disappointed with the way other church members, especially women reacted when she broke the silence on the abuses. “The Church members especially women are among my worst enemies. They called me all sorts of names and even started their own blog in which they defamed me beyond measure. I have received death threats and continue to receive nasty anonymous letters from members of Agape,” she says.
Apart from her faith, Jean says her three children also keep her going. “I have to overcome for them. I also have a lot of support from the public and I draw a lot of strength from people who believe my story. Some people also email me and share their similar testimonies of abuse in Agape. When I realise that this is not only about me, but hundreds of other victims out there who are afraid to speak out, I find courage to do it for them,” she says.
Jean, who confirms that she has reported Dr. Masocha to the police and relevant authorities, believes that one day justice will take its course. “It may not happen overnight, but I have learnt that speaking out is the first step towards achieving justice, and I will never stop speaking out.”
Asked to react to the news of Dr. Masocha’s arrest and sexual offence charges, Jean says more victims will come forward. “I feel a sense of relief within my spirit, but I know it’s going to be a long road,” she says.
Jean’s advice to women and girls who face abuses in the church is: “Have the courage to speak out. Find someone you trust to confide in, someone who is not a member of the church. Many women make the mistake of confiding in church members, who will in turn label them mental and demonic. This happened a lot in Agape and victims are left off worse than if they had not spoken out. The key is to know who to speak to.”
She says she was lucky to have Muzvare Betty Makoni, the Founder of The Girl Child Network, as “a shoulder to cry on,” adding that Ms. Makoni took her “under her wings with care and compassion.”
Jean also advices women and girls who face abuses in the church to speak to their local GPs. “A lot of women also fear their husbands will disown them if they open up about abuse, especially within the African culture. I would like to encourage men to stand with their wives and daughters and not to blame them for being abused,” she says.
By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a