WARNING!: This article contains stories that most ‘church people’ don’t want to address. So, if you are one of those living in denial and covering up crap going on in the church, this is where you should stop reading. Thanks for stopping by.
Now, for the rest of us, please sit down and switch on your open mind. I want to talk about something I have kept bottled up inside for longer than necessary. I have also decided to use real names, as my defense for any accusation of slander is justification. I tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. However, feel free to throw your doubt around but know that I am past the shaming game (where victims of abuse are shot down by blame) I am no longer a victim but a survivor who is sharing her experience to help others caught in same web of abuse, guilt and shame. We only get to live once right? So here, it goes…
I recently came to know this event too was abuse (recently here means about 6 months ago). It has literally been eating me up having to drive by another billboard advertising preachers, or hearing his name, or even trying to ask about the validity of the entire salvation story and whether or not there is a God that truly watches over his people. That being said, I’m just going to say it as it is. This is a recap of my affair with Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo of COZA (Common Wealth Of Zion Assembly) Abuja chapter. This affair I have come to know as a form of abuse as you would see the different elements of abuse very present.
I met Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo many years ago. I was getting bored of the church I was attending and someone suggested COZA. At the time, I had never heard about it. My friend said, go there, I’m sure you would enjoy the word. But he also gave me a strong warning. He said he would advice that I remain a member only and not join the workforce. I agreed. The first time I attended COZA, I felt it was my church and decided I was going to plant my ass there. About eleven months had gone by and I was still attending the services quietly and faithfully. I really did like the church. One day a worker in the church approached me that the senior pastor wanted to see me.
Me? I thought. Why would the senior pastor want to see me? Not the second man but the head nigga in charge? Ok na! I started to think my sin was oozing so bad the pastor could tell I needed Jesus. (Poor old me.) I saw him at the end of the second service (they had two services at the time) and he said to me that he would like me to work with him. I knew I had no intentions of becoming a pastor so I had to ask in what capacity. He said he’d like for me to join a department, preferably the Pastoral Care Unit (PCU).
A few weeks later, against my friend’s advice not to join the workforce, I was a PCU member. All of a sudden, I had some status in church. I was ‘somebody.’ Dress had to be on point, hair, shoes and what not… As workers, we were literally trying to outshine each other or so it seemed. Anyways, I felt like I was a privileged member of an elite circle. Hehehe. (It did feel good though, for the most part.)
About a year after joining the workforce, I was on my way to London for a Masters degree program that would last two years. As was the rule for workers travelling, I wrote to say I would be away for 2 years and Pastor Biodun Fotoyinbo asked that I keep in touch by sending him my number and email when I had settled in London so he “makes sure I continue in the faith” because according to him, people loose their faith when they leave home and he wanted to make sure I didn’t. So, on that note, as soon as I got a phone line in London, I was sure to call ‘my pastor’ to say I arrived safe, had settled in and also gave my phone number.
We had spoken a few times especially when COZA started to stream online. I always watched and would give feedback on quality of production and share a little bit on the challenges I faced settling in a new land. One evening, Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo called me that he was coming to London and needed me to help him make some hotel bookings as the person who was meant to do it couldn’t get it done (this was rather strange as I had never been involved in his travel itinerary) Later that day, he said it had been sorted and my help would not be required but that he would like me to arrange a cab to pick him up from Heathrow. I was happy to help my pastor from Nigeria and even saw it as a privilege. (I would later come to learn that all of this was a calculated attempt to hatch a plan that I suspect was set in motion when I was asked to join the workforce.)
The cab guy was there to get him the next day and when he arrived, he called to ask why I didn’t accompany the cab to pick him up (again, this was strange but I stopped my mind from overanalyzing the situation as I knew I had no business with his visit to London) About two hours later, he called me and said he would like to see me. When I arrived his hotel, I called from the reception but he asked that I come upstairs. I got to the room and tried to stop my mind from thinking why I was going to his room. As he opened the door and invited me in, I had to speak to my heart to stop its palpitations. My better judgment asked me not to go into the room but the kind of reverence I had for Pasotr Biodun Fatoyinbo bordered on fear and I steeped into that room.
“Care for a drink?” Asked Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo.
“No sir,” I said.
“You don’t have to be shy Ese, even if it’s alcohol, feel free and order what you want.” I wasn’t sure I heard my pastor asking me to order alcohol. I imagined it was a test and ignored the voice inside that was saying, “I’d have henny and coke please.” He proceeded to ask how I had been coping in London and if I was a committed member of any church. He also said he thought there was something special about me and wanted to know that I had not strayed from my faith. I really thought he had heard I was doing something I shouldn’t while in London but tried my best to focus on the conversation instead of my straying thoughts. He kept telling me to relax and feel comfortable with talking to him. After a few minutes, he asked that we go to the roof of the hotel as his room was a pent suite and had a connecting door to the roof.
While there, he sat on a reclining chair and asked me to come sit on his laps. This was a bit awkward for me and I froze for a moment as I asked why. He said he had told me to feel free with him and loosen up. I found myself strolling to sit on his laps. At that moment, I felt like a little girl who was experiencing something her mind couldn’t fathom. He asked me to kiss him and all I could think about was seeing him preach on the pulpit back in COZA Abuja, Nigeria, which was my home church. He again said ‘feel free Ese.’ And asked again, that I kiss him.
A few hours later, let’s just say, we were rolling under the sheets. It felt as though my mind had paused. I am not saying I was jazzed, (although it’s possible I was in some trancelike state and didn’t know it but I just was so afraid that I couldn’t say or think otherwise.) That was the beginning of this affair. A sexual affair that went on for a little over a week, DAILY!
I can hear somebody’s mind thinking, ‘well, you weren’t raped.” And I remember a pastor I opened up to when I couldn’t take all the mind games asking if I seduced him. No, I didn’t seduce him and no, I wasn’t raped but I felt trapped in this affair. Come to think of it, how could I have seduced him when I wanted nothing from him? I mean, I was too busy minding my business in London trying to get through with my masters program and I was overly comfortable. And even if I wanted to seduce anyone, it wouldn’t be a married man, not to mention a married pastor.
What I couldn’t reconcile the whole time, was how the same person who preached against the very things we were doing (i.e drinking in pubs, fornicating, committing adultery) was the same person endorsing and encouraging it.
At some point, I got really confused about what Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo and I were doing that I had to ask how he handles it. I will never forget what he said to me. He said and I quote, “I will teach you a level of grace that you don’t understand.” My mind couldn’t fathom that somehow grace was enough covering for not just fornication on my path, adultery on his path and the many lies that was bound to follow what we were doing that was clearly abominable. I somehow dealt with the thoughts and fears that followed on my path. He had said to me that he wanted me to be his girlfriend and he would take me around the world and spoil me with money and things. Somehow, money had never been one of the things that motivated me (I am from a home where all my needs have been adequately met) In all my ‘badness’ through finding myself, I never did things I did for money but more of rebellion against rules and authority.
Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo also said to me that he had a dream where I exposed what was happening to the media. Said it was all over the place and that people were calling me the girl that caused chaos in COZA. He also said I should remember the bible said to “touch not God’s anointed.” I immediately started to rebuke the devil and said I could never do anything like that. I was almost swearing with my entire family as I thought really I had touched God’s anointed by submitting my body to be used. Little did I know at the time that all of these were ways to mess with my mind and even manipulate my thoughts.
Fast-forward a few months later, I was back in Nigeria and my church had become uncomfortable. Anytime I sat in church and listened to Pastor Biodun preach, I felt shame. I finally sent him a message saying I wasn’t comfortable anymore. I was confused and needed to talk about what had happened. He said I should meet him to talk and I did. It was a really weird meeting for me especially when he tried to kiss me at our meeting. I finally realized at this point that he couldn’t help me. I thought God was angry with me and I couldn’t pray so I decided to withdraw completely from COZA. This was the beginning of my mental torture. I couldn’t talk to my family because already, I was the only one attending a different church and somehow my mom never liked the idea. As the days went by I tried to use drinking and smoking to cover up the deep shame and guilt I was battling with. But as soon as the high was over, the thoughts came back and I felt stuck like I couldn’t move forward.
I felt I had to talk to someone and I decided to speak to my then good friend, Ernest Akale but unfortunately for me, Mr. Ernest did not have the capacity to hold what I said to him. He broke down completely the days that followed and I found myself having to pause how I was feeling and what I was struggling with to help my friend be strong. After a while, he withdrew from not just me but his then fiancé and friends. I had to then tell the fiancé what had caused it (she suspected we were having an affair so I had to clear the air) To my surprise she was a lot stronger than her man and told me to suck it up (I’m paraphrasing). She said if she were me, she wouldn’t leave the church but stay to torment Pastor Biodun and collect money from him. Ok! That sounded extreme for me, as my intention was not to blackmail but to heal my broken self. Anyways, I finally found the courage to speak to my then unit head who said he was going to talk to Pastor Biodun but didn’t have the liver to do so. Before long, the story was spreading and naturally getting twisted.
I went to a new church and it seemed like the COZA bug had chased me there. The pastor would always refer to COZA as some example and each time that was done, it seemed like a spear was thrust through my chest. One day, I broke down in the service and started crying uncontrollably, as I couldn’t take another mention of COZA and the pictures it painted in my head.
Very long, boring story cut short, for the last 5 months I gave the whole church thing a big space and break. I wasn’t sure I believed in God. I wasn’t sure I understood what it meant when people said ‘Jesus saves” and I definitely wasn’t sure how to deal with the mental torture that was affecting not just me but my relationships with family and friends. I was very unstable, fearful and worst of all guilty. I got a chance to talk to Pastor Folarin of COZA Lagos Chapter, popularly called Pastor flo about everything. I made an effort to reach out to him because I realized the right thing to do was talk to an elder in the church and seek some sort of remedy to a wrong I believed had been done me. Instead, Pastor Flo said, Pastor Biodun had confessed to him and they had ‘talked’ about it and somehow that was supposed to be Ok. He asked what it was I wanted coming to talk to him about it when I did, I told him I realized what happened between Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo and I was wrong and not just that I felt abused and manipulated. I also said I thought it was wrong for Pastor Biodun to go on preaching without taking time to deal with his personal character flaws. I said I thought he was danger to all the young women that attended the church. Come to think of it, maybe he meant if I wanted something monetary or material (as someone had suggested when I opened up to her) but the truth is, I never wanted his money (or is it the church member’s money.) All I wanted was to meet with him and have him accept that he misled me, betrayed his wife and the church he pastors. I wasn’t the only lady in COZA who had been a victim of his sexcapades and manipulative patterns but I was the one who could come back after months of struggle with not just my faith but also my affair with him. And I wanted to set things right. I wanted to talk to Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo maybe for closure and I felt like I needed an apology because he played the “touch not my anointed” card to keep me locked in guilt, shame and fear when all along it was a calculated plan and I dare say, it started when he asked me to join the workforce.
Not to mention the audacity to talk about teaching me a level of grace I didn’t understand. I had no intention of understanding a grace that would permit me to go on doing things that were wrong and what’s worse having to carry the burden for almost a year.
Different surprising advises came up in the weeks that followed the rumour making rounds. I was told to hush because Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo had been a cultist in the past and could send people to shut me up. All my so-called friends in COZA withdrew from me and treated me like I had the plague. What was worse was Pastor Flo finally saw my then pastor to ‘talk’ about what had happened with Pastor Biodun and lied that it happened once and was a mistake. My question then became, ‘do these people even care how broken I had become?’ ’do they care about the emotional and spiritual welfare of the people they were pastoring?’ The sad answer was NO. Most of us old members of COZA kept leaving but they couldn’t care less. What was important was to keep growing the church and having more and more cars with stickers that read “More than enough.” Back then, I always felt horrible when I saw another car drive past me with the sticker. I was breaking, I was struggling but no one could help. All they could do was ask me to hide so Pastor Biodun’s goons don’t hurt me. And then the interesting one was if I had evidence to prove my claim. Let me just say here that, it isn’t a claim, it’s a confession to free me from all of the guilt and shame I have had to live with for no reason at all. (That being said, I have evidence to prove all I have said here, the latest being a 58 minutes recording of my meeting with Pastor Flo a few months back)
This is my confession and I cannot begin to describe how much weight has been lifted off of my shoulders just pouring the truth out about what went down. So, to all my ex COZA friends gossiping about me, get your facts right. To those who said they’d help me deal with the pain but didn’t, I forgive you, I have learnt how to deal with it and I am doing just fine. To those who fear for my safety saying Pastor Biodun would send people to shut me up, I really have gone past fearing for my life. To live is gain and to die is Christ (or how does Paul say it again?) And to the only person who ever supported me through it all, thank you, I am learning to be brave. Please don’t think I am perfect in all of this but in line with living my authentic life and putting all forms of abuse behind me, this is where I press the stop button and stop the bleeding. This is where I break the silence and call the church to stand up for what it has been commissioned to do. If you will not enter the Kingdom, please don’t stop others who are trying to enter.
I still remember when I used to nurse the idea of digging up emails, text messages, hotel billings (as once I used my card to pay for his room when his master card failed to work) to prove there was an affair. It was pathetic. Why for the love of heaven was I trying to dig up evidence? I am satisfied setting the record straight. I am ready for any shaming or bashing that would follow because the truth is, because of what I have suffered and come through, I am really not moved by what people say or think about me anymore. I am a stronger woman and a damn abuse survivor seeking to connect with other victims of abuse to show them how to deal with the shame, hurt and guilt and how to come out stronger. Turning their mess into their message.
I am Ese Walter and I have gone through all forms of abuse from family, boyfriends, my ex pastor and some strangers not to break me, but so I stand and so I qualify to help victims. My scars have qualified me and when all is said and done, I will still be standing. I AM WOMAN, I BEND, I DON’T BREAK!
Cheers to the freaking weekend!!!