When I first entertained the idea of sharing my story, I didn’t, or rather couldn’t, imagine all of the old wounds that would bleed open once again. Abuse affects us all differently, but it leaves a lasting imprint on all who have had the unfortunate opportunity to encounter its grievous nature.
I was a victim of spiritual abuse…and this is my story.
I was raised in the church. The good old southern Baptist churches where choir reversals were held once or twice a week, Easter and Christmas plays were events to look forward to, and dinner was served in the dining hall after service on the first Sunday of every month.
I can’t say that I was always a fan of attending church (mainly because I was bored out of my mind, and if you’ve ever attended a “black church”, then you know that service lasted well into the afternoon—super bowl Sunday being the exception), but the community aspect of it made it bearable, if not memorable.
I can still remember my mom practically dragging me out of bed on Sunday mornings, combing my hair, and scolding me for not preparing my clothes the night before. I’d much rather sleep in and bum around on Sunday mornings like my dad did most of the time. We were two peas in a pod. Looking back now though, I’m thankful for my mom trying to instill some form of godliness in us. It definitely paid off in the long run, but enough of the background story. Let’s get to the point.
Fast forward to about twenty-two years of age. One of my good friend’s mother came to see me at home. I was surprised to see her as it had been some time. Let me explain a few things here; I’d been dealing with a lot. My life was a mess. I had a young child and was broken up with my child’s father. I wasn’t on good terms with my family, and I’d been partying consistently and getting into trouble for the past few months. So, imagine my surprise when my friend’s mother showed up at my door with the news that she and her husband were starting their very own church and wanted me to be in charge of the daycare, being that I had an extensive background in childcare.
Well this must be a sign from God—or so I thought. Bless my heart. I had no idea what I was in store for.
I should have been skeptical form the beginning, and maybe I was, but I had always been the type to do what my friends were doing, if only to make them happy. To be straight forward, I was a people-pleaser, and because this would be a church started by one of my good friend’s parents, I was on board, regardless of the small reservations I had about them.
The Lord was the first to warn me. Things had always been revealed to me through dreams, for as long as I can remember, and when I was sixteen, I had a dream about my friend’s mom—the “abusive leader”. Let’s just call her Shelly. In the dream, I stood a few feet away from Shelly as we were having a discussion—about what, I can’t tell you, but in the midst of the conversation, her head transformed into a huge snake’s head. I was horrified, but because I was still spiritually immature, I had no idea what the Lord was trying to reveal to me, and thus, I agreed to become the childcare provider of their new church.
Things began to get weird.
Things were going smoothly at first. There weren’t many children in the daycare because there weren’t many members in the congregation. Then, things started to become weird. I began to notice that everything she did or said was to benefit herself, and to add reassurance that you should “obey” her voice, she’d add, “the Lord told me to tell you…” Can you imagine how that affected someone who was just starting their journey with Christ? I felt compelled to obey in order to please God. We all did! It was to the point where she was breaking up relationships and arranging others, all for her benefit.
One day, Shelly told me that if I continued to have sex with my child’s father, I would see my daughter in a casket! Now don’t misunderstand, fornication is a sin, but to threaten my child with death in order to get me to stop sinning was ludicrous! I constantly lived in fear and defeat. She even went as far as to turn my best friend against me because she wanted me out of the picture. I was also told to relax my daughter’s hair, so it wouldn’t be “nappy”, she organized every marriage and divorce for her children, and her husband walked around like a zombie while obeying her every command.
She was the prophetess of the Most High God, so we all had to listen. It wasn’t a choice. If we disagreed, we were being rebellious toward God.
The fear of death was her weapon of choice in order to provoke obedience from her victims. I often wondered why God wanted me and my child dead simply because I’d made a mistake or didn’t do what she asked. I didn’t know how to be what she made me believe He wanted me to be. There were so many times when I wanted to leave, and my child’s father, who is now my husband, even encouraged me to leave on several occasions, but my friends were there. I didn’t want to lose them.
The final Straw.
One day, during church, Shelly had asked me to sit in service instead of watching the children. She felt it was what I needed. She didn’t know how right she was. As I was sitting there during worship, the music was playing, and the congregation had their eyes closed, some with heads bowed, as they worshipped God. I was sitting next to my best friend at the time who was in tears. I had no idea why. I remember looking around at all the congregants. I can’t recall what I was thinking, but I could not, for the life of me, close my eyes and worship that day.
Then, suddenly out of nowhere, my eyes were opened—spiritually speaking. I looked at her standing at the head of the congregation, waving her hands in worship, speaking softly into the mic, encouraging us to connect with our God, and I was able to see right through her. Now let me add that this was an extremely intimidating woman. One that I would have never stood up to, talked back to, or even looked in the eye half the time. Keep in mind that I was a people-pleaser.
At some point we locked eyes, and when I tell you that I did not budge, I mean exactly that. It was like a silent spiritual battle was occurring between us and no one had a clue. She found my unwavering gaze and she knew in that moment, she’d been exposed. I wasn’t even aware of what had been exposed, but it was the Spirit working through me revealing the spirit that was in her. Our silent exchange was so intense that she eventually had to look away.
Immediately after the service, she called a meeting in her bedroom (because services were held in her house) with myself, my best friend, and her daughter. I was completely blindsided and had no idea what was going on. Apparently, the three of them had gotten together and started discussing a lot of hearsay that made me out to be the villain. I was horrified. The meeting ended with me running out of the house in tears and never returning. I was done. Shelly called me several times afterward and left numerous voice messages asking me to come back to church to run the daycare. I thought for sure she’d lost her mind. I never looked back.
I find it interesting that the same thing that ushered me into her church of lies, would be the same thing that sent me running. My friends. Looking back now, I thank God for allowing that meeting to happen. In the end, only He knew that severing ties with those friends at the time, would be the one thing to get me to leave. Honestly, that was the hardest part—losing friends, because I’d given so much of myself to friendship and it was so important to me. I felt like an outcast. I cried the entire day, but God is always on time. Just in case I even thought about returning, He revealed to me, through another believer, that Shelly was heavily involved in witchcraft. Without knowing, I’d been involved in a serious spiritual battle, but I’d also been protected throughout the entire ordeal. God is faithful. Once I learned the truth, going back was no less than equal to spiritual death.
After then, I had and still have a lot of trust issues when it comes to the church. A love-hate relationship if you will. I kind of bounced around a bit from small prayer groups and bible studies to different churches, but I haven’t been able to commit to any of them. They were all a disappointment and I had begun to associate all of these disappointments and negative traits of men with the Lord’s character. Maybe God just wasn’t that into me.
After my father died, I went through one of the loneliest periods of my life. It was then that the Lord pulled me away from everything and began to reveal Himself to me without any outside influences. He revealed that I was too dependent on people emotionally and spiritually and that He would begin to encourage me every day. I began reading the bible and spending time in prayer daily. It was almost as if He was proving himself to me, which sounds crazy, I know. He’s God! He doesn’t have to prove Himself to anyone, but He did, and He still does, and it’s all to bring me closer to Him. To show me that I can trust Him. He’s not here to hurt me, but to love me to complete wholeness.
Personal relationship with Jesus Christ has been my saving grace. Knowing who He is and who I am in Him has helped me tremendously with overcoming the lasting effects of spiritual abuse. It also helps me to better identify the warning signs of potential abusive spiritual leaders, which is why I will implore any and everyone to develop their own personal relationship with the Lord above all. Spend time with Him in prayer, read and meditate on His word. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Every now and then, I still hear stories of how she’s controlling and manipulating members of her congregation. Stories that are much worse than my own. After all is said and done, I will remain in prayer for our spiritual leaders and those who sit under their leadership. May we all press on toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of Jesus Christ.
Tamarria Denga is a wife, mother, writer, author, and Christian. You may learn more about her on TamarriaDenga.com