How an African government and international institutions turned a blind eye to thirty years of sexual abuse at a Christian Mission

Nobody remembers exactly when Rosa died, but it was somewhere between 2005 and 2007, on the road to Chimoio hospital. What is known is that Rosa bled to death and that she had been pregnant. It is also known that she was a ‘favourite’ of Maforga orphanage director Pastor Roy Perkins, and that she had refused to tell anyone who the babies’ father was. The girls say there have been four such deaths in Maforga under the care of Pastor Roy.

Originally Australian, but born in Zambia and grown up in Zimbabwe, Pastor Roy Perkins has been caring for the girls in Maforga Mission’s orphanage in a way akin to those other ‘prophets’ who, according to locals, “sleep with all the females” in desperately poor Manica province, a thousand kilometers north of Maputo in central Mozambique. Powerful men here exploit vulnerable girls who’ll do a lot for food or a cell phone. “Roy behaves exactly like that,” says missionary Stephanie Williams, who left Maforga in 2017. “He was born in Zambia. He is African.”

If there is anything the authorities in Manica don’t want, it is to care for local orphans and vulnerable children themselves

Only, of course, he isn’t. Or maybe he is a hybrid. Because of his white skin, Australian passport and his expert working of international missionary channels, -a sector that generally lacks oversight-, ‘Pastor Roy’ has been able to command donations, aid supplies and fellow missionaries at Maforga for the past thirty years. It is therefore, as much as it is the story of Pastor Roy and his wife Trish Perkins, also the story of the ‘real’ missionaries who spent years at the Mission before they saw its reality.

Maybe even more so, it is the story of how they could not get rid of Roy Perkins: how local authorities protected and protect him, even after he was taken to court for sexual abuse. “Roy knows how to play them. Once he came to the municipality with thirty girls saying he would just leave them there if he didn’t get some or other permit he wanted,” says former missionary Daniel Bell. If there is anything the authorities in Manica don’t want, it is to care for local orphans and vulnerable children themselves.

Favourites

In the early 2000’s then Maforga missionary Aaron Beecher already noticed that Roy always had favourites. “They were given gifts and could do no wrong. But no one had time to spend on this issue. The place was recovering from war” (between the Frelimo party government and rebels, EV/EG).” “And Roy had built up that image of the undisputed leader, the anointed Man of God.”

‘I have delighted in some breasts that are not my wife’s’

Aaron Beecher and his wife had been in the UK when Rosa died and nobody spoke about her anymore when they returned. But in February 2008 Roy suddenly announced he had a ‘confession’ to make. “The scripture says that a man should delight in the breasts of the bride of his youth (but) I have come to confess to you that I have delighted in some breasts that are not my wife’s,” the Pastor told the elders that evening. He explained that he had been fondling the breasts of Elina* (15) and that he was confessing “so that it could be forgiven and covered by the blood of the Lamb.”

Photo: Buildings at the Maforga mission by Estacio Valoi

Dutch Kees and Sarah Tanis, who were in charge of the boys’ centre down the road, and local elder Manuel Mastarde felt that counseling could deal with this, but Aaron Beecher and a few others disagreed. They knew that another girl had seen ‘Papa Roy’ ‘touching’ Elina and suspected that the confession might have been timed to prevent being denounced by others. “I told Roy afterwards that I thought this was the tip of the iceberg,” says Beecher. “And his face just fell.”

In a subsequent investigation, Elina reports ‘touching’ at least ‘five times.’ She also states that “there (are) several girls having romantic relationships with ‘Papá” and that he has told her not to “go around telling.”  Another girl tells Beecher that after going on ‘holiday’ with Roy and Trish Perkins “she would not do so again.” Yet another, Noemi*, says Roy generally “enters the girl's rooms without knocking.” She also says Papa is conducting “an affair with (20-year-old) Albertina.” Once again, Roy confesses, this time about his “feelings of lust for Albertina.” He adds that he has also “apologised directly to the girls and prayed” with them, which does not exactly reassure the others.  Which abuser calls his victims to listen to him talk about the abuse in detail? “Imagine you are thirteen and you have to hear all that,” says former Maforga missionary Gwen McCarthy*, who, with her husband Michael, shared Beecher’s increasingly strong suspicions.

“If I am expelled, who will feed you?”

The Tanis’s and the local elders refuse to involve the police. What about the boys’ centre, the bible studies, the prisoners’ counseling? “It was terrible” recalls Michael McCarthy. “We were accused of wanting to take over the Mission, even to destroy it.” When Gwen McCarthy then takes Elina, Noemi and a few others to the police station and waits in the corridor, she hears the local prosecutor asking Elina: “was it ‘coisas de adulto,’ adult things; her answer ‘sim,’ yes, and Elina sobbing.

Upon their return Elina is expelled from the orphanage ‘like a dog, without even a bag,’ she says. Noemi is called ungrateful: her nickname at the centre becomes ‘mafiosa’ and she is shunned by the majority. “They fear starving on the streets without him,” explains Gwen McCarthy. “Of course he is always telling them that. ‘If I am expelled, who will feed you?’”

When local prosecutor Leonides Mapasse closes the case for ‘lack of evidence’ (“which was strange,” says Aaron Beecher, “because he earlier told me we absolutely had a case”), the concerned group turns to the local Gondola district government. But at a meeting on 6 November 2009 at the governing party Frelimo’s office, they are again flabbergasted when they hear district administrator Catarina Dinis decree that Roy and Trish, as the ‘parents’ of the mission, must ‘forgive their children’ -meaning the concerned missionaries- ‘for behaving badly.”

Dinis also echoes Roy’s steadfast assertions that there was never any ‘real’ sex with Elina “so the issue was not serious.” (Even now, some missionaries hope that no actual intercourse took place. But several girls say there was, that there were pregnancies and that ‘all the abortions took place under our roof when Roy was there.’)

After the meeting with the provincial authorities, the concerned group decides to leave. “We knew we could no longer stay there or receive funding from our donors. We could no longer submit to Roy.”

The power of Roy

New missionaries who come in 2013, unaware of what happened before, hear rumours about “Roy sleeping with the girls,” says Daniel Bell. “But they were just rumours. And I was busy trying to get water. Cleaning up trash all over the place. Toddlers were cutting their feet on cans and broken glass. ” Nevertheless, Bell soon develops doubts about the education the girls get from Roy and Trish Perkins. “They were often rude and disrespectful, but would fall silent at the slightest gesture of Roy. Trish once told me that she was proud of that ‘power’ of Roy.”

“They kept it looking pathetic, presumably to keep visitors in tears and make them give more”

Bell also becomes increasingly concerned about the dilapidated state of the girls’ centre, managed directly by Roy and Trish. “They kept it looking pathetic, presumably to keep visitors in tears and make them give more. But when new things were donated or built they would disappear. And while the girls were kept in trashy conditions, Roy and Trish had plenty holidays.”

In 2014 Bell visits Aaron Beecher, who now works at a technical college down the road. He has had to take a deep breath before doing so. “The Perkins’ -mainly Trish- forbade us to talk to any member of Beecher’s group. They had demons.” But Bell needs Beecher’s advice for the water system he is building. “Beecher asked: what, another one? He said he had already built one and asked me if his tanks were not there anymore. They weren’t.”

When in January 2015, fifteen-year-old Caity dies at Chimoio hospital, her friends are convinced that this is again the result of a botched abortion. Trish Perkins seems to share this suspicion, since -according to now retired caregiver Mavis Wright, who was later informed about the tragic event – she bizarrely instructs the hospital to conduct a ‘virginity test’ when Caity has arrived, haemorrhaging and barely alive.

But the missionaries who took Caity to the hospital three days before her death, believe it was typhoid fever. “She had diarrhea, fever and was vomiting,” says Louise Bouwmeester*, whose husband Henk drove Caity that Monday morning, adding that even so Roy and Trish carry much blame. “Typhoid could have been spread because there was a problem with hygiene on the girls’ side when Mavis was away.”  “Caity had had a fever for six weeks,” says Bell, angrily. “All Roy and Trish had done was send her to go to the local hospital by herself, with another girl as an escort.” Trish had not been worried, apparently, as long as there had been no bleeding.

Photo: Warehouse at Maforga mission by Estacio Valoi

In that same year the new crop of missionaries tell each other that “Roy is at it again.” This time Catarina, 21, a ward sent to the mission by provincial social welfare director Antonio Vigove ‘to further her studies,’ is the object of Papa’s affections; her younger sister has left the mission, upset, as a result. The missionaries move Catarina out to another house in the area, but Perkins, furious to find her gone, immediately drives out to bring her back. The missionaries still take Catarina to the police to testify, only to be told afterwards that there is no case since ‘Catarina is an adult.’ When they leave the police station they realise that Roy Perkins had been allowed by his policemen friends to listen to Catarina’s testimony behind a wall.

Asked why he sent Catarina to the mission when the provincial authorities have been aware of the complaints against Roy Perkins since 2009, Social Affairs director Antonio Vigove denies all such knowledge.

A girls’ army

In October 2016, finally, written proof appears. An unfinished letter in which Trish talks of “Roy’s temptation’ and ‘incidents with girls’ -some going back to the late eighties- is found by a volunteer on Trish’s desk. In new, increasingly angry, meetings, which go on for months, Roy Perkins is told to leave no less than seven times. Each time a date is agreed; each time the date passes by. Missionaries look for Board documents and the oversight structure – someone must be responsible, somewhere-  but can’t find any. They write to the Manica governor, begging him to take action, to no avail. Efforts to re-open the court case also go nowhere because of, in the words of elder Manuel Mastarde, “a lack of credibility of the law department in Chimoio.” Stephanie Williams starts to feel that “the only way to get him out of there was to put a gun to his head.”

On 31 January 2017, when yet another meeting insists that the Perkinses go now, the couple actually leaves the room. But immediately as they step outside an army of about forty girls shows up, outside, shouting, carrying sticks and stones. When the Bouwmeesters and Daniel Bell run among the volley of projectiles to the Bouwmeesters' house, the girls lay siege there. “They were throwing chunks of concrete at the door and chanting "Mata! Mata!” (kill) and “Enda! Enda!” (go away), recalls Bell. “They were also shouting in a local language. We played the audio recording for a local person the next day. He laughed.” The insult that the teenage girls had come up with was “Louise can’t cook!”

Finally, when a police car is seen approaching, “Roy said a few words,” recalls Daniel Bell. “They fell still.”

The missionaries write to funders, child care organisations, and even the Australian embassy (Roy has an Australian passport, can they not get him out of Mozambique?) Mavis Wright writes to the Mozambican embassy in London.  But “they all refer to one another,” one sighs. “Unicef ended up saying that local authorities had been informed. We knew that.”

Talking to journalists

It is April 2017 when Estacio Valoi arrives in Maforga. It’s just after Easter Sunday and the Bouwmeesters' house has been attacked again, with windows broken and furniture smashed.  He leaves after interviewing missionaries, locals and some of the girls, but is soon asked to come back again to report on yet a new chapter. Roy has found out about girls ‘talking to journalists.’  Whistleblower Noemi, the troublemaker and ‘mafiosa,’ who now lives with family in the village, has been grabbed by a policeman friend of Roy’s in front of her home, and almost kidnapped.  Gone into hiding, family members report that Trish has come to their house and has tried to get a small child in the family to show where she, Noemi, has gone. Missionaries have taken Noemi to another place of safety.

“It is better if people (who) hate me are in prison,” said Papa Roy

Roy has come into Fauzia’s* room one morning as she prepared to bath. “I only had a capulana (Mozambican cloth, EV/EG) on and just time to grab a jersey. He said I had stolen a fan and a stove and I said: ‘Who, me?’ Papá knew that someone else had done that. I started crying but he took me to the police. A policeman interrogated and beat me for two days,” she tells Estacio, adding that another local policeman who knows her family, got her released and that Roy has phoned her family afterwards, saying “it is better if people (who) hate me are in prison.”

Whoever may land in prison, it is unlikely to be Roy Perkins. Even if a new case against him was opened last year at the central court in Maputo, is again ‘ongoing;’ and even if provincial governor Alberto Mondlane himself has pledged in an interview with Estacio Valoi ‘that this will definitely be solved,’ nothing has progressed in 2018.

Maforga’s locals remain between a rock and the hard place. Most don’t like the fact that girls sleep with powerful men for food and airtime. They definitely don’t have warm feelings for the missionary who exploits such girls while pretending to bring civilisation and enlightenment. When Henk Bouwmeester visits the municipality to discuss electricity faults, the woman behind the counter looks at him coldly and says: “You must be the old man at the mission who is sleeping with all the girls."

But like it or not, many here can’t afford to feed their children. They have also no reason to believe that their own government will ever help, even if there is a social welfare department with staff and a budget. “I was so shocked when I found out that locals were hiding the secret of what Roy was doing,” recalls Stephanie Williams. “I asked them why. They said that they were scared we would all leave if they talked.” But some locals feel that it has been enough now. “We still hope for good white people to come and help us,” they say. “But Roy must go.”

Elina, the girl whose breasts so ‘delighted’ Roy in 2008, who is now 23, and lives in Beira with her husband ‘after some time on the streets after being expelled from the orphanage’ is not holding her breath. “If I tell you all that I saw, what they did to me, Roy and Trish’s ghosts will chase me,” she says.

The comments

Getting the Perkins’ side of the story has been difficult. When Estacio visits the orphanage Trish tells him she “doesn’t have permission” to talk and calls Roy who, she says, ‘will be coming with the Gondola police commander.” Estacio, knowing full well what Mozambican police tend to do with his recordings and notes, bolts as he sees the duo arrive.

Later comment-seeking via email and SMS with Roy Perkins is initially met with the reply that the accusations against him are untrue and that he will send legal documents proving this.  He then asks for more time, then asks if Evelyn Groenink ‘is a Christian.’ After a week there are no documents, no answers. A last SMS message urges not to publish.

The most recent reports from the Mission refer to ‘drunk men staying there’ who are making ‘moves on the girls’ in an entire ‘culture of abuse.’

• Names changed upon request

Note: This investigation was supported by IREX Mozambique