Bishop’s wife on a mission to stop gender-based abuse by church officials

Founder of the Love Basket Foundation Eva CW Waunga

Founder of the Love Basket Foundation Eva CW Waunga during the interview at Nation Centre Nairobi on December 8, 2022. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Agnes* is a pastor’s wife who has endured an abusive marriage for 16 years. She has lost count of the number of times her husband has assaulted her or shredded her ego to bits.

He is a revered cleric and for the sake of the ministry he is in, she has taken everything in her stride. This is a field that banks heavily on image and she has somehow learnt how to chin up and hide her scars — physical and mental.

However, stories of women like Agnes are expected to change as an initiative started by a bishop’s wife – who is encouraging those abused by church ministers to speak up – takes root.
Ms Evangeline Karimi, a mother of three, told Lifestyle that the culture of silence “and simply crying to God” needs to end. She is the wife of Bishop John CW, the founder of the Share the Love Centre church that is located in Kenol, Murang’a County.

“You cannot conceal crime with a prayer. It doesn’t work like that,” she said. “There is this thing of Christians saying, ‘I will fight my battles in the altar.’ There is nothing like a battle on the altar. When a blow lands on you, the altar is not there to protect you.”
One of her solutions for stemming such abuse is speaking out and informing your spouse that you will report them.

“Tell them that you will tell on them. If something like that happens and you tell them you’re going to tell on them or maybe to report, they will fear,” she said.
In Christianity, one of the hallowed virtues is that of turning the other cheek; when a person offends you, you should not take revenge. But Ms Karimi’s understating is slightly different.
“When you slap me, I will not allow you to slap me again,” she said. “(But) I will not slap back. I will not fight back, but I (will) want you to know that there is this awareness.”


Wolap initiative

Through the Women of Love and Prayer (Wolap) initiative, Ms Karimi is offering a platform for women who are abused by church officials to speak out. Or, in her own words, “to bring women out of those cages; the cages of being bruised in silence; being harassed in silence”.
“You will find most of the oppressed women in the church. Most of the abused women, you find them in the church,” she said.

“In church, people don’t know that some things require them to seek legal (action), or maybe to get out of it. There is this notion of like, ‘Oh, you have to go there and cry to God; God will save you.’ And that is why most of the people are dying,” she added.

Ms Karimi’s husband, bishop John, says in a YouTube profile that he is one of the “spiritual sons” of Nigerian evangelist Arome Osayi. The Kenol-based church takes a different perspective from most evangelical churches on the concept of sowing the seed and offers financial education to the faithful.
“I am the founder of this ministry which was started 13 years ago now, and to the glory of God, we are keeping on; continuing with the message of the kingdom and we thank Him,” said Bishop John.

When asked about how many followers the church has, the cleric said it has members from across the globe.
“Our membership is worldwide; so we cannot put inventory on the numbers per se. But we have people locally as well as internationally, in their numbers,” he said.

President William Ruto visited the Kenol-based church in October 2021. He was then the Deputy President angling to succeed his boss Uhuru Kenyatta. Dr Ruto famously shed tears as Bishop John narrated his “bottom-up” rise from a dog feeder to an evangelist running the church alongside its affiliated television station, Spirit TV.

Wolap has been running for years now and through it, Ms Karimi – who said she is not an ordained pastor – has been encouraging women to speak up. One of Wolap’s activities is a prayer session its members hold on Zoom every night from 11.45pm to midnight.

Founder of the Love Basket Foundation Eva CW Waunga during the interview at Nation Centre

Founder of the Love Basket Foundation Eva CW Waunga during the interview at Nation Centre Nairobi on December 8, 2022.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Assaulted, raped

It is through Wolap that Ms Karimi has got to hear stories similar to Agnes’s.
“They are beaten; they are almost giving up. They are assaulted, raped. And we have children subjected to the same. But because you serve in the church, because you are one of the women, leader of something in the church or deacon and all that, you cannot speak, because when you speak you will tarnish your name and you will tarnish the name of your husband,” she said. “I wanted to help these women.”

She went on: “I’ve had a lot of people calling me. Others have shown me their scars. And they wear long dresses and do a small touch-up. They will come to church with their husbands holding their hands and you never know if they’re abused. But they are always silent; you can see the void in them and all that.
“Someone told me, ‘You know, my husband is the chairman of where we come from. He’s the deacon and all that.’

“I’ve heard other stories of someone telling me she is always sexually abused by her husband and all those things. Rape and all those things are happening. But they cannot speak out because the fear of this woman is: your husband is a pastor who has a congregation. When you speak out, people will judge you. There is this thing of, ‘Oh, that woman.’ And women are always blamed for everything, like oh, you want to bring down the ministry, you’re a devil and all those things. From there, I started telling them, ‘No, you are supposed to speak out.’”

News reports and surveys in Kenya and across the globe indicate that spouses of church ministers are among the longest-suffering individuals. They are often at a crossroads because the scriptures encourage them not to lay asunder what God has put together. For instance, a November 2017 online article by ABC News relayed some of the extreme cases of abuse by Australian women married to Anglican priests.

“(The women) say the church has known for decades that some clergy abuse their wives but has done very little to fix the ongoing problem,” the outlet reported. “Women in Christian communities (are) being told to endure or forgive domestic violence, and stay in abusive relationships, often due to misappropriation of Bible verses on submission.”

Finance management

However, Ms Karimi argues that some “prayerful” women are also not without blame, saying some overdo prayers at the expense of playing their roles at home and that some are inept in managing finances.
She told Lifestyle of a woman who would be given money by her husband daily for buying household supplies.
The woman, she added, would go to overnight “keshas” and attend church events where believers went to the mountains to pray for as many as 25 consecutive days.

“I told her, ‘Your husband did not marry you for prayers on the mountain and all those things. You are supposed to be at home.’ You see, this is a lady who was ignorant and for her, the blame was on the man; that she wants to go and he doesn’t want to understand. I was like, ‘You cannot evangelise your husband because (even) I wouldn’t want that God who is taking my wife away from me,’” said Ms Karimi.

At Wolap, she said, the women are inspired by the story of Lydia in the book of Acts and the woman described in the 31st chapter of the book of Proverbs.

“If you want to look for the poorest people, and I’m sorry to say this, you will find them in the church, unfortunately. We will come to the church, and cry to God, only for us to go home without food to feed our children. And you know, like there is one woman in the Bible, called Lydiah. That is a woman who inspires me in the place of balancing. She is called a woman of purple cloth. She used to stay in the place of prayer and at the same time sell cloth. And she even had a home,” said Ms Karimi.

The firstborn of four children, Ms Karimi grew up in a split family. Her parents were separated when she was a young girl and they lived with their father and grandmother in Embu County for some time before their mother took them to Nairobi’s Kangemi suburb.

Ms Karimi’s mother lost her job when she was about to join secondary school and it was a tall order feeding the four and paying rent among other expenses.

Housekeeping job

It was with difficulty that she completed her studies at St Valentine Girls in Machakos and began working at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital as a housekeeper. It was there that she came face-to-face with some of the most atrocious cases of domestic violence.

“My first experience (with an assaulted patient) was very traumatising,” she said.
She could not bear with the trauma of the cases there and she eventually quit to join a non-governmental organisation and to support a local church.

The family was at rock-bottom, surviving on one meal a day, when she met Bishop John in 2010. In their first encounter, he gave her a lift in a Mercedes he was driving. He was then working as a chauffeur for a city tycoon.

Founder of the Love Basket Foundation Eva CW Waunga during the interview at Nation Centre

Founder of the Love Basket Foundation Eva CW Waunga during the interview at Nation Centre Nairobi on December 8, 2022.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

“I was actually going out to pick my boss. Then I saw this little young beautiful lady walking and I remember asking her if I could offer her a lift,” Bishop John told Lifestyle.

She said she was persuaded to accept the offer because he was playing gospel music. A friendship started that culminated in a marriage about four years later. She calls him “my husband, my bishop”.
“He is so humble. His heart is so pure, he is so loving and all that. And he cares so much for me,” said Ms Karimi, who is in her early thirties. “I thank God for blessing me with a good man; a man who loves people.”
John said: “She took a lift. Till today, she is on that lift. And I thank the Lord.”

“Apart from her good looks, she’s just a great woman and I thank the Lord for her,” he added. “She has had a lot of positive impact on my life. The Bible says a man who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord. So, she has granted me access to the favour that cannot be given to any man who has not found his wife.”

The couple later started an initiative to help feed the needy. They have supplied food to street children in Nairobi a number of times. They also have a programme where needy people access foodstuffs through a food donation initiative that later got registered as the Love Basket Foundation. It is those food initiatives that gave Ms Karimi her nickname “Wa Unga” (the Flour Woman).

"Seed planting"

One of the teachings that Bishop John’s church focuses on is how to give to the church, especially the so-called “planting of the seed” where a believer gives out some money in expectation of a blessing.
“You cannot buy a blessing. Like in our case, we don’t believe that for me to pray for you to get a job you need to give me money,” said Ms Karimi.

Bishop John said: “That’s a doctrinal error that we are trying to correct. There is nothing wrong with planting a seed. We just have to be very careful that it is by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Scripture records that if at any one point our giving is to be accepted, we should give cheerfully. So, anything that is not cheerfully given is a waste of investment. So, make sure that your giving comes from the heart, not your pastor.”

Bishop John also gives financial literacy classes to his congregants, teaching believers about saving and other money matters.
“People (need) to come to that level where they are able to provide for their families and meet the needs as they appear,” he said. “We call it financial education. We’ve seen that teaching going as far as the US, UK, and most African countries.”

Justifying the Sacco arm of Wolap that was launched in November last year, Ms Karimi noted: “We want to finish this phenomenon of miracle-tapping. You know, we Christians are into tapping-tapping. You see a car, you want to tap: ‘I tap that car in Jesus’ name.’ And then you see these people coming up with these funny posters like ‘miracle money’, ‘I see money deposited in someone’s account’. Those are gimmicks.”

If you are facing abuse in a church set up and you want to reach out to Ms Karimi, you can use her Facebook account, “Eva CW Waunga” to share your experiences. Or you can use the mobile phone number 0704577569.
“Wolap is there to bring women out of those cages,” said Ms Karimi. “Speak out. Call evil evil. We don’t conceal evil with prayer. The place of forgiveness is there, because as a Christian it’s good to forgive. But if you are forgiving someone and that person is repeating the same thing, that person wants to finish you. You will not even have that time to pray.”