Government and international institutions turn a blind eye to sex abuse at a Christian mission in Mozambique, despite multiple recorded accusations
Nobody remembers when Rosa died, but it was somewhere between 2005 and 2007 on the road to Chimoio Hospital.
They know Rosa was pregnant, and that she bled to death.
They know she was a “favourite” of Maforga orphanage director Pastor Roy Perkins, and that she refused to tell anyone who the baby’s 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 raised in Zimbabwe, Pastor Roy has been caring for the girls in Maforga Mission’s orphanage, allegedly in a way akin to “prophets” who, locals say, “sleep with all the females” in desperately poor Manica province, 1 000km north of Maputo in Mozambique.
“Roy behaves exactly like that,” says missionary Stephanie Williams, who left Maforga last year.
Because of his white skin, Australian passport and his expert working of international missionary channels, Pastor Roy has been able to command donations, aid supplies and fellow missionaries at Maforga for the past 30 years.
As much as this is the story of Pastor Roy and his wife Trish Perkins, it is also the story of missionaries who spent years at Maforga before realising something was wrong.
Local authorities protected and continue to protect him, even after he was taken to court on sex abuse charges.
“Roy knows how to play them. Once, he came to the municipality with 30 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.
In the early 2000s, then Maforga missionary Aaron Beecher noticed Roy 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. And Roy had built up that image of the undisputed leader, the anointed Man of God,” he says.
Beecher and his wife were in the UK when Rosa died and, when they returned, nobody spoke about her any more. 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,” Pastor Roy told elders that evening.
He had been fondling the breasts of Elina* (15) and was confessing “so that it could be forgiven and covered by the blood of the Lamb”.
Dutch missionaries Kees and Sarah Tanis, who ran the boys’ centre down the road, and local elder Manuel Mastarde felt that counselling could fix the problem, but Beecher and others disagreed.
They knew another girl saw Pastor Roy “touching” Elina and suspected he timed his confession to prevent being denounced.
“I told Roy afterwards that I thought this was the tip of the iceberg,” says Beecher. “And his face just fell.”
When Beecher investigates further, Elina tells him that Roy “touched” her at least “five times”, and that “several girls [are] having romantic relationships with Papa [Roy]”.
Elina also says Roy told her not to “go around telling”.
Another girl tells Beecher that, after going on “holiday” with Roy and Trish, “she would not do so again”.
Yet another, Noemi*, says Pastor Roy “enters the girls’ rooms without knocking”. She also says he is conducting “an affair with Albertina ”.
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.
“Imagine you are 13 and you have to hear all that,” says former Maforga missionary Gwen McCarthy*, who, with her husband Michael, shared Beecher’s suspicions.
If I am expelled, who will feed you?
The Tanises and local elders refuse to involve the police. What about the boys’ centre? The Bible studies? The prisoners’ counselling?
“It was terrible” recalls McCarthy, who took Elina, Noemi and a few others to the police station.
She waited in the corridor and heard the local prosecutor asking Elina: “Was it coisas de adulto [adult things]?” McCarthy heard Elina say yes. She was sobbing.
When they returned, Elina was expelled from the orphanage “like a dog, without even a bag”, she says. Noemi is called ungrateful and she is shunned at the centre.
“They fear starving on the streets without him,” explains 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 due to a “lack of evidence” – which Beecher says was “strange because he earlier told me we absolutely had a case” – the concerned group turns to the local Gondola district government.
But at a meeting in November 2009, they are stunned to hear district administrator Catarina Dinis decree that Roy and Trish, as the “parents” of the mission, must “forgive their children [the concerned missionaries] for behaving badly”.
Dinis also echoes Pastor Roy’s assertions that he never had “real” sex with Elina, “so the issue was not serious”.
But several girls say there was “real” sex, and pregnancies too, and “all the abortions took place under our roof when Roy was there”.
After the meeting, the concerned group decides to leave.
“We could no longer stay there or receive funding from our donors. We could no longer submit to Roy.”
The power of Roy
Oblivious, new missionaries arrive in 2013 and hear rumours of “Roy sleeping with the girls”, says Bell. “But they were just rumours. And I was busy trying to get water. Cleaning up trash all over the place.”
Bell soon develops doubts about the education the girls receive from the Perkinses.
“They were often rude and disrespectful, but would fall silent at the slightest gesture from Roy. Trish once told me that she was proud of that power of Roy’s.”
Bell also becomes increasingly concerned about the dilapidated state of the girls’ centre at the mission, which is managed directly by Roy and Trish.
“They kept it looking pathetic, presumably to make visitors 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 of holidays.”
In 2014, Bell visits Beecher, who now works at a technical college nearby, despite the Perkinses forbidding the newcomers to talk to any member of Beecher’s group.
“They had demons, they said.” But Bell needed Beecher’s advice for a water system he was building.
“Beecher asked: ‘What, another one?’ He said he had already built one and asked me if his tanks were not there any more. They weren’t.”
When Caity (15) dies in January 2015 at Chimoio Hospital, her friends are convinced it’s a botched abortion. But the missionaries who took her there three days before her death say it was typhoid fever.
“She had diarrhoea, fever and was vomiting,” says Louise Bouwmeester*, whose husband, Henk, drove Caity to the hospital that Monday morning.
“Caity had a fever for six weeks,” says Bell.
That year, a new crop of missionaries allegedly discover 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 Roy’s affections.
The missionaries move Catarina to another house in the area, but a furious Roy immediately fetches her.
The missionaries still take Catarina to the police to testify, only to be told afterwards that there is no case because “Catarina is an adult”.
When they leave the police station, they realise Pastor Roy was allowed by his policemen friends to listen to Catarina’s testimony from behind a wall.
When asked why he sent Catarina to the mission when the authorities had known of complaints against Pastor Roy since 2009, Vigove denies any knowledge of the complaints.
A girls’ army
Finally, in October 2016, there is written proof. A volunteer finds an unfinished letter in which Trish talks of “Roy’s temptation” and “incidents with girls” – some going back to the late 1980s – on Trish’s desk. In new, increasingly angry meetings held over months, Pastor Roy is told to leave seven times. Each time, a date is agreed; each time it passes.
Missionaries look for board documents and the oversight structure, but cannot find any. They write to Manica’s governor, begging him to take action. Efforts to reopen the court case go nowhere because, says Mastarde, of “a lack of credibility of the law department in Chimoio”.
On January 31 last year, when yet another meeting insists that the Perkinses go, the couple leaves the room. But, as they step outside, an army of about 40 girls arrives, shouting, carrying sticks and stones. When the Bouwmeesters and Bell run among the volley of projectiles to the Bouwmeesters’ house, the girls lay siege.
“They were throwing chunks of concrete at the door and chanting ‘Mata! [Kill]’ and ‘Enda! [Go away]’,” recalls Bell.
The missionaries write to funders, childcare organisations, and even the Australian embassy. Caregiver Mavis Wright writes to the Mozambican embassy in London. But “they all refer us 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 reporter Estacio Valoi arrives in Maforga. He leaves after interviewing missionaries, locals and some of the girls, but is soon asked to return – the Bouwmeesters’ house has been attacked again. Pastor Roy has found out about girls “talking to journalists”.
Whistle-blower Noemi, who now lives with family in the village, has been grabbed by Pastor Roy’s policeman friend in front of her home, and almost kidnapped. Family members have reported that Trish came to their house and tried to get a small child to show her where Noemi was hiding. Missionaries have taken Noemi to another place of safety.
Another girl at the mission, Fauzia, tells Valoi that Pastor Roy entered her room one morning as she prepared to bath and accused her of stealing a fan and a stove.
“Papa knew that someone else had done that. I started crying, but he took me to Amatongas Police Station. A policeman interrogated and beat me for two days,” she says.
The case to nowhere
A fresh police case against Pastor Roy was opened last year at the central court in Maputo. Provincial governor Alberto Mondlane insists “that this will definitely be solved”. But nothing has happened so far.
Maforga’s locals are resentful. Most don’t like the fact that girls sleep with powerful men for food and airtime for their cellphones. They have no warm feelings for the missionary who allegedly exploits girls while pretending to bring civilisation and enlightenment.
When Henk Bouwmeester visits the municipality, the woman behind the counter says: “You must be the old man at the mission who is sleeping with all the girls.”
But many people in the community cannot afford to feed their children. And they know their government won’t help.
“I was so shocked when I found out that locals were hiding the secret of what Roy was doing,” recalls Williams. “I asked them why. They said that they were scared we would all leave if they talked.”
However, some feel that enough is enough.
“We still hope for good white people to come and help us,” they say. “But Roy must go.”
“If I tell you all that I saw, what they did to
Elina, whose breasts so “delighted” Pastor Roy in 2008, is now 23 and lives in Beira with her husband “after some time on the streets after being expelled from the orphanage”.
me, Roy and Trish’s ghosts will chase me,” she says.
What they said
The Perkinses did not respond to requests for comment.
When Valoi visited the orphanage, Trish said she “didn’t have permission” to talk and called Pastor Roy, whom, she said, “will be coming with the Gondola police commander”.
In responses to later emails and SMSes, Pastor Roy insisted the accusations against him were untrue and that he would send legal documents to prove this.
He asked for more time, and asked whether reporter Evelyn Groenink “is a Christian”.
A week passes with neither documents nor answers. A final SMS urges the reporters not to publish this story.
*Not their real names
.This investigation was supported by Irex Mozambique, a global development and education organisation
Aid for orphanages in Africa is often riddled with problems.
Fake and abusive orphanages have been exposed by ZAM’s investigative journalism partner, the African Investigative Publishing Collective (AIPC), in Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana.
In all investigated cases, it was found that charlatans posing as caregivers kept donations for themselves, while children were kept in disgraceful conditions and abused by the caregivers themselves when visitors were not looking.
The phenomenon thrives on tugging at the heartstrings of Westerners who want to “do good”, and is strengthened by the neglect of vulnerable children by dysfunctional governments.
In Ghana, when underage girls were freed from a brothel and brought into the care of the social welfare department, they were back on the streets within weeks, again doing sex work.
In the brothel, they at least had a roof over their heads.
. The AIPC works to hold African governments accountable