LOS ANGELES, California.- Brenda Tolentino received with a big hug another woman who was part of the evangelical church La Luz del Mundo. The meeting was emotional, although it was the first time they met. They say they are joined by the bitter experiences they had in a congregation involved in a scandal of sexual abuse, for which their leader Naasón Joaquín García has been detained since June.
Tolentino and his ally in the fight to defend the four alleged victims of Joaquín García met Friday in Los Angeles, a few hours before leading a demonstration in court that reviews the case of the cult leader. They have come out to face to ask to be condemned, to support those who were attacked in those temples and to ask other faithful to break the silence.
“It makes me sick, I feel so disgusting, so much courage. I hope that all those people who believe in him realize that he is not a good person, that he is only for the money, ”says who became one of the coordinators of the protest. This Californian woman does not hide her face, but asks that her name not be published to avoid reprisals from Joaquín García's supporters.RELATED
She and Tolentino tell a similar story: that they entered the Light of the World as girls by their parents, who were allegedly abused by a member of the church who still does not receive a punishment, who suffered “the extreme control” exercised by the cult over most of its members and that "forced" them to marry as teenagers because they confessed that they had had relationships.
“That church stole many things from me, my childhood; one person from that church robbed me of my innocence and another person there stole more from me, which was my husband, ”says who left the congregation more than 10 years ago. "All my memories I have of that church are traumatizing," he laments.
The life of this 35-year-old woman has been particularly hard. As a child she was under the tutelage of an alcoholic and beating father, which led her to spend several years in some 20 foster homes where they also mistreated her. He was 10 years old when what seemed like his salvation began to become his ordeal: The Light of the World drove his father away from addictions, but she ended up going to the temple at the point of whipping.
Immediately, his dress changed. Long skirts and veils filled her closet; teasing also rained him at school. "Every day we went" to the church, he says. "There was no other option."
Although her father stopped drinking and getting high, she became an ogre every time she disobeyed the strict norms of worship. Sometimes he rocked her when he discovered that he put on pants and put on makeup. In the midst of constant abuse, he fled his home. Was 14 years old. Helpless, an adult from La Luz del Mundo who had helped her ended up raping her at home and asked her not to report him, according to her story.
"There it all stayed, I never told anyone, because I felt guilty," he said.
Your marriage to an abuser
A year later she went to live with another teenager in the church and became pregnant. He says that after he spoke with his pastor, he put pressure on the children to marry. “They went so far to tell us that the son I had in my womb was going to hell. That scared me. ”
It was a sad wedding in Reno, Nevada, and it was the preamble of a marriage plagued with domestic violence. “He beat me, hanged me, forced me to have relationships. I didn't want to be with him. ”
He was 16 when he became the mother of a baby with whom he played as if it were his doll. Both put to watch children's programs on television "as if we were both children," he says.
When she separated from her husband at the age of 20, already with three children, she also left the church. The worst part is that he was left with a feeling of guilt. In his head were the sermons that warned him that being outside his life would be hell and that his children would pay the consequences.
"Because there they teach you that it is the only church that will take you with God and if you are in another church you will not be saved," he said.
Other former members of La Luz del Mundo have reported on the Reddit social network that they were forced to marry in adolescence by a rule that prohibits them from even having a boyfriend for more than six months.
Eliezer Gutierrez, spokesman for the congregation, denies that this practice occurs in almost 60 countries where its temples are. He emphasizes that the evangelical institution establishes that the conjugal life between its members is done “with freedom” and “being aware of the act to be performed”. In sum, he explains that the cult only “forms and advises, but does not force people” to marry while they are minors.
"The church in Mexico, the United States and in all countries where it respects public institutions" and the laws of each nation, Gutierrez said in an interview with Univision News.
Regarding the accusations made by these women that they were abused by parishioners during their childhood, Gutiérrez emphasized that each individual should answer for their actions.
“The church cannot be responsible for individual behavior. People who commit such sexual acts should answer about them. There are legal instances to vent that, ”said the spokesman.
"There are too many bad people there"
It took many years for an old parishioner of The Light of the World to take courage to speak publicly about their experiences. Two decades ago, Moisés Padilla went to a Mexican television station to denounce that the then leader, Samuel Joaquin, sexually assaulted him in 1981 as a minor. A few weeks later he was kidnapped and stabbed 57 times in retaliation, he told reporters.
Now that his son Naasón Joaquín García is accused of multiple charges of child sexual abuse, child pornography and extortion, Padilla, who lives in Jalisco, has preferred to remain silent.
Brenda Tolentino, who lives in Utah, has taken her place. She was the first person to advocate the alleged victims of the religious leader without fear of revealing his identity. He did so during a march that took place in Salt Lake City in early October to report sexual abuse of the clergy. A few hours later he began planning a protest at the Los Angeles court where Joaquín García is prosecuted.
As soon as she learned about her arrest last June, she confessed to her mother that a relative and active member of the church sexually abused her when she was 8 years old. He kept it 22 years. "I felt compelled to talk about it because I couldn't defend the victims without acknowledging what happened to me," she said.
Tolentino is 30 years old and half of them have lived with her husband. According to her, she was forced to marry when she was 15 with her boyfriend, 17, just because they revealed that they had had sex. They went to Las Vegas, Nevada, to get married, but they didn't qualify.
The first punishment the pastor imposed on them was to stand in front of all the members of the temple to confess their "sin." He assures that it is the greatest humiliation that has happened.
“They don't put a gun in your head, nor do they take us to the door to get married, but with their explanations, the fear that they put at 14, 15, and that you live with your parents. Do you want to be mistreated or ignored? ”He criticized.
Since then she has been a housewife. “My husband is a good person, but it was not an ideal marriage, we fought. We weren't mature. We go through difficult stages. You still want to live your youth, ”he says with tears.
He was 6 years old when he entered La Luz del Mundo and until last year he decided to leave. He claims that he never removed the stigma that he did something against God's commands. “They mark you, you are signed and you can no longer live with young people. It is as if you were an adult. And you can never marry in the church, nor with honor because you already kissed, you already had relationships, ”she describes angrily.
According to their testimony, the pastors put these young people “on trial”, that is, they will make an additional effort, such as going to all the prayers (there are three every day), raising funds and participating in various activities of the congregation. "They treat you like crap, they never forgive you," he lamented.
Brenda Tolentino and her new ally say they are also joined by the desire to support the victims of Joaquín García, as they have been attacked on social networks and in sermons. The pastor's defense has acknowledged that he already knows who is the main witness of the Prosecutor, identified as ‘Jane Doe 4’. Other aggrieved assumptions are minor and some are believed to continue going to temples.
"The traumas that we go through do not have to go through," says the former member who asks for anonymity. "We hope to make a difference in the lives of many people who are still going through what many of us are going through," said this woman, who believes that one of the solutions is to close the temples of The Light of the World. "There are too many bad people there," he says.
Investigators in this case described in court that there are “many girls” who were sexually assaulted by Joaquín García and his three alleged accomplices. They allege that on the pastor's iPhone they found images of naked minors and performing sexual acts that they have not yet denounced.
Tolentino asks them not to be afraid and to approach the principals of their schools if their parents don't believe them. "If your church doesn't protect you, then it's not a place for you," he says.
The next audience of the leader of the Light of the World is scheduled for November 7.
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