My name is Victoria Dayeian. When I joined Sydney Church of Christ (SCOC) in 1989 I was only 19, a model and aspiring actress. I was very naïve but full of fun, confidence and loved life to the full. I was asked to church, studied the Bible immediately and chose to be baptized 3 days later.
I gave up my career path to dedicate my life to church and God, thinking I was doing the right thing and I was encouraged to do so. From the beginning strange things and mean things would happen to me, but I dismissed them, thinking nothing of it. Looking back, now I can see how severely abused I was.
Not long after my baptism I was asked to lead Bible talks, lead flats (I lived in a 3 bedroom flat with 13 other Christians) and then asked to work for the church as an intern. Following that, I was asked to lead the Suva Church of Christ, in Fiji. [Editor’s Note: Victoria means that she was asked to be a women’s leader in this church, not to lead the church itself — women do not lead churches or lead men in any capacity in the ICC.] I led my three older sisters and their husbands to the church as well as my brother. (All have now left the Church due to abuse, except for one sister and her husband who now lead the Fijian Church of Christ.) All this happened before I was 25.
During my time in the ministry I was discipled by Terri and Mike Fontenont, the leaders of the SCOC at that time. I was often forced to stay up late at nights in Bible groups till all hours of the morning.
Terri always yelled at me, I cannot ever remember having a normal conversation with her. She was often weird and very controlling and a jealous person. If I tried to answer back or defend myself I got into even bigger trouble and was literally blasted off my feet and was never allowed to have an opinion of my own, therefore being controlled not taught. We all as interns learnt to shut up and say the right thing or else get severely rebuked. I would always leave feeling depressed, confused and unfulfilled.
I was often put down in front of others in groups or in sermons and was always in tears, always made to feel like the bad one. I was always made to feel inadequate within myself or what ever I did. If I was in “sin” I was ignored; if Terri thought I needed to be punished I’d be ignored, not helped, and have things taken away from me. She would do this in a mean way, e.g. taking me out of leadership abruptly a number of times for reasons which, to this day, I do not know. I guess she used her power for her own selfish reasons.
I was never scared of anyone but it came to the point that whenever I was in Terri or Mike’s presence or home I would freeze up and be lost for words and my heart would beat so fast out of fear, I often could hardly breath. They obviously had control of my mind.
A number of times I was told how to dress. It was always done in a mean way, not a helpful way. For example, I was once told that I looked too nice the way I dress, and should wear a tracksuit and make my hair messy. One day I was challenged hard in a group and was told I was a witch — I looked like a witch, and was proud, ugly, and useless. Mike Fontenont once told me he wished that I would marry a man that would abuse me and bash me up. I am quoting the exact words and phrases often used on me.
I was often accused or criticized of even things I did not do or think e.g. I worked hard to raise money for the poor in Fiji, and was rebuked and told I only did it for my own benefit, which was far from the truth. I was also accused of liking to play jokes on people — some disliked this, and others loved it. We would all have a good laugh.
When I did have a bit of fun in spite of this, Terri yelled at me that I was stupid. They didn’t laugh with me, but at me and my stupid, pointless mind.
Another time A group of interns went to the beach. That day I was severely challenged and not allowed to speak or leave. I was there for hours and ended up having third degree sunburn. I was in so much pain inside and out yet no one offered me any help, advice or comfort, not one call did I get and the challenges were yet again false.
Don’t get me wrong — we all have our faults. I do, and do wrong things in life. The things I talk about above happened so often, though, that it was soul destroying and ungodly. I realize now that a large number of girl’s were so jealous of me that they let their jealousy control them and destroy me. I thought at the time it was all my fault and that I was terrible but I now know otherwise. All I wanted was a friend and to do my best, but whatever I did seemed to be destroyed.
I was also sexually harassed verbally by people who are even now in leadership. Everything always seemed good and right, or taught that way, but as I know reality painted a different picture. As the Bible states, they are like wolves in sheep’s clothing — beware of those who can destroy both mind and body. That is just what happened to me.
When I was leading in Fiji I slept on the cold hard floor, and got paid $100 dollars a week, from which I fed five other girls. I never complained, yet Terri would call to yell at me. No one called me at all during those two years. After all my hard work and giving the best I knew how, I was sent back to Sydney because I didn’t baptize someone within the week.
When I got back I was totally ignored, never even thanked. I became nothing, not even a leader. I was so humiliated and destroyed and made to feel like I had a deadly disease. This was third time I was taken out of internship and humiliated, I really didn’t understand. Terri would tell the zone leaders, “Vicky’s so proud — just blast her, challenge her hard.” And yet she was so wrong about me — I’m very teachable and organized, and change or say I’m sorry if I’m taught that I’m wrong. If abused and yelled at, though, I close off and get confused and depressed.
No normal person can function or think clearly under anger and abuse. It was soul destroying and abusive and confusing. I started to be severely depressed and suicidal. I had nightmares and would cry every night. I became fearful of people, and believed God hated me and wanted me out of His Kingdom. I would often reach out for help to other Christians but over and over got the cold shoulder.
I took it upon myself to leave and when I did, not one person called to offer their friendship. At the time we left we were being discipled by one of the elders in the Sydney church, the Boardmans, and not one call for support or advice or love did we receive, yet they always preached how we need to love each other. This is a lie — they are unloving and pretentious themselves and not practicing what they preach. No wonder so many people are confused and leave as these things I mentioned are not occasional occurrences but happen constantly.
Anyway, after that I left and had to get help. I saw a psychiatrist for some time because I was severely traumatized by what went on at Sydney church. My psychiatrist helped find my true self again and my husband stood by me and fought for me when I had given up on life. Without these two people I would not be alive today. God provided a way out for me.
I’m now 29. I left the ICC 4 years ago, and it’s only now that I’m getting my life back together. I had completely lost my hopes, my dreams, my personality and feel like I’ve had to learn all these things again. Of course, I’m a lot wiser.
Due to severe health problems form the trauma I went through, I’m unable to work but am happier than ever and found my career in craft art and poetry. Writing as you can see me as a person totally changed from beginning to when I left I was not myself, but it’s been great learning about me all over again.
Not long ago, I confronted a few interns in the SCOC about their abuse towards me. I got them to admit it that it went on, and that they had done it, not just seen it done. I got them to apologize to me. Some did so reluctantly, as many would rather not admit they are wrong. Because they believe they are the only true church, they also believe they are right and everyone else is wrong, especially if you leave ICOC. It took me confronting them face to face to get them to admit their abuse. I understand that we are all humans and make mistakes, but what happened to me is beyond being human.
I looked at the Bible and compare it to ICOC. I see how far they are from the truth. It’s not about just how many people you baptize in a month and getting people to heaven, it’s also about loving, teaching and helping people find their way there, not forcefully but with fun love and patience. I wish that it was this way for me, but it was not to be.
I left a church that is ungodly, insincere, corrupt and full of “internal” politics. No one dares to challenge what I’ve said, as they know what I have said is the truth and actually happened. How shameful their ways are. I wasted my young adult life. It was torn away from me. Don’t let this happen to you. Read the Bible and compare it to what people or the church is doing, if it does not, leave.
Terri and Mike Fontenont are now elders in a church in the U.S. How can a church appoint abusive people as leaders and yet cast away the abused and confused? I wanted to confront Terri about the above but I was told NO. She was protected. I was told she was dealing with things at the moment and I wasn’t allowed to talk to her. No one cared that I almost committed suicide because of HER ABUSE! I have never ever got a single apology from them (Mike and Terri). I know this is not Christ like behavior, it’s plain ungodly and if Jesus was here he would never ever do to me what was done to me at SCOC.
Victoria wrote this update to her story in June 1999:
Mike and Terri Fontenont rang me after reading my story (though it took them at least 5 years and they rang as they were embarrassed by my story).
I, of course, was shaking with emotion – it was very hard to deal with my abusers but I managed to be honest and get it all out after much talking it seemed okay.. until I asked (not demanded) that they or the church needs to pay for my medical bills and take responsibility (not only emotionally but also fianancially) for the abuse and trauma they put upon me.
I was asking for $10,000 (negotiable). I consulted my lawyer who said I would be able to recieve $50,000+ if I went through 18 months of a court cases. I decided against that route because of my health – it would be too traumatic but legally they need to pay.
The Fontenonts were taken aback and really did not want to pay and their attitude seemed cold, which indicates to me they really do not believe they have done anything wrong which is so weird to me expecially it’s so obvious what i went through was wrong. It was only because of my abuse at church that I had medical bills and saw a pshyciatrist.
Their attitude shows a lack of humility and honesty, which goes against the bible teachings and what they claim to teach, and I do not respect this at all and I know God sure would not either. I cannot see the fruit of God’s spirit in their response works or attitudes.
Like a Puppet on a String
You pulled my strings until it hurt,
You made sure I was lower than you,
So your feet could trample my very being,
Your jealously blinded you,
Your evil mind worked it’s ugly way
Into my life using and abusing,
In your hands I was like a puppet on a string,
The strings tightened in your controlling grip,
So tight I could not breath,
Your voice shattered my hopes, my dreams, my soul,
My confidence torn to shreds,
Your harsh words burnt my insides,
Till only a silent shell remained,
With little strength I had I cut those strings,
Only to fall to the ground in a slump,
It was dark, it was cold and oh so hard,
But I and I alone have risen up,
I will conquer my past and let you go,
Look at me I’m far greater then you’ll ever be,
Just one last thing I whisper I am no longer your puppet,
You no longer control me,
I am free.
Wings of a Child
When I was young just 19, I had wings
that could fly,
And take me to places I longed to go,
They carried me to a place I hoped
Would be safe,
But bit by b it my wings grew tired,
And all I knew was how
to cry tears of pain,
You tore my heart to pieces,
You abused me and tortured my soul,
My mind grew weary, my body ached
and tears flowed,
All I could hear where your screams,
Your controlling ways,
Yet I always hoped beyond what
I heard, beyond what I saw,
All I wanted was your love
your friendship, your smile,
My soul was so young, so innocent,
Yet each day grew more confusing,
Each moment harder to cope,
My days grew darker and deeper,
My spirit fading away,
Until I had no spirit, no soul, no hope,
You delighted in taking my life away
My life is no longer, my dreams are
But slowly so slowly my heart
Will be mended,
And one day you’ll see
I’ll grow my wings again,
Those wings will take me high
To places I long to be,
will not tire, I will not cry,
But I will fly far far away.
©1999 by Victoria Dayeian. All rights reserved.