site. However, the article has been removed. In its place is the following message:
Well, in the interest of fairness and freedom of speech, and to facilitate research, I have decided to make my archive copy of Peter Belaustegui's article available here.
After repeated suggestions that we remove or change information, Victory Outreach has - at CMR's request - provided a response to this article.
Clickable links in the following article were added by me.
This is the story of Rev. Peter Belaustegui, a former Pastor with the
Victory Outreach Ministries organization.
I was a Pastor in what I believe is an authoritarian and abusive organization for approximately eleven years. I tried to stick it out and bring about change in the organization.
A big mistake.
You probably know how the story goes. I was labelled "a rebel", "disloyal", and so on. I was finally so hurt, wounded, and fed up with what I had experienced that, with the full support of the leadership we pulled out of Victory Outreach Ministries - only to experience more deeply their abusive character. in our church, I was undermined and discredited by them to the point that I could no longer continue to minister. (I will explain a little later). I moved myself and family to Oregon, just to get away and rest.
Victory Outreach Ministries International was founded in 1967 in Los Angeles, California, by Sonny Arguinzoni, an ordained minister of the (American) Assemblies of God.
Victory Outreach is a ministry that exclusively reaches out to drug addicts and gang members. Of all the street type ministries that are out there I would say that Victory Outreach appears the most
legitimate on the outward which, I believe, makes them the most dangerous.
Here are some of the problems that I see with this organization.
1. The Foundation
The foundation of Victory Outreach is not Jesus Christ, but Sonny Arguinzoni and his "vision".
He bases his ministry on a vision and a promise that he says God gave to him. He claims that in 1967 God spoke to him and told him to start a church in East Los Angeles and that God promised He would fill it up with drug addicts, gang members, and the rejects of society. He claims that God gave him
Isaiah 45:2-3 as his promise for the fulfillment of this vision. "And I will give you the treasures out of darkness..."
Sonny Arguinzoni claims that the drug addicts, gang members, and the rejects of society that his organization reaches are those "treasures out of darkness." (This is a blatant misquote and misuse of scripture.)
Sonny Arguinzoni also claims that God promised that He was going to raise up a "ministry" filled with the rejects of society that would expand around the world; and that it would "blow" Sonny Arguinzoni's mind and the minds of the whole world.
The gospel is rarely actually preached in Victory Outreach, but it is used to help promote Sonny Arguinzoni's vision.
The organization wins people to Sonny Arguinzoni and his Victory Outreach organization, and teaches them unquestioned obedience and loyalty - not to Jesus Christ, but to men.
2. Twisting of Scripture
Scripture is twisted in order to control and manipulate people into submitting their lives and finances to the vision of the Victory Outreach organization. Most of the "ministers" have very little secular or biblical education. Most came out of a drug addict and gang member
background and have brought this same drug addict and gang member mentality into their ministries.
The emphasis is performance oriented - getting people to jump on the bandwagon of Sonny Arguinzoni's world vision and not on Jesus Christ. In Victory Outreach what is important is what you do, not what you become.
3. An Out-of-Balance Focus on Sonny Arguinzoni's "Vision"
An out of balance focus on Sonny Arguinzoni's world vision to "TAKE THE INNER CITIES OF THE WORLD FOR JESUS", as he says. I believe he thinks that he (and the Victory Outreach Ministries that he controls) are God's chosen end time army to accomplish this.
He says of himself: "My middle name is Vision. I eat vision, I sleep vision, I dream vision. I am vision."
The whole organization revolves around Sonny Arguinzoni and his "vision". It is the focus of everything we did and everything we tried to accomplish as ministers. It is the focus of every Victory Outreach conference and event.
The latest "vision" that Sonny Arguinzoni and his elders laid on us is for Victory Outreach to have one thousand churches by the year 2000. The way they came up with this "vision" was by sitting around talking about vision and getting high and loaded on the Holy Ghost.
4. People are being used
People are being used and not served in this organization. They are seen as commodities and used to support the "vision" through the giving of their finances and their total commitment to his cause.
His latest scheme is to get everyone (and he means everyone) in the Victory Outreach organization to commit themselves to the giving of a dollar a day to finance his One Thousand Churches by the Year 2000 thrust. He calls it "United-We-Can" and if you're
not part of that then you "Don't have the Vision", you are "uncommitted", and so on.
He says to those who are not "United-We-Can" members: "There is Something Wrong with you if you cannot give a dollar a day."
He says that he received this plan and vision from God in a hotel room, while crying before the Lord about how to finance his world "vision".
5. Financial Pressure
The financial pressure that the Pastors of Victory Outreach are put under is unbearable. Let me quote to you a portion of my letter of resignation to Sonny Arguinzoni:
"In regards to the financial pressure that is put on the Pastors of Victory Outreach, I would like to show you by using my own church how out of balance this is using figures from my 1995 budget;
$6,057.00 - Tithes to Corporation Office - mandatory
$5,000.00 - Corporation Building fund - mandatory
$4,000.00 - 1995 world conference - mandatory
$1,500.00 - U.W.C. - not mandatory but expected
$1,200.00 - Yr. Ministers license fees - mandatory
$1,200.00 - Mens rehab. home fees - mandatory
$635.00 - Misc. - mandatory
$625.00 - 1995 youth conference - mandatory
$450.00 - Womens rehab. Fees - mandatory
$21,467.00 from our 1995 budget went to the Victory Outreach Corporation offices in mandatory required giving. I believe that this is wrong!
6. Indoctrination Centers
The live-in rehabilitation homes of Victory Outreach are nothing more than indoctrination centers and they are unbiblical.
The residents are required to give up their freedom for a one year period of time, where they are not allowed to leave, use the phone, or do any of the normal things in life without strict and
tightly regulated permission of the leadership.
Total unquestioned obedience and loyalty to leadership is a major emphasis taught in these homes. Many of the Directors of these home are dictators, not servants. The rehabilitation homes are
exploiting the residents by their constant fund raising efforts of carwashes, lawn care, hauling and moving, selling pancake breakfast tickets and rally tickets in shopping centers and parking lots.
Residents of these homes are shipped city to city, even state to state to help out as fundraisers for major Victory Outreach events. The Pastors of Victory Outreach use the rehabilitation homes as their major financial fundraising tool to finance their many events.
Much spiritual abuse takes place in the controlled environment of these rehabilitation homes.
7. Word of Faith teachers
The Word of Faith teachers were introduced for the first time at the 1995 world conference at the Long Beach Convention Center.
Marilyn Hickey spoke to the women of Victory Outreach in a special Women Only session and Morris Cerullo spoke at an evening session. This was one of the biggest shows and put-ons that I have ever witnessed, especially at the altar call when he began literally hitting people in the foreheads to make them fall so as to be "slain in the Spirit".
Note: All of the evening sessions at the Victory Outreach world conferences air on T.B.N. and on All American TV, Inc. Sonny Arguinzoni and Nicky Cruz are President and Vice President
of All American TV and broadcast most of the TBN programming.
Several years ago, we also had R.W. Shammback at one of our conferences and he put on quite a show of fake healings. Sonny Arguinzoni has had John Avanzini several times at the mother church to teach on finances as well.
8. A Hierarchical Form of Church Government
Victory Outreach has an hierarchical form of church government, starting from Sonny Arguinzoni on down to the local Pastors.
The Pastors of Victory Outreach have total control of their local churches and the Corporate Leadership has total control of the Pastors.
At the local church level I know of no Victory Outreach Churches that have any kind of boards or committees that keep the Pastors in check.
In a conversation with author Ken Blue (who has some knowledge of Victory Outreach) he told me, "The pastors of Victory Outreach are total dictators."
The Pastors of Victory Outreach are free to run their churches as they see fit, as long as it stays in line with Sonny Arguinzoni's agenda and vision.
At the Corporate level there is a board of directors, as required by law, otherwise I seriously doubt that they would have one. It seems to me that the men that Sonny Arguinzoni has on his board and calls his "elders" are simply Yes-Men, who will give a rubber stamp of approval
to his plans.
9. The Corporate Structure
How the local churches fit into the corporate structure of Victory Outreach is kept vague for the members, and is actually deceptive.
All of the local Victory Outreach churches that I know of are under the umbrella of the Victory Outreach Ministries International Corporation.
They are not incorporated at the local level as, say, with the Calvary Chapels, but they are considered separate entities under that corporate structure.
They are each financially independent and are responsible for their own liabilities. The Corporation is set up in such a way as to protect itself from any liabilities at the local church level.
The Victory Outreach Corporation had never at any time invested even one cent into the church that I pastored, but they did pull thousands of dollars out of it (as also with the other churches).
While with Victory Outreach I was never given a copy of the Corporate bylaws nor did I ever hear it even discussed at anytime. They sure seemed to know the Corporate structure well, but we didn't.
I suggested in a conversation after I had left to Sonny Arguinzoni's second-in-command, Elder Saul Garcia, who runs the Victory Outreach Corporate offices that maybe it would be a good idea to inform their Pastors of the Corporate Bylaws and Corporate Structure, etc., so that Pastors who are considering leaving the organization would know and understand the structure that they are under.
It wasn't received well. Mr. Garcia's only defense was saying that he had never read all the Corporate Bylaws. He then tried to convince me that because I was hurt I was imagining things and that I couldn't see things in proper perspective. He then proceeded to vent his anger at me.
This is one of the ways in which the Victory Outreach Leadership is abusive. They know how to take advantage of people in situations such as mine, because they know what they are doing and how to "play the game", but you don't.
"You are free to leave..."
We were always told that we were free to leave the organization at any time. However, if you do leave the Victory Outreach organization, they will lay claim to all properties, assets, equipment, etc. that you have acquired. I mean this literally-they will contact your landlords, leaseholders, banks, etc. and claim your property as theirs, and discredit you to your business associates.
They even went so far as going to the Post Office to try getting a key made for my mail box in an industrial park. Fortunately the postal clerk knew me and informed me of what was going on.
Not only this but, by direct orders from the eldership, they will send people uninvited to your church services to pull people away. They had people planted in some of my services and even waiting in the parking lot to catch people as they left.
Then they organized meetings to pass along misleading information and to discredit me. Once they had a little group of angry people, they organized them into starting a new Victory Outreach church in
that city because, and I quote Elder Ed Morales: "Once Victory Outreach enters a city, we will never leave that city" - a typical drug addict, gang member's mentality and response!
I paid off any debts that I had incurred while with Victory Outreach and I left them with no financial or any other liabilities. I had an unblemished financial testimony in my city and I have all of the records to prove the amounts of money that they pulled out of my church and
the financial testimony that I maintained.
We recorded the service the Sunday that we announced to our church that we were pulling out of the Victory Outreach Ministries organization. We did it with love, compassion, and integrity.
I had never done anything while with the Victory Outreach Ministries that did or would have warranted them pulling my ministerial credentials. I voluntarily resigned.
I was never in any kind of official trouble with them or had I ever even been disciplined by them in any way.
My problems with them began because I started to challenge some abusive things that had happened to me through the man that was supposed to be my Pastor and some things that I saw in the organization itself.
Prior to leaving Victory Outreach, I sought godly advice and counsel from several men, including Ken Blue, author of "Healing Spiritual Abuse," and Jeff VanVonderen, one of the authors of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.
In fact Jeff called me after listening to a tape I sent him by Elder Ed Morales and said to me "that if he were me he would run for the hills."
I also spoke to the Foursquare and the Calvary Chapel Pastors in my local city and many others as well. I didn't make some off-the-wall, quick decision about leaving Victory Outreach. In fact I agonized over it for about three years, so I am not just some disgruntled Saint with an ax to grind.
Quite frankly, it is a miracle that I even care about what is happening to so many other people in similar circumstances. I left the ministry so spiritually, emotionally, and physically devastated eleven months ago, that I didn't even think that I would survive. But I believe that it was
not all in vain and that the Lord has given me some wisdom and insight into the subject of spiritual abuse.
I do not feel that I can just sit back, lick my wounds and do nothing to help the others out there who are trapped in abusive churches and organizations.
"Success" in the Kingdom of God
Victory Outreach may have the outward appearance of success and recognition in working with drug addicts and gang members, but I believe that many people are being fooled, deceived and destroyed by this "ministry". It would be a great shock to many people to know the real inner workings. In fact, I'm sure many people would simply choose not to believe it if things are ever brought into the light.
The sad fact is this: many denominations, organizations, and movements look genuine and have all the appearance of success outwardly (as the Pharisees did), but on the inside they are filled with greed and corruption.
One thing I have learned is that God does not judge success the way men judge success. What men may view as "successful", may be an abomination to the Lord (Luke 16:15).
I confronted one Victory Outreach Pastor, before I left, for abusing his authority and using his congregation as a means to promote and finance his agenda and vision. This was his reply: "But look at the success of my church, all the people, the programs, the properties.
This is the evidence of God's blessing on my life and ministry."
If this is the criteria for judging "success" in the Kingdom of God, then I must conclude that the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons are also very "successful" in God's eyes.
It seems to me that true "success" lies in the transformation of our lives into the image of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit becoming increasingly evident in our behaviour and conduct, and our walking more and more in keeping with God's will, as revealed in Scripture.
I believe that there is a wrong emphasis on outward material things as being the evidence of "success", and a wrong inference of the presence of God's "blessing" on many ministries that are actually abusing people today.
I do not want to give the impression that I am without fault and just a victim. In the past I used some of the same manipulative and abusive tactics in my former ministry with Victory Outreach.
I used the things that were taught to me. It was all I knew at the time. But by God's grace, I was able to recognize many things that were wrong in my own life and ministry and I have repented of them.
We do not have to jump through a maze of spiritual hoops to please God. We do not have to perform for God or for people. Our acceptance with God is not based on what we do or what people think we should do, it is based on what Christ has already done for us on the Cross.
Cast off the burdens of religious bondage and come to Jesus, and He will give you rest.