Former Missionary Pleads Guilty to Molesting Girl Overseas

By Sarah Einselen
Eric Tuining missionary uganda
Eric Tuininga, then a missionary with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Butaga, Uganda, performs an infant baptism in 2016. (Photo: AIG / OPCU)

A former Orthodox Presbyterian missionary pleaded guilty Wednesday to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl while he was working overseas in Uganda, authorities say.

Eric Tuininga pleaded guilty to engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia. The 44-year-old now faces up to 30 years in prison, followed by supervised release for potentially the rest of his life. (Parole isn’t an option in the federal system.) He could also be fined up to $250,000.

“Eric Tuininga used his trusted position as a pastor to sexually assault a young Ugandan girl in his care,” U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary said in the release. “This was a challenging case, but law enforcement worked diligently to ensure that Tuininga did not escape justice for his crime overseas.”

Tuininga went to Uganda in July 2012 as a missionary with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) Presbytery of the Northwest.

Presbytery Clerk Jeff Scott said the presbytery learned Tuininga was accused of misconduct in May 2019, after he had returned to the U.S.

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Then in June, an American affiliated with the OPC called the U.S. Embassy in Uganda to report Tuininga, according to the federal press release. The American reportedly alleged Tuininga was having sex with Ugandan girls as young as 14 who were in the OPC’s care.

The State Department opened an investigation in cooperation with other agencies. That investigation was turned over to the Department of Homeland Security when the State Department found out Tuininga was back in the U.S.

Federal authorities identified one Ugandan girl who was 14 when Tuininga had sex with her in March 2019, the release states. It goes on to state that Tuininga admitted he met the girl while carrying out his missionary work. She would often visit the OPC church Tuininga oversaw in Uganda, according to the release.

“Tuininga was supposed to be someone that could be trusted, but instead he abused that trust and victimized a child,” Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger said in the press release. Berger oversees Homeland Security Investigations operations in Georgia and Alabama.

Shortly after Tuininga returned to the U.S., he was kicked out of the OPC. The Presbytery of the Northwest deposed him from ministry in July 2019 and excommunicated him that September.

“By the time we became aware that Mr. Tuininga’s sexual immorality included the sexual abuse of a child, he was already under criminal investigation, and he had been excommunicated and was no longer under our jurisdiction,” Scott, the presbytery clerk, wrote in an email.

“We are profoundly grieved by Mr. Tuininga’s actions and the devastating impact they have had on many people and the stumbling block they place before those we call to put their trust in our Lord Jesus Christ,” Scott wrote. “. . . We pray for justice to be served on behalf of his victims. And we continue to pray for Mr. Tuininga’s family, those who have been harmed, and for Mr. Tuininga’s repentance.”

Tuininga and his former wife, Dianna Dise, had nine children. The OPC continued supporting Dise and the children after Tuininga was recalled from the mission field in 2019. Visits between Tuininga and the children were supervised while the investigation and divorce proceedings were underway, Dise recently wrote on her blog.

She also wrote Tuininga had groomed her as a gatekeeper to the girls he was abusing so she was kept “in the dark.” And because Tuininga could provide food or money to pay for schooling, he had the power to demand sex from the girls, she added.

“The entire community benefited from the money that he poured in,” she wrote. “This happened to the extent that victim’s lives were threatened if they dared to speak up.”

Tuininga is scheduled to be sentenced on May 3. He was taken into custody after the plea, but it’s unclear where he is now being held.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.

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8 thoughts on “Former Missionary Pleads Guilty to Molesting Girl Overseas”

  1. Thank you, Sarah Einselen, for this report. As a former member of an OPC church, it’s encouraging to read that in this case, church leadership seems to have responded correctly, caring for the victims rather than defending a predator. In the rather starchy atmosphere of a typical OPC congregation, scandalous sin on the scale of Tuininga’s seems unthinkable. I’m thankful that this time, *this* time, the perpetrator will suffer the consequences of his own choices.

    1. Edit–Though the denomination seems to have cared well for the perpetrator’s immediate family, there is no evidence presented here that the direct victims of Tuininga’s abuse were helped in any way. One OPC official is quoted in another article as saying he “doesn’t know” if the Ugandan victims received counseling or other help.

        1. From the Philadelphia Tribune, February 2, 2022:

          “[Mark] Bube said the church is caring for Tuininga’s wife and children. He said he didn’t know if the church had offered aid to the victim in Uganda.”

          It strikes me as implausible that Mark Bube would be unaware of efforts made by the OPC on behalf of any or all of the Ugandan victims. He is, after all, the general secretary of the denomination’s committee of foreign missions. The events which led to Tuininga’s eventual excommunication are at minimum three years in the past.

      1. That “American citizen” who contacted the embassy had information provided about at least one of the several Ugandan women whom Tuininga being a child of 14. Yours truly provided that info, because of a personal conversation I had with the only other OP missionary stationed there. This OP missionary was responsible for filtering all of the information about what took place to Bube. However, he was not reporting the underage girl because in his words the matter of her being underage was simply a “cultural difference” and she had been “deceitful.” And, no, she did not receive any services from the mission. Had it not been reported by someone outside of the mission, it would have never been revealed. That mission needs to be investigated further, IMO.

  2. Take it from someone who knows that mission very well. The report from Bube and the OP is not all there is to the story. That mission tried to cover up the fact that one of the girls was underage. The mission needs to be investigated further IMO. And no, the girl did not receive any counseling services from the mission.

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