Victory Outreach--founded by Sonny Arguinzoni

By Peter Belaustegui

I was a Pastor in what I believe is an authoritarian and abusive organization. I was with this group for approximately 11 years. I was one of those who tried to stick it out and bring about change in the organization—a big mistake, you know how the story goes. I became a rebel and disloyal etc., in their eyes and I was finally so hurt, wounded, and fed up with what I experienced that that along with the full support of the leadership in our church we pulled our church out of the organization and found out their even deeper abusive character. I was undermined and discredited by them to the point that I knew that I could no longer continue to minister (I will explain that a little later) I moved myself and family to get away and rest.

The ministry in question is Victory Outreach Ministries International, founded by Sonny Arguinzoni in 1967 in Los Angeles California. He is an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God. Victory Outreach is a ministry that exclusively reaches out to drug addicts and gang members. Of all the street type ministries I would say that Victory Outreach appears to be the most legitimate on the outside. which I believe makes them the most dangerous.

Here are some of the problems that I see with this organization:

  1. The very 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 him that 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 reasures 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 him that He was going to raise up a ministry filled with the rejects of society that was going to 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 scripture is used to help promote Sonny Arguinzoni’s vision. This organization wins people to Sonny Arguinzoni and his Victory Outreach organization—teaches them unquestioned obedience and loyalty not to Jesus Christ but to men.

    The misuse and the twisting of scripture 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 and have little understanding of the historic orthodox teachings of Christianity. Most of them came from a drug addict and/or gang member background and often have brought this mentality into their ministries. The emphasis, as with most of the Victory Outreach teachings, is performance—oriented toward getting people to jump on the bandwagon of Pastor Sonny’s world vision and not on Jesus Christ. In Victory Outreach what is important—is what you do, not in what you become.

  2. An out of balance focus on Pastor Sonny’s world vision to "TAKE THE INNER CITIES OF THE WORLD FOR JESUS". 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 Pastor Sonny and his vision. It is the focus of everything we did and tried to accomplish as ministers, it is the focus of every Victory Outreach conference and event. The latest vision prior to my leaving—that Pastor Sonny and his elders laid on us—is the vision to have 1,000 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.

  3. People are being used and not served in this organization. People are seen as commodities to promote their vision through the giving of their FINANCES and their TOTAL COMMITMENT to

    Pastor Sonny’s cause. One of his schemes 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 1,000 churches by the year 2000 thrust. He calls it "UNITED WE CAN" and if you’re not part of it then you don’t have the vision and you are uncommitted etc. He says to those who are not united we can members—"THAT 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.

  4. The financial pressure that the Pastor’s of Victory Outreach are put under is unbearable. Let me quote to you a portion of my letter of resignation (which I have enclosed) to Pastor Sonny:

  5. "In regards to the financial pressure that is put on the Pastor’s 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 corp. Office - mandatory
    • $5,000.00 - Corp. 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 - Men’s rehab. home fees - mandatory
    • $635.00 - Misc. - mandatory
    • $625.00 - 1995 youth conference - mandatory
    • $450.00 - Women’s rehab. Fees - mandatory

    TOTAL = $21,467.00 - from our 1995 budget went to the Victory Outreach Corp. offices

    Mandatory required giving that I believe s is wrong!

  6. The live-in rehabilitation homes of Victory Outreach are nothing more than indoctrination centers and are unbiblical. The residents are required to give up their total freedom for a one year period of time where they [may] ... not be allowed to leave, use the phone, do any of the normal things in life that are done, 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 Director’s of these home is total dictator’s not servants. The rehabilitation homes are exploiting the residents by their constant fund raising efforts of car wash projects, lawn care, hauling and moving, selling pancake breakfast tickets and rally tickets in shopping centers and parking lots. Residents of these homes are often shipped city to city, even state to state to help out as financial fund raisers for major Victory Outreach events. The Pastors of Victory Outreach use the rehabilitation homes many times as their major financial fund raising tool to finance their many events. Much spiritual abuse takes place in the

    controlled environment of these rehabilitation homes.

  7. The introduction for the first time of the word of faith teachers 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 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."—Pastor Sonny 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. Pastor Sonny has had John Avanzini several times at the mother church to teach on finances as well. Sonny uses the big name preachers at the evening sessions of his conferences to legitimize his ministry, while at the morning sessions of these conferences he uses his own men who put these preaches down and indoctrinate Victory Outreach members.

  8. A hierarchical form of church government, starting from Pastor Sonny 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. Some say that it seems that "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 Pastor Sonny’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 Pastor Sonny has on his board and calls his elders are simply "yes men"—who will give a rubber stamp of approval to his plans.

  9. It is not clear and is deceptive how the corporate structure of Victory Outreach and its local churches fit into that structure. 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 and 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 with the other churches as well. While with Victory Outreach I was never given a copy of the Corporate bylaws nor did I ever hear it even discussed at any time. They seem to know their corporate structure well—but we sure didn’t. I suggested in a conversation after I had left, to Pastor Sonny’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 structure—so that Pastors who are considering leaving the organization would know and understand the very structure that they are under. This was not well-received and Mr. Garcia’s only defense was—that he had never read all the Corporate Bylaws himself. 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 full anger at me.

    The Victory Outreach Leadership and Corporate Structure is abusive and knows how to take advantage of people in situations such as mine. They know very well what they are doing and how to play the game—but you don’t. 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 [may], without your knowledge, lay claim to all properties, assets, and equipment that you have acquired.

    I mean this literally—they will contact your landlords, leaseholders, banks etc. and claim everything as their property and discredit you to your business associates. They even went so far as to go to the Post office and try getting a key made for my mailbox in an industrial park. Fortunately, the postal clerk knew me and told me what was going on. Not only this but by direct orders from the eldership they sent people uninvited to our church services to pull people away, they had people planted in some of my services and even waited 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 core group formed of angry people, they organized those poor deceived people into starting a new Victory Outreach church because and I quote Elder Ed Morales—"ONCE VICTORY OUTREACH ENTERS A CITY WE WILL NEVER LEAVE THAT CITY" Isn’t this the typical drug addict, gang member’s mentality and response? This same scenario has happened to countless ex-Victory Outreach ministers.

    I paid off any debts that I had incurred while with Victory Outreach upon leaving 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 want people to know this—I never did anything while associated with the Victory Outreach Ministries that warranted pulling my ministerial credentials and I resigned. I was never in any kind of official trouble with the organization, nor was I ever 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 also because of things that I saw in the organization itself. Prior to leaving Victory Outreach I sought out godly advice and council from several well-known Christian leaders and experts in the are of spiritual abuse. In fact once such expert after listening to a tape I sent him by Elder Ed Morales and said—"that it were me I would run for the hills". I also spoke to the Foursquare and the Calvary Chapel Pastors in my local city and many others. I didn’t make some off the wall quick decision about leaving Victory Outreach—I agonized over it for about three years. I am not just some disgruntled Saint with an axe to grind.

    Frankly, it’s a miracle that I am even able to tell what happened or still care about the many other people in similar circumstances—because I left the ministry so spiritually, emotionally, and physically devastated that I didn’t even think I would survive. But I believe that the Lord is showing me now that it was not all in vain and that He has given me some wisdom and insight into the subject of spiritual abuse and that I can help many people by telling my story. I do not feel it’s right to just sit back, lick my wounds and do nothing to help others that may be trapped in abusive churches and organizations.

    Victory Outreach may have the outward appearance of success and recognition for its work with drug addicts and gang members—but I believe that many people are being fooled, deceived and destroyed by this ministry. It may be a great shock to many people to find out about the real inner workings of this ministry. I’m sure many people will simply choose not to believe it. if things are ever brought into the light. But the sad truth is that many denominations, organizations, and movements may seem 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 that I have learned is that God does not judge success the way men judge success. What the world may view as successful may be an abomination to the Lord (Luke 16:15).

    Once before leaving I confronted a Victory Outreach pastor about abusing his authority and using his congregation as a means to promote and finance his own agenda and vision. His reply was—"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 Mormon’s must be a "success" in God’s eyes as well. It seems to me that true success should be, are our lives transformed in the image of Christ. This is the fruit of the Spirit evident in our lives. Christ-like behavior, conduct and walking in God’s will as revealed in scripture. I believe that there is often an over emphasis on outward material things as the evidence of "success"—proof of God’s supposed blessing on many of the ministries that are abusing people today.

    I am certainly not without fault and only a victim. I have in the past used some of the same manipulative and abusive tactics in my former ministry while associated with Victory Outreach. I followed after and used what was taught to me. That was all I knew at the time, but by God’s grace I was able to recognize those errors, things that were wrong in my own life and I repented of them some time ago. I hope that this information may give readers a little insight into the Victory Outreach organization.

    Copyright © Rick Ross

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