Assaulted twice as a child, she shut herself at home in fear for six years. Today, she travels the world to sing of the hope she found

TRIGGER WARNING: The following story contains descriptions of sexual assault that some may find disturbing.

by Gemma Koh // September 15, 2023, 3:25 pm

"It dawned on me that Jesus didn’t just die to wipe away my sins. He had the power to restore what has been lost," said Zanbeni Odyuo, who was sexually assaulted when she was seven and 13. Photo by Gemma Koh.

Going to and from school was a traumatic experience for Zanbeni Odyuo when she was 13 years old.

Every day, a neighbour’s visiting relative – a father of two – would lie in wait for her and stalk her when she passed by.

“After school, I hid in the bushes and waited for him to leave before going home. I was scared of what would happen next,” Zanbeni, who grew up in Nagaland, India, told Stories of Hope.

“It came to the point that I started losing interest in my studies because I was always thinking, ‘Is he going to be there today again?’” said Zanbeni, now 39.

Horror at the movie theatre

One day, the girl next door asked her out for a movie.

“I didn’t tell my parents or they wouldn’t have let me go,” said Zanbeni.

“When we got to the movie theatre, she brought me to a private balcony area where there were a few seats. I saw her relative and realised that they had planned it all along.

“I was crying and pleading, ‘You are like my uncle, why are you doing this to me?’”

“I wanted to go home. My neighbour told me to wait, but then she left and didn’t come back.

“Her uncle shut the door and started to sexually abuse me.

“I had no idea at that time it was rape.

“I struggled with that man in the theatre, and was crying and pleading with him, ‘You are like my uncle, why are you doing this to me?’” 

Afterwards, the perpetrator got someone else to drop her halfway home. “So I had to walk home all alone in the middle of the night.”

Beaten and numb

It was almost midnight when she reached home.

“I realised that my parents were so worried and had been looking for me all night,” she said.

“I didn’t realise why I was crying. I was so numb. Tears were flowing and flowing and flowing.”

Her father had a stick in his hand.

“My dad is a very loving dad who never whacked us. But that night, I was beaten badly. It was the first and last time he laid a hand on me.

“I know he didn’t hate me. I think he was so scared when they couldn’t find me.

“I don’t remember feeling any physical pain because I was so mentally and emotionally traumatised by what had happened in the theatre.

“Only the next day when I woke up, I realised I had pain in my body – either from the beating, or from trying to fight off the man in the theatre.”

She didn’t cry the night before. “But when I was in the shower in the morning, tears poured out of my eyes. I didn’t realise why I was crying. I was so numb. Tears were flowing and flowing and flowing.”

Shattered emotions

“I was so normal physically, but my emotions were shattered,” said Zanbeni, who didn’t tell anyone about this rape.

It was not the first time she had suffered such an assault. She was just seven years old when she was sexually assaulted for the first time. She told no one about that incident too.

Looking back, she says it’s a blessing that she did not bleed or have any health complications after the two rapes.

“After the rape, I lost all my hope, all my joy, all my purpose in life.”

Shortly after the attack in the theatre, Zanbeni was stalked by another man, a drug addict.

“One day, when my mum and I were going shopping, he pulled my hand and told my mother, ‘Auntie, I want to marry your daughter.’

“I had no idea what marriage was all about. But that was beyond the limit that I could take.

“I shut myself in the house and refused to go out or go to school.

“Thinking it would help me overcome the trauma and get me away from the man, my parents moved me to a relative’s home in a city two hours away,” she said.

Handpicked by God

“After the rape, I lost all my hope, all my joy, all my purpose in life,” said Zanbeni, who had dreamt of being a doctor. 

“Every day, waking up was meaningless for me.”  

Six years later, when Zanbeni was 19, two neighbours invited her to a three-day church camp over Easter. It was conducted in English.

She went, even though she was no longer confident in speaking English after stopping school six years ago. 

Zanbeni Prasad Odyuo

Zanbeni has travelled to 24 countries with husband, music missionary Benny Prasad. They bring hope to others through music and by sharing their stories of recovery from childhood traumas. All photos courtesy of the Prasads unless otherwise stated.

At the camp, the Easter message of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection touched her.

“I had previously heard about Jesus during my Sunday School days, but now it dawned on me that He didn’t just die to wipe away my sins. He had the power to restore what has been lost. 

“I knew I was created for a purpose … to bring hope to other girls who have gone through traumatic experiences.” 

“I also felt an impression in my heart of Him saying, ‘I love you so much. I’m the One who can give you hope.’

“So I told God, ‘I surrender my life to you.’

“The moment I said that, joy was restored in my heart. It was immediate.

“Joy was something I had not experienced since going through those traumatic experiences.

“I knew that some drastic change had taken place. I had received Jesus’ healing. I wanted to share that with others as well, though I didn’t know at that point how I was going to do it.

“But I knew I was created for a purpose, handpicked by God to share His love for others, and to bring hope to other girls who have gone through traumatic experiences.” 

A songbird is freed

“When I returned home from camp, my parents asked what happened,” said Zanbeni.

“Every day, I woke up looking forward to a day filled with joy.

“I found that singing, worshipping and focusing on God through song gave me so much peace.”

“From not wanting to face anyone or leave the house, I became confident enough to actively participate in church.

“I was willing to pray for people and share my limited knowledge of the Bible.”

Without mentioning the rapes, she also shared how Jesus helped her overcome her fear of leaving home. 

Along the way, she discovered something else that would set the course for her life.

“I found that singing, worshipping and focusing on God through songs gave me so much peace,” said Zanbeni, who grew up hearing her parents sing while going about their household chores.

Zanbeni Prasad Odyuo

On Friday nights, Zanbeni and students at the School of Worship performed in public, singing original songs that they had written.

Benny Prasad

Through singing, Zanbeni later met her husband, Benny Prasad, who was speaking at the same event. They are pictured on their wedding day with a 20-string harp/bongo guitar Benny designed, and a panflute that Benny plays. They have 154,000 followers on YouTube.

She started singing in the worship team at church. Then, wanting to learn more about praising God, she joined the School of Worship in 2009. It helped her to grow spiritually.

There, for the first time, someone told her she had “a beautiful voice”.

“That’s when I knew that I had a gift of singing. It was a gift from God,” said Zanbeni, who had no formal vocal training.

Finding healing in forgiveness

Desiring to learn more about how to share God’s love for others, Zanbeni trained to be a missionary.

During a teaching on inner healing, she found the strength to forgive the men who had caused her so much trauma during her formative years.

She drew strength from verses like Ephesians 4:32, remembering that Christ first forgave her.

“I chose to forgive them. Unless I forgave, I could not be healed.”

“I chose to forgive them. Unless I forgave, I could not be healed,” she said.

About two years later, she came across the second man who had raped her. It was the first time she had seen him since the assault 10 years earlier.

“I knew that he recognised me. I saw guilt in his eyes. He was ashamed of what he had done. 

“That was a real test for me. I didn’t see him with anger, hatred or bitterness anymore. I was surprised that when I saw him, I saw him with Jesus’ love. I was ready to talk to him and share what Jesus had done in my life.

“But when I looked back, he had disappeared.”

Stepping out into the world

When Zanbeni was 32, she married music missionary Benny Prasad, a former suicidal school dropout who had performed for presidents around the world. He had just broken the world record for travelling to 245 countries in the shortest amount of time. 

Zanbeni Prasad Odyuo

A news clipping announcing the wedding of the singer and the musician. The photo was taken in May 2016 when they first met in person, after deciding over WhatsApp to marry each other.

She told her husband about the rapes a year after they married.

(Read Part 1 of their story here about their whirlwind five-day courtship over WhatsApp, and her husband’s response when she told him her darkest secret.) 

Her husband gave her the courage to tell her parents.

“I pray that I can touch people through song with the voice that God has given me.”

“It was a shock for my parents. They apologised and said, ‘We are sorry that you went through so much. We were not there for you.’ 

“I knew that that was not their fault. They were so loving, understanding and caring. That’s when my relationship with my parents became stronger.”

Benny also encouraged her to share her story with the world. 

“He said, ‘There are many young girls going through something similar. If somebody is courageous enough to talk about their past, it can help these girls know that there is hope and find freedom.’”

And so, the girl who once isolated herself at home for six years now accompanies her travelling musician husband as a vocalist, spreading God’s love through music.

Zanbeni has since travelled to 24 countries with Benny. Together, they share in churches, schools and even prisons of how God healed them of their childhood traumas.

Zanbeni Prasad Odyuo

Zanbeni and Benny performed and shared their stories at a prison in Kansas, in the US, in 2019. “The inmates were very warm and receptive and asked some incredible questions about faith and lifestyle,” wrote Benny on his Facebook page.

“They were not preachy. Their stories are real. We have a lot of respect for them,” said students at a Christian girls’ school in Singapore where the duo performed in May.

Zanbeni’s voice, coupled with her husband’s musical talent, has moved audiences to tears.

She’s also a darling of the Internet, known as the “Naga lady” who sings in dialects, like Telugu, that she doesn’t speak. 

She said: “I pray that I can touch people through song with the voice that God has given me. And I believe that is what the Lord is doing.” 

Read Part 1 of Zanbeni’s story here.


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About the author

Gemma Koh

Gemma has written about everything from spas to scuba diving holidays. But has a soft spot for telling the stories of lives changed, and of people making a difference. She loves the colour green, especially on overgrown trees. Gemma is Senior Writer & Copy Editor at Salt&Light and its companion site, Stories of Hope.