MACON, Ga. (AP) A Georgia man on Wednesday pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a girl under the care of his church while doing missionary work in Uganda.
Court records show 44-year-old Eric Tuininga of Milledgeville pleaded guilty in federal court in Macon to illicit sexual conduct.
Prosecutors said in a news release that an American citizen had contacted the U.S. embassy in Kampala, Uganda in June 2019 to tell officials that Tuininga was having sex with Ugandan girls as young as 14 who were under the care of the U.S.-based Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Mbale, Uganda.
Tuininga was one of the church’s ministers. Authorities said they found Tuininga had already returned to the United States, but federal agents identified the minor and kept investigating. Tuininga admitted to the conduct, with prosecutors saying he told them that the victim would often visit the church property in Mbale.
Tuininga was taken to jail after his plea hearing and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 3. He could face up to 30 years in prison and could be required to be supervised by probation officials for life, although federal defendants often get substantially less than the maximum possible sentence.
Mark Bube, general secretary of the denomination’s committee of foreign missions, said Tuininga’s misconduct was reported by other Orthodox Presbyterian missionaries in Uganda and that he was removed from missionary work in 2019. Bube said Tuininga was later removed from the ministry and excommunicated from the church.
“We are all deeply grieved over this,” Bube said in a telephone interview. “He has brought shame on the name of our savior Jesus Christ.”
Bube said he has spoken with church missionaries about the importance of avoiding misconduct.
Tuininga joined the church from a separate but affiliated denomination in Oregon. A website chronicling Tuininga’s work in Uganda said he had begun working there in 2012 after previously working as a minister at Immanuel’s Reformed Church in Salem, Oregon.
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.
This article originally appeared here.