Family, Relationships

They decided to marry after 5 days of WhatsApping. Later, she told him her darkest secret

By Gemma Koh , 12 June 2023

He was the invited speaker, and she was a singer.

They met at the 10th anniversary celebration of a missionary training organisation in India. 

Musician Benny Prasad had just broken the world record for travelling to 245 countries in the shortest time. He shared his journey of going from a suicidal school dropout to performing for presidents around the world. 

On the other hand, Zanbeni Odyuo, refused to leave home from ages of 13 to 19, after two sexual assaults she told no one about.

Benny made multiple flight changes across five continents – spending 36 hours and 25 minutes in the air – before taking an eight-seater charter flight to reach Antarctica. There, he did a mini lunch concert and shared his story with geologists, scientists and others stationed there.

Zanbeni Prasad

Zanbeni (centre) in 2009, attending the School of Worship after she had emerged from her self-imposed isolation at home.

Benny and Zanbeni didn’t speak with each other at the 2014 event. But shortly after, when their paths crossed, he casually mentioned that he was looking for a life partner.

“He told me, ‘Please let me know if you come across anybody’,” Zanbeni, now 39, told Stories of Hope.

Nothing came out of that conversation.

(Below, Zanbeni and Benny perform an R&B, jazz and Indian classical rendition of Waymaker.)

One-and-a-half years later, Zanbeni’s boss, who was Benny’s friend, told him that she had just returned from a nine-month course.

“He suggested to Benny, ‘Why don’t you pray about her as your future partner?'” recalled Zanbeni.

“So we had an intentional conversation in April 2016 about whether we should marry. It all happened over WhatsApp – not even a call.”

WhatsApp proposal

Benny had a few conditions. His future wife needed to be willing to live with him in Bangalore, and under any living condition as he was a missionary – a “musician-ary” who shares God’s love through his music and life story. She also had to be willing to travel with him. 

He also asked Zanbeni for a recording of her singing.

“On the fifth day of WhatsApping, Benny messaged, ‘I think we should let our parents know before we go further’.”

Zanbeni had been “praying for a man who loves Jesus whom I could serve the Lord together with”.

“We both felt peace when we were texting each other so we continued.

“On the fifth day of WhatsApping, Benny messaged, ‘I think we should let our parents know before we go further’,” recalled Zanbeni.

“I wasn’t sure what he meant. So I asked, ‘Is that a proposal?’

“He said, ‘I don’t know how to propose, so if you think it is, so be it.'”

Zanbeni, who grew up in Nagaland, shared the news with her mum, who happened to read about Benny in the papers that day. 

News clipping announcing their wedding. The photo was taken in May 2016 when they first met in person after deciding over WhatsApp to marry each other.

“So it was not very difficult to convince my parents,” said Zanbeni, explaining that it was not the norm to marry outside their culture, even though they both are from India.

Their wedding invitation resembled a passport, a nod to their new journey together.

Passport stamps showing the short runway from their first meeting to setting a date for their wedding. Zanbeni had been sharing her story of how she was healed after a traumatic experience with a stalker when she was 13.

“My parents trusted me, and told me, ‘You’re mature enough to decide who to marry. And definitely you will hear from God.'”

They did.

Match made in heaven?

Theirs seemed like a match made in heaven.

Benny and Zanbeni Prasad

Four months after their WhatsApp chat, on Benny’s 41st birthday in August, Zanbeni became his partner in life and music ministry. Benny is holding the 20-string harp/bongo guitar he designed, while Zanbeni holds a panflute that her husband also plays.

“I couldn’t play an instrument, and he couldn’t sing,” said Zanbeni, who subsequently learnt to sing in Indian dialects she couldn’t speak.

It made her an internet darling as videos of the “Naga lady” singing in dialects like Tamil went viral. (The video below, for example, has close to 1 million views.) 

But like many newlyweds, they went through a process of adjusting to each other, especially after living independently for so long.

Their disagreements were “nothing major”, said Zanbeni, who was 32 at that time.

“But I could get so angry that I started hitting myself. I don’t know where that came from. I had never seen myself so angry in my life.”

“When I found somebody I was so comfortable with, I could be just myself with, the lid loosened.”

Her disproportionate rage threatened to tear their marriage apart.

Then she realised it stemmed from a deeper childhood trauma: “I had been suppressing my anger for so many years. Then when I found somebody I was so comfortable with, I could be just myself with, the lid loosened.”

They were in Singapore when she told him what had happened when she was seven years old, and again when she was 13. 

“At that time, I was still getting to know him, and he was not very good at assuring me. I had no idea what would be his response. 

“There was some fear, but I was willing to be open to the consequences of telling him.”

Raped at 7 and 13

Zanbeni told her husband that she was sexually assaulted when she was just seven years old.

“I wasn’t sure what was really happening to me, but I knew something was wrong, something was off. And I never shared it with anyone.”

She was raped again when she was 13 – this time by someone known to a neighbour. 

Traumatised, young Zanbeni, who wanted to be a doctor, “lost all hope, joy, and purpose to live”.

Traumatised, young Zanbeni, who wanted to be a doctor, “lost all hope, joy, and purpose to live”.

“Waking up every morning was meaningless. There was nothing I looked forward to. I only did things for the sake of living.”  

She told no one about the two rapes.

Shortly after, she was traumatised by a third man – a drug addict – who had been stalking her, and refused to leave home for six years.

(Read Part 2 of this story on how Zanbeni found the courage to leave home … and to sing before audiences around the world here).

It never came to Zanbeni’s mind to tell her husband about the assaults earlier “because I thought I had been healed”.

“It wasn’t that I was trying to hide those incidents from him,” she said.

Letting the past go

After Zan told Benny what she had not shared with anyone, he was quiet for some time.

Then he spoke.

“He told me, ‘Past is past. I look at your present and for our future together.'”

“He told me, ‘Past is past. I look at your present and for our future together.’

“It was a huge relief,” said Zanbeni. She had been afraid that the revelation would tear them apart, but instead, it brought them closer together.

“I told Benny, ‘I need help. I don’t want to go on in our marriage, my life, struggling with this.'”

She sought help from a Singapore Christian couple who had taught healing and deliverance as part of a missionary training course in Bangalore. (Below, Zanbeni and Benny performing in Singapore eight months after they got married.)

Benny and Zanbeni Prasad

Zanbeni and Benny during their recent visit to Singapore in May 2023. Photo by Gemma Koh.

“They helped me realise that all this anger was coming from my past experience. I didn’t share it with anybody, so I suppressed all the pain and anger, keeping it to myself.

“Through prayer and counselling, this couple dealt with how I had suppressed my anger towards the three men. The couple helped me to release forgiveness towards them.” 

“Why do you look so joyful?”

Benny encouraged to Zanbeni to tell her parents about her childhood trauma and to also share her story to bring hope to young girls in similar situations.

“God has healed me, so I am able to share my story,” said Zanbeni.

“Girls from 11 to 20 years old have come up to me afterwards to say, ‘I’ve been through that. Can you pray with me?’

“They also ask, ‘If you have been through so much trauma, how are you able to smile, and why do you look so joyful?'” 

(Below, Zanbeni, who is from North East India sings a timeless song in Telugu, an ancient South Indian language – a song that her husband learnt as a child).

Often, Zanbeni is the first and only person these girls have opened up to. She sits and prays with them – and connects them with welfare organisations that can help them heal.

She advises victims of sexual assault: “Talk about what you are going through – not with everybody, but with someone you can trust – and say that you need help.

“Tell Jesus you need help too.”

She said: “I surrendered the pain of what I had been through to God, and believed that He would restore my life.

“He gave me so much peace and assurance that helped me to move on with my life. And truly, He has brought breakthroughs in my life.”

Read Part 2 of this story on how Zanbeni got over her fear of leaving home to sing before audiences around the world here.


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