Speaking Out About Abuse at International Christian Academy

I would like to share an open letter written by an International Christian Academy alumni to Christian and Missionary Alliance Leadership and employees.

ICA used to be known as Ivory Coast Academy when it was founded by the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society in 1962. Christian and Missionary Alliance partnered with CBFMS in the building and operation of ICA, to provide an alternative to their boarding school at the time in Guinea, which was Mamou. Other missions, including SIM, sent students there over the years. The school was renamed International Christian Academy in 1990. Read more about the early history of this school.

Gospel Missionary Union had their own dorm at ICA, and Paul Friesen has written about his experiences there in the book “Ultimate Sacrifice.”

An article in the Plain Dealer in 2010 told the stories of more children abused at Mamou and ICA.

Now, a strong, new voice has joined the others in speaking out about abuse at this school. India Baker was almost 12 years old when she arrived at ICA. During the five or so years that she attended, she was subjected to physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, She endured sexual assault, witnessed others being abused, and saw the blatant cover-up when these things were reported to the staff.

India writes “See, I was taught that children should be seen and not heard.  I was taught that God hated me.  I was taught that I was a worthless sinful being and that I was not worth time, nor attention.  The church is STILL teaching every child and adult  that has ever experienced these things that same lesson by refusing to bring the abusers to justice. In the United States of America it is illegal to abuse a child. So why is it okay for the church to cover this up?”

Why indeed? Churches and missions claim it would be harmful to their ministry and create confusion among supporters if information like this gets out. We all know it would really be harmful to their financial bottom line and jobs and reputations would be in jeopardy.

I urge you to read and share India’s open letter to Christian and Missionary Alliance.

 

 

Paul Friesen’s book “Ultimate Sacrifice” and the Gospel Missionary Union

Ultimate Sacrifice by Paul Friesen is a difficult story of pain suffered through the generations of a family.   When I read this book I feel not so much that I am being told the story by Paul today, but that the child, and the teenager, and the young man of the past are telling me the story themselves from their own unique perspectives.  Paul Friesen’s parents were missionaries with the Gospel Missionary Union (now called Avant Ministries) and Paul attended the Mamou Alliance Academy and Ivory Coast Academy boarding schools.

The legacy of the grandfather who was tortured for his beliefs placed a huge burden upon Paul’s father, who chose the missionary life of self-denial and sacrifice.  At first the children stayed in Canada in a mission boarding home, and then when Paul was very young his mother died, sending the family into a tailspin.  Paul’s grieving father had little time or emotion to spare for his kids.  Soon there was another “Servant Bride” taking the place of mother, and this time the whole family traveled back to Africa and the children were enrolled in Mamou Alliance Academy.

This was just a descent of an already wounded child downwards into a world of pain and terror.  Life at Mamou was rigid rules and harsh punishments, isolation from family, and vivid nightmares.  A six year old was not able to live up to expectations and gain the attention he needed, either from adults or the other kids, who teased and tormented him.  We all had our ways of coping with boarding school life.  I tried to make myself as quiet and insignificant as possible.  We learned to behave much better than children normally need to behave.  There were always a few kids though, and usually boys, who couldn’t contain their anger or couldn’t conform, and tested the system.   These boys attracted the abusive attention of both staff and kids, and had serious and long-lasting damage.  Because of his anger, his unmet emotional and developmental needs, Paul was unable to stop his behaviour even when he knew the consequences it was bringing down on his head.  Who could help and guide a child in that situation?  Not his parents, who were absent and detached, not his sisters who were separated from him, and sadly not any of the adults who were taking care of him at boarding school.

Furloughs in Canada were just as bad, as the family lived in poverty, at one point with no heat or inside plumbing.  Paul was even more of an outsider in the Canadian school, and bullied by both the other kids and by some of the teachers.  There was no help or relief for this boy.  If he felt hopeful about a change in his life, you can bet his situation would only end up getting worse.

Eventually parents stopped sending kids to Mamou because of the political situation, and he transfered to Ivory Coast Academy.  This school (later renamed International Christian Academy) was owned by Conservative Baptist International (CBI), however GMU had their own dorm on campus run by GMU missionary staff.  The children in this school were devious and cruel on an advanced scale, and roved in gangs preying on the younger kids, who sometimes carried knives to defend themselves.  In 1976, before he returned home to Canada, Paul was invited to testify before the Field Board at the GMU Annual Field Conference, to describe what ICA had been like.  Apparently the mission was worried by the reports of nervous breakdowns and attempted suicides by children attending ICA.  Paul describes the missionaries on the Board as largely a group of ignorant people who did not really want to know or accept what was going on.

Paul survived this abusive childhood and returned to Canada to begin college and adult life.  Paul says “On the outside all was rosy.  Always smiles and happy.  On the inside an animal was trying to become unleashed.” There were social difficulties, pent up emotions and anger, theological differences with the Church, anger at people who refused to see and accept the truth of what has been happening on the mission field, depression, financial difficulties and finally the collapse of his marriage.

Around this time the Mamou investigations were in full swing and Paul was able to reconnect with other MKs and share experiences with them.  The Mamou MKs had fought long and hard to get Christian and Missionary Alliance to acknowledge abuse, and were finally getting an investigation, and apology, and some restorative measures.  But Gospel Missionary Union (now Avant Ministries) continued to turn a blind eye to their MKs, refusing to participate in the Mamou investigation, even though they sent children to that school.  They were invited to attend retreats for the victims after the investigation ended, but they declined, even though many of their MKs were victims at Mamou.  They did not offer any counseling services to their MKs who were abused.

We know that GMU received reports of abuse at Ivory Coast Academy as early as 1976 (Paul’s appearance before the board), and took no action.   In fact GMU ignored reports of abuse at their ICA dorm for years.   You can read more about this in a 2001 article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  One of the staff named in the article as an abuser, Carl Schumacher, is also mentioned as one of Paul’s dorm parents in Ultimate Sacrifice.

 In 2001 the Conservative Baptist International mission took action on the abuse allegations – they felt a responsibility since they were running the Academy, even though the abuse occurred in a GMU dorm.  Professional mediators met separately with the victims and officials of the Gospel Missionary Union and Conservative Baptists.  To my knowledge the results of these meetings were never publicized.  Scott Harris, the current Vice President of Field Ministries for Avant (formerly GMU), says this: “Top leaders of the mission including the exiting President, new President, CFO, Chairman of the International Board of Directors and two members of the International Board, sat down with a group of abuse victims, listened to their stories and submitted to mediation.  The mission then offered to pay for counseling expenses for the victims, some of whom accepted the offer.  In at least one case, we extended our assistance for counseling beyond the agreed period.  There was also a formal statement issued at that time, which I have been unable to locate as I prepared to write you.”

Was that statement issued publicly?  Were perpetrators named, and what kind of consequences did they receive?  Are any of those perpetrators still employed by the mission?  This is another example of a mission being forced into action to confront abuse, and then coming up with an inadequate response.

Its always great when a story has an ending of hope and healing, but I sense this is not the case for Paul, and probably not for other GMU MKs who suffered abuse in boarding schools.  Yes, a victim needs to want to be healed, and it would be wonderful if all abused MKs could travel that path.  But when the mission who call themselves “family” and the abusers themselves deny and refuse to acknowledge the abuse, that only creates more and more anger, not healing.  MKs were a sacrifice on the mission field, and we continue to be sacrificed in order to protect the reputations and finances of our missions.