The following is an excerpt of an article published in 2001 in The Plain Dealer, a Cleveland Newspaper. This article is about abuse at Ivory Coast Academy (now called International Christian Academy) and the failure of Gospel Missionary Union, whose MKs were required to attend the academy, to address the abuse.Instead of addressing the problem, there was a tendency to accept the suffering caused by the abuse as part of the sacrifices missionaries made for their faith. “You spiritualize the problem, and then you bury it,” said A. Scott Moreau, professor of missions at Wheaton College. What psychiatrists, abuse counselors and victims have learned is that such problems cannot be buried. Left untouched, the anger, the rage, the loss of self-worth from the abuse will surface in self-destructive ways throughout the rest of their lives.
One of the ways that Missions, including SIM, attempt to “spiritualize” abuse memories and then stifle them is by telling victims that they should forgive and forget. Throughout the past 20-30 years SIM has primarily communicated with MKs through the Simroots newsletter. There are some exceptions, but I feel the overwhelming slant of articles published in Simroots is to chide MKs who “complain” about their experiences at boarding school. Surprisingly, a lot of this chiding comes from the MKs themselves, which makes it even harder for a victim to speak out, going against peer pressure.
Here are a few examples from Simroots:In November of 1988, an MK writes “Enough of this wimpy, ‘my past ruined my future’ attitude…put the past behind you and through the power of the King become the person you want to be.” In Spring of 2001, from another MK, “It’s critical that we assess areas where the Mission boards need to adjust their policies…It is wrong, however, to spend limitless time on self-analysis and self-flagellation. This is not productive. It ends in self-pity and feeds into a small, self-centered world. In Fall of 2001, from a parent of MKs. This one is titled Personal Advice to the MK! “Once you become an adult, it’s time to stop blaming the past and start taking responsibility for your own life and depend on God to bring healing, growth and maturity…Like any trauma, you need to forgive and move on. Unforgiveness is not an option. Face self-pity, anger, and bitterness as sin.” From an MK in the current issue from 2010, “Remember that the past cannot be changed.” “Forgiving breaks the emotional bond to past events and helps release frustrations that build up within us.” “For Christians, forgiving allows God to forgive us our sins.”
The message here is plain and clear. You must forgive, because it is a sin to be angry, talking about past abuse is little more than self-pity, and if you do not forgive your abusers, your own sins will not be forgiven! There is little wonder that SIM MKs are so reluctant to talk about past abuse, when this is the message we have been receiving for so long.
Lately a lot of the conversation about abuse and forgiveness has taken place on Facebook, where a victim who speaks out about justice will have several people respond with the importance of forgiveness. I have been guilty myself in the past of telling others that they need to learn to forgive.
My message to my fellow MKs and SIM “aunts and uncles” is that there is another side to this story of forgiveness. You cannot tell a victim of abuse that if they simply forgive, they will release their frustrations. Telling an abuse victim to “forget” is essentially saying that they must remain silent and allow their perpetrator to go free. Telling them that God will not forgive their sins if they do not forgive is simply more of the spiritual abuse we were subjected to for years at KA. Whether these messages are given out intentionally or because it is just the doctrine we were taught for years, the result is the same. It prevents the victim from healing, and protects the perpetrators from being discovered.
Missionary Kids Safety Net website has a great article on this topic titled “Forgive and Forget” Can Hinder Healing, Truth. This article calls it short-circuit healing, where you don’t have to deal with the truth. You don’t have to deal with the system. You don’t have to deal with confession and repentance, restitution and other issues of justice-making. I urge you to read the full article and also take a look at one of the pages on this blog, called Thoughts on Forgiveness.
SIM has said they don’t know how to reach out to abused MKs. Perhaps a good place to start would be taking the responsibility to forgive the perpetrator off the shoulders of the victim, and placing that responsibility where it belongs.