Interaction International is an organization based in Wheaton, Illinois, with a mission to provide resources for and meet the various needs of third culture kids and their families. They publish a quarterly magazine called Among Worlds, geared towards encouraging and empowering adult third culture kids (ATCK). The September 2012 issue of Among Worlds was especially interesting to me and will be to readers of this blog, as the topic was abuse, mainly on the mission field.
Each of the twelve articles deals with some aspect of abuse, and many are written by names you will recognize such as Dr. Wess Stafford, Michèle Phoenix and William Paul Young (author of The Shack). Then there are two very familiar names of SIM MKs who have stepped forward to tell their stories in this magazine. Both of these women attended Bingham Academy in Ethiopia and suffered abuse at the hands of a sexual predator who worked at that school. Neither article specifically mentions SIM or Bingham Academy, for that matter the names of missions and schools are carefully omitted from all of these articles. But hey, I know these women. I am so grateful to them, and to all of the authors here, for having the courage to write their stories and publish them.
I have to admit it took me a while to read through this magazine. That is why I am writing about it 4 months later. I did leave it behind on a trip and had to wait a couple months to retrieve it again. But even while I had it with me it was not easy. Maybe it is because I always have my defenses up when I read about abuse. Will there be a bias towards the missions, justifying their actions because they were doing God’s work? Will I be told once again to forgive, and just to be grateful for having such a rich childhood? Will I read things that are going to trigger my own unhappy memories?
Instead I found these stories were written with soul baring honesty. Several of the authors acknowledged how vulnerable it made them feel to tell their story, and yet they still told it, without glossing over any of the pain, confusion, anger and other emotions that are a result of abuse. Even though specific organizations were not mentioned, none of these articles is anonymous. Each has a real name attached, and lists the countries where that person lived.
There are common threads that run through these stories. The lies of the abuser, especially spiritual manipulation, often telling the victim that he will be responsible for sending people to hell if he jeopardizes the ministry by saying anything about the abuse. The burying of the pain to allow the victim to function in life, even though it never quite stays buried. The lifting of a burden when the victim finally lets go of the secrecy and speaks their story to another person. The suffering that stays with the victim throughout life, even after the healing process is well under way.
An ATCK from Japan writes “Even in the midst of my confusion and anger at the suffering of my fellow MKs, it has been hard to admit the name ‘abuse’ for my own experiences. It’s tempting to minimize things.”
An ATCK from Papua New Guinea talks about how hard it is to make the move from hopelessness and devastation, a situation we have been mired in all of our lives, into freedom. She equates the “comfort zone” of pain and misery to an addiction that she has to always be careful not to fall back to.
Another woman who lived in Indonesia and Malaysia, and was an editor of Among Worlds for many years, talks about how vulnerable it makes her feel to write her story, and wonders even as she is typing out the words whether she has made the right choice. She writes “We may talk in strong language against it, but how many of us are willing to openly admit we have been the actual subject of it? Why is there such shame associated with the admission of having been abused?”
An SIM MK talks about two types of abuse. Active abuse is an attack against a person that deliberately crossed the healthy boundaries of the individual. Then there is passive abuse, which is simply withholding or controlling the basic needs such as love, food, water, clothing and care for the purpose of dominating the will of another person. My own personal note is that passive abuse was a common tactic used at the boarding school I attended, Kent Academy. This type of abuse resides in a sort of grey area where there are no physical or outward signs and it could all be chalked up to discipline. Thank you for letting us put a name on it and call it what it is.
The last article in the magazine is by Becky Leverington, a licensed professional counselor who has served with Wycliffe/SIL since 1994, is currently their Child Safety Director and serves as the steering committee chair for the Child Safety and Protection Network (CSPN). I have reservations about CSPN which I have written about in other places on this blog, but Ms. Leverington’s article had some good points. She is a TCA, or third culture adult, meaning she has lived in different cultures as an adult but does not have the experience of growing up between countries.
She says denial is the number one agent of abuse, and mission organizations are more vulnerable to denial because staff members tend to trust one another (more than they should) because of their common faith. Parents also trust school staff and don’t safeguard their children as well as they would in a non-mission setting.
CSPN has been compiling statistics on abuse, and she talks a bit about their preliminary findings. One is that there is a substantial number of cases of sexual abuse between children. MKs who have been victimized sometimes repeat the behaviour with other children. This will not come as news to a whole generation of boys who attended Kent Academy while they were in junior high.
Ms. Leverington talks about adult MKs who are coming forward years later to report abuse. She says they most need the following, which I am paraphrasing in less detail than her actual words.
- To be taken seriously.
- To be listened to compassionately and in person as they share their account.
- For their accusations to prompt a thorough, unbiased investigative response process by trained response team members, including at least one team member from an outside organization to ensure an unbiased response. (Personal note: I don’t think one is enough. No one on the team should be involved with the mission.)
- To learn that due diligence was done to determine if there were other victims.
- To have the outcome of the process shared with them.
- To learn that appropriate agency discipline and reporting to civil authorities has occurred.
- To hear a genuine apology by an organization representative.
- To know preventative measures have been put in place for the future.
- To be provided assistance for counseling.
Just for the record, it’s been my experience that SIM has not met the majority of these needs for their adult MKs.
If you are a victim of abuse on the mission field, or know a victim, or want a deeper understanding of what it means to be a victim, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of this magazine.
If you want to read the magazine but don’t feel inclined to order it online, or are short on funds, please write to me using the contact link on this blog.