By the time I had lived through elementary school I was emotionally disconnected from my parents. It was necessary, since I only got to see them four months out of the year, and had by then weathered many, many trials without their help. Those of you who were sent to boarding school at the age of six know what I am talking about. We still love and respect our parents, but the emotional dependence of normal kids was severed when we flew away on that plane in September. (Some kids went home to parents who were abusive, and that is a whole other conversation.)
One thing all of our missionary parents have in common is that they are dedicated, determined and disciplined. In fact they are formidable people, who left their homes and traveled to Africa at a time when travel wasn’t easy, often by themselves, to embark on a life that was dangerous and uncertain. I think we all grew up with a lot of respect for our parents, if not actual fear. They set a high mark for us to follow. These are larger-than-life people who did some miraculous things, but we lost the chance to have a close relationship with them when they sent us away at such a young age.
Fast forward to the present day, and many MKs are stuck in a dysfunctional parent-child relationship. We long for a bond that can never be put back together, and we are careful not to do anything to upset what is there. We don’t want to get our parents in hot water with SIM by talking about abuse, especially if they are a resident at an SIM Retirement Home. We certainly don’t want to go into that dark place of grief with our parents, because it is like a chasm that will swallow us both up. We know now about the pain of separation from our own children, we can guess at how our parents suffered when they sent us away, and nobody wants to relive those emotions.
Some MKs have only begun to speak out about abuse after their parents passed away. My own father passed away before I started gathering information for this blog. It seems their passing opens a door that compels us or allows us to grab onto childhood experiences. Some MKs whose parents are still alive will only speak anonymously about abuse, or flat out deny having any issues with boarding school. We MKs are a very independent bunch, so why do our parents still have so much influence on this conversation?
HOW CAN PARENTS HELP?
I recently had a chance to read An Open Letter to Missionary Parents, by Rachel Steffen. Rachel is an MK who went on to the mission field and so also has the perspective of a parent. Rachel and her husband served for 27 years on the mission field with New Tribes, where they raised four children. This is not easy reading for an MK, and I imagine it is not easy for parents to read either, but I believe what she says is necessary, important and true.
SIM Missionaries, many of you have children who were abused or abandoned. Do you even know what happened to your children while they were at boarding school? Do you dare to ask? Perhaps you can give your children permission to take the steps that lead to healing. You can be advocates for your children with SIM, and you can ask SIM to investigate abuse and provide care for their wounded MKs. You can let your children know you support them. Please read An Open Letter to Missionary Parents, written by another missionary parent to YOU.
If you are an MK who was abused on the mission field, how do your parents influence whether or not you speak out?