For those of you who have followed the story of “Bill” in my post last October, I want to highlight another similar story that was posted in the comments. It is a very similar circumstance where SIM missionaries were accused of child abuse by a national of the country where they served, they were somewhat deceptively removed from the field, and even after an FBI investigation completely cleared them, they were fired from the mission. Again this is a complicated story, just like the story of “Bill”, and it left these missionaries feeling that there was no sense of truth or justice in the way that it was handled. You can read this story at the link below.
“You see, dear reader, the past is never far from any of us. Its presence has a way of growing as more and more time goes by. Like a continuous but imperceptible whisper, the past is always there. ”
In his book Missionary Kid: How I Learned to Say Goodbye, John Haines gives a humorous and heartfelt account of his early life and adult journey as a hobo jetsetter, also known as a missionary kid. I found it to be so entertaining, filled with dry wit and humorous descriptions, as well as some photographs and John’s original sketches. At the same time John poignantly captures the sorrows, regrets and longings that we have all experienced.
John’s parents served with North Africa Mission. Today this organization has incorporated two other missions – Southern Morocco Mission and Algiers Mission Band – changed their name to Arab World Ministry and joined with Pioneers. He was born in Morocco, moved to Marseilles for most of his childhood, and eventually attended Black Forest Academy, the international Christian boarding school in Germany.
After high school John was steered towards a Christian college, as is the tradition for many missionary kids. During his journey as a young adult he learned to question his beliefs, and constantly felt the urge to move on, from a couple of Bible colleges, to a State University in Minnesota, to graduate school in Toronto, with several stints of employment along the way. The sadness of the goodbye is described so eloquently in this passage:
“Have you ever had to say goodbye to a house or country, to a lover or friend whom you knew you would not see in a long time, possibly ever again? If you have, then you know that this goodbye is the hardest goodbye in the world, because when you come back, if you ever come back, this person or place will have changed beyond recognition. You too will have changed. And so, whether you know it or not, this goodbye is the last goodbye.”
And yet, like other MKs, John uprooted himself by choice many times during his adult life, moving like a nomad between schools and jobs, states and countries. After a childhood of being uprooted and forced to leave people that we love, you might think an MK wants nothing more than to settle down and live in one place, but for many of us the reality is very different. The constant urge to move on creates more necessary goodbyes, which seems to create a vicious cycle.
The book is addressed to three groups of people: Believers, Unbelievers and Innocent Ones. If you feel like you definitely don’t fit into any of those categories, you are probably a member of a fourth option, the Missionary Kid.
You will recognize many common features of missionary life, no matter which country you grew up in. The housekeeper and babysitter, whether man or woman, who would be a luxury to an American family, was commonplace among African missionaries. The prayer letter, which as John explains had a primary goal of fund-raising, was how missionaries kept in touch with their supporters, family and friends before the days of facebook, email and blogs. On a personal note, the prayer letter had a secondary function of documenting every awkward and unphotogenic moment of our childhood and adolescence, which would then be mailed far and wide to all the people we would meet when we came home on furlough.
We all participated in plenty of sword drills, and who among us cannot speak fluent “King James?”
I can relate to the stigma of the “missionary kid” label, and having to explain to people that our lives were not like “The Poisonwood Bible.” John does not buy the definition of third culture kids, but maintains that we are not defined by some mythical third country, but by the lack of a country. A missionary kid is missing a home.
There is an undercurrent of sadness in this story that will also feel familiar. Longing for someone that you were torn away from at a young age, like John’s beloved ‘ummy. The sorrow of not knowing your grandparents. The disconnect that missionaries and their kids feel when they return to their home country. The realization that the country which held so many promises is not what you expected.
Although this is not a story of abuse, the theme of the past being always present in your memory, and the needs to finally grapple with it, is relevant to many readers of this blog.
“It may fade, but it never disappears. Wherever we are, wherever we go, no matter how long we ignore it and no matter how hard we try to shake it, the past has been waiting, patiently waiting. Lying quiet and breathing still, it has been waiting for that moment when, finally, we give in and embrace it with all of its fury and affection.”
This is a circular story – it tells of lives that have traveled around many paths only to wind up in a starting place. John finally settles in Canada, the beloved home of his maternal grandparents. He ends with a story of “coming home” to Morocco at the age of fifty, for a visit. An encounter with some children on the street, the very sort of children that his parents ministered to for all those years, ignites a spark. “I looked into their eyes and felt the love of God,” another full circle for a missionary kid who bounced from evangelical to apostate and back again.
This book will both entertain you and tug at your heartstrings. You can find it on Amazon.com.
Recently an MK contacted me to tell me about a situation that has been going on with his family and SIM USA. The story is written out in detail on the blog SIM Persecution. This is basically a story of a man who served with SIM for 25 years, suddenly being accused of child abuse by a new wife of a couple years, who I don’t believe was an SIM missionary herself. Without ever asking for this man’s side of the story, SIM tricked him into returning to the United States, reported him to authorities, forced him to sign documents (still a thing missions do, apparently), supported his wife financially and with SIM lawyers as they took him to court, and eventually fired him. They fired him after first refusing to accept his resignation.
The important thing is, in all of this he was never found guilty of child abuse by the DSS, who conducted forensic interviews with the children, his story was confirmed by a lie detector test, the police and sheriff’s office closed the case and ultimately a judge threw out all the abuse allegations and told his wife not to bring any future allegations. Yet SIM doggedly backed and supported the accusing party, even when other SIM missionaries appealed to the International Director. This is a crazy story and I urge you to read it for yourself.
Why would SIM have such a knee jerk reaction to an accusation of child abuse that they would go to those lengths without even asking the accused to tell his side of the story? Should SIM provide financial support and legal help to an accusing party, essentially taking sides in a court case? If you support SIM financially, did you imagine this might be where some of your money is going? At one point an SIM leader even testified against this man in court. Why would they dictate how often this man was allowed to see his children, and throw themselves into the middle of a child custody battle?
This is an organization that has been accused of looking the other way and ignoring abusive behaviour, and I have seen them spend many resources trying to prove that one of their missionaries was NOT guilty of abuse. They have now swung to the other extreme and cannot even seem to consider the idea that an accusation might be wrong, at the expense of a missionary and his children.
This man’s family, who wrote the blog, are pretty clear about how this situation should be rectified. The people responsible for this abuse of an SIM missionary used terrible judgment, and should step down from their positions. The former missionary should be reimbursed for his legal costs and travel expenses, and be provided with counseling. Clearly there is something wrong with the new child abuse policy at SIM if an innocent man can be accused and victimized in this manner.
SIM has not so much as apologized to this man. When the family protests this, SIM USA leadership tells them that they will pray for them. (Does anyone else hate that response? I have nothing against prayer, but in this situation, and many others I have known, it is used in a condescending way. Oh, and by the way, it’s the only thing they are willing to do to help you.) If anyone from SIM who was involved in this, even MD, would like to give their side of the story they are welcome to do it here.
Recently a former MK contacted me to tell me about his struggle with traumatic experiences in his past, and his goal to get a psychiatric service dog to help with his symptoms of PTSD. There is an opportunity to help if anyone is so inclined.
Patrick Murphy led a whirlwind life while he was growing up. His parents were with YWAM (Youth With a Mission). Beginning when he was in grade school, he lived in Haiti, Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia. This doesn’t count time spent living in Hawaii while in training. In Penang, Malaysia, Patrick went to a boarding school called Dalat.
Dalat was originally a Christian and Missionary Alliance boarding school. In 1999 C&MA decided to close the school and another group took it on, turning it into an independent school that serves the ex-pat business community in Penang. Dalat shares a history of reported abuse along with other Alliance boarding schools such as Mamou Alliance Academy, which was featured in the documentary “All God’s Children”, Bongolo School in Gabon, and Zamboanga School in the Philippines.
While living in Indonesia as a young teen Patrick survived several near kidnappings and was mixed up in transporting drugs for a local mafia, during which he witnessed the killing of a close friend. He was living on the island of Lombok In January of 2000 when thousands of Muslims rampaged through the towns, wielding machetes and torching Christian churches. Patrick and his family had to flee the country. A few days after the riots Patrick and his sisters were sent back to Penang to attend Dalat.
Patrick did not do well at boarding school, and was assaulted by a teacher, so his parents sent him back to the States to live with an aunt in New York until the whole family returned a year and a half later. The life-threatening violence and fear that Patrick experienced growing up had a lasting effect on him.
Patrick is now a husband and father, and still suffers the crippling effects of PTSD. He experiences flashbacks, panic attacks and sudden speech impairment. He and his wife heard about how beneficial a psychiatric service dog can be for people in his situation. A psychiatric service dog is different from a regular service dog, and can be very expensive to raise and train from a qualified breeder. Health insurance does not cover these costs, and it is difficult to find help if you are not a veteran.
Here are Patrick’s own words “For those unfamiliar with the process of getting and training a service dog, it is a very expensive journey to pursue and health insurance does not cover any of the costs, despite the fact one must legally qualify in order to have one. Many who qualify for psychiatric service dogs struggle to get one because there are no resources for those who are not veterans. It is expensive to adopt a service dog candidate from a breeder with a proven track record and even more expensive to pay for the 2 years of training it takes to fully train a service dog. We knew this when we first embarked on this journey last year and have trusted that God would provide, as he has always has.
With the coming news of a puppy being born in May, we are reaching out to ask for support. While it is humbling to do so, we truly believe this is the right path to take to for me and for my family. We are hoping to raise $3400, which is a little over half of the costs of adopting a service dog candidate puppy and 2 years of training.
Cost of adopting our service dog candidate puppy: $2500.
Cost of service dog training over the first 2 years: $4000
We are hoping to raise this support by June 25th. Would you be willing to bless us with your support?”
Patrick has a fundraising page at http://www.gofundme.com/servicedog4patrick. You can find a lot more details there about the costs of the dog, plus a link to his family blog and a way to contact him. He explains the many ways a psychiatric service dog can help in a panic situation. I actually think I need one to ride with me on elevators! Can you relate to Patrick’s story? Feel free to comment and ask questions here.
As missionary kids we have a history of abuse and/or abandonment. If it didn’t happen to us, we saw it happening to someone else. We were not unique among the children of the world. No matter where you go there are plenty of children living in horrific situations.
One thing that does make us unique is that when we were barely young adults, we were thrust into a brand new culture. This required a tremendous amount of energy to learn how to adapt and fit in. Perhaps it is being handled better today, but in my time there was little support for MKs moving to their home country. I personally experienced zero support from SIM when I was a young adult, and I know the same is true for many of my classmates. During the decades required to assimilate the new culture, childhood traumas were sent off to some remote part of the brain. These did not go away, they were only forgotten temporarily. Many MKs of my generation – 40s, 50s and older – are finding that the past memories are bubbling back up to the surface.
The questions I hear often boil down to this: how can we leave the trauma of our past and move ahead into recovery and growth? I don’t have the answers. I am in the thick of it with the rest of you. However I do know that a predominant feeling we have as MKs is that of grief. We are still grieving the loss of our parents, our brothers and our sisters. We grieve the loss of innocence, the lack of justice, and the opportunities that we lost because of our struggles.
You probably know about the five stages of grief, a series of steps that a person walks through to come to terms with a great loss in their life. This theory was developed by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying, which was first published in 1969. Even though stages or steps sounds like something you would walk through in order, Kübler-Ross maintained that this is not necessarily the case. They can happen out of order, and they can happen all at once.
The stages of grief are important to MKs because we must pass through some or all of these feelings on our journey of healing. This is what some of the stages might look like for an abused or neglected MK.
Denial: Based on my belief that all SIM missionary kids who attended boarding school either experienced or witnessed abuse or neglect, most of them are still in the stage of denial. Denial says we were the luckiest kids in the world, and hushes up anyone who brings up bad memories. We all agree there were good times, but denial insists they were ALL good, and if they weren’t good they were at least for our own good. Denial ignores or chastises MKs who talk about abuse. It is a fairly recent thing that we are finally seeing open discussions on social media about the pain and loss we experienced.
Anger: If a large portion of MKs are stuck in denial, anger runs a close second. It is easy to spot the anger by reading blogs, forums and Facebook pages focusing on abuse. Sometimes it is like a smoldering ember, sometimes more of a burning rage. MKs are angry at their parents who sent them away, at the missions who encouraged this and then mismanaged the boarding school, at teachers and dorm parents who ranged from cold and uncaring to downright cruel, at God who we were taught had ultimate control over our lives, and even at each other. There is so much unresolved hurt from those years. If we were thrown together in a room with our classmates, and were perfectly honest, we would all find that we were the victim of one person and the tormentor of someone else.
Bargaining: This is a negotiation with a higher power, and an attempt to gain some control over your situation. You want things to go back to the way they were before your loss. For us this might be loss of love and relationships in the midst of many moves. It could be loss of education and jobs due to the culture shock of coming back into your home country and not having support. It might be many years of lost opportunities due to depression, addictions, or just unfamiliarity with the culture and an inability to function. We might attempt to bargain with the mission to get some compensation. More often we make promises to God, the Universe, or whatever you consider to be your Higher Power. There is always something we can lay on the bargaining table. This line of thinking leads to a seemingly endless cycle of “What if” and “If only” queries, as we attempt to rewrite the past in our minds.
Depression: I believe depression is the most widespread legacy of our boarding school experience. This is also a common result of abuse. I know many who go through serious bouts of depression today. I myself have struggled with depression. It is an extremely difficult condition to overcome, since it isolates and paralyzes a person. Once you are in it, it is almost impossible to get out without help from outside.
It was surprisingly common for some of us to have suicidal thoughts when we were young. Some still have them today. Sadly there are SIM MKs who have committed suicide.
Acceptance: I suspect that what many MKs claim to be acceptance is actually denial. If you haven’t felt the loss and experienced the anger and the sadness, I seriously question how you are at peace with your boarding school experience. Granted some were worse than others, but every child in that school either experienced abuse themselves or witnessed abuse of one of their classmates. I know this is true because I saw it happening right out in the open on almost a daily basis.
That being said, I believe there are MKs who have successfully processed their grief and moved to acceptance. If this is you, I would love to hear from you. What was your grief experience? What kind of help did you have to move through these steps?
When you are in it, grief is a desperate and hopeless feeling that seems as if it will never end. I have to cling to the belief and the promise that there is an end to the long, dark night. Not just any end, but a glorious end. The morning will come and with it joy, that elusive fruit that always hangs just a little too high on the tree.
“For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
A dear friend and fellow MK who attended Kent Academy messaged me the other day to see if I had seen this letter. It came to her from firstname.lastname@example.org. As you can see it is addressed to all SIM Mks. I never received a copy even though I thought I was on the Simroots mailing list. Have you seen it? I decided some of the SIM MKs who read this blog might not be on the distribution list either.
At any rate, you can read the letter below. There is an email address where you can send comments, Katrina.Conley@sim.org. Katrina is an executive assistant at SIM International Inc. I encourage every one with an opinion to write to Katrina. It is rare that we get a contact from SIM who will actually communicate with us about this subject – believe me I have tried over the years. If Dr. Bogunjoko is willing to do this it is a gift!
To all SIM MKs:
Please take time to read this special message of gratitude from Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko, International Director.
Celebrating You | 5 December 2016 | Founders’ Day
Dear children of missionaries past and present,
On December 4th, every year, the SIM community worldwide celebrates as a Day of Prayer the arrival of the first Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) missionaries in Lagos, Nigeria. This year I am calling on all of SIM, in accordance with our Founder’s Day practice, to set aside Monday, December 5, to give thanks, to celebrate and to pray.
This letter is for you if you are a child of missionaries past or present, from any of the missions which flowed into SIM over the years, whether your parents served during your adulthood or childhood, and for any duration of service. This year’s thanksgiving, celebration and prayers is for you. Your personal contribution to the making of disciples, indeed, to the emergence and growth of the church in all corners of the world, is as incalculable as it is invisible. Therefore, on this Founders’ Day, the SIM worldwide community is pausing to affirm and acknowledge the remarkable role you have played. We celebrate and give thanks for you.
Perhaps you have not been privileged to glimpse the result of your parents’ work, to experience the joy of seeing the fruit of their labour. I assure you that their labour and your sacrifice have never been in vain. That I am the one sending this letter to you gives testimony to that fact. I committed my life to Christ while attending a mission school established by SIM, where I was discipled by a missionary. As a product of SIM ministry over many years, and now not only serving in SIM but leading SIM globally, you can rejoice that your contribution and your experiences have never been in vain. Christ has the victory. I, and millions of others like me, bear testimony to this victory. Because of you and your family, many more, like myself, can understand God’s good news. Thank you.
You were born into a family that, in the course of your life, carried the gospel to others, and this necessitated personal sacrifice, which I acknowledge by this letter. We celebrate with gratitude your service alongside your parents. Often the focus of mission work is on your parents and their cross-cultural ministry. However, at times you bore the weight of the calling of God on your parents’ lives; thus you have made sacrifices that may have gone unacknowledged by anyone. All children are impacted by their parents’ vocation, whether in missions or not. Yet the impact of a missionary vocation on a family is unique.
We acknowledge your own commitment and contributions to the work that was done or is being done by your parents. Perhaps you were active in the work in tangible ways, or you accepted situations into which you were entrusted that allowed your parents to do their work. You may be one who has experienced suffering or adversity, perhaps from separation from your parents at an early age. Some have had close encounters with diseases, natural disasters, civil unrest, or other hazards. We acknowledge the price that you may have paid so that the gospel of Christ’s saving grace can be preached to a dying world.
We celebrate your victories. While growing up in cultures that were not your parents’, many have gone on to use those experiences as stepping stones to greater things. Many of you have achieved remarkable things for yourselves, your families, your communities, for the church and for the gospel. For some, growing up in another culture was not always positive; for others, it is one of the greatest gifts from their parents. I hope this is your experience, and even if not, I am thankful that you are still with us to see the result. We celebrate your accomplishments and the accomplishments of MKs all over the world.
Many of you have gone out as missionaries, taking your own children along. Many more have contributed to ministries or to the local communities into which God has placed you. We celebrate your contributions, your resilience, your grace, your hope. Your unique experiences are almost impossible to explain to those who never walked in your shoes. You are often misunderstood in both your host culture and in your parents’ home culture. Yet this you have endured with determination, a sense of humor, and ultimately with renewed grace. We celebrate you today as one of “our” MKs, as one of our masterpieces created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do. I want to personally thank you for the blessings that you and your family have been to many.
Here are some ways that the mission family will be in prayer for you on December 5:
- We pray for renewal and the refreshing presence of the Lord in your life today and always.
- We pray that the light of the gospel may shine radiantly in your life and that the Lord will fill your life with joy as you remember the path of your life as an MK and the outcome of your and your family’s sacrifice.
- We pray for God’s victory in your life and in all your endeavors.
- We pray for God’s lavish blessing over you today and always.
- We pray healing for the hurts that you may have suffered or still suffer, and healing from the pain.
With gratitude for you and for all that you have endured for the gospel.
SIM International Director
Comments and replies may be directed to Katrina.Conley@sim.org
International Leadership and Services
1838 Gold Hill Road, Fort Mill SC 29715.
My thoughts about this letter:
Dr. Bogunjoko is the first SIM International Director to come from a Nigerian and ECWA background. He has a background as a healer, both physician and surgeon, as well as a Master of Arts in Leadership and Management. When I go to the SIM web site and look at his photos I see a man with all of the qualities I love about Nigerian people, a warm smile, a caring face and a joyful attitude. I am encouraged that he is thinking about and acknowledging MKs, especially acknowledging that not all of our experiences have been positive. He mentions suffering for a variety of reasons, culture shock and the fact that some of us are still in pain. This is true. Seeing that these things exist is a good start, but I feel he doesn’t completely grasp the reasons why there is still pain.
It seems to me that he gives MKs a much more active role in their parent’s ministry than they really had. The personal sacrifice he talks about was made by parents. They sacrificed their lives, their jobs, in some cases their vocations, even their own families as many of them left behind parents and siblings who died while they were overseas. They also sacrificed their own children, by sending them off to be cared for by other adults who did not know them or love them.
MKs did not sacrifice, we were sacrificed. This was a passive thing, which we did not choose and had no control over. No MK that I know had a choice in whether to go to boarding school at age six, whether to then leave those friendships to spend a year (a lifetime at that age) in another country on furlough, and then get uprooted again to have to form completely new friendships at the boarding school in the first country. This was not a result of any commitment or contribution on our part. All these decisions were made for us by parents and mission personnel who chose to sacrifice children for missionary work.
So to reiterate, we do not carry pain from choices and decisions and sacrifices that we made. (Although I think there are a good many SIM missionary parents out there who still feel that kind of pain.) We feel pain from things that were done to us. We did not and still do not “accept situations into which we were entrusted.” As children we were powerless to make a decision about where we were sent, and there was virtually no choice left to us at boarding school, as even attempts to communicate unhappiness back to our parents was censored and discouraged.
While SIM is celebrating those MKs who have achieved remarkable things and many victories, I wonder if they are also willing to embrace and celebrate the ones who are struggling with life, even into middle age and beyond. I am talking about those of us who suffer from depression and panic attacks, who are unable to form emotional bonds with others, who have shut out any relationship with God since they blame Him for their pain. Those who live every day with addictions they can’t shake, and those with terrible parenting skills who are passing on the pain to their own kids. What about the MKs who have spent years in prison, those who have taken their own lives or think about suicide as a way out, those who are homeless or have never been able to keep a job? These are the people who are rarely heard, never celebrated and most in need of healing.
Is SIM willing to acknowledge the MKs who are not examples of victorious and successful living? Those who aren’t contributing or resilient, who have no hope, who may no longer even believe in God? Is SIM, a company that specializes in communication, willing to try to communicate with these MKs?
“O waste of lost, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this weary, unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?
O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.”
― Thomas Wolfe,
Carol Polsgrove was born Carol Claxon in Kentucky, in the 1940s. When she was three years old her parents signed on with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board. They applied to go to Hawaii, but God had other plans and they were invited to Africa. Carol’s story begins as the only child aboard a Norwegian ship on the vast ocean, bound for the Gold Coast.
I should tell you right here that this is not a story about abuse, even though I am featuring the book on my blog about abuse. It is, however, a story about loss and grieving and sacrifice, things all of us MKs can relate to.
MKs often feel like fractured people, with many different lives somehow stitched roughly together. Very often the pieces can’t fit at all, the edges rub painfully, and one or more of them must be cast away completely. This way we lose a part of our life and a part of ourselves. This book shows a journey that begins to fit those parts back together to make a whole person.
Carol has a fantastic memory not just for events but for the underlying feelings and sensations she experienced as a child. This is supplemented by letters written by her parents to their families in Kentucky, and by her own letters written from boarding school. It wasn’t until after her mother’s death that Carol really began to explore these memories. Until then she had played the game so many of us missionary kids know, fitting into American society as best we can and not mentioning “that part” of our story.
The Claxon family started out living in the Gold Coast, a British colony that would become present day Ghana. From there they moved to Nigeria, and then frequently around that country, living in Iwo, Oyo, Ibadan and Lagos. Carol also went school in Oshogbo, and every three years they traveled back to spend time in the United States. It is the familiar story of a nomadic existence that doesn’t allow attachments or friendships to form.
You can feel the richness and beauty of Carol’s life as a young girl growing up in Africa. This was a country full of rocks to slide on, trees to hang from, fairy pools, bright flowers and foliage and tropical fruits ripe for the eating. Many of the hardships that bothered her parents, like dust, insects and snakes, were just considered a part of life, and the way things were. Many find this concept hard to grasp. I still get people today remarking on how strange and wonderful it must have been to grow up in Nigeria. Nope, not strange at all. It was normal life for me.
It took years of experience, an adult viewpoint, and a look at the correspondence of her parents for Carol to realize the veins of sadness and sometimes desperation underlying their lives. Each of her parents on separate occasions received letters from home telling them one of their own parents had died. The family suffered chronic pain with a lack of health and dental care. Superhuman demands were placed on them by a workload that seemed like enough to keep several families busy, and by their account was placing them at times under “terrible strain.” Trade offs had to be made in order to survive on a very limited amount of money in a world that kept getting more expensive. Her brother Billy fell ill at the early age of four months, and suffered with severe illnesses for the rest of his childhood.
I think many of our missionary parents suffered similar hardships of an overworked schedule, constant travel, lack of health care and the stress of adapting to a tropical lifestyle. It is a credit to them that many of us kids had no idea what they were going through. They managed to create a stable and worry free home life for their children, in spite of their own duress.
Carol spent two years at Newton, a Southern Baptist boarding school in Oshogbo. On the surface her time there seems full of activity and enrichment, packed with lessons, plays, music, boyfriends, sports, and an active social life. It took some digging into the memories to uncover the hidden feelings of confusion, over-stimulation and loss of control. I can relate so much to the whirlwind of going from a solitary life as the only child on a mission compound (my sisters were both older so I was left at home for two years) to a highly structured school with hundreds of classmates and lots and lots of rules.
If you are from a Southern Baptist mission, or are in any of the Nigerian MK groups on social media, you will recognize many of the names of Carol’s playmates and classmates.
One of the casualties of the lack of health care was that Carol was not properly treated for an eye condition called strabismus. Because her brain is unable to fuse two images coming in at different angles, she has no depth perception. As an adult she reflects that this is “an appropriate disability for a girl growing up on two continents.”
The majority of MKs will go on at length about how fortunate and blessed we all are, and how rich our experience as children. This is true, but it denies the other side of the story, which is that every missionary and every MK necessarily experienced great loss and sadness, and sometimes worse. It is a tough journey to fuse these parts together. I appreciate Carol so much for her truthfulness and transparency as she tells her story.
Today (Saturday May 14) I added some information to the post about the Pii investigation. I realize it was a long post to begin with, but if you scroll down the page you will find the new paragraphs are in italics and easy to spot. They are in the section titled “The Timeline of Abuse”.
Have you read the report? If you are a woman, if you have a daughter, if you are an MK who ever had to negotiate medical appointments alone or submit to the authority of other adults when your parents should have been there, this will hit you close to home.
While I was reading I felt fear, anger and heavy grief washing over me. Fear for the girl who begged her family not to make her go see Dr. Ketcham for an appointment. Grief for all the girls trapped and overpowered by this man in examining rooms and bedrooms over decades. A burning anger at the grownups that didn’t open their mouths, and protected an abuser. Anger at the men who humiliated the 13/14 year old victim by forcing her to travel to Bangladesh and confront her abuser, forcing her to sign a confession, and telling people she was a willing partner.
How much more must the victims themselves be feeling these emotions as they reread their stories? It is a necessary thing to tell these stories publicly, but I can imagine it reopens doors which these women have worked very hard to keep closed.
We don’t hear a word from the abuser at the center of the story, who refused to be interviewed by Pii and to my knowledge has been silent on the matter. Another silent group are the missionaries of ABWE. None will be a public advocate for these MKs. Are they still afraid of what the mission will do to them if they speak out? Can anyone possibly still believe that the ABWE leadership has the authority to tell people what is right and what is wrong?
I have commented in the past about the same thing with SIM missionaries. When the subject of abuse comes up in social media, MKs always have a lot to say, but the missionaries are quiet. Is this the group of people that is tasked with boldly going into the world to spread the good news in foreign countries? And you can’t even weigh in or give support to your own children in a grave matter of sexual, physical, spiritual abuse? All of you silent missionaries, are you sure that you are in the right profession?
Fellow MKs, now is the time when our sisters from ABWE can really use a kind and encouraging word. One way to start is by visiting and liking their Facebook page, and leaving a message or comment.
Sisters, I pray you will have a deep peace, and feel these wounds begin to heal. You have done your part to tell this story, and it is told. What happens next depends on ABWE. What they decide to do about this matter is no reflection on you and your worth. It is only a reflection on them and only they will now be held accountable.
Claim the promise in Joel 2: 25-26.
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten –
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm–
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.”
At long last Professional Investigators International (Pii), the organization hired to investigate abuse of Dr. Donn Ketcham on the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) mission field, has released their report. This detailed and thorough 280 page document has already been sent to survivors, and is now available online for the general public to view.
At the heart of this story is Dr. Donn Ketcham, a pedophile who used his medical position and his standing in the missionary community to sexually abuse young girls and missionary women in his care. Wrapped around this man are layers of other missionaries who protected him over the years with lies, deception, false blame and humiliation of victims, preferential treatment and covering up evidence.
Eighteen of Ketcham’s victims who had been abused as children and five who were abused as adults contributed to the report. Twenty three of the allegations they brought were affirmed, meaning there was at least a Preponderance of Evidence (or even better proof) that they had taken place. These were the victims who came forward and had corroboration, and does not include allegations that couldn’t be backed up. There were more victims who decided not to testify. Also the report mentions there is no investigation yet of Bangladeshi victims (there is alleged abuse), victims from other missions and organizations where Ketcham worked as a doctor, and victims from the United States where he taught Sunday school and carried on a medical practice until his license was revoked in 2012.
For anyone who still believes missionaries, especially missionary leaders, are more spiritual, more holy, less sinful than the rest of us, I urge you to read this saga about the cover up by the leadership, Board of Directors and legal council of ABWE. These people acted just as if they were running any other large corporation that was in danger of losing it’s funding and its reputation. In spite of their facade of righteousness, and “walking in Christian love and holiness” (according to their own Statement of Principle), they acted as a most unholy group of people. This was not just one or two at the top. The Pii report lists seventeen ABWE personnel who failed to follow the mission Principles and Practices.
Folks, just because a mission lays out some inspiring statement on their web site, and claims to have a Godly code of conduct, that doesn’t mean the missionaries, including the leadership, are actually following it.
The Timeline of Abuse
Ketcham and his wife “Kitty” were accepted as ABWE missionaries in 1961. His family already had a history with the ABWE. His father, Robert Ketcham, was a founder of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC), an organization which was the chief contributing funder of ABWE for decades. This gave Donn Ketcham a tremendous amount of prestige based entirely on his name. His status as a doctor put him on a pedestal in the missionary community, and according to testimony in the report he was charismatic, a gifted speaker, the ideal missionary, and “smooth as silk”.
Ketcham had two documented extramarital affairs with other missionary women, neither of which caused him to be dismissed from the mission. The first was in 1972. Fellow missionaries confronted him about his behaviour and notified their supervisors all the way up to the president of ABWE. Right after this Ketcham and his wife went home on furlough. While on furlough he was required to undergo a minimal amount of counseling, while at the same time participating in mission leadership conferences. At the end of the furlough he was able to return to the field. The woman involved in the affair was not allowed to return.
When Ketcham returned to Bangladesh in 1975 there was a spike in the number of incidences of inappropriate medical exams of young girls and women. I won’t go into the details of this but some pretty outrageous things were going on at the Malumghat Hospital.
This is even more outrageous because of the environment there. According to one of the victim/survivors, Dr. Ketcham did not have private offices where he could conceivably get away with these acts and not be seen. This took place in a small mission hospital with doctors, nurses and patients always around. The bottom line is many of his co-workers knew what he was doing and didn’t say anything. This included an American OB/GYN who worked there during the 1970s, saw that Ketcham was doing pelvic exams and breast exams on teenage girls, knew this was NOT appropriate medical practice, and said nothing about it. This man, Joseph DeCook, is especially culpable for his silence because his medical specialty gave him insight that Ketcham’s behaviour was very wrong.
In 1984 Ketcham began his second affair. When it was discovered, the woman was sent home from the field. Ketcham and his wife were removed from the hospital and sent up to a station called Chittagong, several hours away, as punishment. This didn’t last though, as he frequently made trips down to fill in at the hospital in Malumghat where he had worked before.
During the period of time he was living in Chittagong, Ketcham preyed upon and abused the young girls who were living on that station. ABWE effectively sent him off to a place where he had a fresh selection of victims. As one victim/survivor from Chittagong puts it, “His punishment sent him to Chittagong where he got his hands on me.” Shame, shame, shame on all the adults who withheld information and made the decisions that allowed this to happen.
During his next furlough ABWE again required Ketcham to go to counseling, but the counselor was not up to the task of managing this manipulative man. He only attended about half the sessions before he was pronounced “cleared for duty”. When he went back to Bangladesh he was reinstated as a doctor in the hospital at Malumghat.
Shortly after this return he began abusing the 13 year old daughter of a fellow missionary, and this continued for 6 or 7 months. After the girl returned to the States, at the age of 14, she reported this abuse to the pastor of her church, who contacted ABWE. What followed is an incredible story of mismanagement and humiliation of the victim by the leadership of ABWE.
The girl’s parents were still in Bangladesh, and she was apparently attending a Christian school in the States. Russell Lloyd and Russell Ebersole of ABWE met with the girl in Russ Ebersole’s home for several days.They interrogated her to determine if she was telling the truth, and pressured her to sign a confession statement. They claimed afterwards that the statement was hers, but for a number of reasons outlined in the report it appears to have been written by one of the adults there. Then the three of them boarded a plane to Bangladesh where she would be forced to confront Ketcham and, believe it or not, ask for his forgiveness for her part in the “affair”.
This was all done without the knowledge of her parents, in fact she was not allowed to spend time alone with them until she had “confessed” in front of a group including the abuser. The emotional pain a 14 year old girl would have suffered in this situation is enormous. Her parents were not told the true facts about the case, that this was not an “affair” but a rape, until years later.
This was finally enough reason to dismiss Ketcham and his wife “Kitty” from the mission. However no report was made to police or his licensing medical board about his wrongdoing. No effort was made to determine if any other MKs or Bangladeshis had been abused by this man. Fellow missionaries on the field were told in no uncertain terms that the matter was closed and THERE WAS TO BE NO MORE TALKING ABOUT IT. No assistance or counseling was given to the victim or to her family, who had just suffered such a traumatic experience.
Ketcham was required to tell his supporting churches that he had been terminated from ABWE, but it was agreed that he would say it was for “immorality”, and the impression was given that it was only an adulterous affair. This meant he was allowed access to a whole population of potential victims in churches and his medical practice after he returned to the states.
The victim in this story and many of Ketcham’s other victims tried for years to get ABWE to investigate and report these crimes. ABWE launched an internal investigation of the abuse, which dragged on for almost 10 years and produced no evidence of a cover up and no more consequences for Ketcham. Things did not really start moving until 2011 when the MKs published the blog called Bangladesh MKs Speak. (This site is now called “Child Abuse by Missionary Doctor”) Hooray for the voice of social media! The publicity of the blog prompted a wave of firings, including the president, members of the Board who were serving in 1989, Donald Davis the legal counsel, and Russell Ebersole.
A few months later, ABWE hired G.R.A.C.E., the same organization who investigated the Fanda school of New Tribes Mission. They ultimately fired G.R.A.C.E. just before they were due to release their report, and accusations went back and forth between the two organizations about what went wrong. I wrote about this in 2013 on this blog. ABWE then hired Pii, or Professional Investigators International. After a tumultuous struggle with individuals in ABWE who were withholding information, Pii was successful in publishing their report.
ABWE Corporate Counsel Robert Showers (of Showers and Simms) and his Liaison Nancy Anderson went out of their way to withhold documents, hide evidence and misdirect the investigators. It wasn’t until these individuals were removed and replaced with new Corporate Counsel, Bryan Cave LLP, that ABWE began to cooperate and provide thousands of pages of documents to the investigators which had previously been withheld. The report states that Bryan Cave LLP provided “most” of the missing documents that were requested. It is mentioned several times in the report that Pii still has never received certain pieces of evidence.
At the end of the report they list some root causes of why this horrific behaviour was allowed to continue in the ABWE culture for decades. Some of these are specific to the times, and others I believe are common to many missions and still prevalent today. Here are some attitudes and beliefs that are commonly held within mission communities and the churches that support them.
- an attitude where authority cannot be questioned
- ministry is the top priority at the expense of individual needs
- women are considered of lesser value and their status and opinions hold less weight
- a belief that missionaries are more “spiritual” than the average Christian
- a class system on the field based on importance of profession, in this case a doctor being given more esteem than others
- a culture of naiveté that abuse doesn’t happen in Christian circles
- a culture of repressed information, confidentiality and imposed silenced
- a conflict between the principles of a faith based entity and the proper business practice of running a corporation
- activities of the mission are more important than the needs of the children
“There existed a prevailing attitude toward children relative to the ministry and to adults. Ministry activities were more important than child needs. Children were not to interfere with or block the “ministry”. In fact, children were “sacrificed” so that the ministry would not be “discredited.” This, in part, led to blaming a child for what was, in truth, the responsibility of an adult. This also led to children not speaking up about what was happening to them. The children saw much that the adults missed.”
This last point is at the heart of the treatment of MKs who have suffered at boarding schools in missions around the world.
Where will ABWE go from here?
As comprehensive as this report is, it remains to be seen what ABWE will do with it. New Tribes Mission gets very poor marks for the followup to their investigation of the Fanda school which was completed by G.R.A.C.E. in 2010. Missionary kids from New Tribes are still struggling with the mission to investigate abuses at other schools besides Fanda.
What will be the consequences for the ABWE missionaries listed in the Persons of Interest summary of this report? There are allegations of abuse from other missionaries besides Ketcham. Will these be investigated? What kind of support and/or compensation will be given to the many victims and parents who suffered as a result of this ABWE missionary’s actions and the failure of leadership to remove him from the field?
How will ABWE fix their Child Safety Policy which was not considered adequate at the time of the investigation? How will they correct the underlying attitudes of their mission that have created an environment where this could happen in the first place? Running an investigation and bringing the problems to light is only the first step in what must be a process of complete cultural change.
Read the complete story for yourself.
I have only scratched the surface of the details in this report, which is now available as a pdf that can be downloaded. You will find the link at the below. However if you are a victim of sexual abuse yourself or have children who were abused you should be aware that this is a disturbing document and could be a trigger.
This video interview about reconciliation and forgiveness was posted on the “A Cry for Justice” web site. Here are some of the main points:
Forgiveness is between the victim and God. Reconciliation is between the victim and the abuser, and is not a requirement. It depends on four actions by the abuser:
- He/She must be convicted by God. (Not by the offender, or the police, but by God)
- He/She must have a Godly repentance.
- He/She must offer a true confession. The victim will know if the confession is true.
- He/She must ask for forgiveness. (By the way, the Director of a mission asking a blanket forgiveness for all offenders is not the same as an offender himself asking for forgiveness.)
True contrition for an offender equals “I have no rights.” It results in changed behaviour, and this is how the victim knows there has been a change.
The victim might be slow to believe a confession, if they have a long history of being harmed many times. This is part of the price the offender must pay.
God must be the one to convict an offender, and as we let God do this, we set boundaries, putting the offender out of our lives if necessary. If you are at an impasse with an offender, find your safe boundaries.
Christians are often under incredible pressure and guilt to reconcile with an offender. This is wrong. It is harmful to a victim to reconcile before the offender has met the four steps above, and note that the process begins with a true conviction by God.
This video is targeted more toward relationships, especially marriage, than sexual abuse against children. However, the nature of forgiveness and reconciliation is the same, and many who suffered abuse as a child have ongoing problems with abusive relationships throughout their lives.