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.
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.
A year after firing GRACE, the abuse investigation at the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism drags on at a snails pace. What is happening behind the scenes of this slow and silent process?
The perpetrator in this case is Dr. Donn Ketcham, who sexually abused MKs in Bangladesh. You can read on a survivor’s blog about the shocking way ABWE handled the case on the mission field. It took decades for the victims to get ABWE to address this case, and finally after a lot of exposure in social media, the mission hired GRACE to investigate the matter. This was back in May of 2011.
Almost two years went by, interviews were conducted, and GRACE was only weeks away from writing a final report, when suddenly ABWE pulled the plug and fired GRACE, essentially wiping out the entire investigation.
This was a devastating turn of events for the survivors who had come forward to tell their stories (not an easy process) and felt like their ordeal was finally coming to an end. The mission laid out their reasons for the termination, and GRACE responded. You can read the details on this blog and at the Bangladesh MKs blog at the link above. ABWE then announced they would hire Professional Investigators International (Pii) to redo the investigation. It was back to square one, but this time with an organization that the survivors did not trust, and with none of the assurances in place for how the final report would be handled.
Almost a year went by with no contact between Pii and the abused MKs. Finally they began to contact some victims to set up interviews. However when an MK asked Pii some questions beforehand, including basic things such as who would be present during the interview, Pii refused to give that information. (This intimidation tactic was also used recently by SIM when they were getting ready to interview an abused MK.)
The result of the ABWE victims being uncomfortable with the process is that they don’t show up for the interviews, they lose their voice and the investigators are missing that vital information about the case.
In the meantime, a strangely similar situation arose with Bob Jones University. They hired GRACE to investigate how the University was handling reports of abuse. In January, a few weeks before the report was due to be released, they fired GRACE. This time the news was picked up by major media outlets like Washington Post and NBC. You can find links to some of the stories at the BJU News blog. It was only a few short weeks before BJU met with GRACE and agreed to renew the investigation under the terms of the original contract.
Since nothing was changed in the contract between BJU and GRACE we can assume that it was the public outcry that caused them to change their minds and rehire GRACE. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the same had occurred for the Bangladesh MKs? Missions like ABWE, New Tribes and SIM should not be allowed to ignore and cover up abuse reports and drag out investigations for years. They should be held accountable by the laws and by public opinion.
A New Tribes Missionary was arrested at the Orlando International Airport last Friday as he was flying in from Brazil, where he had been living for several years. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations has been investigating him for posting child pornography online. Warren Scott Kennell denied the charges at first, but later admitted to molesting four children in Brazil and photographing the incidents. It is not clear whether the children who were molested are connected with New Tribes. Here is the story from Orlando Sentinel.
New Tribes has already been linked with sexual abuse many times in the last few years. The investigation by G.R.A.C.E which ended in 2010 uncovered numerous cases of sexual, physical and emotional abuse by at least 12 different adults at the Fanda boarding school. Since then at least three victims have brought sex abuse lawsuits against New Tribes Mission. There is an ongoing investigation into other boarding schools where MKs have reported abuse. Apparently after all that they are still unable to stamp out the perpetrators from among their ranks.
Here is a statement by a New Tribes spokesperson published in the Sun Sentinel yesterday: “Our mission organization is one of the largest in the USA, if not the world. We work diligently to screen all applicants and have stringent child protection policies in place. We are grateful to the authorities for their actions and pledge our 100% cooperation. We defer to law enforcement for any future comments.”
New Tribes has put Kennell on administrative leave while they sort this out and “try to confirm whether there is a connection between New Tribes Mission and Kennell’s actions.” I don’t know, do YOU think there is any connection between a sexual abuser and the mission that he works for?
Kennel, who is forty five years old, is a New Tribes MK himself. He was born in Brazil where his parents served for decades. Here is Kennell’s blog, last updated May 6 of this year. I would be willing to bet he grew up a victim, as did many other MKs out there from many missions, including SIM. Obviously the “stringent policies” didn’t help to find this abuser. Would an MK get a lighter screening than a brand new missionary, or be treated differently than someone who did not grow up with the mission?
Here is what can happen when missions ignore the abuse that went on in the past and even welcome abused MKs back on board to become missionaries themselves.
Did you ever find yourself close to winning a game of checkers or chess, when your opponent shakes the board, moves all the pieces and declares that nobody won and you will have to start over? That is essentially what the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) has done with their abuse investigation. Maybe it is not great to compare it to playing a game, and winning or losing. It is certainly not a game to the victims of abuse who were looking for some justice. However ABWE seems to have a much lighter view of the investigation, which they have tossed out and restarted with barely even any notification to the people involved.
If you want to refresh your memory or are just finding out about this case, I wrote about it back in April of 2011. You can also read the official blog of the Bangladesh MKs, Abuse By ABWE Mission Doctor in Bangladesh. In May of 2011 ABWE hired Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E.) to investigate sexual abuse on their mission field. After almost two years, when the final report was just a few short weeks away, ABWE now shakes the board and topples the pieces, terminating the contract with G.R.A.C.E.
In their news release ABWE states that the process was “fatally flawed” and paints G.R.A.C.E. as incompetent and inexperienced. The truth is that G.R.A.C.E. is made up of former child abuse prosecutors (and others) who have seen hundreds of court room cases, testified as expert witnesses in court and before Congress, developed courses for law schools and even taught thousands of classes on, believe it or not, best investigative practices. ABWE must have hired them in the first place based on this expertise, and it is really surprising that they are now claiming G.R.A.C.E. did not know what they were doing.
ABWE gives eight reasons why they terminated the investigation. They list them out very concisely and give little or no explanation or evidence for their complaints, aside from anonymous quotes by interviewees. On February 11 G.R.A.C.E. published a lengthy response. They go over the objections of ABWE point by point and defend their procedures in great detail. If you read the news release by ABWE, I strongly encourage you to also read through the response by G.R.A.C.E. before you form an opinion about this investigation.
For the record, G.R.A.C.E. states that ABWE had already breached the contract of their investigation by refusing to release documents and provide access to witnesses. They say that they had grounds to break off the contract themselves, but did not do so because of the pain this would have caused the victims. ABWE, on the other hand, makes it clear by their actions that they are not concerned about the feelings of the victims, despite their claims otherwise.
The longer an investigation drags on, the more it gets terminated and postponed and restarted, the more likely that it will just fade away. The evidence that is here today might not be available tomorrow. The victims might get exhausted and discouraged, the perpetrators might die, and the statute of limitations recedes into the distance. It has been over 30 years that missionary kids have been living with the effects of sexual abuse by certain ABWE missionaries, ABWE has known about the abuse since 1989, and MKs have been actively seeking justice in this case for the past 10 years. This mission has masterfully delayed any accountability on their part, and it seems they are once more kicking it down the road.
They have hired a new firm, Professional Investigators International (Pii), to “complete” the investigation, which must essentially mean gathering all the material again since they didn’t like the way it was done in the first place. I assume this will mean all the victims must undergo the difficult interview process again.
My heart goes out to all the ABWE MKs who were victims of abuse, who are once more being mistreated and denied justice by this mission.
Attorney Jeff Herman announced on September 28 that a third lawsuit has been filed by a New Tribes Mission MK, known in the case as Jane Doe 25. Jane was allegedly abused between the ages of six and eight by her dorm Dad and Bible study teacher, David Brooks.
In the GRACE investigation of New Tribes Mission which was completed in August of 2010, David Brooks was the most extensively reported perpetrator of child sexual abuse against MKs attending the Fanda boarding school. The actual Complaint document filed by Jane Doe 25 has been posted on the Fanda Eagles MK Forum under the thread Lawsuits filed against NTM.
This is the third lawsuit filed against New Tribes for cases involving sexual abuse. The first was filed on May 9, 2011 by an MK who attended a New Tribes Mission boarding school in the Philippines. I wrote about the lawsuit in May, 2011. The perpetrator in that case was Les Emory, who admitted to molesting 30 or so children while he was a missionary in the Philippines, but was last seen living in Chesapeake, Virginia with no apparent consequences for his actions. This lawsuit has since been settled out of court according to a press release on the New Tribes Mission web site.
The second lawsuit was filed back in July of 2011 by an MK who attended Fanda boarding school, the institution that was the subject of the GRACE investigation. Here is my post telling about that lawsuit. The ongoing case is also being followed in that same thread on the Fanda Eagle MK Forum that I linked above. New Tribes has made numerous motions to dismiss, and the last word I have heard is that Jane Doe has a deposition scheduled for the end of October, which is over a year after filing the original complaint. If you are interested in following the detailed record of the case at the Seminole County Courts you can find it here.
I wonder how much money New Tribes has sunk into these court cases in the interests of hushing up the victims? If I were a New Tribes Mission supporter, I would seriously have to ask how much of my funds is being put towards this legal effort. How many more MKs are waiting in the wings to file a suit? Time will tell what effect their policy of denial will eventually have on New Tribes Mission, and what is in store for other missions who are refusing to acknowledge abuse that occurred in their schools in the past.
On November 10, 2011 I wrote about the unfolding Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State. Since then Sandusky was convicted of 45 criminal counts that he sexually abused 10 boys during a 15 year period. The Penn State Board of Trustees had commissioned a report by a Special Investigative Counsel headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Their mission was to investigate the alleged failure of Penn State officials to respond to and report sexual abuse of children that happened at the University, and the circumstances that could allow this abuse to happen in the first place. The report was just released July 12.
If you want a detailed picture of Sandusky’s actions and how they were handled and covered up by University officials, you can read the report here. It has been a big news topic the last few days and many blogs, newspapers and news shows have weighed in with their opinions.This story is close to home for me since I am a Penn State Alumni, and I find several parallels between the culture at Penn State and SIM (Serving in Missions).
The Penn State Football Program had a privileged and holy status.
Penn State football brings an enormous amount of money into the University. I have read that the profit from football in 2009-2010 was $50 million. There is additional revenue to businesses in State College as fans pour in from all over the northeast to fill up Beaver Stadium. There is also the sense of pride and community that football brings to the students and the town, especially in a winning season. But I suspect mostly with the University it is about the money.
Because it is so beneficial to the University, Penn State football has become a sacred institution that enjoys a holy status, with the coaches presiding over it all. On page 106 the report discusses how Sandusky was able to bring his youth football programs to branch campuses without a written contract, because Sandusky was treated as a celebrity and some University employees admired him “like a god.”
On page 17 the report notes that there was a culture of reverence for the football program ingrained at all levels of the campus community.
When a janitor witnessed Sandusky and a boy in the shower stall in what looked like sexual behaviour in the fall of 2000, he decided along with other janitors that if they reported the incident the University would dismiss them all. The janitor told the Investigative Committee that reporting the incident would have been like going against the President of the United States, and the University would have closed ranks to protect the football program at all costs.
The University Athletic Department was permitted to become a closed community with strong internal loyalty and little influence by outside groups. For example there was little personnel turnover and not much hiring from outside the University.The football program was allowed to opt out of the University’s Clery Act (a federal law requiring all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to disclose information about crime on campus), and sexual abuse awareness trainings.
Page 129 of the report talks about Penn State culture. It states that there is an over-emphasis on “The Penn State Way” as an approach to decision making, a resistance to seeking outside perspectives, and an excessive focus on athletics that can, if not recognized, negatively impact the University’s reputations as a progressive institution.
Even the University Police Department was not able to act independently as it had to report on its progress to a senior administrator, and in the case of Sandusky the senior administrators stopped the police investigation from moving forward as it should.
Here is the story of Vicky Triponey, a former Penn State employee who clashed with Paterno and other Penn State officials over the discipline of the football players, sometimes after violent offenses. She eventually was forced to leave her job amid harassment by the Penn State community. She describes the culture as clubby, jock-strapping, a sense of entitlement, a cloistered existence.
Missionaries often put up a facade of holiness and enjoy the privilege of their closed mission community.
Now consider the mission community, and the perception of missionaries as people who can do no wrong. Many people outside the mission organization would require a complete paradigm shift to imagine that a missionary would be a child molester or abuser, or would purposefully cover up the crimes of another missionary. Yet those of us who grew up on the mission field know that missionaries are very human indeed with all of the frailties and shortcomings of other people. We know that there have been child molesters on the staff of many missions, and we know first hand that there were/are abusive staff members taking care of children at mission boarding schools, including SIM schools.These people were/are never turned over to law enforcement, but just transferred to other duties or sent home. Missionaries are allowed to get away with things that “normal” people would be prosecuted for.
Why do missions protect their workers and shield them from the law when they commit crimes? I believe it is for the same reasons that the Penn State officials covered up Sandusky’s crimes. They do not want to sully their reputation, because that would mean a loss of money.
Missionaries on the field have gone to great lengths to cultivate their image as sinless, blameless, one step above the people they are there to serve.This was evident at Kent Academy when MKs were warned not to talk about abuse occurring in the boys dorm, because it would ruin the mission’s reputation if Nigerians found out about it.
Some missionaries and MKs will vehemently deny any suggestions that they might be weak or sinful. Just look at the Spring of 2012 issue of Simroots, and the aggressive responses to Michele Phoenix’s article The Lies MKs Believe.The two MKs who responded were very quick to distance themselves from any hint that missionaries might be behaving badly, and to say that Ms Phoenix’s experiences are unique to her and to leave the rest of us MK’s out of it!
SIM’s first response to a recent case was to investigate it using their own people. They do not want any information leaking out to the general public. When they do go for an independent investigation, it is not completely independent because they are still using the resources of other missions who are sympathetic to their cause, and they still set up their terms up front on how everything is going to be handled, particularly agreements of confidentiality by the victim.
There is a lack of concern for the victims of abuse.
The Freeh Report notes a striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims by the most senior leaders of the University. Again and again as they dealt with reports of abuse by Sandusky, these top officials covered their tracks and shut off the flow of information. They even discussed how to treat Sandusky humanely. Never did they ask about the welfare of the victims.
I have noticed a similar lack of empathy at the top levels of SIM for adult victims of abuse on the mission field. Only one person, Larry Fehl, has publicly expressed apology or remorse on behalf of SIM, and I have read that his statement had to get the approval of the Board prior to release. I have never heard an apology or remorse from anyone who actually committed the abuse. There is reason to believe they have even advised an abuser not to have any contact with the victim.
Since Larry Fehl left a position where he could do something about it, there has not been a single program or outreach to abused MKs. Rather there is a calculated silence and failure to respond even when they are confronted point blank with allegations of abuse. I have seen them close ranks around an accused abuser, while ignoring the victim, just the way the officials at Penn State behaved.
The good that an organization does will not outweigh the abuse committed by its members.
The Penn State community is discovering that even though the football program and Joe Paterno had a positive impact on many lives for many years, it does not justify the pain and hurt that happened to these 10 boys, and possibly other victims we don’t know about. This is a lesson that missions, including SIM, are slow to learn. .
This article by Richard B. Gartner discusses the reasons that male victims of sexual abuse wait decades to come forward, and how this affects their lives.
I am not involved personally with mission schools today. I don’t have children attending a mission school and I myself haven’t attended one for over 30 years. So when the Director of SIM talks about guidelines that are in place to protect children on the mission field today, I have to believe that the children are protected, right? Except that at the same time I receive messages from missionaries who do have children in boarding schools, and are telling me a different story.
A number of people contact me privately with comments about things I write on this blog. They don’t feel safe talking openly because they fear repercussions to themselves or their children. The fact is that some missionary parents whose children attend mission schools are afraid to speak out about things that are going on.
For example in one particular school the “advocate” designated to hear complaints of abuse or mistreatment from children is a member of the mission Board. How is that person going to be an impartial advocate who is truly on the side of the child, and not also looking out for the interests of the organization? This is a school attended by some SIM students, who are boarders. Even though SIM is not running the school, do they have a responsibility to make sure that conditions at that school are safe for their MKs?
Then there is the case of New Tribes Mission. As recently as the 1990s there was widespread and horrific sexual abuse at Fanda, one of their boarding schools.They are currently investigating some of their other schools due to many reports by MKs, and this was only after much dragging of their feet and pressure from MKs to start the investigation. MKs actually had to submit a petition to New Tribes to get them to investigate these schools. New Tribes currently has at least two lawsuits ongoing against them for abuse. And they are a member of the Child Safety and Protection Network which Mr. McGregor speaks of so highly.
Just because a mission joins up with CS&PN and puts out a child safety policy, that does not automatically mean they have the protection of the children at heart. Sometimes it is more the protection of the mission organization that drives their actions.