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.
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.
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?
Some parts of this post were updated on May 27, 2015.
In February of this year Jordan Root, an SIM missionary to Asia, was terminated after he admitted to watching child pornography during his time on the mission field.
Mr. Root told SIM International representatives that he was sexually attracted to pre-pubescent female children and had been viewing nude photos of children on the internet during the time of his service with SIM. Since this is a serious breach of the SIM Child Safety and Abuse Response Policy, the representatives recommended that his service with SIM be terminated. You can read a letter by Jason Hazell, the SIM International Child Safety Coordinator, regarding the dismissal of Jordan Root.
Apparently SIM did not file any criminal charges. According to a letter from The Village Church to their covenant members on May 23, SIM notified the police to see if any laws had been broken. Possibly The Village Church also notified local police. Local police brought in the FBI, but their investigation resulted in no charges being filed. Federal law prohibits the production, distribution, reception, and possession of an image of child pornography. What about viewing it online? States have their own laws and interpretations. I guess they couldn’t find enough on Jordan Root’s computer to prove he had broken any laws.
Eric Ernst, the SIM Director of Personnel, wrote to the friends and supporters of Karen and Jordan Root, explaining the situation. Jordan Root claims he did not harm any children, but we all know that even the act of viewing child pornography is harmful to children. As Mr. Ernst points out, we can’t rely on Jordan Root’s own judgement as to whether or not he has harmed anyone.
Karen Root filed for an annulment of their marriage on the grounds that Jordan misrepresented himself and induced her to marry him by fraud. The annulment was granted by the State of Texas. When Karen informed the couple’s sending church, The Village Church at Dallas Northway, of the annulment and her intention to resign from her church membership, they urged her to reconsider so that both she and Jordan could remain “under their care.” They refused to accept her resignation and began disciplinary proceedings against her, still insisting she should be under their care, as you can read in a creepy letter by TVC Pastor Matt Younger.
Again according to The Village Church, SIM gave Karen a six month leave, but then required that she reconcile with TVC before she can return to the mission field. They state that Karen withdrew her request to return to the mission field rather than submit to the counsel of SIM and TVC. Can’t blame her, when I read the persistent texts she gets from a TVC pastor even after asking them to stop. It is nothing short of stalking. I don’t know what communications she has had with SIM.
Meanwhile Jordan Root seems to be still at large, living in Texas where he is a licensed professional counselor. The Village Church has rallied around him and declared that he is repentant, minimizing the events and even doing their best to keep them quiet.
Karen Hinkley (formerly Karen Root) is asking that anyone with any knowledge of child abuse by Jordan Root come forward. Mr Root worked with young children in numerous capacities over the years, and you can find a list of this history on the Watch Keep blog.
“What good is that God-sized vision of yours if you have to get to it on the backs of broken and silenced children?”
This question to mission organizations comes from Tamara Rice, an MK of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE). She is a gifted writer and self-proclaimed lover of words, and her blog, Hope Fully Known, is a joy to read, even though the subject matter is anything but joyful.
Among other things, Tamara writes about spiritual and sexual abuse and their legacy of depression, anxiety and grief. A recent post is directed towards all those church and mission organizations that are joining what seems to be the growing trend of child protection training. It sounds like such a good thing, doesn’t it? And yet when I hear that the Child Safety Advocate for SIM has been to such a training, why don’t I get a warm and fuzzy feeling that now SIM will start attending to all of their abused MKs? The reason is because child protection training is not about protecting the (many) MKs who have been abused in the past. It is about limiting the liability of the mission going forward. MKs from the past are still on their own.
“If your child protection policies aren’t protecting children past as well as present they aren’t protecting any children at all.”
Thank you, Tamara, for putting my feelings so eloquently into words.
By the time I had lived through elementary school I was emotionally disconnected from my parents. It was necessary, since I only got to see them four months out of the year, and had by then weathered many, many trials without their help. Those of you who were sent to boarding school at the age of six know what I am talking about. We still love and respect our parents, but the emotional dependence of normal kids was severed when we flew away on that plane in September. (Some kids went home to parents who were abusive, and that is a whole other conversation.)
One thing all of our missionary parents have in common is that they are dedicated, determined and disciplined. In fact they are formidable people, who left their homes and traveled to Africa at a time when travel wasn’t easy, often by themselves, to embark on a life that was dangerous and uncertain. I think we all grew up with a lot of respect for our parents, if not actual fear. They set a high mark for us to follow. These are larger-than-life people who did some miraculous things, but we lost the chance to have a close relationship with them when they sent us away at such a young age.
Fast forward to the present day, and many MKs are stuck in a dysfunctional parent-child relationship. We long for a bond that can never be put back together, and we are careful not to do anything to upset what is there. We don’t want to get our parents in hot water with SIM by talking about abuse, especially if they are a resident at an SIM Retirement Home. We certainly don’t want to go into that dark place of grief with our parents, because it is like a chasm that will swallow us both up. We know now about the pain of separation from our own children, we can guess at how our parents suffered when they sent us away, and nobody wants to relive those emotions.
Some MKs have only begun to speak out about abuse after their parents passed away. My own father passed away before I started gathering information for this blog. It seems their passing opens a door that compels us or allows us to grab onto childhood experiences. Some MKs whose parents are still alive will only speak anonymously about abuse, or flat out deny having any issues with boarding school. We MKs are a very independent bunch, so why do our parents still have so much influence on this conversation?
HOW CAN PARENTS HELP?
I recently had a chance to read An Open Letter to Missionary Parents, by Rachel Steffen. Rachel is an MK who went on to the mission field and so also has the perspective of a parent. Rachel and her husband served for 27 years on the mission field with New Tribes, where they raised four children. This is not easy reading for an MK, and I imagine it is not easy for parents to read either, but I believe what she says is necessary, important and true.
SIM Missionaries, many of you have children who were abused or abandoned. Do you even know what happened to your children while they were at boarding school? Do you dare to ask? Perhaps you can give your children permission to take the steps that lead to healing. You can be advocates for your children with SIM, and you can ask SIM to investigate abuse and provide care for their wounded MKs. You can let your children know you support them. Please read An Open Letter to Missionary Parents, written by another missionary parent to YOU.
If you are an MK who was abused on the mission field, how do your parents influence whether or not you speak out?
I first posted on this blog in January of 2011. Has there been any change since then in the way that SIM treats their adult MKs who have been abused?
My story actually begins a couple years earlier in 2009, when some SIM MKs began to speak out on Facebook about the abuse they had experienced on the mission field. The AMK Task Force that Larry Fehl had formed in 1998 had long since ceased activities, although they had not accomplished all of their goals and they knew there was much more to be done. (See the AMK Advisory Committee Case Study) Investigations of past abuse were being handled by Mr. Fehl, even though he was officially retired from SIM. The ministry to abused adult MKs had been put on a back burner, very far back. Meanwhile social media such as Facebook was giving MKs a new voice. MKs from New Tribes effectively used social media to start an investigation into abuse in the Fanda Boarding School, and the results were shocking.
In the fall of 2010 I contacted Dorothy Haile, the International Personnel Director at that time, and asked her some questions about SIM abuse policies. You can find the conversation on the pages of this blog under the SIM and Abuse tab. Although SIM was developing policies for MKs currently on the mission field, she said they had no policy for dealing with reports of past abuse by adult MKs. Ms. Haile opened an investigation for an abused MK.
A month or two later, still the fall of 2010, Dorothy Haile handed over her responsibilities as International Personnel Director at SIM to Marge Prince, the Child Safety Coordinator for SIM. The investigation opened by Ms. Haile continued under Marge Prince. It was seriously mismanaged until it ran into the ground in April of 2011, and to my knowledge SIM has never re-addressed that particular case of abuse.
In the spring of 2012 Malcolm McGregor, SIM International Director, wrote about the subject of abuse in Simroots and announced that the International Child Safety Coordinator was Liz Ebeling. I wrote to her and had several phone and email conversations. I wanted to get a contact for abused MKs, preferably with a name and face, and find out what they could expect if they reported past abuse. Liz Ebeling gave me an SIM email address but did not want her name or any personal information to be posted online. Malcolm McGregor had already put her name out there, but it is disappointing not to be able to share her background on the blog. She could not tell me of any written policies regarding past abuse, but said it would be dealt with on an individual basis.
In January of 2013 Mary Decker took on the role of SIM USA Child Safety Advocate. Here is the announcement on her blog. I asked her a question in the comment section back in January or February, inquiring whether she would be handling cases of abuse reported by adult MKs. She answered that she would be responsible for this, working along with Liz Ebeling. Later I left another comment asking what kind of outreach would be done for the SIM MKs who were still suffering the effects of abuse. I mentioned that I knew of specific cases ranging from the 1960s all the way through 1993.
Mrs. Decker gave the following reply: “Hey Liz,specific concerns could be addressed to email@example.com, our SIM international Child Safety Coordinator. From what I understand, many SIM’ers including leaders have sought to connect via SIMRoots and in various other ways. Each situation must be responded to on an individual basis, and my sense is that it’s best to work through these in person and not via media where so much misunderstanding is possible. Recognition and concern for people who have suffered in years past strengthens our desire to prevent further harm to children in days ahead.”
The reason you can’t see this comment thread today is because Mrs.Decker decided to delete the whole thing from her blog. She said the conversation might be very confusing for the family, friends, and supporters who follow her blog.
Indeed, it must be very confusing for supporters to hear about a history of abuse at SIM boarding schools when this topic is never mentioned or discussed publicly.
During the past two years SIM has been mostly silent on the whole subject, with the exception of Malcolm McGregor’s article in Simroots. He wrote a good deal about things SIM is doing to prevent current abuse, and then he said the following:
“In the 1990s, SIM leaders became aware of cases of abuse. We listened, investigated, and confirmed openly that these incidents had taken place. We moved quickly to offer care and recovery support for those who suffered abuse.”
Mr. McGregor is referring to the AMK Task Force that I talked about earlier. The reason the SIM leaders “became aware” is because an MK first of all marched into the SIM Headquarters and demanded that they pay attention to this issue, and then the entire outreach effort was headed up by MKs, at a minimal cost to the mission. As for Mr. McGregor’s claim that the incidents were “confirmed openly,” I would like to see where and how these abuse investigations and their results were made public.
It seems that not a whole lot has changed over the past two years other than a turnover of people at SIM. There is still no written policy on how to handle past abuse, but instead they say it needs to be handled on an individual basis. From what I saw of the investigation I followed, this translates into a trial and error approach which ends up being traumatic and damaging for the victim. It means a victim has no idea what to expect if they bring an abuse allegation to SIM. SIM does not even publicly post the contact information for the people who would handle a report of past abuse.
SIM USA just unveiled a brand new web site in February, and as I peruse it and follow the links I see no mention of any outreach or ministry for adult MKs, abused or otherwise. They do have a list of twenty five or so of their special projects that you can support with prayers or financial assistance. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an Abused MK Ministry right out there on that list of projects, with the wholehearted commitment of SIM to do whatever needs to be done to ease the pain of wounded MKs.
The AMK Task Force had its flaws. First of all the investigators of abuse (mostly MKs) were too closely linked with the perpetrators and with SIM. Secondly their “invitation only” approach excluded the seriously abused who were no longer connected with their families and classmates. However at least it was an effort by people who seemed to really care, which is preferable to the nothing that is happening now.
With all the ups and downs on this blog I have greatly appreciated those of you who sent me private notes letting me know you are still reading, telling me about your situation, and reminding me of the reason why I have the blog in the first place. Every time I start to wonder if it’s worth it or to get distracted by life, God sends me another reminder in the form of an email, letter or phone call from one of you.
Interaction International is an organization based in Wheaton, Illinois, with a mission to provide resources for and meet the various needs of third culture kids and their families. They publish a quarterly magazine called Among Worlds, geared towards encouraging and empowering adult third culture kids (ATCK). The September 2012 issue of Among Worlds was especially interesting to me and will be to readers of this blog, as the topic was abuse, mainly on the mission field.
Each of the twelve articles deals with some aspect of abuse, and many are written by names you will recognize such as Dr. Wess Stafford, Michèle Phoenix and William Paul Young (author of The Shack). Then there are two very familiar names of SIM MKs who have stepped forward to tell their stories in this magazine. Both of these women attended Bingham Academy in Ethiopia and suffered abuse at the hands of a sexual predator who worked at that school. Neither article specifically mentions SIM or Bingham Academy, for that matter the names of missions and schools are carefully omitted from all of these articles. But hey, I know these women. I am so grateful to them, and to all of the authors here, for having the courage to write their stories and publish them.
I have to admit it took me a while to read through this magazine. That is why I am writing about it 4 months later. I did leave it behind on a trip and had to wait a couple months to retrieve it again. But even while I had it with me it was not easy. Maybe it is because I always have my defenses up when I read about abuse. Will there be a bias towards the missions, justifying their actions because they were doing God’s work? Will I be told once again to forgive, and just to be grateful for having such a rich childhood? Will I read things that are going to trigger my own unhappy memories?
Instead I found these stories were written with soul baring honesty. Several of the authors acknowledged how vulnerable it made them feel to tell their story, and yet they still told it, without glossing over any of the pain, confusion, anger and other emotions that are a result of abuse. Even though specific organizations were not mentioned, none of these articles is anonymous. Each has a real name attached, and lists the countries where that person lived.
There are common threads that run through these stories. The lies of the abuser, especially spiritual manipulation, often telling the victim that he will be responsible for sending people to hell if he jeopardizes the ministry by saying anything about the abuse. The burying of the pain to allow the victim to function in life, even though it never quite stays buried. The lifting of a burden when the victim finally lets go of the secrecy and speaks their story to another person. The suffering that stays with the victim throughout life, even after the healing process is well under way.
An ATCK from Japan writes “Even in the midst of my confusion and anger at the suffering of my fellow MKs, it has been hard to admit the name ‘abuse’ for my own experiences. It’s tempting to minimize things.”
An ATCK from Papua New Guinea talks about how hard it is to make the move from hopelessness and devastation, a situation we have been mired in all of our lives, into freedom. She equates the “comfort zone” of pain and misery to an addiction that she has to always be careful not to fall back to.
Another woman who lived in Indonesia and Malaysia, and was an editor of Among Worlds for many years, talks about how vulnerable it makes her feel to write her story, and wonders even as she is typing out the words whether she has made the right choice. She writes “We may talk in strong language against it, but how many of us are willing to openly admit we have been the actual subject of it? Why is there such shame associated with the admission of having been abused?”
An SIM MK talks about two types of abuse. Active abuse is an attack against a person that deliberately crossed the healthy boundaries of the individual. Then there is passive abuse, which is simply withholding or controlling the basic needs such as love, food, water, clothing and care for the purpose of dominating the will of another person. My own personal note is that passive abuse was a common tactic used at the boarding school I attended, Kent Academy. This type of abuse resides in a sort of grey area where there are no physical or outward signs and it could all be chalked up to discipline. Thank you for letting us put a name on it and call it what it is.
The last article in the magazine is by Becky Leverington, a licensed professional counselor who has served with Wycliffe/SIL since 1994, is currently their Child Safety Director and serves as the steering committee chair for the Child Safety and Protection Network (CSPN). I have reservations about CSPN which I have written about in other places on this blog, but Ms. Leverington’s article had some good points. She is a TCA, or third culture adult, meaning she has lived in different cultures as an adult but does not have the experience of growing up between countries.
She says denial is the number one agent of abuse, and mission organizations are more vulnerable to denial because staff members tend to trust one another (more than they should) because of their common faith. Parents also trust school staff and don’t safeguard their children as well as they would in a non-mission setting.
CSPN has been compiling statistics on abuse, and she talks a bit about their preliminary findings. One is that there is a substantial number of cases of sexual abuse between children. MKs who have been victimized sometimes repeat the behaviour with other children. This will not come as news to a whole generation of boys who attended Kent Academy while they were in junior high.
Ms. Leverington talks about adult MKs who are coming forward years later to report abuse. She says they most need the following, which I am paraphrasing in less detail than her actual words.
- To be taken seriously.
- To be listened to compassionately and in person as they share their account.
- For their accusations to prompt a thorough, unbiased investigative response process by trained response team members, including at least one team member from an outside organization to ensure an unbiased response. (Personal note: I don’t think one is enough. No one on the team should be involved with the mission.)
- To learn that due diligence was done to determine if there were other victims.
- To have the outcome of the process shared with them.
- To learn that appropriate agency discipline and reporting to civil authorities has occurred.
- To hear a genuine apology by an organization representative.
- To know preventative measures have been put in place for the future.
- To be provided assistance for counseling.
Just for the record, it’s been my experience that SIM has not met the majority of these needs for their adult MKs.
If you are a victim of abuse on the mission field, or know a victim, or want a deeper understanding of what it means to be a victim, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of this magazine.
If you want to read the magazine but don’t feel inclined to order it online, or are short on funds, please write to me using the contact link on this blog.
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.
The latest issue of Simroots arrived in my email box this morning. I was pleasantly surprised to see an article titled SIM and Child Safety by Malcolm L. McGregor, SIM International Director. I have been involved in many a discussion about abuse at SIM schools, I have even written to Mr. McGregor personally (got no response), and this is the first time I’ve seen any of the SIM administration weigh in on the topic “on the record.”
Mr. McGregor is writing in response to “concerns from some SIM Adult MKs about how SIM responds to child safety issues both past and present.” He also mentions that they have received reports from SIM missionaries of SIM being “uncaring, unresponsive and/or indifferent to the reports of child safety.” These impressions came from social media, Facebook of course, and web blogs.
The article starts out explaining how SIM has protocols in place to prevent child abuse today. The new full time International Child Safety Coordinator is Liz Ebeling. It is not clear whether she will also be handling reports of abuse that happened in the past, or coordinating any sort of care for past abuse victims.
Mr. McGregor issues a public statement concerning SIM’s stand on Child Safety. In that statement he mentions that SIM became aware of some cases of abuse in the 1990s. He says “We listened, investigated, and confirmed openly that these incidents had taken place. We moved quickly to offer care and recovery support for those who suffered abuse.” He also states “we have committed significant resources of personnel and finances to the education and care of missionary kids (MKs) for many years.”
These two statements do not ring true with me, based on what I have learned in the past several years. I do know the AMK Task Force uncovered a few cases of severe abuse, but I don’t believe they were openly confirmed. When and where were they openly confirmed? Who were the perpetrators, and what were their consequences? Were any other MKs who were under the care of these people notified that this abuse had occurred? Many perpetrators have multiple victims. Was any effort made to contact others who may have been hurt?
What significant resources has SIM committed to help abused adult MKs? Where is the dedicated staff for this ministry? Where is the outreach? The AMK Task Force was run largely by MK volunteers, who donated their time and a good deal of other resources to help their fellow MKs. Then they somehow got the impression they had helped everyone who needed help. Or, perhaps what little funds they were working with dried up. Or, perhaps SIM decided it was best not to dig any deeper into issues that could turn into a huge liability for them. I think that all three of these reasons could have contributed to the disbanding of the Task Force over 10 years ago. An unmet need still exists.
The article concludes with this statement: “We deeply regret and, indeed, grieve any occurrence of abuse, and we stand ready to respond if we learn of any current abuse or anyone else from the past for whom we could help bring a measure of justice and healing. We also protect the right of confidentiality for those who have made reports.”
Is SIM also protecting the confidentiality of the perpetrators? Are they imposing confidentiality on investigations to protect their reputation? How does SIM plan to help to bring justice and healing to abused adult MKs? I look forward to hearing more details about their plans.
This article by Mr. McGregor gives me hope that SIM is paying some attention now to the issue. I wonder what the response will be in the next Simroots and in the more immediate forum of the social media.
Read the latest issue of Simroots. The article by Mr. McGregor is in Open Dialogue on page 3.