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and victims from the United States where he taught Sunday school and carried on a medical practice until his license was revoked in 2012.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.
Here is a link to the pdf of the full report which is made available by Pii.
You can also download the pdf at the Bangladesh MK blog site.