SIM Missionary Terminated for Child Pornography in February 2015

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.

 

 

 

 

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Reading the “Abuse” Issue of Among Worlds Magazine

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.

You can order a back copy of the September 2012 Abuse issue of Among Worlds for $6.00.

How Safe are Missionary Boarding Schools Today?

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.

SIM Talks about Child Safety and Abuse in Latest Issue of Simroots

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 beinguncaring, 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.

Abused MKs and the Question of Compensation

I hear more and more that people believe abused MKs are only out for the money. Nussbaum and Sidebotham made it a premise of the article they published back in June of 2011.  This article with its rather twisted logic claimed that Protestant Ministries have become a new market for MKs who are all out to get a large sum of money as compensation for their abuse.  Nussbaum has a great deal of influence in the missionary community, since he is legal counsel for the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), and also for Christian and Missionary Alliance and no doubt for other missions.  On top of that ACSI is a member of the Child Safety and Protection Network (CSPN), which bills itself as a collaborative network of mission agencies, faith based NGOs and international Christian schools intentionally and strategically addressing the issues of child protection.  Many, probably most, of the missions we discuss on this blog, including SIM, are members of CSPN, attending their conferences and working with them in some capacity.  We all know missions today have a heavy reliance on lawyers, and are greatly concerned about their liability.  When misinformation like that in the Nussbaum article is being passed on to missions is it any wonder that they become hostile and defensive when an MK comes forward with allegations of abuse?

Now, several MKs have spoken out and disagreed with the assertion that we are all out to get large amounts of money.  I think it is true that most MKs are not interested in compensation, but rather in having their experiences acknowledged and validated, and having the perpetrators dismissed from the mission.  But is any of this really even what we should be discussing? My feeling is that it is just a tactic to throw blame back onto the MK, to make it seem like they are the “bad guys” for wanting compensation.  When we all start debating why MKs are opening investigations, we lose sight of the real issue, which is the abuse that happened in the first place.

So what if an MK wants monetary compensation for abuse they suffered in the past? I know MKs who have spent thousands on counseling and medical fees out of their own pockets, who have been unable to earn a steady income because of the effects of abuse, and who missed their chance at education and proper training because they had NO support when they were young adults fresh home from the mission field.  If someone added up all the costs associated with abuse that occurred to SIM MKs, it would be pretty staggering.  And yet the fact that they would ask for compensation is such a bad thing that lawyers are writing up papers about it!  Shouldn’t they be focusing instead on the fact that many perpetrators are still on the mission payrolls, and still out there in the community working with children and putting them in harm’s way?

Whether the goal of an abused MK is to get an apology or to get compensation does not matter. The fact is that they are the victim, they are not the one who has done something wrong.

Lets take the blame off the abused MKs and put it right back where it belongs, on the shoulders of the missionaries who caused so much trauma and heartache for children under their care, and the missions who are refusing to do anything about it.

Talk From the Heart with Rich Buhler interviews a Mamou MK

Beverly Shellrude Thompson, a Mamou MK and one of the founders of MKSafetyNet web site, spoke with Rich Buhler today on the Talk From the Heart radio show, on KBRT AM-740 in Los Angeles.  It was such a blessing to be able to listen to her talking about her experiences and how other MKs are struggling with issues of abuse.  Here are some of the highlights, for me, from the conversation.

Beverly shared that she was in her 30s before she allowed herself to begin processing the abuse she experienced at Mamou Alliance Academy.   Before that she had very few memories of the 10 years which were spent in a mission boarding school.  The response from Rich Buhler was “Oh, you started processing it early!”  That is very true.  Many of us were in our 40s and 50s before we admitted that the whole boarding school experience was not a bed of roses.

Beverly told about how she began, as an adult, to talk to her parents about her experience and work out her issues of abandonment.  Many of us MKs not only have to work through our own pain, but that of our parents, especially as we empathize with them now that we have kids of our own.  The excruciating part of the pain is the finality of it.  It is very difficult to come to terms with the fact that we can’t go back and rewrite the past.

Many people become missionaries in the first place to escape pain in their own lives. Beverly knew of missionaries who had come from abusive or dysfunctional families themselves.  My own father joined the mission field soon after the death of his first wife, which must have been a very painful time.  This is not to diminish God’s calling, but people who have recently experienced a loss, or are unhappy with their lives, are more open to the idea of leaving it all to start a brand new life.  Yet they are entering into that life in a dysfunctional state, which is only going to affect their children or the children who are put under their care.

Beverly talked about several areas of child abuse on the mission field that are not being addressed:  abuse of children by nationals of the country where they are living, abuse of children by their own parents, and a common one, abuse of children by other MKs.  Many children who are molested will turn around and molest other children, and this was a common occurrence at SIM and other boarding schools.

Beverly had a message for missions.  Many MKs consider their mission to be family, and you don’t think of litigating against family when you have an issue with them. However if the family doesn’t respond when you try to tell them about a problem, litigation becomes the only way that you can get their attention.  Missions think they are protecting themselves by keeping these things a secret and not acknowledging abuse, but they are doing just the opposite.  Litigation will become a reality if it is the only avenue we have as MKs to have our voices heard.

Beverly had something special to say about SIM MKs.  She said that even though we haven’t had success yet, she knows that we will, because we are coalescing as a group, and eventually we are going to knock down the walls!  I love it!  Remember, my friends, you are not alone.

Thanks, Beverly, for speaking out for MKs.  Visit Missionary Kids Safety Net web site.  I am still trying to get a link from that interview, and will post it here if I do.

Missionary Kids Speak Out in CBN News Interview

Three MKs who were abused on the mission field spoke out in an interview which was aired today on CBN News.  You can watch the interview on their web site.  Kari Mikitson is a New Tribes Mission MK who was sexually abused at a boarding school in Senegal.  Wes Stafford attended Mamou Alliance Academy, the school featured in the documentary All God’s Children.  Susannah Baker is an ABWE MK who was abused in the 60s and 70s while she was living with her family on a missionary compound in Bangladesh, by an ABWE missionary doctor.  Boz Tchvidjian, who heads up the GRACE organization which conducts abuse investigations, also appears in this interview.

I applaud all of these people for speaking out about their experiences, and helping to bring to light these things which mission organizations have been trying to keep secret.

I just want to say that even though the lead-in announcer says “those reports are now being investigated,” that is not completely true.  All the reports of abuse are not being investigated.  For example, I am not aware of any investigations going on at SIM right now, but I know of many reports of abuse that occurred at SIM boarding schools.

In fact, it saddens me that SIM is not included in the stories of abuse investigations, and not included in the list of resources that are offered at the bottom of the story on the CBN web site.  I think this is because there is no “official documentaton” of abuse at SIM schools, because whatever investigations have been conducted are being successfully kept confidential.

Way to go, SIM!  You have managed to keep yourself off the radar for this particular news story.

Because SIM was not mentioned in this story, should we assume there was no abuse at SIM boarding schools?  No, because I personally know of many MKs who were abused at SIM boarding schools.  I know of investigations that were started and then thrown on the findings inconclusive pile because the victim could not jump through all the impossible hoops that were presented.  I know SIM asks for a confidentiality agreement so that no one knows about the perpetrator, the abuse, the consequences, or that an investigation even took place.

The secrecy and refusal of SIM to acknowledge what went on in their schools is creating life long consequences for the victims, and also allowing the perpetrators to continue on with no accountability for what they have done, possibly racking up more and more victims over the years.

Shining a Light

Christian and Missionary Alliance dragged their feet for years before they were pressured into acknowledging and investigating abuse at Mamou Alliance Academy.  Then they gave it a half hearted attempt, as you can read in the previous post.  Today, there are still many missions that will not even agree to investigate abuse.  At the time the documentary All God’s Children was filmed the MK Safety Net organization had reports of abuse occurring at boarding schools of 21 different Christian denominations or mission organizations.  Only two, PC USA and the United Methodist Church, had launched investigations at that time.  Since then you can add New Tribes Mission and ABWE to that list.  However both NTM and ABWE only launched investigations after intense public pressure in the form of internet exposure, newspaper articles and pleas from churches and supporters.

Most missions, including SIM, do not want the abuse that happened in their boarding schools to come to light.  SIM, for example, already knows of specific cases of abuse that happened in their schools.  Who are the perpetrators, and what actions, if any, have been taken against these people? This information is sealed up in confidential files.   There is no need to dismiss or even discipline a perpetrator if no one is going to find out about it anyway.

Victims who have spoken out in the past few years have been first ignored, and then given so many painful hoops to jump through in order to move their case forward that it is destined for the file of “unresolved cases.”  The vast majority of abused MKs do not speak out, because the mission, other missionaries, and even other MKs discourage it.  SIM has NO outreach for this group.  The only contact available is Marge Prince, who as far as I can tell is not trained or capable of dealing with trauma victims and sexually abused adults.  She has passed several inquiries by both MKs and missionaries off to Larry Fehl, claiming he is in charge of this department. Mr. Fehl is actually retired from SIM and has virtually no resources at his disposal now.  This is how much SIM cares about their MKs.

Matthew 5 says  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”  SIM is not a well-lit house. They have many rooms that are dark and kept locked and hidden.  How can they be shining the light of the Gospel to the rest of the world, when they refuse to turn on the lights in their own house?

It has taken publicity and lawsuits for other missions to finally acknowledge the abuse that occurred to children on their watch.  What will it take for SIM?

New Tribes Mission Lawsuit

The Orlando Sentinel reported on Monday, May 9 that a sex abuse lawsuit has been filed against New Tribes Mission.  The former MK filing the suit says she was abused from the age of 8, at a New Tribes Mission boarding school in the Philippines.  The perpetrator was sent home from the mission field in the 1990s after confessing to sexual abuse of 23 children, and resigned from the mission.  However New Tribes never reported this crime to the Philippine police, and the man has never been held criminally accountable for his actions.

The Sentinel does not name the perpetrator, however in a media alert by the law firm we learn that his name is Leslie Emory.

This is not the first time New Tribes Mission has heard of sexual abuse within their boarding school system.  Last August the GRACE organization wrapped up an investigation of the Fanda boarding school run by New Tribes in Senegal, West Africa.  They found that more than 50 MKs had been physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused at Fanda.

After the Fanda investigation, New Tribes MKs from other schools began to come forward with abuse stories and asked for investigations.  It took some pressure from MKs and a petition for New Tribes to agree to further investigations.  In February New Tribes Mission finally announced plans to open an investigation of their other schools.  The investigation will be headed up by Pat Hendrix, an independent coordinator who has previously worked on PC (USA) investigations.  You can read more about abuse in New Tribes schools at the Fanda Eagles web site.

Update on this story:  On June 8,  WAVY (NBC)  television of Chesapeake, Virginia interviewed Les Emory at his home, as well as the victim who is filing the lawsuit.  You can watch the interview here.  He admits to molesting 30 or so children while in the Philippines, but claims that all ended when he returned to the United States.  Hard to believe, and very disturbing!

All God’s Children Documentary (online release trailer)

Mamou Alliance Academy, run by the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was the first Protestant mission boarding school to be investigated for child abuse.  All God’s Children tells the story of this abuse through the eyes of three missionary families whose children attended Mamou.  If you haven’t had a chance to see a screening of this documentary, or can’t seem to get around to purchasing  your own copy, you are in luck!  Starting May 19 you can view the full documentary on You Tube.  Subscribe to the GHWP (Good Hard Working People) You Tube channel which is hosting the film.  To find out more about this documentary,  visit their website, or read a press release at the following link:  All God’s Children Press Release ONLINE.