It is a sad day when those who say they are called of the Lord to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ are caught in the molestation of children. One stands in amazement how the following ever occurred within so-called Christian organizations!
‘Ethnos360, formerly called New Tribes Mission: Wonder why they changed their name? To go back about 10 years, MKs from other boarding schools within this mission field petitioned the administration to investigate their schools as they had with Fanda in Senegal. New Tribes was not willing to do another round with GRACE, so they hired an outfit called IHART, headed by Pat Hendrix. IHART stands for Independent Historical Abuse Review team. This organization was created exclusively to investigate New Tribes boarding schools.
Three investigations were done: East Brazil, Panama and Bolivia. To read all the details about these investigations and their findings, please visit the Fanda Eagles web site. None of the reports were released to the public, but all of them have been shared by survivors. All three of the investigations found numerous instances of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. In East Brazil, there were four sexual abusers and one physical and emotional abuser. In Panama, 63 allegations were considered to have preponderance of evidence, mostly severe physical abuse, but also sexual abuse. In Bolivia there were numerous allegations, with 13 offenders found to have committed sexual abuse. This is by no means the extent of the problem, as Pat Hendrix received files from New Tribes about historic abuse in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Mexico, and Venezuela.
Midway through these investigations, Pat Hendrix was removed as coordinator of the project, and replace by an attorney named Theresa Sidebotham. How can New Tribes Mission replace the coordinator of an independent organization that does not have connections to the mission, you ask? It turns out that IHART always had connections to New Tribes, so it wasn’t really an independent investigation to begin with. I got this information from the Fanda Eagles web site, where you can find many more details. I have already written about the three law suits filed by New Tribes MKs. The general consensus following all of these events is that New Tribes found some perpetrators whose names they did not reveal, and they may or may not have disciplined them, since we don’t even know who they are. These perpetrators have likely been involved in churches, youth groups and children’s organizations for decades, with nobody suspecting their abusive tendencies. There is very little closure for the MKs involved, and still a deep distrust of the mission which prevents many of those who have been abused from coming forward.
Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE): MKs from this mission launched their blog Bangladesh MKs Speak in 2011, after they had been trying for nearly 10 years to have Donn Ketcham, a mission doctor, investigated for sexual abuse of his young female patients. You can read an account of this on my blog here. After the story broke on social media ABWE hired GRACE to investigate, and then fired them and hired Pii (Professional Investigators International). After an extended battle with the ABWE administration at the time, Pii published a report, which was favorably received by survivors. ABWE actually made the report public, and you can read it at this link. It is long, detailed, and deeply disturbing. In 2018 Ketcham was charged with sexual assault of a young female patient in the United States. He was ordered to stand trial, but ultimately the judge decided that he was not physically able to undergo a trial because of his dementia.
Serving In Mission, formerly called Sudan Interior Mission (SIM): To my knowledge, there have been no new developments with abuse investigations at SIM, although I continue to hear accounts from other MKs about their personal experiences. I did notice something new when I was perusing the SIM website recently. SIM has always remained silent about the very existence of past abuse on their mission field. Now, if you look at the Child Safety Page on their website, they say the following:
“Therefore, SIM USA recognizes its responsibility to minimize the risk of harm, and to respond to Child Safety concerns regarding:
• the children of SIM USA personnel.
• any child who may have been harmed by any SIM USA personnel, ministry or project, occurring in the past or present.” (Bold accents are mine.)
I take it to be a good sign that there is an acknowledgement here of a possible need to address abuse that occurred in the past. I wrote to all three of the child safety officers who are listed on that page, asking for more details about what the response might be of a report of past abuse, and whether there is a written policy for this. I got the following response from one of them: “Any person who has been harmed, and who contacts us directly, will be welcomed to share their story and will be listened to with compassion. In each situation we seek wisdom and counsel as to the most appropriate and helpful response.” You couldn’t possibly be less specific about how you would handle a complaint, and there is clearly no policy here, but at least they have put the possibility out there that abuse existed in the past.
In 2013 I asked a similar question on the blog of Mary Decker, the Child Safety Officer for SIM. It is interesting to compare the response I got 7 years ago to the one I got recently. Ms Decker replied “…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.” At that time the focus was on preventing any new instances of abuse and not addressing past abuse, but you can see that the vague response that each situation must be handled individually is still the same.
How should an organization respond appropriately to allegations of past abuse? MKSafetyNet addresses this on their website. MKSafetyNet has decades of experience in advocating for abused MKs. I won’t go through all of their points, however I do think the very first one highlights a problem with the way that SIM is responding to this issue. The first thing an organization should do if they truly want to respond to abused MKs is to Cast the Net Wide.
Cast the net wide. As MKSafetyNet notes, it is inadequate for an organization to only respond to the spontaneous reports that come up from survivors. Casting a wide net means contacting all MKs to offer them a chance to report any stories that they might have, or as MKSafetyNet puts it, the complete universe of abuse survivors. Don’t forget that SIM is an organization that specializes in outreach, so they certainly have the capabilities to put this message out.
I believe this was one of the shortcomings of the AMK task force, which you can read about under the “SIM and Abuse” menu on this blog. The Task Force cherry-picked their participants, who were specifically invited to visit SIM and tell their stories. There were severely wounded MKs who never even knew the task force existed. If the net had been cast wide for this endeavor, I think the results might have been much different, with more and messier situations uncovered.
Why not cast a wide net? In the first place, the mission loses a lot of control, as people begin to come forward. It also becomes more expensive, because instead of just having a child safety officer listen to one story, suddenly they have to devote more time and personnel to this project. If they really want to make amends, they are going to have to provide funds for things like meetings, investigations, counseling for the survivors, and more. And that isn’t even counting the cost of the publicity that will take place, and possible loss of support. SIM is all about being in control, and particularly of their funds. They have never provided the resources for anyone to properly minister to wounded MKs, and I suspect that is both because they don’t feel it’s a valid use of their funds, and because they are worried about what might come to light if they really start digging.
There has been a false narrative going on for so many years, from the days when children at boarding school had their letters censored when they tried to tell their parents about how they were treated, to the absolute denial of bad experiences and the pressure on MKs (often by other MKs!!) not to complain. We are starting to see a breakthrough as more of us tell our experiences publicly and truthfully on blogs and social media. I have to disagree with Mary Decker about the media being an inappropriate place to discuss these things. A public forum is very appropriate because it lets survivors know that there are others out there who had their same experience. I look forward to big changes in this new decade, and a light shining down on the past for MKs from all missions.’ https://childrenofsim.wordpress.com/2020/01/30/a-look-back-and-a-look-forward/