Abuse In The Missionary Boarding School: Richie's Story
Today, I would like to announce a guest post by Dianne Darr Couts, President of MK (Missionary Kid) Safety Net. I met Dianne at the 2016 SNAP conference in Chicago where I was first introduced to the great need for MK advocacy. MKSN does amazing work to protect and support children (adolescent and adult) who were victimized while their parents were on the mission field. The story you are about to read is true and may be triggering to some survivors.
Missionary Kid Safety Net: Hope, Healing, Support and Advocacy
In the predawn hours of a fateful August morning, five-year old Richie was torn screaming from his mother's arms and put in a pickup truck with another child and a man he barely knew. The truck carried him 400 miles away across the dry savannah of Mali, West Africa and into the rain forest of Guinea. After dark on the second day, it pulled up outside a dormitory on the top of a hill. Richie's sister Dianne, barely twelve, heard the truck and flew outside to swoop him up in her arms - only to be reprimanded harshly by the dorm mother and told to go back to bed. The next morning, after a brief, joyful reunion with his brothers David and John, there was a grim warning: "Richie, it's bad here. It's really bad."
By Richie's sixth birthday two weeks later, he knew what his brothers meant. The first grade teacher was vicious and cruel, denying children access to the bathroom until they urinated in their seats, yanking children from their desks by their ears, and going into fits of rage over minor things like a child's inaccurate drawing of a pig. The classrooms opened onto a veranda and her outbursts and the children crying could be heard by everyone - the principal, the other teachers and the older students. But the sounds died in the forest, never reaching the ears of Richie's parents much less the mission board in America that was responsible for the school and the children under its care.
Letters home were censored and anything negative was removed. Children were told, "If your parents are upset, they won't be able to focus on the Lord's work and Africans will go to hell." Dorm life was regimented and strictly enforced, with the children separated into age groups, limiting the time they could interact with their siblings. It was abusive too. After lunch the screams of children being strapped with the buckle end of a belt echoed down the halls and at night there were dorm fathers who had their way with some of the girls. (A film about the school can be seen here: All God's Children.)
In the early 1990s, the simmering volcano of abandonment and abuse deep inside Rich's soul erupted. Chance encounters with fellow MKs revealed that they too were suffering from their experiences at boarding school. Some had written letters to the mission board that owned the school but they had either been ignored or dismissed. Rich also confronted the mission board to no avail. When these individual efforts failed, Rich and others organized a group to confront the issue in a more systematic fashion but that united effort also went nowhere.
Change came in the spring of 1995 when the group went public at the mission board's annual convention and the story hit the press. An independent Commission of Inquiry was formed and their findings state, "As this report will demonstrate, the answer is unequivocal. Yes, a significant number of children were seriously abused" at the school. See the full report here.
Once the report was published and the mission board held a retreat where they apologized publically for what had happened, the group thought their work was done. Unfortunately, they soon learned that their situation was not unique. MKs from other missionary schools around the world started to contact them with their stories and with their struggles to be heard, to be understood and to find justice. That is when MK Safety Net was founded. History of MKSN
Although mission boards have made significant changes in the past two decades - most young children are no longer required to attend boarding school and prevention and reporting policies about abuse have been adopted - mission boards have also circled the wagons. Reports of abuse are either handled on a case-by-case basis (instead of schools being investigated as a whole) or the investigations are often not really independent.
MK victims of abuse face the same re-victimization experienced by victims of abuse in fundamentalist or evangelical churches here at home:
• not being believed
• being accused of causing or encouraging the abuse
• being pressured to forgive and forget
• being shamed for ruining their abuser's ministry
• being shunned by members of their church or family.
However, adult MKs have added burdens when it comes to abuse. Because of growing up overseas, they often struggle adapting to North American life and don't know where to turn for help and understanding. They feel helpless when they learn it is nearly impossible to take legal action for abuse that happened overseas.
This is where MK Safety Net comes in. MK Safety Net raises awareness of abuse issues in mission settings, advocates for the prevention of abuse and endorses investigations that are independent, transparent and fair to the victims. At our conferences and in our Facebook groups, MKs who were abused or suffered trauma in mission settings find a safe place to share their healing journeys or receive support as they come forward with their stories.
After one of our conferences, an attendee wrote: “At the MK Safety Net Conference . . . I felt like a tsunami of healing energy washed over me, churning out the debris and leaving me much more healed than when I arrived two days earlier. Absolutely a life-changing event.” MKSN Goals and Activities
How can you help? Educate yourself about the unique needs of missionary families and MKs. Make sure the mission boards your church supports have good policies in place to prevent abuse and for addressing allegations of abuse. If they don't, confront them. Also, consider donating to MK Safety Net so they can continue to encourage MKs, to hold retreats, and to participate in conferences.
Most importantly, raise awareness about abuse in the church here at home. Insist that it be addressed and not covered up and that abusers are punished and that victims are helped - not the other way around. Unless the tide is stemmed at home, MKs in far-flung places don't have a chance.
Dianne Darr Couts, President,
MK Safety Net
Note: This is an important, healing organization. A donation in their direction will go a long way to helping those abused on the mission field. -Ashley