Beliefs Culture Ethics Institutions Opinion

Abuse on the mission field: Treasuring the institution instead of the child

Silence - photo courtesy of The American Prospect

Some missionary cultures are in need of a conversion.

In recent weeks, I have been contacted by a growing number of adults who were sexually victimized as children while living overseas as their parents were serving as missionaries. These communications have been a stark reminder of what I learned when GRACE participated in independent investigations related to the abuse of children on the mission field.

Understandably, survivors of such abuse generally don’t trust the mission agencies to internally investigate such claims, nor to hand the investigation over to their lawyers. As a result, GRACE has acted as an independent investigator to search for the truth and to provide substantive analysis and recommendations. This approach not only opened the door for abuse survivors to communicate their painful experiences in a safe environment, but it also encouraged the mission institutions to develop a thoughtful, thorough, and compassionate response to abuse. These experiences provided me an unprecedented and unique exposure to the common problems inherent in mission cultures where abuse is present.

Silence - photo courtesy of The American Prospect

Silence – photo courtesy of The American Prospect

I will never forget my conversation with a young man who had been abused while attending a missionary boarding school. He never told his parents about the ongoing abuse because he had been warned by the missionary school administrators that, “Africans will burn in hell” if his parents had to leave the “field” to come care for him. This child suffered in silence for years, convinced that he was of little value to anyone, including God. In the course of our investigations, we interviewed dozens of child sexual abuse survivors who have walked a tragically similar path as this young man.   A path where the protection and preservation of God’s children take a back seat to the work and reputation of the missionary organization. A path where children find themselves in a foreign land being sexually assaulted by adults who profess a “love” for Jesus. A path where these same children are re-victimized by institutions that care more about ministry “success”, than the very souls of their little ones.

The physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds of such toxic missions cultures are deep and lifelong. One former missionary kid (MK) recently wrote, “When I think back on my growing up years, there were many time periods that were difficult, but note so terrifyingly helpless as my years spent as an MK.” Many of those abused on the mission field as children find it impossible to have any meaningful form of religious faith, while others walk away from the faith altogether feeling betrayed by God.   One abuse survivor told me, “Being abused on the mission field has destroyed any spirituality that I had with Christianity. I would like to have something to share with my children besides Santa Claus. I hope I will understand God one day.”

More and more survivors of physical and sexual abuse on the mission field are beginning to step forward to share their similarly painful and scaring childhood experiences. Blogs, Facebook pages, and films have assisted these brave individuals to finally expose the worst kept secret of many missionary cultures, while at the same time letting other survivors know that they are not alone. Below are just a few of the many websites dedicated to bringing this darkness to light. Take some time to review these sites and listen to the cries of God’s children:

All God’s Children
Bangladesh MK Speak
Fanda Eagles
Michele Phoenix
MK Safety Net
SIM Missionary Kid Survivors

There has been recognition by some missionary organizations of past and present failures related to the abuse of MKs. Unfortunately, much of this recognition has been fueled more by institutional concerns about reputation than by grief over the horrors inflicted upon these children. As a result, many hollow promises have been made followed by little genuine effort to demonstrate authentic repentance and to bring about substantive change.

A mission organization that treasures itself will destroy souls, including its own.

The DNA of international missions must be transformed if the mission field is going to fulfill its God given mandate of sharing and demonstrating the Gospel to all peoples, beginning with missionary children.

It is time for the world of missions to embark on a new path. I remain hopeful.

About the author

Boz Tchividjian

“Boz” Tchividjian is a former child abuse chief prosecutor and is the founder and executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Boz is also a Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law, and is a published author who speaks and writes extensively on issues related to abuse within the faith community. Boz is the 3rd-eldest grandchild of the Rev. Billy Graham.

He is a graduate of Stetson University and Cumberland School of Law (Samford University).


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  • THANK YOU, Boz!!

    Your courage and clarity help me to keep moving forward on this seemingly endless journey.

    Raz, MK and Victims Advocate
    Fanda Eagles

  • I applaud you for this, and I hurt reading this post, as I was a missionary. Thankfully, hopefully, my kids did not suffer this atrocity. But I cannot imagine being in a boarding school, being abused, and then told to be silent or folks would go to hell. Such EVIL!!!!!

  • Mary please talk to your children ask them what they did not like as a MK. Be willing to listen not give answer.

  • The link to the “Fanda” site isn’t there–it’s the same link as the one listed before it.

  • “It is time for the world of missions to embark on a new path. I remain hopeful. – ”

    Alas I have little optimism that much will change and here is why:

    Despite lip service, new policies and education of missionaries, when a missionary was arrested in the U.S. entering from Brazil and charged with child abuse ( ) the mission concerned issued this statement “While we are trying to confirm whether there is a connection between the accused’s personal actions and our organization, we have put the accused on immediate leave.”
    In other words they tried to wash their hands of him as fast as they could. He went on to be convicted and sentenced to 58 years incarceration.
    Inquiries as to what assistance had been given his victims revealed nothing had been done.

    This happened last year!

    The only way I can see the environment changing is if a) the money supply is cut off to missions who do not address their horrific pasts properly (not a quick look into the matter, a call for forgiveness and marching forward) and or b) a full investigation at the highest level by the U.S. Government, with the power to arrest and prosecute offenders (wherever they offended).
    The latter is possible if there is the will. The Australian Government has launched such a Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse in Religious Institutions and it has the power to call before it who it likes and is doing so.
    If the Australians are capable of doing so, there is no reason on earth why the U.S. cannot do the same.

  • And thank you Raz for all the work you do to help countless MKs all round the globe.
    Many of us read your words of encouragement and heartfelt insight on the Fanda Eagles website and it helps us face the realities of being an MK.
    You are an inspiration to many.
    Thank you.

  • Totally agree, this is a massive problem that should never have occurred. How many MK lives have been ruined by missions.

    Sorry Boz, but this was no “God given mandate”, these were missions who were looking after themselves and if any benefit was derived by the natives, then that was more accidental than by design. Many missionaries worship themselves and lap up the adoration of their supporters. It goes to their heads and then the problems start!!!!!!!
    You had to be there to see what was going on, missionaries living in flash houses surrounded by natives in squalor. Missionaries wives who had a house maid to cook, clean and do the washing. Native men to fetch and carry. And the natives were paid a pittance to do it. Of course none of this ever reached home, because it would have destroyed the illusion.
    And if the illusion was exposed, then the truth would be revealed and the money would stop flowing in. That is what it is all about, not some God given mandate!!!!!

  • I am very interested in your organization. How can I get involved or get information on how to be involved in the goal of this organization? Abuse is the church is a huge passion of mine for years. I am a Christian and survivor of abuse myself.

  • Not quite sure which organisation, but if you are looking for a group that can offer insight and encouragement, Google Fanda Eagles and go from there.
    It was set up for MKs of New Tribes Mission, but is an open forum and anyone can read or even participate if they want to.
    There is some real inspirational threads there as well as some heart wrenching stories.
    It may take you out of your comfort zone, but as a survivor of abuse you won’t feel alone as many do.

  • I didn’t mean for help. I’ve been healed and have since helped others find their peace and healing. I’d like to offer my help.

  • I agree with A. Smythe, missions do not have a “God given mandate”. To accept that they do would then mean that every fundamentalist, terrorist or extreme religious group of whatever religion also has a “God given mandate”, which is both dangerous and crazy. If to get round this, missions dismiss other groups/religions as not having a mandate because they believe in a different God, then one is on the slippery slope of arrogance that takes these missions into what they often become, cults!

    Yes they may start out with good intentions, lead by earnest people of faith but inevitably the more fundamentalist groups seem to deteriorate into mind controlling groups, masquerading under the guise of great personal sacrifice and humility. Scratch the surface and what is often found is systems of hierarchical control put in place so that the power rests in the hands of a select few men and what they say goes, because they “speak to God” whereas lesser members, women, children and the locals are expected to receive divine instructions second hand.

    As time progresses, many of these missions have evolved into abusive cults, extorting money out of church members who have laid upon their conscience that they should give generously so that “the noble work” (point of interest, check out what percentage of listed “missionaries” are actually out of their own home countries and how many are back home with comfortable lifestyles, fancy job titles and achieving very little except fund raising and recruiting) can be done on their behalf. They put themselves outside the jurisdiction of the laws of the countries they are guests in and hence when they are infiltrated by paedophiles they do little to protect their own children, instead insist on a diet of forgiveness and turning blind eyes. They do no report their sexual offenders to their home authorities, instead they denigrate anyone who dares speak out about the abuse, including parents of victims. Such mind control is exercised over members that parents will often carry on as missionaries, even when they see their own childrens lives destroyed.
    Hence my opinion (based on a childhood as an MK and an adulthood of seeing revelations of the most horrific abuse), that too many of these missions are now cults. The “God given mandate” is a myth, they have become gods in their own minds.

  • O.k. That is good you have been healed and even better that you wish to help others. So here is a challenge.
    Victims in the States have a reasonable chance of seeing their abuser being prosecuted. MKs abused outside the States (unless it is in the last few years) have little chance.
    So I suggest having a read of the excellent GRACE report into New Tribes Mission and any other mission that has a similar history (and there are many of them) and seeing just how bad this was. Then write to every Congressman, Senator, Governor and even the President asking why these men have been allowed to abuse American children overseas. Point out that many of these men are now back in America and Paedophiles do not usually stop abusing just because they have changed countries!!!!!
    Get your friends to do the same. Tell them it is their Christian duty. Ask your Pastor to review which missions your church supports and if a mission has not dealt with their past adequately, stop supporting them. Ask you pastor to take the matter before his fellow Pastors.

    That is how you can help. Pursue justice on behalf of the broken MKs who are so messed up they cannot speak for themselves.

    I guarantee you will be surprised who you will find does not want to know, who finds excuses why nothing should be done and who will help you. It won’t be the people you expect.

  • I have read this post several times, a bit at a time. It is hugely triggering for me to think of the missionary world. It just isn’t a time period from my childhood that I am ready to think about or face.
    Bit by bit, I started writing down my thoughts about the hell of the MK life, the fears, the hopelessness, etc. but something happened today and am just going to share that.
    I called a mission board who has a man working for them as a missionary. A couple of years ago, it was brought to their attention that he had raped someone. Prior to that, his Christian university learned that he has sexually assaulted someone while a student of the university. He confessed to the crime and they “dealt” with it internally, later giving him his degree to go be a missionary. He signed up with a home/sending church, a mission and set out on his mission career in a remote area with no supervision or accountability. His sending church and mission both know that he has confessed to rape, yet it just doesn’t matter.
    His mission told me today that as long as he is not prosecuted, it is not their problem. The victim should forgive, even if his crime was murder. It is a requirement of being a Christian. I am to keep silent and prevent him being named.
    Honestly, I have no idea how to react. I don’t even know what I feel. I feel pain. I feel nothing. I feel hopelessness, but also a dull ache of feeling really nothing. I have no value to this world of Christianity.

  • Learning to be a survivor, your post moves me deeply. I understand why, on days like today, you feel very alone, very unheard and unvalued.
    The fact is though, that you are not alone in your struggle. There are others of us making phone calls, writing letters and e-mails, blog posts and message board entries.
    We, like you, believe that it is WRONG the way illegal acts of abuse and violence are being ignored by mission agencies and churches. Not just one agency or church, but many.
    We too have come to dislike the word “forgive”, because of the way it is used to slide out from under personal responsibility and corporate responsibility: the responsibility to demonstrate integrity, transparency, contrition and compassion.
    Boz’s excellent post discussing abuse on the mission field and calling on mission agencies to help victims instead of protecting their institution has been read, discussed, tweeted and shared in the past three days. Over 1,700 shares on Facebook!
    Take heart. There really are some who are listening and caring and working to shine the light of truth on a very dark subject.
    We are not alone.

  • Like a Gene in a bottle
    They let their Jesus out
    For only they had the formula
    Only they that had no doubt

    They sent into all the world
    Those they had prepared
    And to each they gave a bottle
    With the Gene to be shared

    But the Gene came with conditions
    Sacrifice of soul and mind
    Goodbye to little children
    And family left behind

    The natives were showed the bottle
    And told how to rub in Holy Prayer
    Like making wishes and hey presto
    Jesus would magically appear

    Except it wasn’t a nice Jesus
    He came with stings attached
    And those strings were pulled from afar
    From huts with roofs grass thatched

    And the children of the keepers
    Of those bottles in foreign field
    Were made to evil evil men
    Their innocence to yield

    In schools of hatred and division
    They were beat in Jesus name
    And at night the wandering hands came out
    In the molesting and raping game

    And the leaders in their towers
    Knew who did these evil deeds
    But they did not sort the wheat
    From the multiplying weeds

    They called the children liars
    Or demanded they forgive
    And made them swear silence
    Or the natives in hell would live

    Such was my childhood
    Now they wonder why I have such doubt
    Tis because I don’t believe that Jesus
    Was the Gene they let out!

  • If I can make a suggestion Learning to be a survivor. This offending and the mission that covered it up, plus the university should be reported to a group called ICE. They are part of the Homeland Security Department. They have control of everything that crosses U.S. borders, including sexual offenders.
    They have little tolerance for this sort of criminal activity and have a lot of power to deal with it. You will find they will take you seriously and be grateful for any assistance you can give them.
    Be brave, this offender is probably still at large and statistics suggest he will still be offending.

  • Thank you! They have a report and yes, they did take it seriously. I just don’t know the status right now.
    Thank you! I know you have been through a lot and it means a lot that you care!

  • Thank you for your bravery. We will often never know what effect speaking out has. But if we save one child from being abused by blowing the whistle on these monsters and their protectors, then it is worth it.
    Given that according to statistics, each paedophile has on average 100 victims, taking them off the streets can save a lot of innocent lives. Throw into the equation that often paedophiles work within networks (i.e. the making and trading of child porn) and the arrest of one with their computer can lead to many more arrests.
    Your country, your friends and your family should be proud of you.

    And the other nice benefit of your bravery is that no longer are you a victim but you are well and truly Learning to be a Survivor and no longer are you alone 🙂

  • This specific offender raped me as an adult. I don’t know if he will offend against children????
    I am very confused. I know the MK life as a kid. It is a life of abuse. It is the life of hell. However, this specific incident happened as an adult. He currently has children and a wife who know nothing of his past.
    I hurt for them. Someday, they might find out about him. What then? It isn’t their fault!!!

  • I am very sorry to read your post below (can’t “reply”, ran out of replies).
    This man should be in jail, no if, buts, maybes or divine forgiveness. From your accounts he has broken the law of the land more than once and he should have been jailed after the first offence. There is every chance he will reoffend.

    In regards to his wife. It is a tricky one, however she may well be putting up with a monster as well. Oh no doubt he will be the good Christian man to the casual observer and even his friends, but there is every chance he will be a tyrant at home.

    Many innocent people get hurt when abuse is allowed to proliferate. The effects of which can last a life time. There are no easy answers, those with the power to inflict simple solutions, failed to do so and now many of us pay the price for their failures.

    Take care.

  • This comment may cause some controversy, so first let me say that I don’t discount the painful, personal experiences of people contributing here. But the reality is that there are many types of victims. The full picture is complicated. One problem is repressed and recovered memories. While most professionals reject repression as junk science, a good number of the web sites referred to above have made statements indicating belief in repressed memories and memory retrieval therapies. It’s unfortunate, but it has introduced skepticism. Healthy skepticism, IMHO. This is a significant consideration when dealing with abuse accusations that are decades old. It is certainly an issue in mission organizations and the church at large. Boz, I know this is a blog, but as a journalist (see the RNS Vision and Mission statement), don’t you owe us some balance here?

  • Controversy, scepticism and healthy debate the world is a better place for all of them.
    From my own MK days, if the above three had been participated in more, there would have been less angst today. But few dared question the leaders and those who did were dismissed quickly. Hence my own controversial claim that many fundamentalist missions entered into the zone of cults, only being answerable to themselves.
    For myself, I have no need of repressed memory therapy, my ability to remember is not addled by drugs, alcohol or senility. I have the T-shirt that says “been there seen it all”. I clearly remember the strange self obsessed world that many of the male missionaries inhabited and as I now research exactly how warped that world was with like journalistic endeavours, a pattern or lies, coverups and convenient memory obliterations emerges.

    Perhaps some do rely on repressed memory therapies but most just look at the scars to jog their memories. There will always be those who are sceptical, even when convictions are being procured. And there will be those who deny, until their last breath, for reasons best only known to themselves.

    Let us debate, even be sceptical and controversial. But let us do so with compassion for those who have been hurt and endeavour always to bring forward the truth, a commodity that seems to be strangely absent in missions who proclaimed they went to give it to the nations.

  • These sexual predators are in fact Sociopaths – they are in every religious environment –

    We’ve been told stories of many Seventh Day Adventist Priests going on mission to Africa or other far off lands only to abuse and exploit the vulnerable children who trust them.

    We must all learn the Traits of these Sociopaths so we can identify them – they are truly wolves in sheeps clothing!

  • Yes they are sociopaths and they head for where the pickings are easy. They go for the mission fields. What is even more sick is that even when they are exposed, they are shielded by their leaders and their churches still keep supporting them.

    The wolf in sheeps clothing devoured me when I was an MK, but I survived and now I am fighting back, hunting them down and helping to expose them.
    And I am after the missions that are still hiding these wolves.

    It’s just a pity that so many Christians just sit on their generous sized backsides and do very little to help, until one of these mission cults destroys one of their own and then it is too late!!!!!!!

    Good website you’ve got and thanks for speaking out.

  • A.Smythe:

    Can you tell us a little bit more about how you are going after these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Are you actively involved in operations that are organized? Do you have a website where we can find those who are involved in your efforts and support you? Very interested to know more.

  • Here’s a start.

    “Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit “

  • Boz doesn’t seem to understand that Calvinism and righteous indignation are mutually exclusive because suffering is Reformed epistemology.

  • Learning to be a Survivor. I hurt with you. I have live with missions doing nothing and blaming MKs for not forgiving. 1 John 1:9 has God forgives when confession is made. Are we greater than God that we forgive without confession that wrong was done? We are to forgive as God forgive when confession is made. Missions are hiding people who have admitted sexually abuse. Counting admitting as a confession. Confession means agreeing the wrong done was wrong.

    Don’t feel hopeless over the last ten years I have seen a change for the good, Admittedly not a lot but hope it gains momentum as more people learn the terrible damage done by those who have abused. We must continue to cry out against this horrid crime against children. Each one we tell is another possible advocate for children. Don’t give up, you were brave to make that call to the mission board. Please make a record of it, It may be needed in the future to show they knew.

  • It’s the insider-outsider phenomenon that exists in all closed systems. And faith systems are the world’s worst because when the betrayal comes from them, there is a wounding of the soul, deeper than any wound left by those in secular circles. Thanks much for adding to the repertoire of available sources on mission field abuse and the larger arena of the spectrum that serves us by Enlarging Boston’s Spotlight, which is the title of my newest release on this topic, in fact–all because of what I discovered as a professional, adult missionary, who could not stomach what I found and knew it was likely to be only the tip of the iceberg. Please see