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You are here: Home >> Blog >> Marie Fortune's Blogs >> “Let the children come to me and forbid them not . . . and let the healing begin.”

“Let the children come to me and forbid them not . . . and let the healing begin.”

Aug 19, 2009 — Categories: ,

Through the eyes of three families, the documentary All God’s Children (70 minutes) www.alllgodschildrenthefilm.com tells the personal story of the first boarding school for children of missionaries to be investigated for abuse at the hands of the parents’ Protestant missionary colleagues.

Through the eyes of three families, the documentary All God’s Children tells the personal story of the first boarding school for children of missionaries to be investigated for abuse at the hands of the parents’ Protestant missionary colleagues.

The survivors and parents share their journey of seeking justice, redemption and healing. While the American parents were stationed throughout West Africa, their children were required to attend the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) boarding school in Mamou, Guinea. Cut off from their parents, the children quietly endured the abuse by the all-missionary staff.

When, as adults, they finally dared to speak out, the C&MA denied all allegations. Through years of persistent activism, the survivors and their parents finally compelled the C&MA to conduct an investigation and acknowledge the abuses. The healing could begin.

Scott Solary and Luci Westphal have produced a powerful documentary that gives voice to the survivors of childhood abuse, those who happened to be children of Christian missionaries in the 50s and 60s. In a perfect storm of vulnerability, these children were thoroughly isolated from their parents who were in the field most of the year, threatened and silenced by abusive staff members, and indoctrinated with Christian rhetoric to justify their “sacrifice” in order to bring “heathen” Africans to Christ.

Although this is the first documentary to present this painful history, two other Protestant denominations have faced the same excruciating disclosures. The Presbyterian Church–USA and the United Methodist Church also received reports from adult survivors of church run facilities in Lubondai and Kinshasa both in Congo. Early reports from children were ignored or overlooked. But recent disclosures by adult survivors of both these denominations resulted in high level commissions to investigate the allegations.

Both found the charges against individual staff members to be credible. They affirmed disclosures by survivors, financially supported healing resources, held the perpetrators accountable, and committed to specific actions within the denominations to prevent this kind of abuse in the future.  “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you flinch - - - before it sets you free.” When our religious institutions face the truth within, there is the possibility of healing.

Nothing can ever be an adequate response to the adult survivors who carry the memories of abandonment by parents and abuse by caregivers who were supposed to be Christian leaders. But these good faith efforts by the Presbyterians and United Methodists have been a beginning. May their recommendations affect not only safety for missionary children and for native children where foreign missionaries still serve, but also for children in their churches here in the U.S.

Survivors of abuse by clergy and faith leaders give their churches enormous gifts when they come forward and disclose. They should be welcomed, not shunned. They should be acknowledged, not ignored. They should receive support, not disdain. When we as members of faith communities are willing to hear the truth of harm that has been done in our midst and respond, we will all experience the healing and transformation that is promised to faithful people everywhere.

As my colleague, Judith Beals, asserted: "The turning point in every social justice movement occurs when the authentic leadership of survivors is met with the genuine commitments of our most powerful social institutions." Let us pray that the courage of the survivors will be met with the courage of our churches.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute

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