Survivors’ Summit: A Gathering of Heroes
posted by Rebecca
Through a series of circumstances that I couldn’t have orchestrated or foreseen, I found myself this past weekend at a conference center in Atlanta, at the MK Safety Net conference, for “missionary kid” survivors of abuse on the mission field. (It’s in quotation marks because everyone at this conference was a grown-up.)
I’ve never been a foreign missionary or a missionary kid. I’ve never been abused. So I felt a bit out of place, but knew I was there to learn, and the wonderful people there were my kind teachers.
Some of the abuse survivors at this conference had participated in the making of the “All God’s Children” documentary about abuse at the Mamou boarding school, and some had started the Fanda Eagles website, so I knew I was in the presence of trailblazers.
Everybody, though, everybody seemed like a hero to me.
The first speaker, Paul Young (an MK abuse survivor and author of The Shack, who has a pretty amazing interview at this link), without challenging the basics of who God is, challenged some of my ways of thinking. As I said several times throughout the weekend, “I don’t mind having my paradigms challenged. I just want to believe what’s true.” God should be up to our challenges.
We heard workshops from a psychologist who talked about secondary trauma, from a therapist who talked about dissociation, and from Boz Tchividjian of GRACE, who talked about the Walls of Silence in the churches and religious organizations. We heard from Peter Janci, a lawyer with the Kelly Clark law firm, and from a representative of Homeland Security, about apprehending predators overseas. I attended a breakout session about hosting a Service of Lament, since that’s what some of us hope to do here in Greenville one day. All of the sessions were helpful.
But even more so was the interaction.
That first evening, Friday after the main session, I sat with a couple of abuse survivors who laughed a lot. But then they began describing the letters they were forced to write to their parents while they were at boarding school. “The teachers and dorm parents told us that if we wrote anything about the abuse, anything negative, then our parents would have to leave their mission work, and Africans would go to hell. None of us wanted the Africans to go to hell. . . . So we did instead.”
Here, safety was paramount. After all, it’s their middle name. The abuse survivors at the conference were in all different places in their beliefs. Some were—either still or again—believers in Jesus Christ, even if their way of living it out may look a good bit different from their parents’. Others had turned away from the Christianity their parents had traveled across the world to preach. All of us respected each other wherever we were, and that was a beautiful thing to see.
When people asked me about my own background, I told them I was from Bob Jones University circles, one more voice seeking accountability for their actions. “Oh, yes,” they nodded knowingly. They all knew about the GRACE report on BJU.
One frustration was that there are many relatively small voices speaking out about the common problem of valuing of institutions over souls. Someone expressed a desire to pull the small voices together into one large voice. Until that coalition is formed, I said I would tell my small audience at BJUGrace about this conference and some of the others, in hopes that some MK survivors in the BJU world may find this group to be a safe and healing place for them as well.
When I spoke with one boarding school abuse survivor, one of the ones I consider a trailblazer, I said, almost hesitantly, “I’m a Christian.”
“Whatever that means,” she replied. I knew that the people who had been supposed to help her when she reported her abuse—those who were supposed to represent Christ to her—had failed her miserably. This was the story of almost every person in the room.
“Well . . . ” I wanted to respond but didn’t want to preach. I thought about the Diane Langberg sermon I had listened to on the drive to Atlanta, compliments of a dear friend who lent me some CDs. She had preached on Philippians 3:10, “That I may know Him,” expressing it so beautifully, so eloquently.
Finally I said, “I believe in Jesus.”
The woman nodded respectfully and told me some about her own beliefs. I nodded respectfully too and said, “I want to believe what’s true.”
I told my story and described BJUGrace. “I know there must be others out there like me,” I said. “Others who didn’t suffer abuse but would truly care if they only knew. Those are the ones I want to reach.”
As we talked a bit more, this new friend expressed appreciation that I cared. She observed, “Since you’re a believer, maybe you can reach some people that others can’t reach.”
Saturday night, in this environment of safety, some of the mission-field abuse survivors opened up to a vulnerable place to describe their creative expressions—their artwork and writings and music. For me, this was the most emotional time, as I heard and felt the deep pain from some of them, expressed through their beautiful and amazing creative expressions. Again, some of these artists and writers expressed themselves out of a different worldview than others of us, and they knew this was a safe place to express that. Others showed the expression of their journeys of trying to see how the hand of God was at work in their lives, of seeking to know that the angry, demanding god who had been represented to them on the mission field was not the real God.
One woman spoke about an open letter she had written two years ago after the first MKSN conference, to parents of missionary kid abuse survivors. As she spoke, I realized I had read that letter, back when it was published. And here I was listening to the person who wrote it. I felt honored.
One woman described the flashbacks she began to experience in her later teens. She told the group that the missionaries thought she was suffering from demonic attack and began to pray over her for release from demons. Others in the room laughed, but I didn’t. Somehow for the first time I suddenly realized, I think I’ve done this. Why hadn’t I thought about this before, since I’ve been learning about these phenomena for almost three years? But my cheeks flushed as I realized that in the past someone in my life had expressed an experience I didn’t understand—I had no idea about flashbacks and didn’t know what nightmares can represent—and I had thought the phenomenon was demonic. I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry.
One woman who suffered greatly at the hands of a monstrous hypocrite, said to us, “I told my children and I’ll tell you. If you want people to think you’re kind, then be kind. If you want people to think you’re good, then be good. Be the person that you want people to think you are.”
She was real. Everybody here was real. Everyone knew they were safe here to be who they really were. I saw many hugs given to and from people in all different stages of healing. I saw great grief, great (and appropriate!) anger, some despair, and definite hope for truth and justice to ultimately prevail.
But mostly I saw beauty.
On the drive home I listened to Diane Langberg again, preaching about the power of the resurrection. It was very good, even beautiful, but my mind and emotions were so exhausted. As the batteries in the CD player ran down so that her voice became slower and quieter, I heard her preach on having the mind of Christ. Maybe there were three points, but I remember only two.
Jesus was full of truth.
He was full of compassion.
I saw it this weekend. I saw the thirst for truth. I saw the compassion.
This is what I long for, what I chase after. To be full of truth, like Jesus, who spoke without fear to those who lived one way in public and another, shameful, even hideous, way in private.
And to be full of compassion, like Jesus, the one who pursued the lost sheep to the mountain cliff and carried it home on his shoulders.
As I said to one of my new friends this weekend, “I didn’t know before. But now I know. So how can I turn away? It has shaken my world. It has made me go to bed and pull the covers over my head. It has certainly caused me to question God. But how can I turn away?”
And Diane Langberg, in her gentle, quiet voice, reminded me that the real Jesus, the true Jesus, didn’t turn away. He loved. He cared. He was passionate for truth and justice. He showed compassion again and again.
I saw it this weekend. Missionary abuse survivors from all over the world, with stories of unspeakable atrocities at the hands of others, thirsting for truth and justice, hugged and loved and showed compassion.
I saw the face of truth and compassion at the survivors’ conference. I saw heroes.
Some might say . . . that I saw Jesus.