The words of an abuse survivor are powerful words. After seeing this cartoon on the MKSafetyNet Facebook page (MK = missionary kid), with its small, nearly invisible child abuse victim, Julia (not her real name), a BJU abuse survivor, felt prompted to write this response, which she has asked us to publish. It behooves us to slow down and digest what she has to say.
We thank her for her willingness and courage to tell the truth. Her account gives a glimpse of what she endured, living under the authority of particular Christians who caused her great harm with their twisted depiction of the gospel — a gospel that demanded her silent compliance in order to protect “godly” men who were perpetrators of abuse. Julia’s experience is not as rare as many would like to think. All that poses as the gospel is not the true gospel.
This cartoon communicates pretty effectively some of the fear and isolation that silences a child when they are abused on the mission field. When this type of situation occurs within specific mission groups, the MKs quickly realize that they are worthless and meaningless. The “gospel,” it seems, is only for the native peoples, not for missionary kids.
I was one of those missionary kids, and during those years, that child who I once was simply disappeared. She learned how to be silent, how to endure, and how to disappear. Looking back, it almost seems she died so very many deaths, each time emerging as a new, more perfect model of the “good” missionary kid. Each time was a new attempt to be perfect in behavior, perfect in performance and perfect in forgetting any abuse that could have happened the day before or even earlier in the day. This new girl was not going to destroy “God’s ministry.” She was not going to remember or speak of the things of darkness. She would have no feelings of fear or anger. She would smile and be kind to everyone. She would be the living sacrifice she was taught she was to be, but she was never real.
Above all else, she would NEVER presume to make the mistake of thinking that God could possibly love her. His love wasn’t meant for her. That was expressed repeatedly in so many ways, day in and day out. She and her siblings had been chosen as sacrifices so others could be converted to Christianity. It was supposed to be considered special to be chosen in that way, but it wasn’t. It was a sentence of a living death, a life without hope and a life without rescue. The idea of even hoping for rescue was the ultimate in selfishness, so that thought couldn’t be considered. She was to be thankful in all things.
It was a strange world. There was beauty in the culture around me, yet there was also a constantly warning to never become like them. I was supposed to remember that I was American and these people were “heathens.” I felt horrible guilt that I loved and understood those “heathens” more than I understood or connected to the bits of America I remembered.
Those years are now lost to another time and another place. That girl . . . those girls . . . didn’t survive, not really. They died and died again. The memories were “forgotten” so as not to risk God’s eternal wrath.
In coming back to the US, the MK world was gone and far away, and a new world began, the world of a PK (preacher’s kid). It was a bit shocking. These were supposed to be “my” people. I was supposed to be coming home. I suppose it was then that I realized I had no home. I didn’t understand the culture of this place, but I was supposed to jump right in.
My purpose sort of changed. I was now supposed to protect my family, my pastor father, and to make him look good at every opportunity. All I did was on display. Everything I did, was supposed to set the standard of excellence. The clothes I wore were supposed to set the standard for godly teenage dress. I was to trust no one and develop no close friends.
I felt like I walked through a garden of plastic flowers. Here, there were actually kids my age that I theoretically should have been permitted to form friendships with, but it seemed I was supposed to treat them as if they were plastic flowers – just observe from afar. The real thing called friendship wasn’t meant for me – not for a PK.
In time, a new person was born, the perfect PK girl who learned new rules in this new strange culture. This was a confusing and chaotic time. I began to see glimpses into other peoples’ lives. These people were Christians, not “heathens,” and yet they still loved their children and didn’t view them as sacrifices. I didn’t know what to think about it. It just seemed shocking and somehow wrong.
I don’t know that I had enough time to learn all the PK rules before going off to college. Although I completely paid my own way through school, it never occurred to me that I could actually pick a school myself. I had heard that Bob Jones University was the best and had met their president, Dr. Bob III, while he was on the mission field addressing some sexual abuse issues there. (He was a representative of our first mission board, GFA, so I knew of him through both contexts—as a representative of BJU and as a representative of our mission board).
At first, it seemed I had reached a protective haven at BJU, until I sadly came in contact with the counseling department. Someone had made a phone call to someone in the area alleging that I had some struggles and should see a counselor. That began a nightmare. Much of what I had learned growing up became solidified during that time. It seemed that I was considered worthless unless I could perfect myself enough for God to accept me. I thought they would perhaps give me the secret of living perfectly, but it was the same I had always known . . . just try harder and be more sincere in the attempts.
As for sexual offenders, I quickly learned that they were somehow seen with some strange sort of honor. It seemed that they were always very godly men, men that “God” wanted to use in his service. They had value, and their testimonies had to be protected. They had somehow passed that illusory threshold of being good enough for God.
It seemed that those victimized were treated as forever blackened, forever worthless, rejected and despised. We were used, broken, and useless. The preacher boys and missionary boys were to be protected from people like us as we were considered potentially destructive to ministries. We were ruined.
For many of us, counseling felt like it was driving the nails into our coffins. We now had names – They named us Bitter, Destroyer, Unforgiving, Impure, etc. Through their teaching, it became obvious that there were other names on the list: Worthless, Despised, Hated. We all were assumed to have deserved the abuse and worse, because we were abused by such godly men, we were responsible before a holy God for making one of his precious vessels stumble. We had one and only one possibility of value – our silence. IF we were to never tell and never show any struggles from our abuses, then we could remain on the fringes of the fold.
What I learned? It was nothing at all about God. I learned about abuse, manipulation, hatred, etc. They claim to be his followers while they continue to deceive, continue to protect perpetrators, and continue to call us evil if we ever dare to speak truth.
I have no words to convince someone who has a seemingly cold heart deeply wrapped with lies. I can only move forward myself and learn bit by bit to untangle all the lies that they taught me and to find out who God really is.