[This article is available in audio form on the Pondering Purple podcast. Search for it by name on your preferred pod platform or follow this link.]
Just a word of caution about this article. It is not explicit, but it delves into a hard topic and I want you to know that in advance. The reality of sexual abuse on the mission field can’t be ignored—it is no less present there than anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, we’ve often failed to acknowledge that it exists in missionary circles, we’ve failed to address its impact on the lives of its victims, and we’ve failed to give them a voice in order for them to begin the long healing process. This was a hard article write—a very personal one—but, as a survivor myself and an MK, I think it’s also an essential one.
I was twenty-four before someone told me I was a victim.
I was twenty-four before I was able to face the turmoil created by too many unspoken traumas. Twenty-four before I realized the power I was giving my perpetrators by keeping their crimes silent. Twenty-four before I spoke it.
The liberation of that moment was life-transforming, and since then, one of the foremost goals of my existence has been to encourage others to speak it—just speak it—before their years of bondage become hobbling, as mine did.
The first assault on my innocence came at the hands of a stranger, when I was just four or five years old and separated from my parents in a vast French supermarket. I’d like to qualify the episode as “minor,” yet there is no such thing as minor when a childhood is being bludgeoned.
But my parents had moved to France to save the unsaved. It seemed wrong, somehow, to accuse one of those “lost souls” of causing such grievous harm.
The second assault came several years later, this time at the hands of a fellow Missionaries’ Kid. I was maybe nine or ten at the time. He was much older. It was a carefully crafted and manipulative incident that felt harmless until it was over.
Add to that an intense and abusive first romantic relationship, chronic neglect and bullying from several fronts, plus the loud statements about womanhood from the sex-saturated culture I was living in, and I think it’s safe to say that the damage of abuse was deeply embedded in my marrow before I even started college. It felt like a noose tightening around my survival—the memories and the pain, the silence and the guilt, were constrictive, invisible coils snuffing hope and wholeness from my life.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I finally allowed myself to wade into the toxic waste of the emotional, relational and spiritual devastation those childhood events had caused—twenty-four years marred by self-accusation, misplaced shame and a mute kind of resignation.
I told myself that even if I did speak, no one would ever understand. No one would know what to do with sullied-me. For a child who already suffered from paralyzing low self-esteem, giving the world one more reason to consider me inferior was an untenable notion.
It’s that fear of unbelief, that fear of condemnation or repercussions, that keeps most victims silent.
In missionary circles, that fear is compounded by the pressure to be perfect. MKs who have been hurt often fear that an admission of violation would result in being sent back to a “home” country that is foreign to them. They fear that what was done to them will have a devastating impact on their parents and their ministry. A lot of times, all they really know of supporting churches is that they expect their missionary families to be paragons of virtue, and in the twisted logic of the victim, revealing the truth would shatter that illusion.
So they stay silent. As I stayed silent. If this is you—if you have been carrying this alone for weeks or years: Hear me. You are not to blame. You are not responsible. Your life has been brutalized and that wounded child or teenager inside of you deserves help and kindness and love, not recrimination. Not any form of shame.
Helen Keller wrote, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.”
I believe that can be true for you as it has been for me. And the God who—I was convinced—was disgusted by what had happened to me and repulsed by what that made of me (at least in my mind)… I found Him waiting when I went looking for him again. Open-armed and broken-hearted. Grieving as I grieved. It took me a while to figure it out, but I know today that he didn’t want or orchestrate my pain.
In the fall of 2010, I heard Dr. Andrew Schmutzer address a local church on the topic of sexual abuse. He took a CD and a knife from his pocket, then he carved his initials into the bottom side of the disc. (If you’re old enough to understand CDs, you’ll know that a track with a scratch on it will skip or not play correctly.) The front of the CD still looked shiny. It appeared perfectly circular and flat—pristine. But imagine trying to play it.
It’s true—MKs are resilient people. We tend to carefully compartmentalize our worlds and sometimes manage to “live around” our trauma.
It’s as if our CDs have multiple tracks, and we make sure that the initials carved by the knife of sexual abuse only cover one or two of them.
If we can just figure out a way to live on those tracks—the unmarred tracks—everything will be okay. No one will know. We won’t have to deal with the residual poison of our assaults and life will proceed as if they never happened.
Because at some point in our existence, something unexpected will make that CD player jump to the horrifying track where the shaking, shamed, broken and inconsolable child we used to be still breathes, still begs for help, still agonizes…
And whether we like it or not, whether we think we can control it or not, that mute track in the middle of our lives is hobbling our relationships, our ambitions and our ability to live as a healed and whole person.
If you have been or are being sexually, verbally, emotionally or physically abused, please—I beg of you—speak it.
Even if what happened to you seems insignificant in comparison with what others have suffered, if someone was sexually inappropriate with you in any way—even years ago—speak it.
Tell your pastor. Tell your friend. Tell your small group leader. Tell your neighbor, if you trust them. If you need to take someone with you to tell them, that’s fine too. And if you don’t feel comfortable saying the words out loud, write them on a piece of paper and hand it to the person you trust.
Just please…speak it—and if those who hear you do nothing to help you, find someone else and speak it again.
As soon as you put it into words—as soon as you do—your healing will be able to begin.
I know it. I’ve experienced it.
You may need to try and try again until you find the right kind of help, and sometimes it will have to get a little more painful before it gets any better. But that will be a hopeful kind of pain, not the hopeless turmoil you’ve been living with alone for so long.
And if you think it’s safe to ignore those CD “tracks” of your life—they’re safely on mute and don’t affect you anymore—I urge you to reconsider. You may think that you’re living well despite the time-cauterized wounds of your past, but if you’re honest with yourself, you may find that those wounds are connected to the challenges and failures of your life in the present.
So…speak it. Speak it to someone who will know what to do with it—or who will walk with you as you take your next step.
Is there hope for even the most grievously wounded among us? Yes. Is there joy, fulfillment and peace? Absolutely. I know it’s hard to see from the vantage point of unhealed grief, but trust this recovering victim:
Life beyond the pain, beyond the unnecessary shame, can be beautiful and bright.
It may take some therapy for you to feel strong again. It may take more courage than you think you possess. Whatever it requires of you, begin your journey now.
Your future is waiting. Dream it. Shape it. Expect it. Live it. It all begins with the resolve to reach out to someone right now and…finally…speak it.
A note for missionary parents:
If you’re parenting MKs, this companion article may be useful in helping to prevent and recognize sexual abuse. Click HERE.
A note for abusers:
If you’re the perpetrator— you need to get help too. For the sake of your future and to stop the destruction you’re wreaking on the lives you touch, reach out to a person/agency that will hear your admission and propel the process of justice and healing. It won’t undo the damage of the crimes you’ve committed—you’re functioning out of brokenness and leaving innocent victims in your wake. But this courageous step will allow for your own restoration to begin. So please take it. And seek God too. Lean into him for strength and resolve. He is the only One who can fully redeem you.
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