November 5, 2009
In the new documentary All God's Children, there's a lot of talk about sacrifice. Near the beginning of the film, Dr. Bob Fetherlin, vice president of International Ministries for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, says, "The advance of the Kingdom of God historically has always involved some suffering and hardship...We know that there will be sacrifice involved."
Then we hear two more people, Beverly Shellrude Thompson and Rich Darr, talking about sacrifice. But their perspective is very different. Thompson, Darr, and others in the film say that they themselves were sacrificed when they were children. Sent to a Christian and Missionary Alliance boarding school while their parents served as missionaries in Africa, they claim they were physically, sexually, emotionally, and spiritually abused by their house parents and teachers.
All God's Children tells the devastating story of at least two decades of abuse that went on at Mamou Alliance Academy in Guinea. Missionary parents in the denomination were required to send their children to boarding schools at an early age. Today, some of them can't talk about their time at those schools without weeping. They recall beatings, molestation, and other "sadistic" treatment.
The students were terrorized into staying silent. Teachers told them if they distracted their parents from their mission, souls could be lost. One man recalls, "Everything was either going to send you to hell...or cause Africans to not be saved."
Many of the alumni of these schools suffer from depression, shame, and suicidal feelings. Not surprisingly, they also struggle with their faith. When they got the story into the media, the denomination set up an Independent Commission of Inquiry that revealed a "consistent systemic problem." The former president of the denomination has issued a formal apology.
How could this happen in a Christian community, and what can Christians learn to keep such things from happening again?
In the film, the victims of abuse and their parents identify factors that contributed to the problem. The parents and children describe how the mission board undermined family ties. Not only did they insist that children be sent away from their parents, they also made it hard for siblings at the school to interact with each other. Children were expected not to show any homesickness, and family bonds were treated as something that got in the way of the mission.
The parents now say they should have seen this as a warning sign. One mother, looking back on it, says now, "What was I thinking of?" But she concludes, "For me, it was a matter of obedience."
And that leads to another factor: the demand to obey even extra-biblical commands without question. Obedience to authority is a good and necessary thing, in context, but when the authority goes too far, a discerning Christian has to know where to draw the line.
Near the end of this film, one former victim declares, "I continue to refuse to be sacrificed." It's a strong and powerful reminder that we serve a God who does not require this kind of human sacrifice.
And that anyone who claims that children have to be sacrificed in order to lift up God's name or the Gospel is serving the wrong god.
Note: This BreakPoint Commentary delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.