A Badly Broken Boarding School
Nestled in the temperate mountains of Guinea, West Africa, Mamou Alliance Academy had all the appearances of a haven away from home. Run by the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) denomination from the 1920s to 1971, the school boarded over 200 children of missionaries working in the surrounding regions. Starting at age 6, the children lived there for nine months of every year. Defunct for decades, Mamou is remembered, in the words of one alumnus, as "the Auschwitz of missionary kid boarding schools."
In the late 1980s, the Colorado Springs-based C&MA began receiving reports of rampant abuse at Mamou: children slapped and punched, raped and fondled, and threatened with undoing their parents' mission if they told. In 1995, a committee of some 30 alumni approached the C&MA for an investigation and restitution. It responded by forming an independent commission of inquiry (ICI) the following year. After hearing 80 testimonies, the ICI released a report in April 1998 identifying nine offenders—four retired, three dead, and two no longer with the C&MA. It found the denomination negligent in monitoring Mamou and training teachers. Contributing editor John W. Kennedy extensively covered the story for Christianity Today in 1995 and 1998.
Since the report, the C&MA has drastically changed its educational system. Starting in 2000, parents are not required to send children to boarding schools, and today 75 percent of MKS live with their parents year-round. Those who board remotely are mostly teenagers and attend schools certified by the Association of Christian Schools International. The C&MA board of directors drafted policies and procedures should accusations arise. "We've tried to really change so that the sins of our past are not repeated," vice president for international ministries Robert Fetherlin told CT.
Meanwhile, Mamou's survivors have arrived at varying degrees of resolution. Retreats, including one held by the C&MA in 1999, have provided support and forums for truth-telling. A handful of survivors formed the MK Safety Net, a group that follows the denomination's efforts to change its missions culture. All God's Children, a 2008 documentary comprising interviews and live footage of Mamou, reveals that many survivors are no longer believers, though a few are pastors; all have fought psychological and spiritual angst. But going public about the past has helped. "I've always carried in my head a deep shroud of secrecy that allowed the pain … to go on," said Beverly Shellrude Thompson, president of MK Safety Net. "[But] the story needs to be told. There's healing in the story."
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This is the background to Christianity Today's cover story "A Candle in the Darkness," where Wess Stafford told his story of childhood abuse and deliverance in a West Africa boarding school.
Previous CT articles on Mamou Alliance Academy include:
Missionary Child Abuse | All God's Children recalls the travails of a West Africa boarding school. (August 18, 2009)
Pain Relief | The Christian & Missionary Alliance apologizes to adults abused as missionary kids in Africa. (July 12, 1999)
Missions: From Trauma to Truth | Once-abused children demand accountability. (April 27, 1998)