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When Teresa Lea's parents signed up with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) to become missionaries in Africa in the 1970s, they sent 5-year-old Teresa to boarding schools in Gabon and Ivory Coast. She spent 12 years there, learning how to add, read—and, if she wanted to eat, perform oral sex.
When Lea tried to tell her parents of the abuse, the school authorities told her parents she had an overactive imagination. Disbelieved by her parents, Lea didn't mention the abuse again until she was an adult. Lea went to therapy, ended her marriage, and changed her career. She slowly began to heal. In the process, she found other adult missionary kids (MKs) doing the same thing, in part by attending the first-ever interdenominational conference for MK abuse survivors.
For too long, the abuse of missionary children was hidden or dismissed as "false memory." No longer. Rich Darr, who survived physical and emotional abuse at the CMA's Mamou school in West Africa, said abuse there was rampant in the 1950s through the early 1970s. "Far from being an isolated incident in the CMA, abuse was going on at many of their boarding schools," Darr said. "As the Mamou Alliance Academy case was coming into the open, we heard many reports of similar abuses from Alliance boarding schools such as Quito Alliance, Sentani, Indonesia; Bongolo School, Gabon; Zamboanga School, Philippines; Dalat, Malaysia; and more."
The CMA wasn't the only Christian organization facing accusations. An independent investigation found New Tribes Mission MKs suffered sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse at the hands of 12 adults at its Fanda boarding school in Senegal. MKs at a Presbyterian Church (USA) boarding school and a Methodist-Presbyterian hostel in the Congo were also abused, according to an independent inquiry.
In addition to survivors now speaking more openly about their abuse, many Christian institutions have prioritized abuse ...