Weeks before the release of a nearly two-year investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of missionary kids, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) has fired and replaced its investigator, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE).
ABWE retained GRACE in May 2011 to investigate allegations of 1980s sexual abuse by former missionary Donn Ketcham in Bangladesh. But according to ABWE chairman Larry Green, "Flaws in [GRACE's] investigative process that were brought to light were so significant that to continue with GRACE would hinder rather than help us achieve the primary goals for the investigation in the first place—that of discovering the complete truth and facilitating biblical reconciliation with the victims."
ABWE has hired a new "independent and reputable firm," Professional Investigators International (PII), to complete the investigation. Last August, it released the conclusions of a broader investigation of past abuses by ABWE missionaries, conducted by a different investigator than GRACE. (ABWE offers more details on a special website.)
In an open letter to ABWE released Monday, GRACE executive director Boz Tchividjian wrote, "The termination of GRACE strongly suggests ABWE is unwilling to have itself investigated unless the investigation is within your control." The former Florida child abuse prosecutor (and grandson of Billy Graham) said ABWE's "repeated failures to comply with the contractual obligations"–such as providing requested documents and making witnesses available– had in fact given his organization "grounds for terminating our investigation." "These breaches prompted us to inquire on more than one occasion whether ABWE really wanted to complete this process," he wrote.
Among other problems, ABWE alleges that GRACE inappropriately allowed witnesses and victims to compare stories before being interviewed, did not properly record testimonies, and asked leading questions–to such an extent that some victims withdrew from the interview process and complained to ABWE. GRACE offered a point-by-point response to each criticism. "GRACE states categorically that our investigation was fair,
balanced and thorough," said Tchividjian. "If ABWE had allowed GRACE to complete its work, we believe this would have been obvious to everyone who read our final report."
New Tribes Mission (NTM) also ended its working relationship with GRACE after the completion of GRACE's 2010 investigation into alleged abuses at an NTM boarding school for missionary kids in Senegal in the 1980s. The report concluded that at least 50 children were physically or emotionally abused; NTM said it was "deeply saddened" and would make changes recommended by GRACE.
Now three new investigations span decades of allegations in Brazil, Panama, and Bolivia–but NTM did not retain GRACE to conduct these interviews. Instead, NTM selected Pat Hendrix, who previously served as sexual misconduct ombudsman for the Presbyterian Church (USA), to coordinate its Independent Historic Abuse Review Team (IHART). The group is scheduled to release a report in March, as well as another by year's end.
CT recently reported that Bob Jones University has hired GRACE to investigate allegations of sexual abuse on its campus.
CT recently noted how "fresh concerns" about sex abuse by ABWE missionaries halted the naming of a Baptist facility in honor of Wendell Kempton, who led the organization in the 1980s. CT also noted GRACE's 2010 report on NTM's Senegal boarding school, which concluded that NTM "emphasized the saving of souls at the expense of children," and noted when the Christian and Missionary Alliance apologized in 1999 for similar abuses after victims demandedaccountability.
CT featured a cover story on Wess Stafford, president of Compassion International, and his story of childhood abuse and deliverance in a West Africa boarding school. CT also examined declining attendance at missionary boarding schools.
Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that New Tribes Mission had only retained GRACE for one report on its Fanda School in Senegal.