I just finished the book Chameleon Days: An American Boyhood in Ethiopia by Tim Bascom, the memoir of a man who was raised in Ethiopia because his parents were Christian missionaries there with SIM. I have read a couple of other stories by missionaries' children, and I find myself troubled that each of the stories involved something truly unfortunate happening in the child's life, as the result.
In this particular book, he attended boarding school in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia's capital), at the school for all the missionary kids (his parents were stationed at a village in another part of Ethiopia.) At the age of six he began attending this school, seperated from his parents for most of the year. They would have the kids write letters to their parents, but the letters were supervised and dictated by a teacher for the child to write. If a child misbehaved, they were beat with a leather belt by one of the people in charge. He says that growing up he never had one, not one, Ethiopian playmate/friend, because he resented them in some way for taking his parents away, and also because the boarding school never had the kids interface with anyone else, it sheltered them from the surrounding society/culture.
As an adult now, he has gravitated (understandably in many ways) towards a very liberal form of religion, because he tired of the "duty" focused Christianity he felt his parents practiced. Although his memoir isn't bitter, I gathered from the overall tone that he doesn't look back on much of his childhood with fondness.
And I've read other stories of missionary children, things (horrible things, much worse than getting hit with a belt) that happened to them at the Christian missionary boarding schools they attended. Things that have left them with a lot of healing to do.
So I'm wondering, why is this? When the Bible tells us to go and make disciples of all the nations, certainly it isn't asking us to throw our children to the wolves in the name of self denial and sacrifice. I wonder if the apparent corruption in these boarding schools still happens, or if improvements have been made over the years. And how on earth did some of the worst abusers, supposed missionaries, even get hired for these schools?
It makes me so sad that so many children have essentially lost their childhoods, their faith and sometimes even their innocence all in the name of missions. I don't believe it has to be that way by any means, nor is it God's intention. Kevin and I have talked about someday wanting to live somewhere in East Africa (ideally Ethiopia) for awhile, who knows if/when/how that would ever happen. I am quite convinced that a child could have a rich, full, happy childhood living in a different culture. So when I read some of these stories I think of all the missed opportunities, lost time, and the misguided intentions of so many well-meaning adults. It is just so sad, and I hope that some of the mentalities that contribute to this have, indeed, changed.
(In my next post I think I will give some of my own random opinions on why these things have happened.)