Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field

by Editor on February 22, 2013

The instant message to her friend said, “I hate them. They don’t know anything about me.”

Four years earlier we had landed on foreign soil.  The flight that carried us, and our 100 pounds each of luggage, was just short enough to cry the entire way.  We felt strongly we were on the right path, but that did not make it painless. Eager to know, love, and serve we dove in fully committed to the people of our new home.  Each day felt long and overwhelming. There was so much to learn, so much to do.  We wanted to be trusted and loved.  We wanted to trust and love.

“God, protect our children from harm”, we earnestly prayed.

From the very beginning we knew and were told that discouragement would come and it might come in the form of illness or an attack on our family or marriage. We were armed with knowledge about quickly identifying that.

We stayed busy managing multiple programs, building relationships with our neighbors, hosting short-term teams, and raising our family. Our kids thrived. The two oldest excelled in language acquisition and spoke circles around the adults.

I wish I could get away from them,” she typed to her friend.

Just shy of our three-year anniversary abroad, we decided to work with a new organization.  As we learned the language and confronted the cultural issues, we outgrew the stateside leadership and couldn’t convince them our opinions were worth respecting.  With sadness we packed and moved a few hours away to a new area, a new assignment.

After our move our daughter grew more and more angry. She distanced herself from us in ways we didn’t understand. She put walls up and refused to let us into her life.

“She is a teenager, this is normal,” we said.

Even as we said it, it didn’t make sense. We’d always been such a tight-knit and happy family.

Confused, we confronted her.  “Why are you so angry?”

“I’m not.” She lied.

One night we decided enough was enough.  “You’ll stay home from school tomorrow and we WILL talk”, we said. She shrugged; she walked away and slammed her door.

I woke up early that morning.  Angry and hurt, blaming and upset, I went for a run. “God, she hates us for no reason. She is terrible to us. She keeps hurting us. Lord, please tell me how to punish her”, I prayed.

Running fast, fueled by anger, I asked again, “God, this is so terrible – what should we do with her?”  The answer came so clearly I checked my ipod to see if I had heard it there.  I asked again. The response stopped me dead in my tracks. “Give her gifts. I love her. Give her gifts.”

Totally bewildered I sprinted home to tell her Dad, “We’re not supposed to punish her. We’re supposed to give her gifts.”

Over the period of the next several hours we ignored every hurtful word hurled and every angry action. We took our daughter to treat her to gifts.  It confused us and it confused her but we spent the day spoiling her.

Late that night she walked up the stairs into our office and handed us a four-page letter.  She asked us to read it immediately.  As I read it hot tears poured down my face.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s my fault.”

“You warned us, you told us to be careful.”

“It happened many times.”

“I was afraid.”

“I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“I am ashamed.”

“I should have known how to stop it.”

For three years our little girl had been subjected to the crafty and culturally accepted advances of someone we trusted and saw as her friend, an innocent playmate.  It wasn’t until we moved away from it that she could begin to feel the all consuming and confusing mixture of shame and pain over what took place.  She turned her rage inward, she turned it on the people she trusts most to love her.

When they were together it was always within our walls.  She worked on her language skills and he tried his English.  A few nights a week for years the kids played outside near the gate together. Other kids almost always seemed to be right with them. “They are so cute working on language like that,” we thought. Because he was in the same grade as her we had thought of him as her equal.  Yes, he was nine years older than her but he seemed like a child in some ways.

Sobbing together on the floor of our office, I said “This is not your fault.”

“But you told me that someone could try to hurt me.”

“You told me.”

And so it began, the long and grueling process of hurting and healing together.  The HIV rate in our host country demanded tests for her. The emotional damage and deep shame demanded much more.  It continues to demand MUCH more.

As it turned out my warnings were about bad boogie men and not about a friend, not about someone in the same grade in school as her. My warnings didn’t help prepare for the sly way he would move in on her and manipulate her feelings and guilt her into thinking she had chosen it.  He was an adult, and in his culture having sex is his right.

As parents that boarded an airplane filled with faith and a desire to serve God abroad, praying, “God, protect our children from harm” we were devastated. Our Father had not heard us.  We felt He had looked away.  Having entered the mission field aware and on guard we felt so stupid for missing it, for not knowing, for not seeing.

The road has been long. The anger rises up without permission. The grief hits us all at unpredictable times.

Give her gifts, Lord.  We love her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sexual abuse of children is a complicated issue world wide.  In certain cultures it is endemic. Kids being raised in a second or new culture are at an increased risk.  How aware are you of this issue in your culture and what measures do you take to try to protect your children?

(The author of this important true story has chosen to remain anonymous yet may be addressed as ‘Jessica’ in the comments.)

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  • Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability and for the excellent, sadly necessary, reminder. Give her gifts, what a lovely, perfect word from Him, so precious and tender. Praying that with you and for her. Am also planning a conversation to add to our family’s on-going discussions about this topic.

    • Jessica

      Thank-you Rachel. He was very good to give me that clear word on the day I needed it. Even though that is a number of years ago now I still think of that day as one of the most important of our lives. It was meant to be brought to light and we’re so grateful He gave us what we needed to end the darkeness and secrecy.

  • Very powerful words. Thank you for being brave enough to share.

    • Jessica

      Thank you. It is something we’re all finally ready to share, hoping it can help others be more prepared.

  • Jamie Jo

    What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing it with us. More organizations are becoming aware of the risks and taking steps to educate the parents, not just the kids. It would be frightening to know how rampant this is, even on the mission field, but the good news is that these dark chapters in kids’ lives do not have to be the defining moments. God can and will redeem it for His purposes. Be encouraged!

    • Jessica

      Thank you Jamie. Hoping for redemption.

  • Jessica, thank you for your courage in sharing this story. I can’t imagine the grief you must be feeling. But I do know the grief of having been abused and having no one to tell. Your daughter has such an advantage in her healing because you were humble enough to listen to God and obey his prompting. She has loving parents to share her pain and her journey as she endures this trauma. She has so many resources, so many more than we did at her age. She will have wisdom, courage, and strength beyond her years and God will use her in extraordinary ways to lead others to hope and healing.

    • Jessica

      Dear Tammy,

      Thank you for these words. They made me cry. We are so very thankful God spoke to us in that way (truly only one of two times I can recall something that audible or clear) – we know that He desires truth and secrecy and darkness are not of Him.

      • Jessica, I’d like to recommend a book for you that I found helpful for myself. It is written for the adult survivor, but I think it will give you some insight and ideas as you walk alongside your daughter. It is written from a biblical perspective, by a woman who pioneered counseling methods of sexual abuse issues among Christians and especially within the church.

        • jessica

          thank you!

  • PrudyChick

    My heart breaks for your family and your daughter. Praying for all of you and especially her.

    • jessica

      thank you very much.

  • Jessica, one of the things that has been so detrimental to my own healing is the lack of response from my parents. I say this to encourage you. Your daughter is so loved and fought for and she knows this – it’s why she confided in you guys. I agree with Tammy – because you obeyed the prompting of the Spirit, so much healing is possible. Thank you. Thank you for showing us what it’s like to step alongside our children and grieve and heal with them. I’ll be praying for your daughter – what an incredibly brave girl.

    • jessica

      elora – we understand now that this is not something you just “get over” and so today i pray for you to feel held and loved

  • Nicky

    Thank you Jessica. Absolutely my biggest fear about going. Do you have any advice for talking to kids about this? I praise God that He is so gentle and gave you just what you needed to get her to open up. I will pray for your families continued healing. And that you would be able to pour out forgiveness.

    • jessica

      Thank you Nicky- We have younger kids and since figuring out how we failed earlier in the ways we chose to talk about this we now speak much more bluntly about people we know and trust breaking rules we can have around our bodies. it is difficult to do but we try to bring it up about once a month so it is something we’re frequently talking about. t

    • Good to be cautious, but it’ll happen here as well. As we survey 20-somethings, over half of those going on our mission trips have already been abused. It’s probably safer overseas where your circle of friends is smaller and your ability to monitor influences on your kids may actually be greater.

      • Seth, you make a great point in that abuse can and does happen anywhere. As parents, caution and wisdom are essential, whether are are raising kids in Russia or China or Florida.

        • Brianna

          however, you have to remember that in the USA, interacting sexually with a child or toddler is not socially acceptable, whereas in some countries it is seen as perfectly fine to do in public and no one would turn you in. So there has to be much more caution taken…it doesn’t just happen in private or when kids are whisked away by a pervert. it can happen in broad daylight, by a neighbor…in their living room with people around.

          • Dear Brianna –

            You’re so right. That has been the main reason we decided to address this to “expats” in a new culture. The rules are indeed often very different. I have seen women attempt to sexually arouse boys as young as two in the cultre I live in and that is not viewed as inappropriate here. It is not at all that we are suggesting abuse cannot happen anywhere — it is that we are suggesting that in a new culture you are working within a context you might not understand — therefore protecting (trying your best to anyway) your own kids is a bit more work.

    • Tim

      A great book for teaching toddlers about boundaries: The Swimsuit Lesson by Jon Holsten. See it at

  • Tamie

    Hi Jessica. So much of this resonated with me. I have found comfort from the bit in Isaiah about the one who took up our infirmities. Jesus on the cross bears not only my sin but also knows the sin against me and the misuse of my body. My story is one of feeling God’s betrayal and abandonment and growing to recognise his identification with me and experience his healing of me. Praying the same is true for you and your family.

    • Jess

      thank you Tamie

    • Andy

      Wow Tamie!! Thanks so much for reminding us of the cross; the place where our completely Holy and Innocent Lord was brutally abused for our sins and by our sins; in a way, we all abused Him and yet He has forgiven, loved, adopted, etc. And although we are broken, sinful people, we have this power of Him to forgive and be made whole, keeping our eyes on the perfect healing that is to come soon…
      Both my wife and I went through sexual abuse as children/young teens by older teens close to the families and it’s left sequels which are hard to overcome but not impossible. And it’s been hard to find people with whom to talk, analyze, get counsel, etc. Now as missionaries to an indigenous culture in our own country with two little girls we face the risks of abuse in both cultures.
      Dear Jessica and all others who have shared, please know that sharing your experience is a blessing to many, thank you. And if anybody could share a bit about what that manipulation leading to sexual abuse is like and how to warn our girls, I’d greatly appreciate it, blessings…

  • Brian Hauser

    Thanks for sharing Jessica. A timely and painful reminder for my wife and me as we raise our 5 little ones on the field. Our oldest is 9 years old and we’re struggling with how/when to start preparing him for these kinds of things that might come up. Blessings and God’s healing to your family.

    • Jessica

      Thank you Brian. It is tricky to come love people and yet need to be careful about trusting. (and then there are fellow misisonaries too). Praying for wisdom and discernment for us all.

    • Tanja

      Dear Brian. I have no personal experience in this, but I would still encourage you to start talking to your child(ren) now about these things. I will do it as soon as my kids are old enough to carry a conversation, or maybe even sooner. We have close friends who found out just in the nick of time that their house helper- a christian woman of some 20 years of age – was starting to get their son to undress in front of her, wanting to see his penis, saying that she was in love with him, etc. Seven year old boy! And they HAD already talked to their son about the possibility of sexual predators (in child appropriate language) many times, and he still was tricked by the woman. So I am starting to see that there is no such thing as “too early”. Who knows how far it would have gone if they had not had the blessed luck of walking in on it when it happened.

      I always keep checking up on my kids when they are with their nanny or other friends. Doors throughout the house are always kept open, I look inside the bathroom if she’s helping them get their pants back up. I know I can still not guarantee anything, but reading this story has really pressed this issue both with me and my husband again, and we are taking measures to be more aware and vigilant.

      Thank you, Jessica, for the courage to share and give all of us a reality check.

      • Great practical advice here, Tanja.

        Thanks for sharing this– it is a unique situation overseas because expats often do have housekeepers/nannies which is a level of closeness that can become dangerous. Love those practical tips about doors open, etc. This is so helpful . . . and you are right, I am thankful Jessica has bravely given us all a “reality check”– necessary, for sure!

  • Angie

    I’m so sorry for what your daughter and family have had to walk through. Thank you for being frank and sharing your pain but yet also sharing your hope. Lifting up a prayer for you this morning.

  • Mom of two girls

    I have two girls (11 and 13) on foreign soil, so your story (thank you for sharing) certainly strikes a cord with me. Do you have any tips in terms of boundaries you had to put in place to prevent this from happening again? I hear you saying how this was someone you trusted and they were typically only together in your home or near your home, so what could have been done differently to take away the opportunity he apparently had?

    • Jessica

      Dear Mom of 2 girls –

      I feel like we were dumb to assume he was innocent and safe, i think we were naive in our trust and that had we been in the country for a few years we would have understood the “rules” of sex and the cultural norms about when that starts in our country. I also in hindsight can pick out clear signs that she (my daughter) was not okay long before we moved and long before she started showing overt anger/rage/pain. She later told me that most of my warnings and talks came AFTER it had begun. I think talking to little kids and frequently is smart. I mainly think that if kids had the tools to recognize manipulation that trusted friends might use (words they might say and the very first manipulation measures they might apply) it could help them see it before it progressed into full-fleged abuse/rape/trauma. I am sure there is no way to totally protect our kids, I’m just thinking there are a few extra meaures that would have at least reduced the chance.

    • we have six girls here with us (noting also that boys are often victims of predators as well) – in a place where culturally, it is expected and accepted that boys will take advantage of girls. on top of that, our blue-eyed blondies tend to draw a significant amount of attention, so we’ve had to be very proactive in talking with our girls, teaching them how to protect themselves, even how to be safe and cautious when using the bathroom at their local primary school. they know never to be alone with another man or a boy – and my husband and I make it a practice ourselves to never be alone with a child outside our family, regardless… ever. we’ve spoken with our children about appropriate and inappropriate touch since they were very young – even to the point of teaching them that while sometimes Mommy and Daddy need to help them with physical needs, we should always ask permission and explain what we are doing and why as we do. we’ve also taught our bigger kids to help look out for our younger ones. additionally, we’ve tried to build an environment where our kids feel more or less comfortable talking to us about sex and sexuality and other related issues.

      thankfully, we’ve only had to help our kids walk through one or two minor incidents – and as a parent, that was terrifying enough.

      jessica, you and your precious child are being prayed for…

    • Ali Edapal

      My husband and I had made the decision that our daughter should never go alone to the home or ‘compound’ of the boy, after my husband had heard our daughter say something in Kiswahili that didn’t ‘fit’ with him. The abuse I discovered was occurring whist I was in the house of my friend drinking coffee with her. I just felt a prompting from the what I believe was the Holy Spirit nudging me in the way He does to go see where my daughter was. I think that this boy was so determined to abuse my daughter, that he would have found ways and means to do so, he was very bold and sure!

      I don’t know that I have any tips other than trying to build up the relationships with your daughters so that if something were to happen to them they would be able to speak to YOU! The boy who abused my daughter was and continues to be a great manipulator – and I think this is often typical of longer term abusers! (the play therapist says she was able to give a time scale of around three months – that she endured the abuse)

      Other than always keeping my daughter within my line of sight – I really don’t know what else we could have done. When there was an issue – we did take action (that she should not go to the house alone) but as I said I think the boy was very determined!

      When we lived in Northern Kenya – in a more remote area – I have to say that I had considered the dangers to my children MUCH more – then when we moved to a bigger town – lots of Missionaries, our mixing with them took some of those fears away. You have to understand the boy who abused my daughter was like a nephew to me – his mum like a sister!! So it was not just a family we knew but a family where there was MUCH interaction. I have come to understand that most abusers are know to the child who is abused – so having a realistic but not fearful approach to the idea that ANYONE could hurt your children – may help us – help you to put boundaries in place and keep communication very much open with our sons and daughters . . .

      Sorry I can’t offer and greater insight! . . . and that I have talked so much again!! x

      • Ali,

        Thanks for sharing your story and your heartbreak and your daughter’s so honestly– it is deeply good to be vulnerable and open, and I’m glad you are able to do that here.
        I loved your insight on being aware of friends and their children– that so often those who would b/c abusers are close family friends . . . practically speaking, for us, this means we almost NEVER do sleepovers with our friends’s families. Almost no matter what, even though that seems to be a very common thing to let young kids do. It just makes us nervous . . .
        Thanks, again, Ali– prayers for you and your family from snowy Colorado tonight,

  • Glad you wrote this post. When I first moved overseas, I was much more niave. I shutter now knowing the men here. This is heartbreaking for you and your daughter, but THANK YOU for sharing this. Its such an important conversations.

    • YES. Being NAIVE.

      We heard once from a seasoned missionary of 25 years that the greatest mistake, in their opinion, was that missionaries didn’t take the safety of their children seriously enough.

      I say that NOT to shake my finger at all, AT ALL, at Jessica, but just to underscore the importance of her story and this post. It is a good reminder. We get so involved in “ministry” that so often we forget or don’t see/understand the dangers around us.

  • Lynn

    Thanks Jessica for sharing your family’s pain. I’m so glad your daughter opened up to you and told you what was going on. I didn’t read all the comments so I don’t know if anyone mentioned it but I would just want to warn families also about same sex sexual abuse. I think often when children are molested quite young and they don’t understand what is happening, they end up doing the same thing to their friends. This was true in the case of two of my girl friends. And several of my friends with kids just have a no sleepover policy because that is when these kinds of things occur. Its horrifying that these are the daily realities our world faces but we must be vigilant. May God give all of you with children incredible discernment and wisdom as your raise your children.

    • Elizabeth

      I totally agree with warning children about same-sex exploration/exploitation.

  • Jessica,

    I am so thankful you had the guts to post this. It is a needed conversation in our community, in this line of work. Thanks for being willing to share this. It was brave and necessary for us to hear.

    Praying for your family and the continued healing for your daughter . . . even now as I leave this comment.

  • Lynn P.

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I am not a parent, but have seen two families deal with this. In both cases their children were 5 or younger. One was abused by an older child in the community they were serving. The other was abused by an older child from the missionary community. It is devastating to all concerned and yet, the Lord is able to bring healing. Many organizations are beginning to recognize that this is a problem and doing some training for the adults. This really does help everyone to be more aware and to watch out for the children associated with them. Again, thanks for the courage to speak about this and to give hope in the process as well. Praying that the Lord continues to bring healing for your daughter and your family.

    • Jessica

      Thank you so much Lynn. We’ve been incredibly blessed to see God’s faithfulness even after feeling somewhat forsaken in the beginning when we first learned of what went on. Our daughter is doing well and is choosing to share her story on occasion when she feels it wil help newer missionary parents. She is an adult now and we’re all working on turning this pain into something good.

    • Ali Edapal

      x It is devastating to all concerned and yet, the Lord is able to bring healing. Amen!!! X

  • Claire

    Jessica, have you struggled with how God could have let this happen? Have you found peace about it? I was molested as a young child and didn’t remember until I was an adult and it has really shaken my trust in Him.

    • Jessica

      Hi Claire – I will say, yes, we have struggled. When this first came out I was on my face with grief for what felt like a long time. My daughter has had her own battle to reconcile it all and my husband his own separate struggle with anger toward men. It takes time to heal and to work it out with God. — Jessica

  • Survived & Thriving

    Jessica, my heart breaks for you & your daughter, especially. However, there is one statement I want to address in your post. You say, in the end, that God did not hear you & protect your daughter; I respectfully disagree. Having been a survivor of years of sexual abuse myself, from 2 different predators I understand what you mean when you say it felt that way, however I have come out of the experience seeing that my Daddy God was there the entire time. With every horrible encounter, I have been able to see that God was pleading with my abusers to make a different choice, THEY chose against HIS heart. In this world you WILL have trouble. He warns us – fall that humanity set into motion has consequences that affect us all.

    Yes, this time for your daughter & yourselves is difficult and it is hard to believe that something so negative & hurtful could be used for good. HE gives us His peace. He is the one who turns all of that mourning into dancing. I can say that is true for myself. I am a missionary & have had the amazing opportunity to counsel & disciple girls from all over the world in walking their own journey of healing in this area. Do I hate that this happens to people – YES! Would I go through it again to see God use it the way HE has – YES!

    As much as we want it to be true, the best is rarely the easiest. We want for those we love most to never feel pain & never have to experience hardships, but that is exactly where God meets us – in our own inability & weakness. You are doing well, the fact that your daughter could come to you & speak these things is HUGE. I didn’t say it out loud until I was 21 years old. Continuing to point toward the Father & HIS healing will continue to draw you all closer to HIM. As hard as it is to believe, this suffering is an opportunity to share in Christ’s suffering and allow a world without Him to see they are not alone. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for making others aware. Thank you for loving your daughter well & showing her that you are a safe place for her to be broken & renewed!

    • Andrew J. Schmutzer

      Dear “Survived & Thriving,” as a survivor and professor of theology, I need to caution you on some of your thinking. God is not sitting at the bed side during the sexual molestation and rape of boys and girls pleading in the ear of the abuser/rapist to “Stop…please stop!” What that means is that an all-powerful God was reduced to begging and was actually powerless to stop the abuse from happening because all he had at his disposal was words. Is the well-being of innocent children tied to the conscience of molesters? Forget the abuser/rapist: why doesn’t God speak in our ear while we were being abused/raped: “I’m with you…you can heal from this!” What Jesus does say related to evil people is that “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt 18:6). No excuses are made here, for himself or others.

      In none of Jesus’ earthly miracles does his expressed WORD function as you state–what he says is irresistable and happens. It’s the same God who spoke creation into being, with a word. If God is all-powerful, why did he not intervene, and work around those abusers who often kept on abusing for years, and why are his words so easily rebuffed. There are better ways to express how evil fights against God’s will. There are better way to give comfort to people. It is better to say that God has given people (his image-bearers) moral freedom to choose and people will have to live with the consequences of their own choices–and others’. God grieves (Gen 6:6) in the face of evil, indeed, but not because his word can’t get through.

      Secondly, “would I go through it all again…this suffering is an opportunity to share.” The problem with this logic is that it makes God collude with evil. Because God CAN bring good from evil never means we should lose sight of the evil that it was. The end doesn’t justify the means, but this is a common way of thinking about evil and grace today, rather than facing the true horror of the abuser who never got help and then abused his own kids, etc. Now those abused adults may struggle with related addictions for the rest of their lives. It’s like saying: “Don’t worry about the fact that the eggs are broken–because what a great omelette came from it!” This kind of thinking minimizes the pain that so many survivors live with–many of which walk away from God because of their dissolution. Wait…are they resisting another “small voice” to trust him now?

      I can recommend some books that help sift through the complexities of God’s goodness and human evil: (1) N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (IVP), (2) Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice in Love (Eerdmans), and my own book, The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused (Wipf & Stock)

      Joseph illustrates how to talk about both good “good” and “evil,” “selling” by his brothers and “sending” of God (Gen 45:5; 50:20). As an author and support group leader, I’ve found we need to talk deeply about grieving the broken eggs as well as the omelette–in that order.

      • Becky

        And lets not forget that God places it into our hands to bring about judgement against abusers when it is within our ability to do so. Forgiveness should NEVER be an excuse to choose not to report and prosecute, when possible.

      • Andrew,

        Thanks for taking the time to comment here– loved this important point:

        “Because God CAN bring good from evil never means we should lose sight of the evil that it was. The end doesn’t justify the means . . .”

        Love, too, your image of “grieving the broken eggs as well as the omelette, in that order.”

        Will have to check out those books you listed. Thanks for your thoughtful comments here. It’s obvious that you have wrestled with this, both personally and theologically, and I appreciate you taking the time to enter the discussion here.

      • Survived & Thriving

        Professor Schmutzer, I appreciate your thoughts on the matter. However, in your response I believe you are reading into things I did not say, nor did I mean to communicate. If they were miscommunicated, that is my fault. The point of my posting at all was to say, as much as it is wrong – the good can come if we let it. The beauty can come from the ashes. I will make myself clear, because apparently I have misled you to believe that I think this crime should be let go & not be called for what it is – evil! I have NEVER, in any counseling situation, suggested that a victim not be honest & bring their abuser to justice if given the opportunity.

        I would also like to address your remarks on going through the suffering again. Would it be nice if those things weren’t part of anyone’s story, yes. However, we live in a fallen world & if the rest of humanity has to deal with this issue without the Father, why do I believe that I should be exempt because I have Him? I believe the opposite, that I should be sharing my history with others struggling, especially those outside the faith. Whether we like it or not, suffering happens. I have a choice; to continue to focus on the fact that I was victimized (after seeking help & going through the work) or to reflect on all that God did in my life & how He transformed all of that mess into a strong, confident, Spirit led, pioneering woman. It is by no means easy, let me say that again in case it might get confused – IT IS A HELL OF A ROAD, but God plants flowers along the way & He winds that road through the shade, beside HIS still waters.

        • Survived and Thriving–

          Thanks for taking the time to respond. I love the reminder that I think is essentially what we are all saying– that beauty can come from ashes.

          Absolutely and Amen.

          Thanks for taking the time to weigh in here . . . .

      • Mom in Asia

        Dr. Schmutzer,

        Thank you for your insights into this matter. If you are the same Andrew Schmutzer that I am thinking of, my husband and I had you in classes years ago at MBI. I remember you sharing a bit of your story then as well. As a professor whom we greatly respected and admired, it is good to hear from you on this subject.

        Since MBI, we have come to the field as well, in a culture where sexual abuse is prominent and considered “normal.” I find myself feeling anxious over this matter, as my children are very young and still unable to communicate their feelings with me. I wrestle with what is an appropriate way to teach them as toddlers what is “acceptable touch” and what is not. In the midst of these feelings of anxiety, thank you yet again for a clear and Biblical reminder of our God’s sovereignty and goodness.

        I loved your comments about God not being so small as to sit on the sidelines and plead with any man. A friend of mine who was abused said that she wrestled with that thought for years, until God revealed to her a picture of Him fighting for her – fighting the unseen powers who were waging war for her soul in those moments. He is a powerful God who fought and still fights for her healing and wholeness in Him.

        Thank you again for your insight, and we will be checking out your book! Blessings.

      • Andrew, where’s your compassion?

  • Tricia

    Thank you for sharing this Jessica. As we started exploring life in missions, our good friends were leaving the field after they found out their young daughter was being molested by an older boy of a national family, and their marriage was on the brink of collapse. This has always been a concern of mine, as we have three girls, the oldest who is now 12. I am wondering how is a good way to start having conversations with them about this? The oldest is aware of issues like child sex trafficking and child molestation, but we haven’t had any conversations about it being personal. They have always been homeschooled, so I have had more time to avoid conversations like this, than if they were in school.


      Hi Tricia –

      We all know our own kids and what they can handle, but with my kids I am very direct. I have said things and continue to say things that are very specific – “There are hurt people in this world. Those that are hurt often hurt others. Sometimes people we love and enjoy and trust will attempt to hurtful things becasue they have hidden hurt” — I then go on to explain the way manipulation looks and words people say — most people that molest children tell the kids it is “their secret.” — Our kids know specific things about how abuse often starts and they know that they ARE allowed to say no to an adult. We don’t parent in the all black and white “you must respect and obey all people older than you” way. We would rather have kids that question authority than blindly follow anyway. (I know this is not a wildly popular approach, but it is ours.) I get wanting to avoid it all because it is so uncomfortable …. but I would say the things that are the hardest to talk about are sometimes the very most important to talk about. It gets easier after the first few tries. We now purposefully bring it up, remind, and check in about once a month.

    • YES! This is how we are with our kids, too. 🙂

      • “We would rather have kids that question authority than blindly follow anyway. (I know this is not a wildly popular approach, but it is ours.) ” — Sorry, this was what i was referring to– Jessica’s parenting advice. 🙂

  • Sending thoughts and prayers for peace and healing Jessica to all of the family.

  • DebbiePinkston

    Unfortunately this happens all too often. Sexual abuse usually occurs by someone who is close to the family, whether friend, family member or neighbor…which makes it all the more disturbing, because we are supposed to be able to trust the people close to us. I’m so sorry for this pain for your daughter and for you as her parents.

    I’m now working on a book on recovery from sexual abuse in Spanish for use in Latin America and eventually I’ll translate it into English. Perhaps a book specifically for MKs is needed. What do you think?

    • brazil nut

      yes yes yes – please write a book specifically for MKs as well.
      an MK from Brazil, Linda

  • Jessica

    Survived and Thriving-

    I actually agree with some of what you’ve said here … but some of it made me feel shamed. I wasn’t necessarily wanting a theology discussion as much as I wanted to share the feelings beind this stuff. Truth is, we felt abandoned. I don’t care to polish those feelings up for presentation to others. I know that both my daughter and my husband and I all very much felt that our very specific prayers were unheard. We in no way think God “planned” any of it, that’s not what we’re saying at all. Evil won that round in our minds. (free will and sin caused the assualts.) Yes, we have seen God turn that evil for good and that will likely continue. I’d personally STILL rather she have that piece of her life back. It is great that you can say YES *you* would go through it again but I respectfully submit to you that we are all on our own journey and what you feel doesn’t have to be what I feel. (thank you to Andrew for the thoughts to)

    • Jessica, I totally hear you here. Just saying, as much as possible, I “get” your response– of course, of course, we wouldn’t ever choose for evil to fall on our kids. Of course, we want the absolute best for them. YES— shouldn’t that be the heart of the parent? I love that yours is.

      I hope you in NO WAY feel shamed. This post took guts and what happened to your daughter was awful, awful, horrible.

      Thanks for walking into this discussion and leading your family and your daughter bravely into bringing secret things out into the light. This is what we need in this community of “perfect missionaries”– the guts to speak out the times we very much feel that God “failed” us, the guts to admit that sexual abuse happens even in the midst of ministries and missions-schools, the guts to give grace to each other and walk forward.

      So thankful for your family’s leadership in this . . .

    • tony and amber elswick

      Please do not feel shame. Your courage to tell your story is changing how parents look at this subject. Your pain will help others. What a tragedy your family has suffered, I pray you will see the Lord change that into your good and his glory. You will never get back what you lost, but you be able to help others along the way. I have 4 daughters and we are preparing for the field, this is a concern for my husband and I. Your story is helpful for us. Thank you for the COURAGE to tell your story.

    • Survived & Thriving

      Jessica, I am sorry if you felt that I was doing anything other than trying to share a story of someone who has been there. My desire is not at all to create shame in someone, nor to judge. Of course you would rather she still have her innocence, especially in that area. I am truly sorry if you felt anything other than support from me. I also agree that we are all on our own journey. I should have shared the years of shame & fear I lived in, I could have talked about the fact that my relationships with men were confused; it’s all a part of the walk I have been on, not just the backside of the storm. I hear you, I hear your momma’s heart & I completely understand it being broken. I also very much understand questioning God on it. Again, I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear in my response. Keep fighting, feeling supported!

      • Survived and Thriving, You have no need to apologize for anything. You have, with God’s grace, turned a negative into a triumph! Joseph told his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” Your testimony challenged this one man’s theological model. You’re in good company. So did the blind man’s healing by Jesus challenge the Pharisees. You have come a long way to be able to thank God for everything in your life. Paul wrote, “I rejoice in my weaknesses.” I was molested by a family member at age 3 and again by a priest at age 11. These life events were hidden from my memory until age 47, when they came out through prayer. I told my parents what happened at age 11, but I was strongly rebuffed by my mother. That just didn’t fit into her worldview. So, to cope I erased it from my memory. I have forgiven my mother. She did the best she could with what she was given. I also forgave my father for what he did. When I did that, the love of God came upon me and overwhelmed me. For those of you parents who are concerned about how to broach this subject with your children, there is no one method. You are going to make mistakes. Love covers a multitude of sins. If you are cooperating with God in creating an environment of love, acceptance, and open communication, you’re going to be all right. It’s a lot more difficult as a child to tell you about it after the fact.

  • Jessica

    I think that the risks are probably greater (not by much) for missionaries working outside of their home culture — I think that most of us can admit that the rules surrounding sex and sexual exposure are often very different. We understand in our home culture what the law is and what the norms are. For example, in the culture we live in there is nothing wrong in the eyes of the local population with a 28 year old man having sex with a 12 year old girl. That would not be reported or troublesome to anyone, including the girl’s family. (It is VERY troublesome to me, an American living abroad.) Understanding what is a cultural norm when it comes to sex is pretty important if you want to protect your kids as best you can. (And no, there is no way to be 100% protected anywhere at anytime, the depravity and sin is ever present.)

  • Becky A.

    Jessica, thank you so much for having the courage to share this story about your family’s experience with sexual abuse on the mission field. I loved how God gave you the wisdom to know how to reach out to your daughter and begin the healing process for her and for you as well.

    I grew up as an MK on the mission field in a time when nobody was really talking about this issue and as a result, I did not tell anyone about my experience of being sexually abused by other local children until I was in my late 30s. Not having anyone to help me sort all of that out and help me overcome the guilt, shame and other baggage it created was really hard and I struggled for many years. God has brought healing and hope, but I really wish it could have come a lot sooner.

    Interestingly, God has used my experience to connect with and encourage other women, both off and on the mission field, but I’m quite sure that I would rather not have had those experiences in my background. I also know that it is not necessary to have had those experiences to connect well with or encourage hurting people, either.

    I am so glad for your kind and loving response to your daughter and that this topic can now be more openly discussed in forums like this. I agree with your approach to speaking directly to your children and encouraging them to spot anything that makes them feel that boundaries are being crossed, even if coming from someone in ‘authority’. No, I don’t think that there is any way to protect our children 100% on the mission field (we’ve got 3 boys and 1 girl), but learning about this topic, keeping the communication lines open with them and helping our kids be aware of these kinds of issues will certainly go a long way towards their protection.

    • Wow, Becky,

      Thanks for this response. It is mature and thoughtful and kind.

      I am so sorry about your experience with the local children. What a hard thing to walk through, and I agree, there is such power when we openly talk about these very real issues– both online in forums like this and with our own families.
      Thanks for using your difficult to serve/connect with others.

      And thanks for stopping in and bravely sharing your story, too.

      • Becky A.

        Thanks, Laura!

  • Ali Edapal

    My then four and a half year old daughter – my youngest was abused for a number of months. I am a British lady, married to a fab Kenyan guy – living in and loving Kenya – I have three children, a 11 year old boy and a nine and a half year old girl in addition to my ‘baby’!! 🙂 We discovered in April last year that she was beyond all doubt being abuse by the 11 year old son of a Missionary family. I walked in on the abuse happening. We are on a journey as you can imagine and my heart goes out to you Jessica and to all of you who have express the pain of your own abuse of the abuse of a child.

    I Was amazed that by the time we were able to get professional ‘help’ for our daughter, five moths later, it turned out to be perfect timing – all those moths we were sat thinking, wondering if we had done as much as we could to help her.

    What actually made me respond to this was a comment made about how to prepare our kids or warn them about abuse. I have two suggestions to start off with 1) Your child needs to know that their body is there body! With in this they MUST understand what is acceptable touching and how you teach them that depends on how your family works – but I suggest it starts REALLY young in very simple ways. 2) Teach our Children about GOOD secrets and BAD secrets. This was a way that we were able to talk to our small daughter – as the abuser in her case and in many cases had convinced her to keep a secret. If a secrets a) hurts you in ANY way or b) hurts another person in their body or in their heart then it is probably bad and you should tell Mum or Dad or your teacher or Sunday school teacher or . . . someone you trust as a family. Not all information HAS to come via the child back to Mum and Dad.

    In fact something we learned from the Therapist our daughter saw is that often children do not and will not tell their parents for fear of making them sad. Our daughter had never spoken directly to me about the abuse – the detail of it and i have promised her I will never question her – but the day she wants to tell me I will listen – I have to trust that the details she told the Therapist are enough. I did see the abuse in process – so I have a very sad idea of what my child endured however we talk about FEELINGS and try to keep the channels open!

    I struggle daily but look to God and trust him – my husband has been great and it had bought us closer as a family – it is so special to see my other two children caring for their little sister. I rejoice in the bigness of God but still in very real ways have found it hard to move on. My daughter is amazing and that is the best part. She has declared that she chooses to forgive! in many ways that has given me ‘permission’ for move my forgiveness from my head to my heart.

    On the mission field we felt somewhat isolated – not by location but because the abuser is also withing the Missionary Community and a lot of friends of families over lap. I don’t often miss the UK but I have so missed the people I love and the people who would have supported us. However I have been overwhelmed by my Kenyan friends and their commitment to our family and their love and readiness to embrace the issues and our pain with us.

    Well – sorry guys I have really ‘talked’ thanks for the article!

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  • Andrea_Videographer

    I turned 14 two days after my family landed in Albania. (My parents were missionaries.) A predatory 18 year old soon attached himself to my parents and they quickly hired him as an interpreter. I definitely feel that he was grooming me. He never allowed me to play outside in the streets (as all children did there) he spread the word around town that no men were ever allowed to speak to me. He told me what to wear. My parents let him parade me around town as his prize. My parents were in complete denial even when I told them I was scared he wanted to rape me. He made their lives convenient as missionaries. He knew people and interpreted for my parents.

    I don’t think this is uncommon at all for Foreign families moving to new places where they don’t understand the societal norms. Even in our country, this young man was way out of line for the culture but my parents had no idea and never acted. Thankfully, my older, very protective sister soon came to live with us and ran him off.

    • Andrea_Videographer

      I take that back, my parents DID have an “idea” because I told them. They just refused to believe me and refused to act.

    • Nanny O.

      Andrea, I’m so sorry for what you went through (and all the others who have written here as well). I’m also sorry for and upset over the response your parents had at the time. I hope they have come to realize the truth and reality of what happened, the impact it has had on you, and how wrong it was. I am glad that your older sister stepped in on your behalf.

  • Peter Vandever

    What is painful is the fear they live under.

    My younger sister was molested as a child by a man working for my dad in the Army here in the Philippines. She lived with that for years and even denied it time and time again.

    10 years later, it all came out at the man’s funeral. I was pissed. Why did she lie and why didn’t see say something to me? I could have stopped it. I will never forget her response, “Peter, you were a Army Ranger before you was a missionary. You would taken his head right off his shoulders and then you would be in trouble.” Truth was she was right.

    It rips me to the core that she couldn’t come to tell me. She was afraid of how I would respond.

    • Bill Cole

      There is no other way to say this except, Peter Vandever is a Liar.
      He never served in the military, never was an Army Ranger. He claims he has lived in the Philippines the last 25 years (untrue). He claims he is an ordained Pastor. (also untrue.)

      What IS true is that he was convicted as a Sex Offender in Missouri, USA. He then ran a fake donations video to pay for his flight to the Philippines. See it for yourself in video here;

      Or see the evidence at;

    • bob

      u were never in army except for 2 weeks and they kicked u out

  • Rose

    Thank you for your courage in sharing your story. I am a 50-something woman who was sexually abused on the mission field by a lay minister in our English-speaking church. I never told until I was almost 30 and falling apart. Bless you for hearing your daughter and believing her–what a gift! (My parents tried to reach me but I was too wounded and afraid.) The journey has been long, but I have found healing. May all of you continue on that journey and know His presence and comfort.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for sharing this, Jessica. As a young woman who’s felt very called to the mission field, this was a good thing for me to read. At the beginning of your story, I began to feel a little reservation about whether this life was really what I wanted for my life and eventually for the family I hope to have. I tried to tell myself that this was God showing me that this isn’t what I should do. I couldn’t just lead my children into danger, but then I remembered all of the pictures He had given me. I remembered that He does promise to protect and heal and make all things new. I pray that this will never come to my children because I’ve felt the pain this kind of abuse can bring, but I know that God will come through. I don’t mean to in any way belittle your family’s pain. I pray for continued healing for all parties involved. However, I just want to thank you posting this and thank Jesus Christ for giving you the strength to do so because it has opened up my eyes to the dangers that are possible when being a missionary abroad. I’m still years away from entering the field, but I know this will stick with me. Again, thank you for being bold enough to post this so that others may be aware of this topic.

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  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    I think one way newer “missionaries” to the field end up hurt is that there is this unspoken and underlying belief that going and doing something “big” for God means that you’ll be protected from some of these things. I don’t believe that is true. Following God’s leading/calling in your life will not mean an easy road. That is not a reason to give up but just something to be honest with ourselves about. The messy world and sinfulness also hurts those that take risks to serve because of their faith.

  • ZoeD

    i have been myself a survivor or sexual abuse. I think it is so great that you are there for you girl. I will keep you in prayers. I found a book that it was helpful for me, maybe you would like to have a look:
    I am sending you all the love in Christ and my prayers for complete healing for your daughter and family. Hugs.

  • Ellie

    Ok I know I am getting into this a year late, but I just wanted to tell Jessica how proud I am of her.

    I was abused as a child. (6-8, so yes, start conversations EARLY!), and my parents reacted to my subsequent change in behavior by deciding that I was a rebellious, strong-willed child, and needed firm discipline. So I got spankings almost every day of my life. Punishment after punishment. It didn’t work. Why? Because I wasn’t rebellious; I was hurt. And I had no clue how to react to that hurt but anger. Then I got hurt more, so the anger and rage grew. I had no safe place, and without a safe place, there was no way I could talk about what was wrong.

    I didn’t find a safe place until I was in my twenties and away from home.

    But you have given your daughter that safe place. You heard her pain, even when it must have been frustrating during the time of anger. You stopped and heard. And wow. She doesn’t have to live with what I lived with.

    My one son began to act suddenly more angry and rebellious. I initially thought he was acting up, but then I stopped to ask why? Why now? I talked to him, he would not talk. I loved on him, he would not talk. So I moved into his school. 🙂 I was there constantly. I watched. And I saw him being bullied behind the teacher’s back. It took months to deal with it, but the situation turned around. The kids in his class got tired of it, I think, because I became their permanent classroom volunteer. I committed to love the kids that bullied my son, too. I helped them all, But I was also there. Watching. Aware. And they backed down. Eventually they moved, and my son and his friends ended up two years later being the alpha males in the class. He began to be mean to one of the former bullies, the bottom rung of the three that had bullied him. I stepped in there, too. Remember how you felt? Don’t be those people. Include this kid. And again I came back to the classroom, helped, watched. I pulled the bullied child out when I worked with him on math, and told him I saw what people had done, and it was wrong what they called him, and I am sorry. It took years, but over those years, the class became a safe place again.

    I am NOT saying bullying at ALL compares to sexual abuse! But I am saying I learned from my childhood that I can parent differently. I thought I was a bad child. I obviously was. I was rebellious and strong willed. My parents even read that verse to me about rebellious children in the Bible being stoned. I was an awful child…. no wonder God let me be abused… I was just worthless anyway…. That was my internal dialogue as a child. I wasn’t mature enough to know that I was crying in pain, and angry at what happened, and that anger boiled over, and my parents were too young and ignorant to know that. That they only followed advice given them that when your child challenges you and is rebellious, be strict. They didn’t know better then. I think they do now. We’ve talked it over some.

    But I tell moms when I work with them, pay attention. Don’t assume all anger is because your kid is just bad. Anger is a reaction to wrong being done. Wait, look, listen. Put in the time to love and to find out. You may just save your kid years of pain.

    And you did that, Jessica, and I am so, so proud of you! May you continue to heal as a family and may your daughter be blessed and know she is loved above all else. God loves her and her parents love her, and nothing anyone ever does to her can change that in the slightest.

    And give her a hug from me.


  • Melonie-Adam Christie

    Thank you so much for this article. I myself was sexually abused multiple times by multiple people while on the mission field- all of which I thought were “friends”. This is all recent for me and I am struggling to deal with any of it. Thanks for your honesty

  • Dee Miller

    Certain cultures? It was endemic on the mission field decades ago, with American missionary men being perpetrators in far too many cases. Hard to say if it’s changed or just been driven further underground.

    Yes, all daughters of missionaries (and sometimes sons) are vulnerable to being assaulted and exploited by nationals. They are more than likely to be abused by their parents’ colleagues and as likely as any stateside Christian families to have incest going on. In fact, you’d be shocked to know the statistics are often higher in conservative, evangelical groups than in the general public. With the 2nd greatest predictor, second only to alcohol abuse, being that a child was raised in a theologically conservative environment–this according to one Mennonite therapist who has written extensively on this topic a few years after I did, as a former missionary. Catholics have nothing on we Protestants, believe me. We’ve just managed to keep our abuse in little pockets, better hidden away, because there are no BIG pocket to get into economically. See Enlarging Boston’s Spotlight or for much more on this.

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