Over twenty years ago, my wife and I began considering how we could be used in the cross-cultural mission field. At that time, we thought we would venture oversees when I retired from teaching at the college level. However, we were presented with an opportunity to teach in a Christian college in a developing country.
We made the move. We packed up a 40′ container. We sold everything else in an auction. And we traveled half way around the world to work until we needed to retire. It was exciting and overwhelming. My wife and I would both be teaching. Our children would attend a Christian school on campus. We were provided a lovely home. We worked with brothers and sisters in Christ with a common purpose.
We learned much about the culture…what we realized was a lifetime process. Everything was different; food, attitudes, government, church. As “Westerners” we just didn’t and really probably couldn’t truly get all the cultural differences. Quite frankly, it made it a great deal of fun as we were continually learning.
We also discovered when we arrived to begin work with the mission that the ministry “belonged to the founders.” Whenever there were concerns raised about the actions and attitudes of the founders, we would “try to remember” that the ministry belonged to the founders and, as such they could do what they wanted with it. When a fellow missionary approached us, seeking help with a relational problem with the leaders, we would simply say, “The mission does belong to the leaders, so we just have to go along.”
After eight years of service to the mission, we began to question this perspective. If it is a work for the Lord, then isn’t it God Who is building the house? Therefore, isn’t it His ministry? Therefore, shouldn’t there be some accountability for the poor witness the leaders were displaying.
We were coming to understand our biblical theology better. We found that God was very, very concerned about His people oppressing others. Much of God’s criticism of His people prior to sending them into exile was based on two things: idolatry and oppression. We began to make correlations between the oppression spoken of in the Old Testament and our leaders, who used their power to control, manipulate, and focus the attention on themselves. They seemed drunk with the image they had created for themselves as pioneering missionaries and “suffering for the Lord.”
After realizing how destructive they were being to both the nationals and the missionaries that served under them, we determined we could no longer be part of the ministry. We realized the nationals actually saw us in the same light as the founders and we hoped that we were far from it. When one student told us the ministry had “done more harm than good” we were particularly convicted that we needed to get out.
When we resigned, as had many before us, we decided that we needed to make clear to our fellow missionaries and staff that it was because of the leadership, seeking to bring some accountability to them that was apparently missing. We experienced a significant amount of “abuse” from the leadership over the final 2 months of work before leaving the country. Many missionaries wrote letters to the board to ask them to investigate the horrible treatment nationals and missionaries were receiving. But, there was never follow-up.
The emotional and spiritual trauma (which also affected our health) has lingered for several years now. We have healed significantly, but continue to work to forgive the offenses of these professing brothers and sisters and believe it may be a lifetime process as we speak with others who have suffered abusive leadership.