#SilentCofC: The Mission - A Story of Abuse from the Mission Field

The following is an actual narrative from current missionaries on the field in the Churches of Christ. These details are accurate but the names of all people in this narrative have been changed to protect both the victims and the missionaries who themselves were threatened with the revocation of funding and received death threats because of their bold and God-honoring response in opposing the perpetrator and serving the victims.

THIS IS REAL. LISTEN CLOSELY.


Introduction

The Mission is a corporation formed under the laws of the state of Texas. The Mission is recognized by the IRS as a registered 501C(3) nonprofit organization. For Missionary A and his wife Missionary B, there is no separation between ministry and business, and that sound Christian ministry practices and sound Christian business practices go hand in hand. From day one Missionary A’s business background and entrepreneurial drive coupled with a conviction of excellence that both Missionary A and Missionary B share are what have set the The Mission approach to ministry apart from many others. The convictions that are shared by Missionary A and Missionary B to make the tough right decisions, all the time, even when it does not feel like it will work out, are undoubtedly one of the major reasons that God has blessed this ministry the way he has.

Independent Missionary Background

Missionary A had known Independent Missionary all of his life. He grew up at the church that Independent Missionary’s family attended. Independent Missionary’s wife taught Missionary A in Sunday school and Independent Missionary also had 3 children who grew up there with Missionary A. Independent Missionary worked in law enforcement and was a respected member of the community. Independent Missionary and Missionary A were a part of a mission trip to Developing Nation. This trip impacted both of their lives.  Finally Missionary A quit his consulting job and moved to Developing Nation to work full time in ministry and about the same time Independent Missionary, now retired, also began spending extended periods in Developing Nation, 2 – 3 months at a time. 

It became apparent within just a few months of Independent Missionary’s arrival in Developing Nation that some of the interactions that he was engaging in with young ladies, ages 12–16, from the local church of Christ were not appropriate. After rumors started going around that were affecting the church that Missionary A was working with at the time Missionary A decided he need to talk with Independent Missionary. On a trip back to the US, Missionary A asked to meet with Independent Missionary. In this meeting Missionary A confronted Independent Missionary about his interactions, the rumors, and that as Christians we need to flee from the appearance of evil. Independent Missionary did not receive the observation well, he became very agitated and said that he was doing nothing wrong and so therefore he did not need to change anything just because there were rumors going around.

After this interaction Missionary A decided that it was no longer wise to be associated with Independent Missionary. Up until this point they had partnered together on some projects in different communities. Independent Missionary had a long list of churches, donors and civic clubs in the US from whom he was able to pull resources. However, the risk seemed to be too great.

By 2003 there was one family in particular that Independent Missionary had taken a liking to, the Perez family, 5 orphaned kids, ages 5–15. Their mother, a member of the church where Missionary A & Missionary B’s efforts had been focused early on, had recently passed away. The only thing that the children now had was a house that she had left them but no way to provide for themselves. Independent Missionary took it upon himself to take care of the family. This appeared innocent early on. When the oldest sibling, Juana, began cleaning Independent Missionary’s house and spending extended periods of time there, everyone at the local church began to wonder what might be going on. In late 2005 Juana became pregnant. Now with no income and no one to take care of her she approached The Mission for medical assistance. The Mission provided prenatal care and was present when the healthy baby girl was born. Juana has dark hair, dark eyes, and a dark complexion. The baby girl has strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes, and a very light, Caucasian complexion. The resemblance of the little girl to Independent Missionary was obvious to everyone who saw her. Juana, the mother, however stuck to her story, that the father was a local boy who had run off. By now, it was a common knowledge among all of the local Christians that Independent Missionary was the father of this child, regardless of whether or not Juana would admit it. The little girl was the spitting image of her father.  Unfortunately, it’s not a crime to commit adultery, and unfortunately by the time Juana had become pregnant she was 18. As disgusted as Missionary A and Missionary B were there was not much that could be done other than to distance themselves from this man as much as possible. 

Shortly afterwards Juana’s younger sister Sonia, only 15 years old, came to Missionary A & Missionary B and asked to talk. What she had to share was a heart breaking story. When Juana, in her third trimester, told Sonia that she needed to go to Independent Missionary’s house, and to do whatever he wanted to do. That their family depended on his support, that he had taken good care of them, and they needed to take care of him. Sonia hesitantly went to Independent Missionary’s house, not fully understanding what her sister was talking about. The ensuing rape, which was described in detail, had traumatized Sonia severely but she did not feel like there was anyone who she could go to. Many families in her community and in her church respected Independent Missionary because he gave so many gifts to so many families. No one would believe Sonia or if they did they would probably not support her since this man had given them so many gifts. 

Missionary A & Missionary B did not hesitate in their decision to take Sonia to child protective services. There she was interviewed by the social worker and taken for a forensic physical exam. The findings of the exam supported the details of Sonia’s story. Sonia was then placed in a foster home. 

Independent Missionary was actually in the country while these initial interviews with Sonia were taking place but since the justice system moves slowly and it would take a long time for the DA’s office to act on the information Independent Missionary was not at risk of being arrested. Missionary A was compelled to confront Independent Missionary, as a Christian brother, in Developing Nation, but after discussing with Missionary B they decided against it, fearing that he might harm Sonia after finding out what she had reported. Shortly thereafter Independent Missionary returned to the US. Once the formal investigation was completed a warrant for Independent Missionary’s arrest was issued. A board member of The Mission, also a member of the same church as Independent Missionary, met with Independent Missionary face to face to confront him on the charges in Developing Nation. Independent Missionary, as expected, adamantly denied the allegations. Independent Missionary was informed that if he returned to Developing Nation that he would be arrested. Soon The Mission board member, Independent Missionary, and a few other men familiar with the situation were asked to meet with the elders of Independent Missionary’s church. This meeting did not go as expected. Independent Missionary’s long time relationship with the eldership, his well respected presence in his community, and his law enforcement background influenced the elders. The elders believed his story that this was nothing but a little, poor, orphan girl in Developing Nation out to get some money and that Missionary A had no idea what he was talking about and he had fallen for the scam. 

Unfortunately this is a defense that has been used before by pedophiles that have abused children in third world countries around the world. It’s a very easy explanation, the victim must be lying, they must be after money, and unfortunately many Americans have given the benefit of the doubt to the accused instead of investing just a little bit of time to do some due diligence about the situation and the victims rarely see justice and the predators continue to attack children. 

By late summer of that year Independent Missionary was ready to return to Developing Nation, defying all logic and advice of his friends. This time he was indeed arrested by the police only a few days after his arrival. Videos of Independent Missionary handcuffed and shackled and being led into the police station filled the evening news. However, within 24 hours he was free, and placed under house arrest to await a hearing. Independent Missionary hired the best that money could buy in this small town, and that meant a very shady lawyer. Sonia & Juana were now both at risk as well as Missionary A and Missionary B’s family. Both Missionary A and Missionary B were subpoenaed to testify in a court in a small town in a third world country. The missionaries did not get much support and encouragement from the US, that they had done the right thing. One “mentor” even told Missionary A, “this is not your fight.”  However, Missionary A and Missionary B believed wholeheartedly that if it was not “their” fight then whose fight was it? Who was there to “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy" (Psalms 82:3)?

The Verdict

The shady lawyer’s defense was that this was a “gringo” power struggle and that it had nothing to do with the young girl. The lawyer, after discovering where Sonia was living, approached her and intimidated her into signing a document stating that the whole story had been made up. Then the lawyer went to work to try and cast doubt about the family. However, the evidence was quite compelling, a former house keeper with a baby girl with a striking resemblance of Independent Missionary, and physical exam that backed up the rape charges, however poor families who’d been recipients of Independent Missionary's gifts showed up in droves to support this man. In the end the judge found that there was not enough evidence for the case to proceed and Independent Missionary was released.

In the parking lot of the court Independent Missionary’s lawyer boasted to the government attorney, “You see, in our country money talks, my client is guilty, and my client walks free”.

In the End

  • Sonia was left with severe trauma and no justice.
  • Juana was left with trauma, a child, and no way to support her family.
  • Christians in a small community were misguided to learn that what is wrong might not always be wrong if you can get something from it.
  • Missionary A and Missionary B were threatened with a slander lawsuit if the details were made public in the US.
  • Missionary A and Missionary B were labeled as naïve and ignorant by Independent Missionary’s elders, major financial supporters of The Mission, for having believed the report and for not having handled the situation directly with Independent Missionary.
  • Long time relationship with these elders and their church were strained and eventually they parted ways.
  • A precedent was set across the ministry of The Mission that sexual misconduct, by anyone, would not be tolerated.
  • Operations manual of The Mission children’s homes directly reflects Missionary A and Missionary B’s commitment to protecting children.

Today, Independent Missionary is now single. At 65 his wife left him. He now lives in Developing Nation and continues to have teenage girlfriends and continues to “help” churches of Christ that fall victims to the US Dollars that he has to give away. 


Rather than offer immediate answers, I think it is important for us to sit with the tension that this true story naturally creates.

We need to think about the ways in which we engage in ministry both within our congregations and in other contexts. What protections are in place both for the children of our congregation, but also for those to whom we minister, particularly in places where the power imbalance is deeply exacerbated by poverty, illness, or cultural difference?

This same pair of missionaries who brought us this heart-wrenching narrative will soon be sharing with us some important and practical ways in which this kind of horrific story can be prevented in the future. Along with some other reflections, their contribution will be an invaluable resource for this conversation.

Please lift them and all the others (and there are other missionaries with the same experiences whom I have heard from because of this series!) who have given their lives to serving far from their homes who must confront and protect the innocent to whom they have dedicated their lives, even with great consequences. God will not fail to reward them for what they have done on behalf of the innocent.