Long before I was born, my destiny was already being formed. My parents were products of post war Britain, who traveled the world in search of a better life and after exploring Canada, settled at the opposite end of the globe.
Although they came from similar environments, they came from considerably different family structures and had quite different personalities. My mother was a gentle person, while my father was able to achieve to a high level in most things he tried his hand at.
Life was routine till I was five, when my parents discovered Christianity and like everything else my father did, he embraced it with both hands and the fervor never died. This religious fervor caused a split with the extended family, with my Grandfather cutting off contact, after being bombarded with large doses of religion, on my Grandparents one and only trip to see us. By the age of ten they had decided to join a Florida based missionary organization, called New Tribes Mission, an unusual choice for a couple living at the bottom of the globe, as New Tribes Mission had a very small presence in New Zealand. We soon ended up in Australia for the “Boot Camp” part of the training program. Conditions were spartan, while the staff lived in normal homes, the recruits lived in shacks which were little more than a large room with a few partitions, no running water or facilities. For me the warning bells went off soon after arriving, the raids looking for “illicit” reading material and the mind control. While it seemed all others happily went along with the mantras and heavy doses of indoctrination, I began my journey of questioning what we had really got ourselves into. I just couldn’t understand why there was the constant repetition of religious principles, figuring that being of average intelligence that being told something once or twice would suffice.
We had a year of somewhat normality back in New Zealand, while my parents completed the language school component of their training.. And then we went to Papua New Guinea and life became very strange. Language skills were not my parents forte, so they were assigned to the headquarters, where my father became the odd jobs person, taking on a range of jobs that he was hardly qualified for, including become the base mechanic, for which his qualification seemed to be that he owned a bicycle at some point in his life. They also did a stint as dorm parents and were given the children that no one else wanted, which raises one of the obvious problems that occurred. Not all missionaries were equal. Non U.S. citizens were given the jobs that U.S. citizens did not wish to do and if they complained they were dismissed and their homes and possessions confiscated. This blatant racism was a shock, but worse was to come. Some of the racial attitudes towards the local population were unbelievable. Strange racial theology was taught in the boarding school and some missionaries made no secret of what they thought of people with darker skin tones. To New Zealanders, this was highly offensive. I wondered why some of the missionaries had bothered with their chosen career path. Years later I came to the conclusion that for many of the male missionaries it was an ego trip, an escape from the hum drum of routine suburban life to the elevated dizzying heights of being the all powerful, technologically enhanced and spiritually enlightened missionary master, amongst uneducated stoneage populations and those inferior creations of their god, women. For far too many, this ego trip took a sinister turn and they became a law unto themselves, crossing boundaries that in any normal society that would be deemed criminal.
Discipline was harsh in the boarding school, teachers turned out often to be unqualified and the misfits became dorm parents. The most notorious dorm parent of the time openly bragged about what he was doing with his wandering hands. Another dorm parent seemed to revel in his sadistic pleasure at administering discipline. Beatings were done in public and there was a strange obsession with keeping any physical contact between the genders to a non-existent level. Infractions of the strict rules resulted in a weeks solitary confinement in the first instance and more severe punishment for a second offense. Meantime there were the rumors of affairs and infidelity going on and past sexual indiscretions committed by a dismissed former school staff member.
Constantly imprinted on our already guilty consciences was the mantra that we were a team, a sort of Spiritual elite fighting unit and that if we did not tow the line then the family could be sent home and the souls of natives would be in peril.
My father was the ultimate in piousness, every pore in his body oozed his religious beliefs, but he had no tolerance for anyone who did not agree with his narrow band of religious beliefs. And so began a life of humiliation and mind control. My father would use anyone and anything to achieve his bizarre goals. I retreated into a world of isolation, making coffins in the basement of our house for the locally deceased and getting off the base at every opportunity that presented itself. I participated reluctantly in what religious activities that were required, I made no fake profession of faith as most of my peers did and eventually I switched to doing a correspondence course, which avoided having to put up with the discrimination that was handed out on a daily basis. The bullying started at the top with the principal and filtered down right through the system.
I spent much of my childhood trying to win my father’s approval and consequently ended up with a considerable few returned gifts. I would buy my father Christmas and Birthday presents that I knew he would like and yet he would return them claiming he had no need for them. This procedure continued on well into adulthood, when the light dawned and I stopped buying gifts for him. He never did this to anyone else and it was just another method of breaking me down psychologically. I could have become a nobel prize winner and my father would have held up the village drunk as a better person than I was, such was his strange ritual of humiliation and mind manipulation. My father also used my siblings in his strange game of humiliation. The one thing he wanted was the one thing I was not prepared to give him and that was my independent mind. I saw him preying upon those who had fallen on less fortunate times and he openly stated that he had no other reason for interacting with other people than to convert them to his religious point of view.
And so I returned home and just got on with life. The past was just something that happened, something that would circulate in the mind because it raised far more questions than it ever answered. I pursued a career in medicine and also discovered a passion for creative writing. My father refused to have a family conference to sort out the past issues and dismissed my concerns as being ungrateful fabrications. He completed another term of service and then was dismissed by New Tribes Mission, for reasons that have never been provided. He was stripped of his assets, his home and his career, yet he continued to sing the praises of New Tribes Mission. When I intervened and managed to attain a financial settlement for his confiscated house, he became very angry and demanded the matter never be raised in public. And I began to get an insight into how convoluted and secretive his world was becoming.
In May, 1995, another Missionary Kid from Papua New Guinea, was jailed for shooting the rest of his family (his parents and three siblings). They were not with New Tribes Mission, but the story of strange sexual occurrences and abuse that came out in the trial rang more warning bells, for all the ingredients that had tipped this family over, were emerging from the murky pasts of those I had grown up with. (As a footnote, David Bain’s convictions were squashed 13 years later, public documentation and opinion on the case is widely available on the internet). What disturbed me about the case was how deeply affected Missionary Kids could become by what they had seen and experienced and how dysfunctional New Zealand missionary families often became upon their return home.
In February, 2011, a major earthquake destroyed much of the city where my wife and I lived and we were unable to return to our home due to enormous boulders that had been dislodged from the cliffs above and could not be stabilized. Even though this was a considerable loss, it didn’t weigh as heavy on the mind as the ongoing nagging concerns about my strange childhood and its after effects. Shortly after this, I became involved with a website called Fanda Eagles and what I had suspected, was portrayed in graphic detail. Not just in Papua New Guinea, but almost every other boarding school that New Tribes Mission had operated globally. An independent agency had been commissioned to look into just one school and the report was a disturbing account of sexual abuse, mental manipulation, beatings and other forms of child abuse. Yet all offenders had escaped justice, with one notable exception. Apparently under U.S. law, historical crimes committed by U.S. citizens outside U.S. boarders are not able to be prosecuted. Many of these offenders were allowed to return home and to assimilate themselves back into society with no repercussions for their crimes.
The exception was a New Zealand citizen, who was jailed for sexual offenses. He was the head of New Tribes Mission in New Zealand and when the New Zealand arm closed down, he arrived in Papua New Guinea shortly after our family did. He was our neighbor in both countries and we shared a house for a period of time. In comparison to my father he seemed a fair and moderate person. His victim was victimized by those in power, for speaking about the abuse, at the boarding school and waited until he returned to New Zealand soil before successfully pressing charges. Yet despite requests for his crimes to be fully exposed, they were covered up by the Australian branch of New Tribes Mission (now calling itself Crossview Australia and attempting to distance itself from its former parent organization). His sudden absence from the mission field was explained as being a “mental health” issue. No one from New Tribes Mission bothered to investigate if there were any other victims and when I wrote to ask for further information regarding the matter, it took over a year for Crossview Australia to reply and when they did it was a threatening e-mail and an attempt to ensure my silence.
I confronted my father about the revelations and the incarceration of the neighbor. He said he did not care about the missionary children he had known and that it was no concern of his. We had a heated discussion and that was the last time we spoke. There have been strange rambling letters in the mail, containing sentiments of “doing the devils work” and “ruining the reputation of Godly men”. I have not replied.
One positive effect of the earthquake was that it enabled me to leave my family behind and move away from the area where we all formerly lived. I did not leave a forwarding address. When the revelations about the past tumbled out in the Fanda Report and other boarding schools, my family members all had a choice to make. I opted to pursue justice through my writing and to help others through they’re past journeys. My father opted to deny that any abuse took place. My mother is a puppet of my father and is not afforded the opportunity of voicing her own opinions. Like many New Tribes Mission males of my fathers era, he views women as being inferior to men and they should not voice or even have opinions, except those that echo the thoughts of themselves. My father has documented his opinion that any allegations of child abuse are purely mass hysteria, whipped up by a few ungrateful former missionary children who are not adhering to his version of religious beliefs.
I corresponded with a few New Tribes Mission personnel about the history of child abuse and all assured me that policies and procedures were now in place so child abuse would be a matter of the past. However my worst fears were confirmed when a Scott Kennell was arrested at Orlando airport and consequently pleaded guilty to sexual offenses with young girls, which he had made images of. My fear that the abuse had not stopped, was confirmed.
And so, I find myself now at the age of half a century, living a happier and more settled life. Not having all the answers about what happened in my childhood, or what motivated some of the strange people who I came into contact with, but certainly considerably more enlightened that none of this was my fault and that I was not the only one who had a very negative experience. My suspicion that this was a cult my parents were involved with has been reinforced, for I cannot find any other logical explanation for why there is so little concern for the children I grew up with and all the other children abused within the confines of New Tribes Mission. I have conquered the guilt heaped upon me by my father and no longer fear his verbal outbursts, he is out of my life, almost out of my head and I am very grateful for this.
From what I have discovered, my journey is pretty much typical of New Zealanders who have been involved with New Tribes Mission. About half of us have no or very little contact with our families and little prospect of any reconciliation. It is not a journey I would recommend, but one I am very grateful to have survived.