Fear at Fanda

"Fear at Fanda" Continued...

Issue: "Broken beyond repair?," Sept. 25, 2010

For now, the Fanda scandal is NTM's focus. The report includes a long series of recommendations for NTM, including action against former NTM workers accused of abuse, workers accused of not preventing abuse, and workers charged with not responding properly. NTM says it has already taken action against 14 of the individuals named in the recommendations.

Though the report didn't comment on whether criminal charges were possible against abusers two or more decades later, Brown said he would personally contact the church leaders of the perpetrators. But Tchividjian says his team found no evidence that NTM had contacted abusers' church leaders in the past.

The recommendations also include NTM setting up a victims' fund to pay for medical and mental health treatment associated with abuse, and setting up a retreat for NTM leaders to apologize personally to victims.

It's unclear whether those steps will actually help the Fanda victims. The report includes a breathtaking catalog of the suffering investigators uncovered among former students: "denial, memory loss, depression, guilt, feelings of powerlessness, panic attacks, the inability to sing in church, anger, fear, distrust of adults, suicidal thoughts and actions, self harming, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual experimentation, sexual confusion, sexual repression, running away, turning to the occult, criminal behavior, imprisonment, and death."

Tchividjian says the investigators learned of one student who tried to commit suicide while enrolled at Fanda, and of another death that could be a Fanda-related suicide. Mikitson told me she was aware of "several suicide attempts, one there at Fanda and several later in life in the states."

Tchividjian says another student currently in jail for drug-related crimes began abusing drugs at Fanda. And a former student who spent time in jail for vehicular homicide told the investigators he began abusing alcohol because of his abuse at Fanda.

Other victims are spiritually seared. "Because of NTM, I absolutely despise anybody who calls themselves a Christian," one victim told investigators. Another said Fanda "has destroyed any spirituality I had." Another: "I hated the God of Fanda because God meant legalism and hypocrisy."

Some, like Mikitson, who started a website for victims, have found hope. A few years ago she encountered a church with a welcome tagline: "No perfect people allowed." She finally began to understand Christian grace. "Legalism taught me that God hated me, but grace taught me that I am loved indeed," she wrote on her website. "Legalism bound me to impossible perfection, but grace freed me and gave me a heart that longs to obey Him." Mikitson says she and other victims are pleased with the abuse report and eager to see NTM act. After NTM announced its first steps, Mikitson wrote in an email: "I am now in a place of great hope."

For all of the horror of the Fanda scandal, Tchividjian says there's another sobering reality: This kind of abuse happens in other ministry settings. Grievous sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church have dominated headlines in recent years, but some Protestant ministries and churches have confessed that the scandal has reached inside their walls too.

The mainline Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), the United Methodist Church, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) have all reported abuse scandals at boarding schools over the last two decades. GRACE's website and Facebook account offer a running list of current abuse allegations in evangelical congregations across the United States. "But those are just the cases that get reported," said Tchividjian. "Who knows how many go unreported?"

Tchividjian, a Liberty University law professor and former child sexual abuse prosecutor, says churches should recognize that they are often targets of predators: "Pedophiles like churches." He adds that predators often abuse the trusting nature of Christians: "If we don't have our antennas up and our guard up to know that people are going to exploit the very fruits of the Spirit that Christ calls us to live, we're foolish."

Safeguards for churches include developing written, common-sense policies regarding any work with children, including nurseries, Sunday school classes, and youth groups. GRACE and similar groups help churches think through such policies to prevent abuse. Tchividjian says his group also helps churches and Christian organizations respond when preventions fail.

Tchividjian is hopeful that NTM will respond appropriately to its own scandal. "Right now, words mean nothing," he said. "Actions are going to be key." The attorney sees an opportunity for the missions organization to respond in a way that other ministries have not: "If they do the right thing, it will be groundbreaking."


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