Missionary children suffered neglect

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A research institute in Stavanger has completed the first Norwegian survey of how children of Christian missionaries have fared over the years. The results weren’t entirely positive, with many of the now-grown children reporting neglect, lengthy separations from their parents and abuse in the boarding schools where they were placed.

“We had to take care of ourselves, often completely without responsible adults around,” Målfrid Braadland, now age 41, told newspaper Aftenposten , which reported on the survey this week. “We thought it was normal that we never saw our parents.”

Braadland lived in Taiwan from the age of six months until she was 15. Her parents “followed the call,” and she was placed in a boarding school. She told Aftenposten the situation was worse for children who didn’t think it was normal to be separated from their parents, like she had been almost from birth, because they missed their parents terribly.

Showing their feelings could be unpopular, however, and the survey by IRIS (International Research Center of Stavanger) shows that many were punished, abused, bullied or ignored. Around 7 percent reported they were victims of sexual abuse while another 2 percent said they couldn’t remember, leading researchers to think the actual abuse statistics are higher.

The IRIS study was sent to 2,500 now-grown children of Norwegian missionaries sent overseas from 1950 until 2000. Around 60 percent participated in the survey and returned IRIS’ questionnaire.

Many of those questioned reported good experiences living abroad, saying they developed respect for and knowledge of other cultures and languages and more tolerance than they likely would have gained at home in Norway.

Apology issued

Others, however, said they only saw their parents once or twice a year, and those at boarding schools had more health problems than other children. Many reported being bullied by teachers, boarding school personnel and other children. More than 60 percent felt like foreigners in their own country when they returned to Norway.

Officials at the Norwegian missionary organizations NMS (Det Norske Misjonsselskapet) and NLM (Norsk Luthersk Misjonssamband) are apologizing to neglected missionary children, and admitting that the survey reveals a “contrast between Christian ideals and arrangements for these children.”

Ola Tulluan of NLM told Aftenposten that “we can’t allow these children to be sacrificed on the missionary alter. We have to examine the entire system here … and we are very sorry about what has happened.”