A good friend of mine has been trying to get me to log on to fandaeagles.com to read about the experiences of other missionary kids who can identify with the same kinds of issues and abuse that I faced as a young child on the mission field (PQQ in Brasil). I resisted because I felt that I had finally worked through these things in counseling a couple of years ago and didn't want to be reminded of the pain. After someone very close to me started sharing their story and it was so therapeutic and exonerating to him, I decided that it might be helpful to someone else and to me if I shared my story. I only used letters instead of names “to protect the innocent,” but I also protected the not so innocent because if they are still living, they know who they are. I have used my nickname, but anyone who knows me will figure out immediately who I am, and to be honest, I no longer feel embarrassed about the things I experienced there and how they affected me and it has helped me understand myself so much better. It's long, but I hope that you will be able to identify with me or that my story will further punctuate the problems and lead to making things better for the kids who are still in this same situation. I know that the mission leaders are working hard to make sure this happens. PTL!
My earliest recollection of pain in my childhood was when I was in the first grade. I lived in a little missionary camp on the banks of the Amazon River called Puraquequara. I've been told that the name means "home of the electric eel." My parents had already been missionaries for about ten years and had given birth to five children by this time. The rules were extremely strict and I have no recollection of how I got a demerit, probably something as minor as speaking without raising my hand and being given permission to speak, but the punishment for this was to chop dirt on the hill and move it elsewhere. That day three students had gotten demerits (J, P, and I) and were chopping dirt which was to be for one hour. I was struggling with a broken hoe and complained about it to P. When J went to check and see how much time was left, P told me it would be OK to trade hoes with J since our time was almost up. When J came back, he was furious that I had traded hoes with him and went to tell the principal who then came and got P and me and spanked us both without even asking us what our side of the story was. I was a tiny girl in a little red bathing suit sitting in the library waiting for the principal to come in. I didn't even know what I had done wrong. He just asked me if I had traded hoes with J, and then he whacked me with a board that was easily as long as I was tall. I screamed in pain from the hits, but far worse to me was that from that day forward, I was struck with a constant choking fear every time I saw him. I was terrified of him and was terrified of doing anything wrong for fear that I would get hit again. I couldn't even look at a picture of him without terrifying fear. I became a “goody two shoes” on that day determined to never make a mistake for the rest of my life.
The mission had extreme rules that they required everybody to live by. We were not allowed to speak without raising our hand. We had to wear our clothes a certain length, our bangs had to be cut a certain length and no longer, we could not hold hands with boys, we had mandatory devotional time, mandatory study hall in the evening, chores that had to be done every day on time or face the consequences. We were never allowed to be even one minute late for anything. We had to eat everything on our plates and something from every dish served even if it was horrible and distasteful and it had to be eaten in the 30 minutes given for mealtime. If you failed to do any of the things that were rules for the dorm and school you would get spanked. The dorm parents did not punish with time outs, grounding, scolding, extra chores, etc. One tiny infraction of the school rules gave you a check and two checks was a demerit and chopping on the hill, but they spanked kids for very minor infractions that by anyone's standards would not be grounds for such vicious punishment. When someone in the camp was getting a spanking, you could hear their screams everywhere and the whacking sounds of the board because there were no sound proof buildings. To this day I can't handle hearing someone screaming from being hit (even if it is just on TV).
My first year in a dormitory setting was the 7th grade. My parents had been separated from each other the previous six years that they were on the field with my Mom at the camp with us and my Dad up in the Indian tribe. My Dad said that he did not want to be separated from my Mom anymore so they gave them jobs in Manaus, Mom did the books for the mission and Dad was a supply buyer who shipped the supplies up to the missionaries who were in the different remote locations. In the 7th grade, my dorm parents were scary, especially the woman. This was an aggressive woman (with whiskers) and a mild mannered husband. One day I was sweeping the porch which was my chore, but the bell rang for breakfast, so I left the dirt pile to pick up later. I excused myself after eating and went back to the dorm to sweep up the dirt. Mrs. L came up and said that I had failed to complete my chore on time and she was going to spank me. I pleaded with her that I had to run because of the bell ringing, and she said there were no excuses and she took me into her room and spanked me. From that day on I would not let her get close to me and pretended to be asleep when she came around at night to check on us.
When I was in the high school dorm, I had a different set of dorm parents. (Every year I had different dorm parents (from 7th-10th grade.) Again, we had a schedule of chores that changed every week and it was posted on the main door to the girl's side of the dorm. This particular week my chore was to sweep the "sala" (main living area). I read the chart wrong and did a different chore. The sala didn't get swept and the couple went looking for me and brought me in for a meeting. They grilled me on and on about not doing my chore and that I had a responsibility. I was crying and scared and didn't know what to do or say. Then, by the grace of God, a man came and interrupted us and asked Mr. L to go with him. At that point, Mrs. L told me that Mr. L was planning to spank me, but she just asked me to do the same chore for another week (a true miracle). I got by without a beating this time, but the terror stayed in my heart until the next year when we had the first and only kind dorm parents. They were the nicest and gentlest couple of all, but they were quite old and slow moving, I guess you could say, but I was never scared of them.
I also have the memory of all of the pain that was inflicted on my siblings, such as my brother being whipped until he was literally purple on his bottom for forgetting to hang his bathing suit out on the line and another brother who was spanked and humiliated by being made to wash his own sheets down at the river and hang them on the clothesline in front of everyone because he wet the bed. He was in 1st or 2nd grade. I carry the pain of all of the things that happened to my family, as well as everything that happened to me.
The next memory of a traumatic event was when I got called into the principal's office, I believe it was in the 10th grade, the last year that I was in Puraquequara. Mr. L and Mr. S grilled me on and on about something that I had done wrong. They wanted me to admit it. I kept telling them that I had no idea what I had supposedly done that was so terrible and I didn't know what they wanted me to say. They finally told me that I had cheated on a paper. I was aghast. I would never cheat (I wasn't kidding about being a “goody two shoes”). When they explained the circumstances, I told them that I was standing in a line at Mr. S's desk to get help on a "do over" paper. K was getting help from Mr. S and the girl behind me said that K had gotten a question right that I had gotten wrong. I said, "Oh, yeah." When I got my turn with Mr. S, I asked for his help with the questions I got wrong. I found out later that this girl, K, and another girl, T, (who at the time liked the same boy as me and wanted to hurt me), had told the principal that I had cheated. I did not change my answer based on what K said, and it was a "do over" anyway which was a policy in the school that everything had to be done over to find the correct answers to the questions that we missed. They told me to leave their office and ponder what I had done. Knowing how little it takes to get a spanking, I was positive that I was going to get beaten badly for this. Spankings had become an even greater and longer hitting experience than it was when I was 7. I was terrified out of my mind. I went out into the woods every day with a blanket and knelt on the ground rocking back and forth crying and screaming and begging God to save me from this. After about a week and no one had told me my fate, I went to Mr. S's house. I babysat for his and his wife's kids and waxed and mopped their floors for a little spending money. He was always nice to me and I felt safe to ask him what they planned to do to me. He told me that they had decided not to spank me. But I was then told that my punishment was to go to K and ask for forgiveness. I went to his house and was sobbing and said I was sorry. It was so humiliating. I was shamed for something that I didn't do. And because I knew that these girls had deliberately tried to get me into trouble, I had a very hard time being around them. We were an extremely small community with only about 30 kids in the high school and probably 95% were in the dorm. When that year was over, my parents were dismissed from the mission and we left to return to the United States.
My parents' dismissal was also a very traumatic event. My father had confessed at a missionary conference that he had been "tempted" to touch some of the money that belonged to the mission that my Mom did the books for and the money was to be distributed to the missionaries. He never succombed to the temptation. If you knew my Dad, you would know that he was beyond honest about everything and extremely humble. New Tribes Mission was considered a "faith mission" and did not require missionary families to have a set amount of money as support per month for each family member, and sometimes there was no money left for food. Sometimes my Mom, Dad, and little brother and sister would have to eat flour and water pancakes for breakfast (after sifting the bugs out of the flour) and nothing but cara (a cheap starchy purple potato) for dinner. I cry at the memory of seeing that little piece of potato on their plates and nothing else. My Dad was a very open and honest person, and because of that, he was told that he and my mother would have to start over and retake the missionary training if they wanted to return to the mission field. If he refused to do this, he would be asked to leave the mission. It was a tough decision for my Dad. He loved the work and it was his life, but my Mom had had two major operations on her back and kidney and was weak and tired and barely able to walk or even sit comfortably. All of the furniture in Brazil was wicker and the mattresses were Kapok and lumpy. No cushy couches to sit on or Sealy posturpedic mattresses to sleep on. He made the decision to leave the mission and come back to the United States with the family and get a job in Minnesota. The best part of this whole thing is that my Dad became a different person at this point. He started praising God and acting so positive about life and the future. I was so scared of him all of my life because he was a stranger to me. In my youth he was always in the Indian tribe and came home occasionally and became the disciplinarian. When he was away, my mother was too weak physically and had difficulty dealing with her six children at the time, and she would ask the other missionary men to come over and spank us if we were bad. I never fell into that category under this particular circumstance, thank God, but I remember my brother's defiance when getting spanked by the other man.
I don't ever remember being told that I was pretty or smart or that there was so much in life to look forward to. No teachers or dorm parents ever encouraged me to believe in myself nor did they motivate me to excel at anything. I remember once when I had come home to Manaus for a weekend from school, some girls had invited me to a slumber party. I asked my Dad to give me a ride over there. I wanted to thank him for letting me go and for giving me a ride, so I gathered every ounce of courage and decided to try and give him a hug when we got there. I reached through the car window and gave him a little hug. That is a vivid and positive memory from my childhood to this day, but how sad that we were so afraid to show affection to one another that it required courage to do so.
Despite all of the things that happened to me in Brasil, I also have a memory of my fearlessness. I wasn't scared to go anywhere or to do anything. I would climb trees to the top if possible. I would sit on a branch and eat the fruit that I would pick and if the branch broke, I would grab onto another branch and re-situate myself and keep eating my fruit as if nothing had happened. I encountered poisonous snakes and boa constrictors numerous times, but was never afraid to go to places where they might be, but I did run or paddle like a crazy person when I came into close proximity with one of them. I would swim out into the current of the Amazon River and let myself be carried into very, very deep water and then swim back to shore. Keep in mind that this was a river teaming with electric eels, sting rays, piranhas, pink porpoises (which were not the friendly kind and I have been told were man eaters - not too sure if that is a true story), and even catfish that were caught off the dock that were 6-8 ft long. Even those would not be a welcome encounter in the water. I have personally seen all of these creatures in the river, but I still swam everywhere. I wouldn't do that again for anything and I shake my head to think that I did them then. I used to hike back into the woods with just one other younger girlfriend through alligator swamps with the threat of oncas (a large indiginous lion type of cat) and poisonous snakes all around us. I went downriver and stayed at the homes of Brazilians that I barely knew, and why my mother let me go, I will never know. I guess everyone just trusted God to take care of us (which He did).
On one such trip downriver, I was several miles and probably hours by canoe at the home of a Brazilian lady. I don't know if she was a maid or laundry lady or what, but they lived in a wooden shack that was completely open to the elements. I asked if I could make some coffee and had to chop the firewood to make the fire to cook the coffee. I got a tersado (machete) and started to chop the wood. I missed the block of wood and whacked my left pointer finger leaving a substantial gash at the joint closest to my hand. They wrapped it, but I am not sure that it was cleaned or disinfected and the tersado was rusty. I probably got tetanus or was at risk for it, at the least. I cried all night and frustrated them I'm sure. The next day they put me in the canoe and took me back to the camp. It took hours and then I was taken by launch to Manaus (another 3 hours) to see a doctor. By the time I got to the doctor, I was told that it was a miracle that I did not lose my finger because the infection was so bad. They said it was good that I had gotten there when I did because they were able to clean and disinfect and medicate it and didn't have to amputate it. Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful blessing of not losing my finger as a young girl. I believe I was somewhere around 12 or 13 at the time.
I could also tell you about scars from cutting the bottom of my foot on a rusty can, a 2" gash in the palm of my right hand from ripping it on a nail in the dorm when playing with a friend (six stitches), a jackknife wound in my arm from when a man was cutting down a coconut for me and he dropped the knife and it landed in my right forearm standing straight up. These are scars that I can proudly show off and have no painful remembrance.
I don't blame my parents for putting me in this school or for the trials that all of us children had to endure. They were just doing the best they could and trusted these "Christian" people to do the right thing and take proper care of us. There was no openness about telling anyone what was going on, and we were too "brainwashed" to really know that it wasn't the way things were supposed to be, and we NEVER had permission to tell someone that what they were doing was wrong. I do wish that they had been more open to talk to us and that they had instructed us in the ways of life and survival. That is another thing that was a real problem for me, and I'm sure that everyone else who was raised on the mission field has similar scars from not being given the training, encouragement, truth, and education to be able to survive when we entered into a life in the USA away from the sheltered environment of PQQ.
We were so sheltered from the world that we had no idea what was going on in the United States with the drug culture, teen sex, or how to survive outside of the protected and hallowed halls of the "mission." Coming back to the United States to attend my last two years of high school at age 16 was horrible and terrifying. I was so naive and scared of my own shadow. I had no idea that this is the way the real world was and was shocked to find kids in the hallways all over each other and practically having sex. I didn't really know what sex was or that it was okay to kiss a guy that you weren't married to. I didn't make any friends my first year at the high school. I just ran to school and ran home because I was so afraid that someone was going to do something bad to me or try to get me to do drugs. The next year I made one friend and did well enough in school to graduate from H.S. with highest honors. PTL! See my second post for continuation.....
Believe it or not, I cut a lot of things out from my first draft. I did a second post to accommodate my story since I was way overboard on number of characters allowed. I know there are many wounded souls who have experienced much, much worse than I, but every story is important and vital to the healing of ourselves, as well as those who read it.
God bless you and I pray that your “soul wounds” will be healed because of the ministry of this site.
In Christ's Love,