I met with the IHART team yesterday to give a report/interview with them. IHART is an independent team investigating past abuse at New Tribes Mission boarding schools. They’re focusing on one school at a time, and currently they are looking into Tambo’s past – the school in Bolivia I attended. I have to say, the days before the interview I was sick to my stomach anticipating it – but it wasn’t like what I had worried about. They are people who have decades of experience each as detectives and investigators, they are trained and experienced in making people feel comfortable and able to share. It actually was a genuinely cathartic experience to be heard on experiences I had or witnessed during my time at Tambo.
Truthfully, during the 19 years since I graduated I have pushed down my memories because I honestly thought it was just a unique three years that I was a student there – to have that many abusers in one place must have been a bizarre fluke. From 1990-1993, three different men were kicked off the field for sexually abusing minors. Others in leadership were confronted for physical abuse of students. On top of all that was a general atmosphere of verbal and spiritual abuse. Over the last year hearing the stories on the Fanda Eagles site and reconnecting with old friends on Facebook has made it apparent that it wasn’t a fluke, it was a pattern that went on for decades. To me, sharing my piece of that larger story became critical, to help communicate that larger pattern to NTM.
I actually met with four of the investigators. Typically they only send two (and then it’s the same gender as the person being interviewed, so I met with men), and while most of what I personally experienced was physical and verbal abuse – and not as severe as what several of my friends encountered, I had several different perspectives to offer that they wanted to hear; as a former student, as the child of staff members who did report abuse and were branded trouble-makers for it (I was aware of more of the behind the scenes dynamics than other students), and as a trained youth ministry leader who has spent years interacting with risk protection policies and has had training in appropriate policies for interacting with children. I ended up spending about four hours with the team, and it was emotional at times. It was probably a longer interview than normal because I named multiple people, and also spent a lot of time talking about the general tone and structure of how things were at Tambo, and my perspectives on that as a youth worker.
I am glad I did it. When I first left Tambo I spent years training to become a teacher with the intention of going back and fixing it. It was a dangerous place for young people – for years even at the mention of the school I would be filled with this overwhelming rush of anger and frustration over how wrong so much of it had felt. Somewhere around 23 or 24 years old I finally realized I was called to church ministry – that my desire to go back to Tambo was not a calling. While parts of it were good – my heart for protecting young people and making change for good, there were other parts of me that enjoyed the thought of facing the abusers no longer as a child. I had a great mentor that really helped me process my way through some of that. But back to my original statement: I’m glad I met with the IHART team. It felt right to finally do something appropriate and meaningful, both in the sense of giving the appropriate authorities the information they need to confront the abusers, and in giving NTM feedback on how to make changes for current and future missionary kids.
If you experienced a form of abuse at Tambo (physical, sexual, verbal, etc.), or any NTM school, contact Pat Hendrix (the coordinator at IHART, not affiliated with NTM) at firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know. There is no such thing as an experience not significant enough to pass on. And you will not be asked to face your abusers. Besides the desire by NTM to confront abusers, there is also a desire to make change for the future and current/future MK’s. The more information they have on what the climate was like at Tambo (and other boarding schools)e, the better they are able to learn from the past to impact the future. This is a valuable thing. The IHART team wants to listen. They will not solicit interviews, so you need to reach out to them. Don’t be intimidated – they did an amazing job of putting the whole thing at ease for me. They have women that interview women, men that interview men. If you are considering it, don’t trivialize your pain/experiences. If you want to know more about my experience with the IHART team, feel free to ask away.