In the early 90’s, I was a victim of abuse at an Ethnos360 boarding school. Over the past decade, the betrayal I have felt from the leadership of Ethnos360 has been far deeper than that of my abuser. Through their manipulation and misleading of former missionary kids (MK’s), rather than bringing healing, Ethnos360 has instead victimized the survivors of abuse entrusted to their care.
In 2012, Brian Shortmeier, the Director of Child Protection, and an NTM USA (now Ethnos360) Executive Board Member, wrote former mission kids, alerting us to what was called an “independent investigation process” led by IHART. Apparently the key word was “process.” Every missionary kid I have communicated with understood it the same as I did; that it was an independent, outside organization, contracted to investigate allegations in the same way that Ethnos360 had previously hired GRACE to investigate the Fanda boarding school run by Ethnos360.
I immediately reached out to IHART, not knowing it was actually a part of Ethnos360, to tell what I knew of abuse that happened to myself and others during my time at Tambo. I spoke with four investigators at length (all former detectives and police); I can only say good things about them. They were hired to travel the world, following up on every individual like myself that had come forward – my interactions with the investigators has me convinced of their desire to see justice happen. It was both painful and cathartic; I was shocked to find myself breaking down and sobbing as I gave the details of what I had witnessed and experienced during my time in Bolivia.
In a private Facebook group of other MK’s from Bolivia, I loudly affirmed to hundreds of my fellow MK’s that despite their mistrust of Ethnos360, they could trust IHART.
And then something completely unexpected happened. In November of 2014, an email was sent to MK’s who had participated in the investigation to let them know that Ethnos360 was removing Pat Hendrix as the lead of IHART and that Ethnos360 was placing one of their attorneys, Theresa Sidebotham, in charge instead. In what world is the client of an independent company allowed to get rid of the lead person and replace them with one of their lawyers? Had Ethnos360 been still working with GRACE, they would not have been able to get rid of Boz Tchividjian and replace him with a person of their choosing.
Ethnos360 was able to do this because IHART is Ethnos360. The “independent” process was not hired by Ethnos360; it was formed by Ethnos360. The trademark for the name IHART is registered and owned by Ethnos360.
After this came out, I was one of many that voiced my anger and feelings of being misled. The response in general from Ethnos360 was that we had somehow not paid attention enough, or misunderstood their use of the word “process.” I felt as though we were being patronized.
In an email conversation from February, 2015, between myself and Theresa Sidebotham, even she, who had been serving as one of Ethnos360’s lawyers through all of this before being appointed in charge of the IHART process, wrote; “I too misunderstood the structure of IHART initially, believing that it was Pat’s organization.” Clearly, not only did Ethnos360 not communicate the nature of IHART accurately to MK’s, even their own attorneys did not fully understand it. This intentional misleading happened in public communications as well in an effort to have the appearance of doing the right thing while retaining control and setting the narrative; in a 2013 interview a Chicago Tribune reporter was told that Ethnos360 “commissioned another agency to investigate similar claims in Bolivia, Panama and Brazil” after parting ways with GRACE. “Commissioned another agency” is not remotely an accurate description of the relationship between Ethnos360 and IHART.
For years I hoped for a positive outcome to these investigations. Instead, I have felt misled by the organization I trusted to do the right thing. I, and countless other missionary kids, were betrayed by Ethnos360’s process that led us to believe we were talking to an outside organization comparable to GRACE, only to find out that Ethnos360 had retained full control of the investigation and our stories. As I mentioned in a previous post, it came out in the ABWE report regarding abuse in their mission that leadership in Ethnos360 gave them advice to avoid truly independent investigation groups so they could “control the information” (p. 254), advice ABWE wisely chose not to follow. And ultimately, rather than release the names of the abusers they have discovered, as every other organization in recent years has done, Ethnos360 continues to hide and protect the identities of the abusers, content that they are no longer in their organization, with no thought to the damage they may be causing elsewhere.
This is why the betrayal I feel from the leadership of Ethnos360 cuts far deeper than the abuse I suffered at Tambo. Abusers are sick. But the leadership of a large mission organization? They should “care for the least of these” (Matthew 25), not the risk to their bottom line. And they certainly shouldn’t protect themselves by leaving survivors of abuse feeling betrayed and used.