What Is a Missionary Kid Worth?

Risks remain higher in cross-cultural contexts. And misconduct is harder to report.

When Letta Cartlidge got on a plane as a teenager to leave her childhood home, she carried a secret. As the child of missionaries in Nigeria, she was sexually abused by a teacher at a school for missionary kids.

As the plane rose above Nigeria, she believed she would have to carry that secret forever. She thought that if she ever reported him—if she even knew how to report her abuser—it would hurt God’s reputation.

“We were in a culture where there was a looming God,” she told CT almost 30 years later. “And that looming God would punish us for disrupting the work of God.”

Cartlidge would, eventually, decide that wasn’t true. As an adult she found the courage to lead fellow former Hillcrest School students in what she calls an “incredibly discouraging” year-and-a-half effort to bring to light more than 40 allegations of abuse spanning from 1961 to 1993. The alumni won a small victory in August, when the school board voted unanimously to approve an external investigation.

It’s a step in the right direction.

Missionary organizations and Christian nonprofits have started paying increased attention to the safety of workers’ children—“missionary kids,” commonly called MKs—and advocates say the past few decades have seen marked improvement. But the rates of abuse are still high.

A recent survey of 1,904 adults who were raised in cross-cultural contexts found they were three times more likely to experience emotional abuse than children raised in their own culture in the United States. More than a third had suffered three or more adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, violence, or neglect. Almost 30 percent reported some kind of sexual ...

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A Southern Baptist Pastor’s Plea: Please Listen

Why Johnny Hunt’s “restoration” convinces me we don’t have ears to hear.

I have seen this before.

As I watched four pastors (two of them belonging to the Southern Baptist Convention) declare former convention president Johnny Hunt restored to ministry—six months after he was put on leave when a third-party investigation found he was “credibly accused” of sexual assault—I realized I knew what I was seeing. I hadn’t watched this exact 14-minute video, of course, with four men offering assurances of repentance, but I had seen it.

I’d seen it at the church where leaders gave their assurances that a young man would not abuse any more girls. “We gave him a stern talking to,” they said. “This won’t happen again.”

I’d seen it when a pastor told a woman whose husband had created a psychologically and spiritually abusive home that she shouldn’t leave. “Let the pastors work with him,” he said. “We’ll be like watchdogs.”

And here it was again.

The most terrifying thing about these scenes is that these leaders are not bad men. I don’t know Johnny Hunt’s quartet of supporters, but I know the leaders of the church where abuse took place. And I know the pastor who gave that bad marital counsel: It was me.

So as eager as I was to go online and denounce all that was appalling about this video—the misuse of Scripture, treating the abuser as the victim, and failing to even mention the real victim—I realized I couldn’t train my sights on this group of men. No, for a Southern Baptist pastor like me, the video is not a target but a mirror.

It is a mirror that shows us what happens when our convictions about complementarity rot into misogyny. It is a mirror that shows us how the can-do, ...

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Missionary Pilot Imprisoned in Mozambique

MAF’s Ryan Koher and two South African volunteers have been detained since November 4 on suspicion of helping Islamist insurgents in Cabo Delgado.

An American missionary pilot has been detained for nearly a month in Mozambique on suspicion of supporting insurgents in the southern African nation.

Ryan Koher, 31, serving with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) through its Mozambican partner Ambassador Aviation Ltd. (AAL), had been due to fly vitamins and other supplies to church-run orphanages in the Montepuez district in the troubled Cabo Delgado Province in the far north.

But he was detained November 4 along with two South African volunteers in the coastal city of Inhambane, far to the south.

The two South Africans, 77-year-old W. J. du Plessis and 69-year-old Eric Dry, had brought in the supplies but police stopped them from being loaded aboard Koher’s Cessna aircraft.

Koher has now been moved to a maximum security prison in Maputo Province, southern Mozambique.

MAF says Koher is innocent. Its president and CEO, David Holsten, called today on the Mozambican authorities to release the pilot so that he can be reunited with his wife and two sons before Christmas.

“I urge Christians around the world to pray for Ryan’s safety and swift release, and call on those in power both in Mozambique and here in the US to do everything they can to resolve this wrongful detainment,” said Holsten in a statement.

“Ryan is a caring and gentle individual,” he added. “Over the last couple of years, he and his wife have worked hard to learn the language and culture of Mozambique to better serve those who rely on our service.”

A profile of the family on MAF’s website says the couple takes inspiration from Matthew 12:21 by wanting “to share the hope of Christ with isolated people.”

Koher’s wife, Annabel, and two sons, Elias and ...

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God Doesn’t Use the Elf on the Shelf Method

It’s not the threat of divine surveillance but the extension of divine love that changes our hearts.

Around this time of year, some people argue about whether the baristas at their local coffee franchises should say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Others argue about whether their churches should hang Christmas wreaths before the end of Advent. Still others focus on more hotly debated points—such as whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or whether Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is festive or annoying.

All the while, we are leaving unattended a debate that might tell us something about the state of American religion. I’m referring, of course, to the Elf on the Shelf.

Sold alongside a book of the same name, first published in 2005, the Elf on the Shelf is a plastic figure, bedecked in a long cap, that perches on the mantles (and various other spots) of some American homes. The elf is said to be a scout for Santa Claus, helping him determine who’s naughty and who’s nice. For some, the elf is uncannily eerie—the way creepy children in horror movies can be.

A decade ago, journalist Kate Tuttle argued in The Atlantic that the Elf on the Shelf is “a marketing juggernaut dressed up as a ‘tradition.’” She listed many reasons she hated the practice, but her most pointed one was the conceit behind the whole thing: teaching children that it’s all right to be spied on. The elf, after all, sits on his perch from Thanksgiving to Christmas to see whether kids keep the rules and behave.

While Tuttle might be right that there’s “something uniquely fake about the Elf,” the idea of controlling behavior with the notion that someone “sees you when you’re sleeping” and “knows when ...

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Evangelical Giving Goes Up, Despite Economic Woes

Report: Nonprofits saw a sizable increase in donations, while many megachurches struggled.

Needs rose last year. But so did giving to evangelical ministries.

The annual State of Giving report from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) found giving to ministries increased more in 2021 than it had any year out of the last 10. Inflation and the pandemic both raised real concerns for ministry leaders trying to make ends meet, but evangelicals responded to the crises with generosity.

The ECFA survey of about 1,800 members found they received more than $19 billion in donations in 2021. Adjusting for inflation, giving went up by about 3 percent. In the last 10 years, the increase has been closer to 2 percent.

“Contrary to what many expected, giving during the pandemic to ECFA members was strong,” Michael Martin, ECFA president and CEO, wrote in the report. “The findings we unveil emphasize the good work that ECFA members are doing to serve and expand their services in the face of inflation and other challenges.”

If Christians are excited and optimistic about the work of parachurch organizations, though, the numbers reveal a different story when it comes to megachurches. The ECFA surveyed 87 churches that belong to the financial accountability organization. Giving to those congregations dropped by 6.6 percent in 2021, following a decline of 1.1 percent the year before.

Jake Lapp, ECFA vice president of member accountability, attributed the decline to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some churches have reported that they are still only at 50 percent of pre-pandemic attendance.

“One of the big impacts is with churches not being able to meet or maybe meeting with limited capacity again,” Lapp said. “Congregants had been slow to return to the pews.” The decline in giving ...

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Hark! It’s CT’s 2022 Christmas Music Playlist

Our festive favorites this year span from kids’ carols to heavy metal.

It’s that time of year again—I’ve removed the decomposing pumpkin from my front porch, my family has watched The Polar Express several times, and my kids ask to walk through the “forest” of lit Christmas trees when we’re shopping at Target or Home Depot.

It’s time to build our Christmas 2022 playlists. This year brings new albums from prominent artists like Joss Stone, the Backstreet Boys, Michael W. Smith, and Switchfoot. After listening through the latest holiday releases, I’ve put together a list of seasonal tunes that spans multiple genres and styles and highlights albums that you might have missed.

The seven albums on this list include music that is festive, worshipful, traditional, sentimental, merry, and heavy (metal, that is).

December Songs, Resound Worship

December Songs from Resound Worship is a set of four theologically rich, thoughtfully arranged original songs, written with the congregation in mind.

The first track, “Do Not Be Afraid,” is a contemplative refrain that builds slowly, adding instrumentation and voices to each repetition of the phrases “Do not be afraid, God is here. / Do not be dismayed, O my soul, / For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” It’s a beautifully meditative and simple song that so perfectly expresses the posture of waiting in the darkness for the Light we know is coming.

December Songs is intended to be a resource for worship leaders. Resound Worship makes lead sheets and chord charts available for free. Full scores, videos, and backing tracks can be purchased as well.

Appalachian Christmas, Chosen Road

Chosen Road has a strong track record of reimagining favorite songs of the church for their albums ...

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In England and Wales, Christianity Falls Below Half the Population

Analysis: The rise of the nonreligious raises questions for the faithful in a new era of pluralism and diversity.

Remember those math puzzles you used to do as a kid? What’s the next number in this sequence: 2, 5, 11, 23, … ? Or maybe try this one: 2, 4, 10, 28, … ?

Well, I’ve got another one for you: 71, 59, … ?

I’ll admit this one is trickier as you’ve got only two numbers to get going, but if you said “47,” you’d be on the right track.

The true answer is, in fact, 46—that being the percentage of people in England and Wales who, in the 2021 census, ticked the Christian box. Having been 71 percent in 2001 and 59 percent in 2011, it’s now 46 percent. Anyone want to take any guesses for 2031?

The decline in the proportion of adults in England and Wales (and in Scotland and Northern Ireland too) calling themselves Christian should shock no one who hasn’t been on Mars these last two decades.

Nor should the rise of the nonreligious category, reaching 37 percent this time and set to become the biggest single group in the country next time.

The demographic and cultural trends have been pointing in this direction for over half a century. What the census has done is clear up some of the uncertainty that always swirls around polling data, while also giving us a level of granularity that reveals how minority religious groups—Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, and others—have all increased in numbers over the last decade.

At this point, the usual lines of argument from the usual suspects will go forth and multiply. Some religious groups will try to claim that the nonreligious are actually, in fact, religious; they just don’t know it. That won’t wash. People tick the no-religion box for a reason. Nonreligiosity may be complex—but ...

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There Is No Such Thing as a ‘Safe Space’

Our culture values self-protection. But true love demands that we move toward each other.

One particular argument will figure in our family lore for generations: the adults upstairs, lancing one another with loud accusations, while the children downstairs slowly realized the holiday movie, planned for the afternoon, would not be.

Years later, I can’t remember the reasons for our conflict among extended family members. I only know the conditions were right. The “most wonderful time of the year” was upon us, and expectations were at a fever pitch.

It’s a risky business, this thing we call love. Unfortunately, in our cultural environment today—when personal safety is prized so highly—I fear we grow less and less tolerant for the normal bruising that happens in the contact sport of human relationships. We will love insofar as we are never hurt.

A quick swipe through social media reveals a lot of relationship advice centered on self-protection. We are taught to be vigilant against injustice, to repudiate toxicity, and to avoid situations that make us feel unsafe. The law of no trespass has become inviolable.

To be clear, I celebrate the growing emphasis on accountability. It is good and right to protect victims from abusers, and I welcome the more precise ways we’ve come to name the violations of human trust. Importantly, the Christian gospel never diminishes the trauma of sin and the necessity of repair. With a crucified Messiah at its very center—a scapegoat made to suffer for the sins of the world—it is a story that upholds the necessity of justice.

Still, I worry we are growing unrealistic in our expectations for human relationships. We seek safety, by which we often mean invulnerability. We imagine that incurring wounds in a relationship signals reasons to quit, ...

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German Bible Translator Introduces Readers to ‘God’s New Reality’

Theologian Roland Werner’s modern version Das Buch, now in its third edition, resonates with the unchurched and surprises the faithful.

Roland Werner wears many hats, and most of them have something to do with the Bible.

Whether he’s preaching at the interdenominational congregation that he founded four decades ago in Marburg, writing devotionals and books about church history, lecturing on intercultural theology, or chairing a meeting of the German branch of the Lausanne Movement, the theologian and linguist’s life revolves around God’s Word.

He might be best known among Germany’s evangelicals for Das Buch (“The Book”), his popular Bible translation in modern German. The New Testament was first released in 2009, and a new version including the Psalms was published in 2014. Earlier this year came the third edition, this time with the addition of Proverbs.

Werner, age 65, discovered an affinity for languages at an early age. As an adolescent, he was already studying Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Arabic and several African languages followed later. A year as an exchange student in the United States helped perfect his English. His familiarity with these and other languages combined with his love of Scripture made the role of Bible translator a natural fit. He is currently working with a team to translate the Bible into a North African language.

This new version of Das Buch comes almost exactly 500 years after Martin Luther published his first Bible translation, known as the Septembertestament. While there was much fanfare a few years ago to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Werner laments that this milestone has gone largely unnoticed.

“You heard almost nothing about the [Septembertestament anniversary], neither in the churches nor in the news,” he said.

The Christus-Treff congregation founder hopes ...

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Former Southern Seminary Prof Sues SBC Leaders for Labeling Him an Abuser

David Sills admitted to misconduct but claims he has been “falsely attacked” by Southern Baptists and their investigative firm.

A former seminary professor and missionary who admitted sexual misconduct has sued a group of Southern Baptist Convention leaders and entities, claiming they conspired with an abuse survivor to ruin his reputation.

In a complaint filed November 21 in the Circuit Court of Mobile, Alabama, David Sills, a former professor of missions and cultural anthropology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, admits he lost his job in 2018 due to what he called “morally inappropriate consensual intimate” conduct with a student.

Sills claims the situation was consensual and alleges that SBC leaders, including Southern’s president, Albert Mohler, turned his confession against him, labeling him as an abuser.

They did so, according to the complaint, as a public relations stunt, aimed at improving the SBC’s reputation during a national sexual abuse scandal. That public relations effort, according to the suit, included an investigation by Guidepost Solutions into SBC leaders’ handling of alleged abuse cases, which was made public earlier this year.

“David Sills was repentant and obedient to the rules of the SBC,” the complaint alleges. “Defendants saw him as an easy target; a bona fide scapegoat.”

The complaint names Southern seminary and Mohler, as well as the SBC’s Executive Committee, SBC President Bart Barber, and his predecessor Ed Litton as defendants, along with several other leaders. Also named as a defendant is Lifeway Christian Resources, a research and publishing arm of the SBC, and Guidepost Solutions.

It also names Jennifer Lyell, a former seminarian and vice president for Lifeway, who has repeatedly alleged that Sills was abusive, an allegation Mohler has also made on social ...

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Indonesian Churches Organize to Aid Earthquake Survivors

After a powerful quake hit the island of Java this week, a network of local Christians raced to help.

When Denny Tarigan arrived in the remote village of Gasol, the earthy smell of wet soil assaulted his senses.

The sound of ambulance sirens permeated the air. Cars and motorcycles filled the narrow dirt roads. As the Indonesian Christian aid worker looked around, he saw blue makeshift tents lined with mats and blankets that were full of earthquake survivors, including children and the elderly.

What he also saw: smiles on the villagers’ faces.

“The people are strong enough to survive this,” said Tarigan, who took a 10-hour car ride from his hometown of Yogyakarta to Cianjur, the regency where Gasol is located, on Wednesday.

“Most of them just don’t know what to do after this,” he said. “For now, they think that they need help from the government and other [disaster relief] agencies.”

While it is common in the United States for churches to engage in disaster relief, in Indonesia most humanitarian aid is provided by government agencies, international NGOs, and Muslim aid groups.

It is only in the past several years that Indonesian churches have started to engage in disaster relief, said Effendy Aritonang, the Indonesia country director for Food for the Hungry and secretary of the executive team of Jakomkris, the Christian Community Network for Disaster Management in Indonesia.

Engaging the aftermath

When the 5.6-magnitude earthquake occurred on Monday morning, Aritonang, Tarigan, and other members of Jakomkris kicked into action.

Made up of Indonesian nonprofits and churches, the team called for a coordination meeting to begin identifying needs and figuring out who could provide assistance.

A Mennonite group showed up to provide clean water. About 10 doctors and 20 nurses from a Christian ...

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