Thailand Screening of All God's Children

Chiang Mai International School Auditorium

This post is well overdue - since it's been a month since our documentary All God's Children screened at Chiang Mai International School in Thailand - but now I'm finally settled back in New York and I can reflect back on this special event.

First of all I would like to thank again the people who made this screening possible: Jessica Gould (CMIS), who organized the screening, Lance Potter (CMIS), who hosted the screening and Esther Wakeman (Payap University), who MC'd the event and organized the other speakers.

Esther Wakeman of Payap University

There were many reasons why screening the film in Thailand was special - not only because it's such an exotic location but also because I had personal connections to Chiang Mai (as did others who appeared in the documentary) and because this area is part of the mission field and is frequented by expats and TCKs (third culture kids).

What I didn't realize until shortly before the screening, and what ultimately makes this event stand out the most, is that a few decades ago the school was itself a Christian boarding school with a hostel for children of missionaries, which was overseen by Presbyterian missionaries, and according to an independent investigation, had its own cases of child abuse.

Introducing the film as I often do with something like "thank you for being here today and hearing the voices of these abuse survivors who didn't have a voice as children and whose voices were ignored as adults" was never as powerful as on that evening in Chiang Mai when I could say: "today these voices will be heard at a place where children just like themselves were silenced and abused".

On this day, it really felt like the film had come full-circle. Of course, it saddened me that none of the children from the film could be present for this special moment. But I believe that through the film they spoke for all of the children of the Chiang Mai, Mamou and other boarding schools.

I want to make it very clear that the Chiang Mai International School today shares the same location but is not the same school as the one where abuse took place - today it isn't even a boarding school.

Esther Wakeman and Lance Potter

It was a different experience to share the film with and speak to an audience which included so many missionary kids and missionaries, some of whom shared that they or their kids had attended boarding school and that some of them had been abused. 

But of course, that also meant that there were people in the room that weren't going to take the film at face-value and instead questioned some of the statements made in the film. There is the issue of forgiveness, for example, that many people believe to be the appropriate step of healing - while the survivors in our film tend to express that forgiveness is not the solution to the problem.

This also leads to another point of discussion, the question of faith and religion. It doesn't happen often that I have to verbalize after a screening that the film is not anti-God and emphasize that several people in the film remain Christians. But I believe it makes a difference who the audience is and therefore how they conceive a United Methodist pastor speaking about his "fight against bad religion". 

It was neat to find out that some of the people attending knew Beverly Shellrude Thompson, who appears in the film. Again, I wish she could have been there. 

For the first time we had someone at an event who spoke officially (and graciously) for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the denomination and mission-sending organization that ran the Mamou Alliance Academy and hesitated to embrace the survivors when they first came forward. 

Mike Wood is on staff at Grace International School, a missionary kids school in Chiang Mai, and had as a child attended Dalat International School, a missionary kids boarding school in Malaysia, which allegedly has had cases of mistreatment as well... He shared with us some of the changes that the CMA has implemented to improve the situation for missionary kids and showed his personal understanding and compassion.

Jessica Gould pre-screening

The other person who spoke was Alastair Muir, a missionary from Scotland. He had made my day a few weeks earlier when he wrote that he and others in his group of missionary men had watched All God's Children and discussed some of its difficult subjects for weeks. A definite highlight in our journey with this film is to find out that people, whom we don't know and who live in far away places have watched and utilized the film. 

More importantly on a larger scale though: it was great to have Alastair, with his expertise, speak about aspects of the film and about his efforts to protect children from abuse. He works as part of the Church of Christ in Thailand in building child protection capacity through churches, schools, border communities and wider Thai society. Striking were his involvement in writing and helping implement new child protection policy as well as his focus on protecting Thai children in a country where child prostitution and trafficking are major issues.

So it was an altogether special screening - and would be a worthy event to close our tour of screenings. Of course, I hope that the film will continue to screen publicly as well as privately and will continue to get people talking, help them on their journey of discovery, understanding and healing - and educate people to protect and support children, survivors, parents and educators.