May 31, 2019
By Lise Olsen and Sarah Smith
George Thomas Wade Jr. had been spreading the gospel as a missionary on African training farms and in bush villages for six years when his Southern Baptist supervisors learned a horrifying secret: The supposedly devout man of God was molesting his own daughter.
A supervisor met once privately with the girl, who was attending boarding school in Johannesburg, and later consulted leaders based 7,500 miles away at the Richmond, Va., headquarters of what’s now called the International Mission Board. Wade promised to stop, the supervisor said. His daughter said she was told to forgive Wade and was sworn to secrecy.
No one told Wade’s wife, also a missionary, what he had done, court records show.
His daughter was never again asked about the abuse, which continued, even after she attempted suicide at 15.
“I felt stupid for having told anything to anybody,” she later testified. “The concern was for my father. … It didn’t matter what happened to me.”
The practice of the Southern Baptist mission board — the world’s largest sponsor of Protestant missionaries — has been for years to keep misconduct reports inside the hierarchy of the organization, a Houston Chronicle investigation reveals. The board is a massive charitable organization that as of 2018 fielded more than 3,600 missionaries and “team associates” overseas and managed an annual budget of $158 million or more, nearly all tithes from members of churches that belong to the Southern Baptist Convention.
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