July 13, 2015

Reaching Out to Victims of Clergy Abuse

By Chad Stuart, Adventist Review/ANN

The Hope of Survivors, a ministry providing support, hope, and healing to victims of spiritual leader sexual abuse, is led by Samantha and Steve Nelson. Samanath, herself a victim of clergy abuse that nearly destroyed herself and her marriage, recalls her feelings when she found herself in the abusive situation: “He [the pastor] had control over me. He told me it was God’s will for us to be together, that I was his spiritual wife.”

These are things Samantha says she has heard many times since that “dark season” in the lives of her and her husband Steve, cofounder and president of The Hope of Survivors. The abuse nearly claimed her life, and would have, if Steve had not come home and found her after she attempted to commit suicide.

Eventually, Samantha and Steve moved to a new town to save their marriage. There they received strong biblical counseling. Steve said they met a pastor who helped them rebuild their trust in the clergy. Samantha enrolled in a Biblical Counseling Course, and, as she put it, “immersed myself in the Word of God.”

Healing came slowly but, one day, Samantha says “I had been healed.” Steve suggested, “Why don’t we build a Web site to provide information and resources to those who have gone through experiences like ours?” So they built the Web site with no intentions of it being anything more than a place to tell their story and encourage others in similar circumstances. But within weeks of their putting up the Web site, victims of spiritual leader or clergy sexual abuse began to contact them. Out of their experience and that Web site, The Hope of Survivors ministry has grown.

Samantha and Steve have helped minister to more than 1,000 adult victims, primarily women, but men also whom predators within ministry have violated. These individuals have crossed denominational and geographical lines. They have come from conservative and liberal churches. “It doesn’t matter where it is, or what type of church it is,” states Steve. “The victims are everywhere!”

The Hope for Survivors ministry is primarily a peer support ministry. They are not professional or licensed counselors, but rather come alongside victims to support them through their journey of healing. “At these times, people need someone who will listen and has been through what they have been through,” says Steve. “They need someone that can direct them to the help and resources they need, and be a friend in this time.”

“Every victim has much the same story: since I was healed, I want to help others find the same healing.” What would Samantha share with other victims? She tells them, “God did not do this to you. Your pastor was wrong; this is not God’s will. He is not David, a man after God’s own heart, and you are not Bathsheba. No matter what he (or she) told you, it is not true. And I want you to know, even though it doesn’t feel like it now, what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 can be true for you also: ‘What someone else and the devil may have intended for evil in your life, God can change the situation and make some good come out of it.’ ”

If you would like to know more about The Hope of Survivors ministry, if you would like to volunteer to assist them in various areas, or if you would like to provide financial support to this integral ministry; or, more importantly, if you yourself are a victim who needs someone to come alongside you, contact Steve and Samantha Nelson and The Hope of Survivors ministry at 1-866-260-8958 or through their Web site: http://www.TheHopeOfSurvivors.com