the Hope of Survivors

The Hope of Survivors (THOS) Interview with Renewal Center Guests—The Hope of Survivors’ Staff

(From the April 2015 edition of HopeSpeak)

How did you first hear about The Hope of Survivors and the Renewal Center?

Wife: I was at a very low point spiritually, emotionally, and physically for years after the pastoral abuse. I had been through multiple counselors and I had found no solace or wisdom within any professional I had encountered. I did not know what to even call what I had been through, though I knew the default expression “affair” that everyone so loosely used was not the correct term in the least. Throughout some self-discovery, I searched many local venues and tried to use discernment and discretion in even reaching out to certain individuals, but these efforts were to no avail.

On a very emotionally dark day, I finally sat down at our computer, and in a last desperate attempt, conjured up the three words “Sexual+Abuse+Pastor” and typed them into the search engine. At the top of the search results, The Hope of Survivors website popped up. I remember staring at the name of the site in a very skeptical manner for a good minute or so before clicking on the link. Then as I began reading, immediately my heart quickened. I felt I couldn’t read the words fast enough to soak in the content pouring off the page. I then went to the testimonials and literally broke down in tears upon reading the poignant words of so many other women proclaiming what I had said and felt for so long. I did not believe in my heart that “we” were few and far between and no one existed to hear our pain yet alone understand it. However, society within the church and the world alike fed me with empty, fleeting words of ignorance and blindness. FINALLY, I knew I had found words of truth presented by an organization that not only felt it was wrong, but that it was biblically inaccurate to be handled in the fashion in which it was handled.

Here I was after almost 3 years of torture, reading about an organization that, locally, did not exist, and a Renewal Center that I could have only imagined in my dreams. I had so many hesitations. After all, I just randomly stumbled upon this website on the internet. My experience held me on the side of caution for a good while, but my heartstrings were constantly pulled back to this website and the information pertaining to the Renewal Center. I finally gathered the courage to call and I spoke to a volunteer for a while. My anxieties began to lessen over time after this encounter, and my heart felt hope for the first time in years. I decided that my husband needed to know of this chance to find tangible support and healing, however, we did not talk much of emotional stressors at this point, and in all honesty were still just making it day by day, and not doing a fabulous job at doing such. However, my heart could not pass up a chance to help us as a couple and individually. So, I reluctantly went to my husband and told him of THOS and the Renewal Center. I had printed off some general information for him to look at on his own. Much to my relief, he did not react negatively and was actually curious. He had questions he needed to sort through with time, and I wanted to allow him that time. From that point, we moved forward and, ultimately, found ourselves at the Renewal Center a few months later. It was the best thing we had ever done.

Husband: My wife came to me one evening telling me about an organization she found on the Internet that focused on people who had been through pastoral abuse. She went into some detail about what they did and asked if I would look at the website sometime. After a day or two, I went to the website and read every page. Over the next few months, my wife and I talked about the Renewal Center and the counseling services they offered.

What prompted your desire to attend an in-house program at the Renewal Center?

Wife: I think, firstly, my husband and I had not had an opportunity to leave the area in which the abuse happened. It seemed wherever we went, there were always things or people present that stirred horrifying memories and feelings. At this point, even a small disruption would completely ruin our time with each other and break our already fragile connection. We were in desperate need of a major change of scenery in order to get a fresh perspective on our love, our life and most importantly God.

In addition, after everything we had been through, my personality just fit a more intimate setting in order to sort through the issues and pain. Anxiety has always been a factor within me, but after the abuse, the mere thought of being in a crowd, large or small, was sometimes too much to bear. So the shelter of the Renewal Center just seemed like an impossible dream that finally became a tangible option. I hid myself in the shadows of our own weak walls for so long. All the while my heart longed for a place that had imparted the unwavering strength of God within its own walls to hold us in the light so we could see each other and know who God truly was and what He wanted for our lives. I felt I had possibly found this via the Renewal Center. There was no fighting the desire to attend one of the sessions once I knew my husband would even entertain the notion.

Husband: Watching the effects of emotional trauma that my wife endured and then the toll that it took on our marriage were major motivations for going with my wife to the Renewal Center. My hope was that things that had never before been discussed between us could finally be approached. This hope was based in a desire for some closure between my wife and I, as both of us felt as though every wound was still open and had grown from inattentiveness.

Once you arrived at the Renewal Center, how would you describe the atmosphere, comfort and security there?

Wife: We felt very comfortable and safe. Our room was cozy, and we had plenty of privacy. The location was secluded, but close to a city area. There was enough slack to feel free to be yourself, yet enough precautions were taken to keep your mind at ease.

The one word that describes the ambience of the Renewal Center is serenity. The quietness was an odd experience for us since we are parents of two young boys, yet this silence was greatly needed in the process of healing. Samantha and Steve were both so welcoming and, within minutes of meeting them, we were laughing and smiling, and all the initial anxieties started to be substituted with a peaceful connection that, in retrospect, could not have gone better. Their presence matched that of the peacefulness of the Renewal Center, and in essence, that was why the Renewal Center was serene in the first place. Ultimately, God’s love, shown through them, resonated through every hall there. I could feel that everywhere I went.

Husband: I had never communicated with Steve or Samantha prior to pulling in the driveway at the Renewal Center. They were immediately friendly and we were laughing together in no time. They were very reassuring that it was a safe place to open up about how we felt about the past, as well as how that affected our feelings now. I fell in love with the Renewal Center itself as well. The building is beautiful inside and out, which helped me feel relaxed during our stay.

During your stay at the Renewal Center, what did you find to be most helpful to you in your healing process?

Wife: It was healing to me in seeing how much my husband received from being there. I had watched him suffer in virtual silence for so long. It was an awakening to me when he was able to open up and speak freely of our hurts from before and after the pastoral abuse. It helped me put so many things in perspective and it helped me understand the barriers that have kept us from each other for so long.

On an individual level, Samantha and Steve’s loving and extremely patient natures largely fueled my willingness to open up enough to allow healing to commence— Samantha especially helped with this aspect. To interact with someone face-to-face who not only understood what you have gone through, but had themselves gone through similar situations was extremely enlightening, and made every area of healing easier to face head-on.

Most importantly, what was said was biblically accurate. No counsel or support I had sought out throughout years of dealing with this could—or would—biblically state what I knew in my heart to be true as to what had happened with the pastoral abuse and the church’s response and lack thereof. I had so many emotional blockades when trying to biblically interpret it myself. I felt lost when even reading God’s word because of the condemnation and shame I felt on myself because of the rejection I had received by people that were supposed to reflect God’s love. I confused their response as being God’s response to me. After hearing God’s word implemented in session after session, it was as if a cloud had finally been lifted from my soul and I could see things for what they were and actually have biblical references to confirm what I knew to be true—that this was abuse, and God did not, nor does not, condone what happened against me and my husband, and He truly forgives and loves me just as much as anyone.

Husband: The Christ-centered approach and attitude of THOS! Without this foundation, everything else would have been pointless. Steve and Samantha truly have a genuine way to shine the light of God’s truth into a situation that is filled with darkness. That having been said, as the husband, the approach that THOS takes to our experiences was key to my experience during my stay. As a husband who has suffered under this type of abuse, there was no one I could go to and talk about the pain that I suffered from what happened. A counselor I had been seeing once told me (after I had told him what happened to me) that, “no one could understand what you have been through.” To this day, I still struggle with having someone who understands. But, Steve and Samantha both showed that they understood what had happened to me and how I felt as well. They understood that my pain was no less than what my wife suffered—that I was abused as well. That something was taken from me as well. Without this attention to my wounds, it would have been a wasted trip and only added to my wounds.

How would you describe the type of support or counsel you received while at the Renewal Center?

Wife: I feel the counsel was very individualized. It seems Samantha and Steve implement their support based on what God has given them in discernment. Their approach was patient, professional and biblically accurate. All of these factors were important in giving incite and information to use towards healing and finding God’s love.

Husband: Christ-centered with a focus not only on our marriage, but where we were hurt as individuals. The approach was flexible when something needed to be discussed further that might have been off of the current topic but was relevant to why we were there.

What do you think made the most difference to you while at the Renewal Center?

Wife: Everything as a whole melded together to make what our experience was to us. The abundant time, care and effort that was put into each aspect of the stay made for the best experience imaginable.

From a woman’s perspective, Samantha could not have been more suited to take on this supporting role as a biblical counselor and a fellow survivor. I guess in hindsight, I would have to say that her presence alone made one of the biggest differences for me. The Godly words she spoke were like new pillars and cement being placed throughout my cracked foundation of life. With the reinforcement that she gave, I feel I can build upon my foundation without it crumbling again.

Husband: The ability to address this in a home-style setting. We had nowhere to go, no children to chase, and it was more than just an hour-long session with a counselor. We all had meals together and were able to laugh and joke together. The difference between traditional therapy and THOS made the biggest difference.

In what ways did your stay at the Renewal Center affect your healing, your marriage and your relationship with Christ?

Wife: My healing finally moved forward. It had been stagnant and almost non-existent for so long that I did not even believe any healing would occur. I had felt a small bit of hope after I began interacting with THOS via email and phone, but this face-to-face experience made such a deep impact and facilitated my journey back to God’s arms. I no longer was consumed by the fears that for so long I felt were fact. The way I saw God’s image of me was no longer reflecting pure disappointment and dishonor. Instead, I finally knew that he saw me in pure love and still smiled upon me. I have to remind myself of this daily still. However, I don’t know if I would have even accepted this as fact if we had not experienced the Renewal Center.

On a marital level, I feel we have come such a long way in such a short period of time. It was like we had been stuck in a rut for so long turning our wheels but not getting anywhere, and now we have been set free to move and go anywhere we want together. All in all, the marriage is well underway to being everything we wanted and aspired it to be.

Husband: Having someone who shared our experience and had turned it into a vehicle for healing was probably the only way that could have begun any kind of healing in our lives.

How are you doing now, as opposed to how you were before attending a program at the Renewal Center?

Wife: In our marriage, we are finally together now—truly together. We had gone so long just making it day to day, not truly knowing the other person’s heart. Fears and hurts had consumed our marriage and left us with so many doubts about the future. We were surviving—not thriving. Being at the Renewal Center and having the opportunity to conquer these fears that Satan had instilled in us was empowering for our marriage. ALL our masks have come off, thus the fears have subsided tremendously and I feel I can be who I am without hiding in the shadows from my own husband. It has become a daily relief to look at my husband and say and feel that I am glad that I married him and that it is an honor we walk through this journey of life together. I am thankful I have a husband that loves me regardless of my faults and sins, as Christ loves me.

For me, I think the major key to allowing long-term healing that we are experiencing presently to occur via the acute stay at the Renewal Center is proactive, healthy communication and quality time on a consistent basis while remembering and implementing everything you learned while there. This includes not just time with each other, but time with God, taking in his Word and praying together.

We did have many roadblocks after we came home. After all, we were stepping into the constant rhythmic cycle of the world we came from, and in order to heal, we had to change the force of this cycle from the negative things that kept us in the same place, to God and who He truly is. We have to constantly remind ourselves to let him take control and not let the old fears trickle back in. Ultimately, we are so much better off than we were before we went to the Renewal Center. The views I have on our future now, compared to before we went, are almost incomparable.

Personally, I was jolted back to life. I still had so many demons to face when I got back home, but I had something to fall back on. Every day, I remind myself of the knowledge that was presented at the Renewal Center, and I remind myself of who I am in Christ even if I don’t feel it. For the first time in so long, I want to have a better future and I feel as if that can be obtained. In essence, I have hope.

Husband: Since the Renewal Center, I have been able to slowly open up a little with my wife. It is a process in which I have had both setbacks and progress. But, it has only been since coming to the Renewal Center that this has taken place. Being able to finally hear my wife talk about what happened was a wall in our marriage being torn down—a wall that had separated us for far too long.

What would you tell someone who is considering attending an in-house program at the Renewal Center?

Wife: I would tell them that amongst the different means of support and counsel that THOS offers, though ALL have been wonderful blessings, the Renewal Center was the most amazing and beneficial thing that we did for ourselves individually and on a marital level. We had to break down walls to even get ourselves to the Renewal Center. There was doubt, shame, pride and dread of facing pain fueling a reluctance in us to go. I am so very thankful we listened to God’s call for us to take this journey together. I can say whatever the hang ups may be—if there are any—that God’s love and healing can be so much stronger and can conquer those doubts if one allows Him to. God himself has appointed THOS to take on this very specific task. If this has been a consideration for you to go, please make the decision to go not based on the fears and negative feelings. Base it on the hope that there IS healing for you and your spouse after the heinous misconducts of pastoral abuse. Considering God’s will, all in all, I would say take the leap of faith, as far as it may seem to leap, and go to the Renewal Center.

Husband: First, I would tell them they are not alone and there are people who understand how they feel, despite feeling to the contrary. I would let them know that this is something that it is possible to survive together while learning to trust each other again. That this is not just a place, but a chance to see the abuse for what it was, to allow forgiveness a chance to heal the wounds, and make a plan for a successful future.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Wife: I realize if you or a loved one has gone through pastoral abuse, how much pain you must be feeling. For me, it felt like I was swimming in a never-ending ocean with rocks fused to my heart and soul. The weight and waves of life were too much to keep swimming at times. However, I would implore anyone feeling the negative effects of pastoral abuse to take a chance at a much deeper and meaningful experience than the futile hopelessness that this world offers and consider the hope that THOS reveals via email, phone, and the amazing Renewal Center. It truly has made all the difference in our marriage, and I pray that our experience can attest that there is hope for your life and marriage after this dreadful act of abuse. I pray God will bless your life in wonderful ways beyond our own understanding.

Husband: For husbands who have suffered under this, I would let them know that unforgiveness only makes you bitter and diminishes who they are. That you will become what you hate. That you must afford redemption every opportunity, even when your spouse is taking their anger out on you.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18