the Hope of Survivors

The Hope of Survivors…—by Karen SuvanKahm

(Note: This article was originally written in January 2005, to be published in ASI Magazine. To our knowledge, there is no set publication date at this time. At the time of this writing, The Hope of Survivors' office was located in Northern California. The office was moved to Southern Illinois in February 2005.)

“My Pastor says he loves me. He says his wife is his Leah, but I am his Rachel…what should I do?” It is eight a.m. at The Hope of Survivors, and Samantha is reading her morning email. Another woman writes, “I hate my life. I want to die. Everyone would be better off without me.” This one gets top priority! A third letter comes from a woman whose husband has left her, who has no money and who doesn’t know what to do. “How could God do this to me?” she asks. With prayer, Samantha begins responding to these hurting hearts, offering a listening ear, Biblical counsel, encouragement, and hope.

Since December of 2002 when Steve and Samantha Nelson started their ministry to the survivors of clergy sexual abuse, they have received email from CSA victims representing over 15 denominations and three countries. “It’s a lot more common than most people imagine,” says Samantha. “…in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, cases of ministerial sexual misconduct are escalating at an alarming rate. The ‘guesstimate’ is about two pastors per week—about 100 per year,” says James A. Cress, secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association. (Pacific Union Recorder, September 2003) It certainly is a startling number, but even this doesn’t take in all occurrences—just the ones that are known, and of course, in the wake of the numbers are the shattered lives. Without help, victims not only leave their church, but often lose faith in God entirely. “Between the feelings of guilt and the unbelievable experience of being used by God’s representative, it’s enough to stamp out any flicker of faith,” she explains.

That The Hope of Survivors is there for the victims is a given. The ministry works to facilitate the healing process, lead victims back to God, their source of strength, and provide opportunities for survivors to learn of the blessings associated with the Seventh-day Adventist Christian beliefs and lifestyle. But CSA affects more than just those typically focused on as victims. It affects families, pastors, congregations, and the church as a whole. The Hope of Survivors ministers to all those affected, and seeks to:

  • Educate the victims, the clergy, the church and the general public about clergy sexual abuse and misconduct through television and radio, printed media, public appearances and an up-to-date, interactive web site.
  • Restore victims and their loved ones, through weekend retreats and seminars, to faith in their Creator and trust of their fellow beings.
  • Facilitate healing in the church families that have been affected by clergy sexual abuse, teaching methods of prevention as well as recovery from the after-effects of abuse.
  • Work with clergy who have violated sacred trust, urging them to make appropriate amends and seek professional counseling.

Looking forward to 2005 and beyond, Steve and Samantha see many opportunities to make a positive difference. In addition to conducting seminars nationwide for victims and pastors (separate conferences), current plans include printing ministry materials in Spanish and developing a Hispanic counterpart to the ministry, developing and printing topical Bible studies for victims, producing a general introductory video as well as training videos for pastors, churches and victims, and producing public service announcements for TV and radio. Steve and Samantha also pray about the purchase of a retreat center, where survivors can come for counsel, renewal, and when needed, temporary shelter.

“As we look back on how God led us through the devastation of CSA, and how He has led in the ministry of The Hope of Survivors, we can see that His hand was leading all along. We have a heart for those who are hurting, and we know that Jesus longs to bring the wounded sheep back into His fold. We believe Jesus is coming soon. We pray that God’s ministers will stand for truth, and that those who have turned from Him and feel He no longer loves them will hear His call of love through us and will return to their Father’s House,” says Steve Nelson, President and Co-Founder of The Hope of Survivors.

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