Have you ever been in a nightmare, only to wake up and realize it is your reality? #metoo
My family was not your happy-go lucky-family. On the outside, you would see a Christian family who did all the things a typical Seventh-day Adventist family did and was a part of. On the inside, my dad was a rage-a-holic and had a family that lived on edge of when he was going to lose his cool and become a crazy demon that attacked his family. My dad was an abuser, my mom was a battered woman and my two brothers and I lived uncertain of what each day, sometimes each hour, may bring. My biggest dream was for us to be a happy family. I remember so clearly praying to God that after this beating, could we now be a happy family?
After highschool I became aware that nothing was going to change at home and I had to look ahead. I remember heading to Andrews University, excited and scared all in one of this new beginning. I was devastated and so stressed about leaving my brothers at home. We had always taken care of each other in the midst of all the craziness that was our reality.
While I was away at school, my brothers grew in stature and size which gave them the power then needed to put a stop to the physical abuse that was part of my dad’s language. I’m not sure of the details to which started this yet, at some point, my brothers reached out for help. The chaplain and youth pastor of the church came to our home to help and counsel my parents and brothers. I was away so I was not part of this and while home on leave chose not to engage in this activity.
TIme passed, my middle brother headed off to university and I, having finished my degree in education, needed to finish one quarter of student teaching. I chose to come home to do this at the school I had gone to. I could live at home and save some money and was able to spend that time with my youngest brother, as he finished his last year at the high school.
My youngest brother and the chaplain of the school worked closely on projects. The chaplain was my brother’s mentor and with some other students, they all worked closely. The chaplain was loved and cherished by all. He was affectionately called Pastor. His office was always filled with students who loved to hang out in between classes and after school. Pastor was married to a nurse who often worked 3-11pm at the local hospital and so often had his son, who was about 3 years of age, with him after school, where his son was loved and played with by the various students that hung out.
My brother and I were often together as I helped with various projects and activities that Pastor, my brother and the team were working on. I found this an enjoyable time. I loved finding purpose during my free time and enjoyed my brother and his buddies whom I had known since they were wee ones.
Pastor, after a period of time, developed a friendship with me, knowing our family history and the pain that came with that kind of life. He was good at making me feel understood and special. He learned that I had recently broken off a relationship and was good about making this my ex’s loss. He was a friend and was safe. He was married and a man of God. What could be safer?
His wife asked me to babysit occastionally and I enjoyed spending time with their son. I was in a place where I did not have many friends around and had my evening free so making a little extra money was always welcome. It was one of these evenings of babysitting that life for me changed forever. Pastor came home, asked me to hang out while he packed for a trip the next day and then he would pay me. He put his son in the bath and as I sat chatting, he came to me and before I could comprehend what was happening, I was being raped. I begged him to stop. He told me he wouldn’t hurt me.
I’m not sure how I made it home. My next memory, as clear as day, was sitting on the toilet in our home, looking at my panties. There was that tattletale sign on my panites that told me that I had just lost my virginity.
I stood in my bedroom wondering what to do. Calling the police, was a thought that crossed my mind and left as quickly as it came. There were times, when my dad was beating my mom, the police came and did not do anything. Or the time the police came and ending up chatting with my dad at the table talking about how hard it must be to live with my mom. The bottom line was the police were not an option for me.
I ended up living in a daze. I was not sure how this happened. I did not know where to turn. I was alone, scared, confused and hurt. Where was I to turn to? Never had I felt so alone.
Fast forward a few months… I decided to go to DC to finish off one more class through correspondence. I had close friends there, family I could stay with and be far away from the chaos that I did not understand. I finished my class and headed to Andrews University for graduation. Most of the people I loved were there that weekend, including my biggest crush!
My crush ended up being my husband (we had been friends for 7or so year)! I was so blessed and yet the turmoil was still rumbling in my heart. The pain of being betrayed was so mixed up with all the emotions that was churning in my heart. If only I had… or Why me… or Why God… He is a pastor… What do I do?… Who will help me?… Can I just forget?… Was this my fault?… GOD, WHERE ARE YOU????
Sanj and I got engaged after 2 years and I was living out a dream. Yet I was living out a nightmare no one could see.
As many do, we went to pre-marriage counseling done by the pastor that was to marry us. At some point, as Sanj and I fought over what we should do about Pastor, we turned to our pastor and shared with him my story. I will never forget his words, “Reema, you have to do something! I will help you.”
Our pastor asked my to call Pastor and tape a conversation with him telling him that he raped me. That was the first thing I had to do and yet while it seemed simple enough, it was and still is one of the hardest, most scariest things I have done. I was petrified. You know, if you don’t believe that God walks beside us, put Him to the test. As I made the call, I am sure that God flooded my room with angels to hold me up and God Himself was there holding me, as my fingers shaked, my heart was pounding out of my chest and my head felt like it was going to erupted. I sat on my bed, with one phone on a tape recorder, the other one to my ear, praying it would record and I would get through this.
Pastor answered. It was awkward. I’m sure he was wondering why I was calling. I told him that I need to let him know something things and one of those things was that I felt raped by him.
I wish I had the strength to scream out to him that YOU RAPED ME!!! Yet this was the best I could do at that point. I was 22 when this person that I trusted, a pastor, a man of God, someone who I knew I COULD trust, betrayed me in the worst, darkest, ugliest way. He stole from me something that I was to gift my husband with. He stole what I could never have back.
Our pastor called the principal of the school and let him know that this is what happened and we wanted this dealt with. There was a meeting and initially Pastor denied it. Then he was told there was a tape. He was told to hand his ministerial license in. The Conference took his license and as far as I know that was it. Pastor was allowed to write a letter to the school community. Part of his letter made mention that while in a weak time in his life (apparently his mom had died around this time), a young lady come and took advantage of him.
Pastor left his job with a glowing recommendation from the principal who was his close friend. He left with the support of the community. Most did not believe what he was accused of or believe his lie of being taken advantage of. Not ONE person reach out to me. Not one person cared about me.
There are many more aspects of this story and yet the bottom line is no one who was approached with the story cared. My church did not care. I was alone.
Fast forward 25 years… Sanj and I started a family and ended up with six beautiful boys. We lived life as most of us do, with the ups and downs life brings our way.
Last year, my youngest brother who is a pastor for the church, asked me if I was willing to come and share my story with the pastors (he was ministerial director) in his province. I was more than willing to go. I had asked God after my rape, after learning to breathe again, to use my pain to help others. I asked Him so that my pain would not have been in vain. Ok and truth be told, I was ok with a little break from the busyness of real life.
As I went to the camp where the ministerial meetings were being held, I felt God in such a strong way. I am not a public speaker. I had never done this before. I was so scared. Yet I felt something too. I felt, despite the fear, a peace that seemed to pass all understanding.
The keynote speaker that was invited to speak was someone I ended up knowing back when I did my student teaching. I taught his daughter. My brother spoke with him that evening so that he would know what my talk was about and could follow accordingly. The speaker asked if I would meet him after breakfast. We sat together in the fireside room as he told me that he was there the day that Pastor was fired. He was in the meeting when Pastor was confronted. He then shared a song of encouragement with me and prayed over me.
I was so overwhelmed. I mean how was this not a God thing? Of all the speakers that could be invited, this could not be a coincidence. Right? I spoke. I shared my story. My voice was shaky, my hands were barely able to hold the mic. Yet I shared my hurt. I shared my pain. I shared how my church let me down. No one from this church that was part of my life since I was born, cared. Not one person has said sorry. I sat down.
The president of the Conference took the mic from my brother. He walked over to me. He stood in front of me and said, “You want an apology... As a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I am sorry.”
I’m not sure I can express how powerful that moment was. Tears flowed. I felt all that pain from over two decades starting to release. I felt such a presence of peace and healing and hope.
Here’s the beautiful thing… and a true example of a Godly leader, 95% of the pastors and leaders there followed the example of their president and came and told me they were sorry. Three or four people told me over the following 24 hours that they had been abused too. For some, it was the first time telling anyone.
I was so grateful for this gift God gave me that weekend.
Still on a high, a few months later, I told my husband that I was going to write a book. Now, I have been telling him that I am going to write a book forever. He as usual, was supportive and yet I’m sure rolled his eyes. I started to do so by googling Pastor to see where he was and what he was doing. I already knew he was working as a chaplain in a hospital. (Yes, I know). As I continued to search his activity, I noticed that he was speaking at Seventh-day Adventist churches in his area, doing Pathfinder retreats, etc. I noticed that he was preaching in a church that seemed familiar. Yet I could not believe it. He was preaching at the church of the keynote speaker, the one from the retreat just a few months ago. How was this possible?
My heart seemed to break into a million pieces. This feeling I was feeling was familiar. It felt like RAPE all over again. How was this happening????
I called my husband, crying. I could not believe that this was happening. How could a preacher allow a known rapist to speaker in his church?
I called my friend who was also at the retreat with me, who works for the North American Division, broken, asking her how this is possible? What was the point of church? How could we trust this men that are supposedly from God?
She told me to wait and minute and accept a call from her friend. Her friend was the SDACC lawyer. She called me right away. I talked to her for a long time, as she listened to my story. Here is the thing, the Canadian Union had nothing to do with my story. Yet this Union took hold of me and showered me with love. And continues to do so. Despite the fact that they do not have to, they have been active in my healing. Counselling has been huge as it has been consistent and continuous. The love and support is constant. The healing God is showering over me is huge.
Yes, those two pastors are out there. The church is aware and working to make the changes that are necessary to keep this from happening. The reality is that church is full of sinners. We need to and are putting policies into place to protect the innocent as much as possible. We, as a church, need to reach out to those that have been hurt and treat them as Jesus did and would. I have to admit that church was a bitter taste in my mouth for many many years. I continue to struggle because the hurt of my youth is not something I can wish away. God has blessed me to be part of a loving and supportive Union and I am on a journey of forgiveness, healing and asking God to use me to help others that have been wounded in the most vile way. This is something that I have realized, the church is a huge entity made up of people. Some of those people in the entity hurt me. Badly. Yet there are these amazing people that are also part of the same entity that have reached out with love, kindness and embraced my hurt. It is amazing how God can heal and use our pain.
[END OF STORY]
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