the Hope of Survivors

That Fateful Day by Steve Nelson

As I look back over the past five years, sometimes I wonder why I suggested we start this ministry. Not that I am regretting it, no that’s not it at all, but rather, why were my wife and I chosen to do this special work? I remember the day it came into existence. We were sitting in our living room one afternoon, and my wife Samantha was telling me how she wanted to help our church community services department reach out to more of our local community. As she explained her vision, I couldn’t help but think, “If you are going to spend all those hours doing service, why not help those who experienced abuse the way we have?” Before I knew it, the words came blurting out, “Let’s develop a web site to help victims of clergy sexual abuse.”

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“Well, I remember when our pastor was abusing you, I went online hoping to find help—just one other person who would say this was wrong, and what he was doing to you was abuse,” I replied. “Well, there was nothing out there, not even one credible resource. So, if you really want to spend time helping others, why not use the talents we were given to develop a site to provide information about clergy sexual abuse? If we could help just one person who has been abused, or stop one person from being abused, it would be worth it.”

As we spent the next few hours recalling our experience, my wife busily wrote pages of questions, those unexplainable thoughts and feelings we had while going through such a devastating experience. Now, several years later, we no longer have the questions, but we do have many of the answers.

Our reflection on that experience brought back many painful memories. Memories that, for some time, had haunted our minds, and nearly destroyed our faith in God, the church, and any pastor, for that matter.

It all seemed to have started that one fateful Saturday morning. Everything had been going well for us over the previous couple of years. I had changed careers, and my wife and I had started a web site development company. The Internet was in its infancy, and our company was doing very well. We dreamed of using our skills to develop ministry web sites, which included helping our local church gain a web presence. Looking back, that decision to help our church had a big impact on what happened that day.

Several weeks prior to that day, I noticed things beginning to change, nothing I could put my finger on, and no real concrete evidence pointing to the problem, but my intuition was telling me something was wrong. My wife and I had always been very close, sharing everything couples that are best friends do. However, things were different. She seemed distant and started talking more about her health problems. Even though she had several physical problems, these had always been dealt with, and we both knew what was going on, but she stated she knew she would be getting progressively worse, and it would be best for us to separate for a while.

The moment she said those words, I knew something serious was going on, but it had very little to do with her health. She had always told me she never wanted us to be apart, but now she was saying she needed to spend some time on her own. These words cut right through my heart, but nothing I said seemed to make a difference. I wracked my brain trying to figure out what was going on, but nothing made sense.

Desperate, I turned to the only person my wife said she felt comfortable talking with—our pastor. Little did I comprehend that morning how that decision would impact the rest of our lives. I can still recall many of the events in vivid detail. I was leading out in song service when, all of a sudden, the reality of what my wife had been telling me hit like a ton of bricks. As I felt the tears starting to well up in my eyes, I stopped singing and hurried out of the church. I ran into the parking lot, looking for a place to be alone. Finding seclusion behind a tree, I stopped, but the tears would not.

A few minutes later, I found myself in the pastor’s office, sharing details of our life and asking for help. His calm voice gave me some sense of assurance, but inside there was still a nagging thought, one that would not stop hounding me, this is not a good idea. I expressed my concerns about having my wife counsel with him, because we had become friends over the past several years. He assured me this would not be a problem, that he could separate the friendship from counseling, “don’t worry,” he said. Setting up an appointment for later that afternoon, we went back into the sanctuary for the remainder of the service.

At the appointed time, my wife and I drove toward the church. She dropped me off near a local park while she went on to her appointment. As I walked down a path leading to the park, I suddenly had an overwhelming impression. It was almost as if a voice spoke to me and said, “You have made a deal with the Devil!”

Startled, I looked around to see who could have spoken those words, but no one was there. As I continued walking, those words kept resounding through my head. A deal with the Devil, a deal with the Devil. “What did they mean?” I wondered. It would not take long before I found out.

What I did not know at the time was that we had been set up. Like a cat patiently waiting to catch its prey, our pastor—our friend—had been setting a trap to destroy our marriage. He had used our friendship to gain access to my wife and, in doing so, had been able to exploit any thought, misgiving, or misunderstanding we had experienced into monumental problems and irreconcilable differences. The seeds of doubt, already planted, were quickly shooting up in a harvest of destruction.

Over the next several months, I watched a marriage that was once growing, begin to wither and die. Nothing I seemed to say or do would make things better. As the abuse continued, we began to argue more and more. Each argument drove the wedge of separation deeper, and soon there was a vast, dark, foreboding chasm between us, which no bridge could connect.

After months of agony, suicide attempts, untold heartache, and destruction, it finally ended.  The pastor who was supposed to be the shepherd of his flock, the one who would lay down his own life to protect us—the sheep under his care—was finally revealed as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Through urgent prayers and Divine intervention, his mask was removed, and everyone clearly saw how he had betrayed sacred trusts. It took my wife quite some time to be able to process through all his lies and deceitful sentiments but, in the end, she too finally understood that he was a fallen minister whose heart had been corrupted and was unworthy of the high office he had been given the privilege to hold.

Now, years later, sitting in the safety of our home, where time has separated us from all those painful memories, we are able see that what had been meant for evil, God has in return brought good. No, we would never wish to experience such a tragedy or travel that road again but, from this side of the journey, we can say it was worth the pain. You may wonder, how could this be? The answer is quite simple. God has used our experience to save more than just “one.”

Steve Nelson is Co-Founder and President of The Hope of Survivors and currently pastors the Mattoon, Stewardson, Noble and Fairfield Seventh-day Adventist Churches in the Illinois Conference.

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If you are a survivor of pastoral abuse, we would love to hear your story and possibly make it available on this web site for others to read and renew their hope. You can use a pseudonym if you choose and rest assured that all personal information will be kept private and strictly confidential. Please contact us.

Please note: We do not necessarily agree with or endorse all the information contained in the survivor’s stories. We do, however, feel they have some valuable information that could be useful to you in your recovery. It helps to know you’re not alone, that others have shared your pain and have healed, by the grace of God, in their own time and way.

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