“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”—Psalm 46:1
When my husband left me, and our two children, in October of 2000, I knew as a Christian I needed the help of my pastor to make it through the months that lay ahead. We both began to counsel with an associate pastor at my church, as a couple and individually. Many of my childhood issues arose in those sessions. Secrets of sexual abuse by a male cousin and physical abuse at the hands of my mother came spilling out. For the first time in my life, I completely opened myself up to another person, wanting Jesus to come and heal me. Jesus did come and heal many of the broken places in my heart. My pastor asked me to join the worship team at our church, which he led, and I agreed. My husband and I reconciled and began to rebuild our life. I was placed in leadership as middle school youth leader and assistant head of worship. My life appeared to be on track and I was enjoying seeing the Lord work in my life.
Our weekly meetings continued throughout the next three years, through the death of my mother and the suicide of a close friend. When it was time for him to move on to another assignment within the denomination we were a part of, our church gave him a good-bye reception, and life at the church continued on. Things just were not the same after he left. We had a new worship leader and a new building. So many changes were happening within our congregation. All of his counseling clients were moved to a different building, which was not affiliated with our denomination.
It was no surprise to me in one counseling session when my pastor said he wished to start his own home church. He had been talking about how the church in Acts met in homes and, if the word of Christ was to survive what was coming in the world, it would begin in a home movement. He asked me to come and be the lead singer of the worship team he would be heading. I agreed. I wanted to reach the world for Christ. We met once a week during a weeknight with approximately five other families. We would worship and pray together, focusing on fine-tuning the gifts of the Spirit God had given us. Many words of prophecy were given among the members of our group. We were going to turn the world upside down for Christ.
I decided that if I were to be in leadership in our new church, I no longer wanted to counsel, so I quit. The following week, at the time I would meet with him, he called me to ask me if I wanted to come to his office for a prayer time. Keep our standing appointment time, but shift it to a prayer hour. We could either meet alone or bring in another person. I agreed and let him know I would be bringing one of the other women in our group. During that first session he broke down and told us he was under a lot of pressure in his life, financial pressure, worries with his children, and his marriage. He confessed to having thoughts about me. He said he was admitting it to me because he didn't know what else to do.
Shortly after that day, he called to tell me that my husband was having an affair. My husband had become increasingly secretive, with unaccounted for time and missing money. The pastor told me that he was not sure I was safe any longer with my husband. He was only telling me this because he loved me. The first time I heard those words I didn’t think anything of it. I thought yes he loves me, as my brother in Christ, as my pastor, my friend. Little did I know what that day had put into motion.
I ended up moving into this pastor’s house with his wife and children. He confessed to his wife that he was in love with me the first two weeks I was there. This made the living situation unbearable. I wanted to leave but, every time I tried, I was met with his threat of committing suicide. One day, when she was away, he kissed me. At that point I am not sure why I didn’t tell someone. Almost daily he would find me in the house and attempt some kind of physical interaction with me. He went to his wife and said that he was called to be a husband to me. To which she simply asked me how I felt. I replied, “overwhelmed.” That day I began to plan my escape. I began to move my things slowly to my sister’s house.
When he left for a business trip, I told his wife I would be taking my children on a camping trip. This gave me a reason to pack my car with things we may need and leave the house without anyone being suspicious. Because he would call me up to 15 times a day, I knew that I would have to be very careful with what I did and where I went. Daily he would call me with my instructions for the day—where to be when, and sometimes even what to wear. His wife would allow all this or even send instructions from him to me. Once I got to my sister’s house, I told him over the phone I would not be returning. He had come back from his trip and was in town. That is the day I will never forget. He begged me to come to his office to talk it over, but I was not giving in. That was when he told me he had means to kill himself right there if I didn’t come.
That was the one trigger that kept me in his control. I went to his office. That day he sexually assaulted me. There in the room where I had met with so much emotional healing, my pastor stripped me of all I thought was good and true.
During the next few months my life radically changed. His wife went to our home church with allegations I seduced her husband and I lost all of the friends in my life. I had been shunned. She also called my husband who began divorce proceedings. It turned out that my husband was not having an affair at the time my pastor said he was. It had all been a lie to get control over me. I was left utterly alone. I had no one but my sister who was willing to associate with me. Rumors were rampant in my small town and soon, whenever I visited other congregations, it was clear that I was not welcome. I wondered if God even loved me. Where was He during this whole horrible event?
That was when The Hope of Survivors helped me find my way back to life. When I first contacted The Hope of Survivors the world around me seemed like it would never be the same. Early one morning I sat at my computer, attempting to pray, asking God for help of any kind. I off handedly typed “help” in my search engine, and there on the list in front of me was The Hope of Survivors. God was at work the day he prompted me to look for help on the Internet, because help is just what I found. I spent what felt like hours reading the web site and finally sent my own "help" letter off to The Hope of Survivors. I finally understood what had happened to me. Through many emails and prayers, Samantha helped me orient to life as a survivor of pastoral abuse. On days when I lost my faith and my belief that anything would be normal again, God led her to His Word, which cut through the fog of pain I was living in.
In March of 2006, I participated in an abuse prevention emphasis program The Hope of Survivors conducted in my state. As part of that weekend, I had the opportunity to meet Steve and Samantha, as well as other victims of pastoral abuse, and share my testimony. As I began sharing my story, I noticed people began to cry and be visibly moved as I spoke. Sharing my story in an atmosphere of acceptance and love was one step in regaining confidence in myself and others. It also helped me to see that I am not alone. Many others have stories of abuse, some which are shared relatively soon after the abuse occurs, while others wait many years to share their experience. One man came to me after I spoke and told me that his ex-wife had experienced pastoral abuse. He went on to say that while she could not speak about what had happened to her, he now understood much more about her and the pain she experienced.
Today, five years later, I am a college graduate assisting children with abuse and mental health issues find their way in the world. In May, I married a wonderful Godly man who loves me unconditionally. A man who knows the whole story and wept with me instead of judging me. My children are healthy and doing well. Daily we press on toward the prize, together. There are still hard days, but I know without a doubt God loves me, and I am His child.
[END OF STORY]
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
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.