by Jeff Boyd
By Adventist Today News Team, October 17, 2013
The Hope of Survivors, a ministry supporting victims of clergy sex abuse, opened a new facility in Bedford, Iowa, on October 1. The former Bedford Inn will serve as the ministry's administrative headquarters as well as a renewal center. After renovations are completed, there will be living space for ministry founders Steve and Samantha Nelson, a program director, and four bedrooms where couples and individuals can stay while participating in counseling.
Steve Nelson is the ministry president and a Seventh-day Adventist Pastor, while Samantha is ministry vice president and CEO. Both are Board Certified Biblical Counselors and Certified Belief Therapists. The story of their own experience with clergy abuse is told in the documentary, Call It Anything But Love!
The Hope of Survivors began in 2002 and became incorporated as a nonprofit in 2004. Because of a lack of physical infrastructure, until the acquisition of the Bedford Inn, the ministry operated by disseminating information through its website, leading training events, and supporting victims through telephone and email communication. These services will continue to be offered along with on-site counseling, though telephone services have been temporarily limited. People who wish to speak with a ministry representative should contact The Hope of Survivors via the organization's website—https://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com/contact.php.
Steve and Samantha Nelson offer three types of training seminars. First, “Hope & Healing” is for victims and their spouses. Second, “Trust & Truth” is a seminar for congregations and communities who are either dealing with an abusive situation or who wish to prevent such an occurrence. This seminar can also be presented in a school setting, since perpetrators can be anyone in spiritual authority, such as Bible teachers or chaplains. A third training is available for clergy and church leaders, “Faith & Fidelity.”
In addition to individual congregations, the Nelsons have presented seminars at workers' meetings for Seventh-day Adventist pastors in the North American Division and beyond. Furthermore, they have led training events for an array of denominations, not only Seventh-day Adventist congregations. According to the 2012 Annual Report, Seventh-day Adventist clients accounted for 28% of victims who reported their denominational affiliation in that year.
The Hope of Survivors also provides advocacy services when requested by clients. This is done through written or verbal communication on behalf of the victim, informing church leaders of reports of abuse that require further investigation.
The Hope of Survivors has expanded both culturally and geographically since its founding. Support services are offered in the United States in Spanish through La Esperanza de los Sobrevivientes, which is based in Crowley, Texas. The Hope of Survivors has also been incorporated as a nonprofit in Romania, and a formation process is underway in both Canada and Australia, with the possibility of an additional branch in the United Kingdom.
Two stories serve as examples of the role The Hope of Survivors plays in the lives of victims. First, now an adult, Sandy Kirkham was a teenager when she was abused by her youth pastor. Kirkham shares:
I didn’t believe that my faith would ever be the same again. And then I found The Hope of Survivors Ministry. After speaking with Samantha Nelson on the telephone, and through her many correspondences with me, I found a friend. I found someone who cared and understood…. I also felt the presence of Christ through this ministry. For the first time in 29 years, I began to believe in the possibility that I might be able to trust again and my faith could be restored.
A more recent example demonstrates the role of the ministry even when abuse is not perpetrated by clergy (all names have been changed). Dina was abused by a peer who attended the same congregation as Dina's family. When Dina's parents—Ruth and John—reported the situation to police and brought the situation to the attention of the local pastor, both the pastor and head elder responded in ways that minimized the situation and favored the other family. As the conflict escalated, John and Ruth were advised to change their phone number and to find another congregation. In response they reached out to conference, union and division leaders, but when they failed to receive the assistance they sought, the family turned to The Hope of Survivors for encouragement and guidance.
Ruth shares that “there was no one in the denomination to turn to,” so finding this ministry online was an answer to prayer. “It was a God-thing. It was life-saving.” Looking back, Ruth insists, “Victims should not be run out of their church because they report abuse.” Both Samantha Nelson and Martin Weber were instrumental in helping Ruth's family work through the emotional, spiritual and administrative dimensions of their situation. Ruth says, “It was a very dark time in our lives and The Hope of Survivors was what got us through. We weren't abandoned. We weren't alone.”