By Samantha Nelson: Life was stressful.  My health problems were getting worse and my husband was having chest pains. We were working far too much and had little time for spiritual growth, so we decided to go back to church after being out for many years.  Returning was exciting and frightening at the same time, and when the pastor and his wife befriended us, we looked up to them like parents and role models.

I’d never found psychologists particularly helpful, but it seemed natural to instead ask our pastor to help me sort through the stress that was mounting in my life. My husband felt uneasy, and was unsure if the pastor could separate his friendship from our counseling, but the pastor assured him all would be fine.

Looking back, it was the worst mistake of our lives. I didn’t realize I was being groomed to be his next victim.

I had noticed some odd things for a while, but who wants to think that their pastor has ulterior motives?  Unfortunately, the special attention, frequent looks, and "innocent" touches eventually became a floodgate of emails and phone calls.  When the pastor shared his personal feelings for me,  I was afraid and felt trapped. I thought I could no longer confide in my husband, and was crushed with guilt and shame.

I know it seems totally absurd, but I honestly believed that he could still counsel me and help me. However, after gradual escalation, he raped me in his office, and I thought I would die.  After, I didn't have the emotional strength to fight off his constant pressure and demands for physical contact. I eventually believed that I must have been “in love” with him since I was involved with him in this way.  He repeated his love and need for me, and he begged me not to tell anyone.

In the end, it was the pastor’s wife who finally turned him in. He was fired from the church, immediately left his wife, and continued to stalk me (hang-up calls, drive-bys) for quite some time. Even after four moves, we are not quite sure whether the stalking is finally over or not.  Through it all, my husband always supported me. We’ve had many fights and often thought our marriage wouldn't survive, but -- praise God -- we've made it through the difficult journey.

I've come to learn that pastoral abuse is sadly common, and that it is always wrong.  After much prayer and growth in my relationship with God, I've come to realize that my pastor bears great responsibility because he had the power, and that someone in a counseling position has the responsibility to protect and nurture.

So, where was God in all this?  Well, he gave us all free will and the freedom to choose.  He allowed the pastor to perpetrate his evil scheme to abuse me and my husband. But He also allowed us to make the decision to stay together and heal our brokenness.  He exposed the pastor and allowed the church to cleanse itself.  And I believe God has used me and my husband as examples to other hurting couples and victimized women. We’ve been able to bring this issue to light to help thousands of victims know the truth about what they have experienced and find the healing they so desperately need and desire.

True miracles happen every day. They happen when we choose hope, no matter the situation, and let God bring good out of the horror.  I know the importance of choosing hope, and of coming forward with my story.  No matter the particulars of your own story, please know that you are not alone. Too many victims suffer, thinking they are the only ones and no one could possibly understand.  I thought that once too. But victims need to know that they are not alone -- that abuse and manipulation happens all too frequently in many different contexts, and is a prevalent problem around the world.

Your story matters. There is always a second chance, and sometimes our struggles can be a gift, a blessing... in disguise. No matter what the situation or what you were told or made to feel, you are loved, worthy, accepted -- and there is hope in healing. Do not give up, and reach out for help in people you can trust.  I am People of the Second Chance, and I am standing with you.

Samantha is a co-founder of The Hope of Survivors

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