By Jon Roberts – Worland, Wyoming …. In a recent email to supporters of the ministry The Hope of Survivors, Steve and Samantha Nelson announced that they will be retiring as directors at the end of 2021.
The ministry, which focuses on ending clergy sexual abuse, has been challenging and also a blessing over the last 20 years. Recently, during the camp meeting event at Mills Spring Ranch in Wyoming, they shared their two-decade long experience with The Hope of Survivors.
“The Hope of Survivors has blessed [us] in many ways, including being able to travel around the world to minister to broken lives and hurting people because of clergy sex abuse. We have also been able to plant similar organizations in various countries. However, it has been an awful lot of hard work and, yes, it has been a heavy burden to carry at times.”
Samantha recalls that the ministry has often been very challenging [when] dealing with different church entities. “They don’t want to recognize or deal with the issue and want the ministry to just go away so they don’t expose the real-world issues that affect the church, not only in Adventism but [also] other denominations.”
Steve agrees with Samantha’s perspective on the ministry which they ran together for 20 years adding, “I think it’s opened the door for a ministry that never would have happened had we not gone through with this and started the ministry. We wouldn’t have been able to touch [some} people’s lives without it. I mean, these are huge issues. You can’t really put a price on being able to spiritually talk to a situation that nobody was talking about.”
They shocked some, disappointed some, and angered some for discussing this issue, but they would do it all over again, Steve added.
He explained that the struggles have taken a toll on Samantha’s health which led to the counsel by medical professionals that they step aside to reduce the stress.
For those in the Adventist church who would like to bury their heads in the sand and imagine this issue is not prevalent, Samantha has strong words of counsel.
“I would say you have absolutely no clue what’s going on within the church because it is a very prevalent issue within Adventism as much, if not more than it is within the Catholic church or any other denomination. We are not immune just because we’re Seventh-day Adventists.”
“You need to educate yourself and be aware. People really need to educate themselves and not blame the victim. Don’t say it takes two to tango, and make it seem like it’s an affair when it’s not, because clergy sexual abuse is all about abuse of the power held over the one that they’re supposed to shepherd and watch over,” Samantha said.
She added, “It’s frustrating at times to hear people still say, ‘Well, that doesn’t happen at our church.’ What makes you think you’re immune? It’s not a denominational problem. It’s a human sin problem and we have sinful humans within the Adventist church.”
What has been challenging to the Nelsons is that the church is receiving credit for speaking out when, in fact, the church isn’t addressing the issue adequately at all.
“The Adventist church has actually gotten a lot of kudos that they didn’t technically deserve because of what The Hope of Survivors has been doing. And to explain that, I’ll just say that victims who contacted us believe that we’re speaking on behalf of the Adventist church, and they’re like ‘Wow, I’m so grateful your church is speaking out about this. All churches need to,’ and we’d let it go, but it hasn’t always been the case of the churches speaking out. It’s mainly just us and The Hope of Survivors,” Samantha explained.
She added that “one of the things we used to hear a lot was, ‘Why do you want to air the church’s dirty laundry? Why do you want to expose this? We are not supposed to talk about it.’ Our perspective on that is that transparency leads to trust. If you want victims and others to trust you, you need to be transparent. You need to be honest. You need to admit this is a problem.”
Success stories of the ministry can be both sad and joyous, according to Steve. “The sad part is there are success stories that are short-term and some that are long-term. The short-term ones can come to mind quickly. The long-term ones are more complicated. We know that marriages have been saved; people have stayed with the church, but then later on, their marriages disintegrated because the abuse is that difficult to deal with.”
The success stories are evident in the volunteers with Hope of Survivors, according to Samantha. “The majority of our volunteers were prior victims who had contacted us for help. Then, as God healed them and used The Hope of Survivors in that process, they wanted to become a part of it. They are the ones who are going to be helping carry The Hope of Survivors forward when we’re not here anymore.”
“Other successes are the lives that have been saved. I can’t even count how many people have said ‘I was ready to commit suicide and I found your website. You saved my life.’”
As the Nelsons prepare to close this chapter of ministry in their lives, they are taking with them the blessings God has given them–“The blessing of knowing that what God called us to do, so long ago, won’t die because we step away. He’s gonna make sure that it carries on and will continue to impact lives and save lives around the world,” Samantha expressed.
Steve is looking forward to hearing the stories in heaven. “I take with me the thought of eternity and hearing about how this ministry has blessed individuals and saved them from hurt and pain.”
They want their ministry to be remembered as groundbreaking and as them having the courage to speak to these issues. “[This is] an absolutely essential ministry to those who are hurting from clergy sexual abuse. There really wasn’t any other organization doing what we were doing when we started. I believe that’s why God called us to begin this ministry to fill that void. I just want it to be remembered as something that made an impact on Christians of all denominations. In fact, I shouldn’t even say “Christians” because we’ve actually had Hindus, Buddhists and atheists contact us for help,” Samantha said.
Steve wants people to remember them as individuals who finally stood up for the victims and who helped those who were in desperate need to reconnect with the church and with God.
The Nelsons ask for prayer as they wait to see what else God has in store for them in future ministry while continuing with their pastoral ministry in Wyoming.
On January 1, 2022, Martin Weber, a board member since 2008 and a retired hospital chaplain, will become Board Chair and President of the organization, with Shyleene Rosado and Carlos Rosero serving as CEO and treasurer, respectively, who currently are leading the Latino division.
To learn more about The Hope of Survivors please visit http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.org
–Jon Roberts is RMC media / communication assistant; photo by Sherry Taylor