Reverend Dr. Barbara Edema returns to The Nightingale with a powerful story of healing. Earnest and honest, this piece takes us through her own story. Even after experiencing sexual violence within the church, Edema proves in her short memoir that it’s possible to heal and return, in order to find new joy.

I am a Pastor and this is my Sexual Assault Story

by Rev. Dr. Barbara Edema

At the age of twelve my childhood ended.

It ended in the church when a Youth Pastor decided to rape me. He did that for two years whenever he got the chance. After two years he, his wife, and two children moved away. I was fourteen.

My dad was the Senior Pastor of the church. I was at church all the time. My dad didn’t know what was happening at the time. Church was a bad place.

I turned fifteen and got into a relationship with a boy in high school. I should have known it was bad the first time he threw me into a tree. I should have known it was bad when he threw me down on the ground. I am a small person. Easy to throw.

In ten months, he got me pregnant three times. I had three abortions. My parents knew about the last one because I made my mom take me to the doctor. I did this on purpose. My parents, who were going through a divorce, came together, and took me in for the third abortion. They knew I couldn’t have a baby. They took care of me. I am thankful for that. They loved me. Me.

I kept moving through life. I was going to work in Hollywood. I found an agent. She was happy to sign me to a contract.

Church meant nothing to me. I didn’t hate it. I just didn’t need to be there. At all.

Hollywood. That’s where I needed to be.

That’s why God sent me to Israel at the age of eighteen. I had a five-day warning. Then I flew to Israel, and my life changed. But no one knew my secrets.

I told my secrets to a new friend. She listened, empathized, and gave me hope. The first layer of healing began. God whispered. I listened tentatively.

When I returned home, I went to college. I had some anxiety. But in tiny Orange City, IA, there was a therapist who worked with college students. She helped me do the hard work of speaking and feeling everything – Every. Single. Thing. I re-lived what had happened to me as a child and teenager. Acceptance and health and more hope began to flow. She let me know I wasn’t the only person in the entire world who had been raped and who had experienced abortion.

I told my mother everything. She is an intelligent woman of action. She set up a meeting with denominational leaders to discuss the rape. To make sure the Youth Pastor was not allowed to be near young women again. A room full of white males listened to my story. They did nothing. The Youth Pastor went from church to church raping and stealing childhoods.

I got married. Wrong marriage. Wrong person. I birthed four children. I had a miscarriage in between my second and third daughters.

My children are remarkable. I was able to be an attentive, loving, present mother. They are all grown up now, and they are doing wonderful things in this world.

The church was a bad and horrible place for me as a child.

Is that why God beckoned me back to the church? I don’t know. I just know I was Called. I want church to be a safe, comforting, joyful place. I want God’s gentle power to flow. I want everyone with hurts and pasts and fears and anxiety to feel part of the family.

I’m fifty-six years old. My trauma occurred forty-one years ago. I don’t think about that time of my life often. I have a lot in my life to focus on. If it disappoints you that I’m not living under a cloud of guilt each day, too bad. I’ve had relatives and poorly chosen confidantes who have looked at me with fake sad eyes, as they called me a murderer. You are wrong.

I am passionately pro-choice. I would never tell a girl or a grown woman to have a baby if she felt she couldn’t. I would drive her to a clinic for an abortion if asked. Adoption isn’t the one and only answer. The well-being of a child or a woman with an unwanted pregnancy can’t be dusted away.

You don’t have to agree with me. Just don’t try to convince me otherwise.

During twenty-four years of being a Pastor, women have come into my different church offices to pour out stories of abuse, rape and abortion. I did not burden them with my story. I just chose to love them and listen. I helped when I could. That is my role and my passion as a Pastor. You are loved. You are forgiven. You have worth. You look like God. I do too.

If you are a friend of mine and I have never told you this story, I had no need to. And it was none of your business. I feel no compulsion to explain it anymore. Please don’t look at me with sad eyes. I am not sad. I am angry that so many women have suffered at the hands of abusive men and have not received the care they need. I am angry that many women have suffered at the hands of other women who have judged and condemned them with a repulsive self-righteousness. Women against women really pisses me off. We all need acceptance and safety with one another.

NO SINGLE EVENT DEFINES A PERSON’S ENTIRE LIFE. For those of you who think that your past pain and decisions make you a bad person, or someone has told you that you are going to hell, or you have told yourself hell is your fate, please hear me: Those voices aren’t telling you the truth. Those voices are lying.

My life has been filled with so much goodness. I am now married to a good and compassionate man. I love him, and I am loved. We have combined a large family of great adult children. I enjoy work, in any capacity, in the church. Sanctuaries are where I find all that is holy and true. I live with joy.

My story is not meant for your sharing as gossip. The details are not your business. If it helps someone, I will be thankful.

If you are a friend of mine and want to dig into details, please don’t ask me to tell you my story over lunch or a cup of coffee. I won’t. Instead, let’s work together on protecting women, children, and men who are in unsafe and precarious life situations. Let’s listen to those who need to be listened to. If you are one of the people suffering now, I have time, compassion, and love for you. Let’s talk.

I am expecting some hate and judgment to come from sharing this. I can take it. I accept my life, and I love who I have become.

For those of you who are hung up on the abortions, please remember this: at the age of twelve my body became a crime scene.

Overcoming that, has given me a voice and strength and purpose. I will go forward with joy and hope. I want you to be able to do that, as well.



Rev. Dr. Barbara Edema is a pastor, author, survivor. She writes fiction and non-fiction. Her “Pastor Maggie Series” is available on Amazon. She is currently the pastor of an open and affirming church in Grand Ledge, Michigan. This is her second publication in The Nightingale.