When Kay (not her real name) met the man of her dreams while both were serving in the same ministry of their local church, she had no idea what a nightmare her life would become—a terrifying ordeal that would last 10 years. Little did she know that her prince was really a monster, and that by marrying him, she would be starring as victim in her own personal horror film.

The abuse started almost immediately after they married and included verbal and emotional assaults, physical violence—including knives being held to her throat—and even sexual attacks with a nauseating twist: Misusing biblical passages about submission, her husband told her that her body was his, not hers, and he raped her repeatedly.

Five kids later and with the abuse unbelievably escalating, Kay finally separated from him. A counselor told her, however, that she should continue to be loving and submissive, as that would eventually win him over. So they reunited. Over time the abuse only increased.

"I was very confused," Kay told Foursquare.org in an exclusive interview, on the condition of anonymity in regard for her safety and that of her children. "He was very active in the church. I reasoned if he was so bad, why was God using him? Wouldn't other ‘discerning' Christians pick up on his behavior? I became increasingly demoralized, numbing my emotions to survive."

Kay's experience, unfortunately, is not an anomaly. One in three women experience at least one physical assault by a partner in adulthood, according to the American Psychological Association. In fact, domestic violence is the single most common source of injury to women—more common than auto accidents, muggings, and rape by a stranger combined, as noted by Bureau of Justice statistics.

The church world is not immune from these findings. And though studies show that clergy are often the first place people go for help when domestic abuse happens, statistically they are the least helpful. Why is this?

"I don't believe that it is necessarily a lack of compassion but a severe lack of education and understanding," says Stacey Womack, executive director of Abuse Recovery Ministry & Services (ARMS), which she founded in 1999. A longtime Foursquare member who currently attends Portland Foursquare Church in Oregon, she notes that many church leaders feel they already know everything they need to know about domestic abuse, or believe it simply is not happening in their churches. Such denial, in addition to well intentioned but misguided advice, can inadvertently put victims in even greater danger. That is why one of the key services of ARMS is domestic violence training for pastors, staff, leaders and the community at large.

"Women and children die every day from abuse. Four women and seven children a day is what I heard most recently," explains Stacey, who has been married for 29 years, has six children, and has never been a victim of abuse. "But most—millions of women and children—are dying a very slow death from the emotional and verbal abuse they are suffering. When we don't deal with this epidemic, we are not carrying out God's mandate to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds, and to do justice to the weak, and to maintain the rights of the afflicted and needy."

ARMS indeed began as a personal mandate to her from God, Stacey asserts, and has grown dramatically. The various aspects of the ministry include: "Her Journey" (a 15-week program that helps women walk through their healing from abuse); "ManKind" (an abuse intervention program); "Virtue" (a program for women who not only have been abused, but also exhibit abusive behaviors); "Family Impact" (a 12-week parenting program); and "Above the Mean" (the ministry's youth violence prevention branch). ARMS has also worked in youth groups, schools and prisons.

Varied aspects of the ministry operate in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Michigan, California, Ohio, Kentucky and, starting this fall, in Nevada. In 2008, approximately 3,400 people received life-changing help from the programs offered.

Kay is just one of the many women whose lives have been changed. Though her story began in tragedy, it ended in victory.

"When I moved to the Northwest and was introduced to the ministry of ARMS," says Kay, "it was like a respite for my soul. I had been living with a lot of guilt and shame ... ARMS has been a piercing light that has exposed the lies and half-truths of the enemy, and a beacon of truth that gives women, men and families hope for the abundant and peaceful life God has always created us to have."

For more information about ARMS, log on to www.armsonline.org.

This article is Part 1 of 3. To read Parts 2 and 3, click below:

  • Part 2: Uncovering Abuse: How to recognize the signs of domestic violence
  • Part 3: Abuse and the Church: What pastors need to know about domestic violence

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By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles