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Nicole M. Oldham thought she was simply sharing a part of her life with her women’s church group. All marriages go through struggles, she knew, and as director of women’s ministry at Highway Assembly of God in Fredericksburg, Virginia, she wanted to be transparent about hers to provide an encouraging example for others to open up as well.
But when she revealed details, the other women’s faces registered shock. Several group members informed Oldham that she needed to rethink her situation more seriously; the struggles she endured went beyond normal marital disagreements.
The licensed Assemblies of God minister finally admitted it: she was a victim of domestic violence.
Her then-Marine corporal husband’s drinking had turned to bouts of violence, repeatedly stunning her and leaving her in a constant state of anxiety.
“I couldn’t believe this sweet man was capable of doing these awful things,” says Oldham. She had faithfully stayed in the marriage and prayed for her husband, but the angry outbursts continued.
Maggie Journigan, a work colleague at King George Elementary School where Oldham taught fourth grade, encouraged Oldham to file a report with the military at Quantico base, where Oldham’s husband was stationed.
“I wasn’t out to wreck his career,” she says. “I wanted to get him help — because I knew it was only going to get worse.”
Her prophetic words proved true. In June 2018, with a second report filed, the military again investigated, found the charges met their criteria for abuse, and arrested Oldham’s husband.
Oldham fell into a deep depression, which led to her 13-day stay in Bethesda Naval Hospital. A forensic psychiatry specialist diagnosed her with major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and “relational distress . . . related to spouse abuse.” While there, and after just less than four years of marriage, her husband filed for divorce and kicked her out of their house, leaving her homeless.
“My faith was all I had to hold onto,” she says, tearing up at the memory.
Oldham, 30, moved to Chelsea, Oklahoma, to begin a new life near her family of origin. She found a job teaching fourth grade in nearby Pryor, connected with other Christians through ClearView Church in Claremore, and did her best to heal.
“She is committed to taking her losses and making them gains,” says Bob J. Warman, lead pastor of ClearView and Oldham’s pastoral counselor and mentor. With her divorce finalized in December 2018, she sought to become more involved in ministry. But she wondered exactly how to serve with a new identity.
As she prayed about her options, she recognized the need to help educate church leaders on how best to aid those affected by domestic violence.
“This is such a critical issue and our wonderful pastors are woefully ill-prepared to engage it,” Oldham says. From that recognition will emerge the ministry HANDS: Home and Neighborhood Domestic Safety. Though still in its infant stages, Oldham is determined to make sure domestic violence victims have a safe place within the Church “to run with their heart, and maybe with their bags.”
“These women never know when they are going to need the Church, so I want to help leaders be ready,” she says.
Preparing for HANDS’s summer launch, Oldham is enrolled with the National Anger Management Association to become a first level certified domestic violence specialist and also she has begun her ordination process, studying with the Oklahoma School of Ministry.
“I want to be able to meet and work with pastors as peers, not as some hysterical female who has gone through this terrible thing and wants to tell them they’re doing ministry wrong,” Oldham says.
Her commitment to ministry and to healing has been noticeable.
“She’s come a long way,” says Warman. “There’s a great light in her life now and she’s so joyful.”