According to the National Coalition for Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in nine men experience some form of domestic abuse.
Pat Bartlett is one of those women.
Bartlett facilitates a domestic violence and abuse education group at Southeast Christian Church’s Indiana Campus, where she helps women break free from the shame and guilt of domestic abuse through education, support and prayer.
But long before God called her to help other women, it seemed her own life was a never-ending cycle of abuse.
Bartlett grew up in New Zealand in a home that was broken by addiction, crime and many forms of abuse.
“I was born into a dysfunctional family,” Bartlett said. “There was no God in our family, just heathens, thieves and alcoholics.”
Bartlett recalls her childhood as a painful and fearful time. Her brothers were criminals and drug addicts. Her mother was abusive.
The abuse started very young.
“My earliest childhood memories were of fear and worry,” Bartlett said. “I was always worried what my mother would do to me next.”
Fear drove her to run away from home at age 15 with a man 12 years her senior.
“He was the first of several husbands I’d have,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett said that over the years, she married men who were just like her—broken, dysfunctional and abusive.
By 22, Bartlett had four sons and would have a fifth four years later.
Her children grew up in the same world of domestic abuse, violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, crime and “all forms of the underworld” that she did.
“I was not cruel to my children, but I abused them in so many ways,” Bartlett said. “I was an alcoholic, and drug addict and an abusive mother.”
Though her oldest son pursued a career in politics and her second son joined the army, her two middle sons followed in her footsteps and her youngest disassociated himself from the family.
During her third pregnancy, Bartlett fell several times, which caused her pelvis to fracture during her fourth pregnancy. Years later, she broke her lower back. By her early 30s, she was experiencing severe, constant pain.
“The doctors told me I would be crippled by the time I was 45 and that there was no hope for me,” Bartlett said.
By 38, Bartlett spent most of her days confined to bed.
“I decided to be a Satanist,” she said. “I studied very earnestly on how to train my spirit to leave my body and go out into the world. Satanism came very easily to me. Growing up, my older brother and I used to have frequent séances when our parents went out.”
In the midst of all the darkness of her life, her second son, William, reentered it.
“William had joined the army, and when he came back into my life, he was an officer and a Christian,” Bartlett said. “He took all of my books about Satanism and replaced them with a Bible. He started to minister to me.”
Bartlett said that her son truly believed God would heal her back, despite being mocked by his brothers for his beliefs. He tried to share Christ with her, and at first, she rejected it.
It wasn’t until she watched as the Armed Defenders Squad raided her home and arrested one of her sons for a home invasion (for which he would spend eight years in prison) that she began to wonder if there was something more to life than the dysfunction she knew.
“Even though I didn’t believe in God, as I watched my son be taken out of my home with six guns pointed at his head, I remember throwing up my hands and saying, ‘Oh, my God, what have I done?’” Bartlett said. “That was sort of the beginning for me.”
Out of desperation, Bartlett began attending church.
“At first, I didn’t want to believe,” she said. “I had a very cold, hard heart. But William still believed I would be healed.”
Bartlett said that during one church service, a pastor prayed over her and, for a time, her back was healed.
Her physical healing opened the door for spiritual healing.
“I know God healed me, not just in my back, but in my heart,” Bartlett said. “My heart was so hard, it took a miracle for me to see just how extensive my brokenness was. My back was nowhere near as broken as my heart.”
Her healing opened even more doors for God to restore brokenness in her life and her family. It started with her relationship with her mother.
“God taught me two important things during that time: gratitude and forgiveness,” she said. “I understood that I had sinned, yet God loved me and forgave me, therefore I had to forgive my mother, so I did.”
Shortly after Bartlett started believing in Christ, her mother was admitted to the hospital with complications from diabetes. She and her son, William, visited her in the hospital daily.
“She had seen the change in me from when my back had healed, not just in my back, but in my hateful heart towards her,” Bartlett said. “That gave her the hope to believe.”
God softened her heart, but she was diagnosed with renal failure, and in her last months, Bartlett brought her mother into her home, where she cared for her until she died.
Eleven days after her mother died, her eldest son, Michael, was killed in a plane crash.
“Despite his abusive upbringing, Michael became the press secretary to a member of the New Zealand parliament,” Bartlett said. “His death was widely publicized, and unfortunately, it brought up a lot of Michael’s childhood and my past. I thanked God for the years he gave me with Michael, and I prayed that God would allow good to come from his death.”
Bartlett took legal protective orders to honor her son’s life and keep her past from marring it.
In taking legal action to protect her son, Bartlett was referred to an abuse agency, where she took abuse classes.
“The pride in me in those days told me, ‘I don’t need this. I’ve lived that world. I’m a Christian now,’” she said. “But the Holy Spirit just kept urging me, so I went.”
The education Bartlett received in participating in the program was life-changing.
“What happened was like another miracle, because until that stage, Jesus had done much of the healing in my heart,” she said. “But then I went to this place, and I learned about abuse. It explained my whole life. I was abused as a child; I was abused as a wife; I was an abusive wife; I abused my children. As I learned all of this information, it made my life make sense.”
Bartlett went through the course a few times, then was invited to train and facilitate courses for other women.
God began to open doors for her to pursue domestic abuse education as a career. She became a women’s and children’s support and education advocate, completed her bachelor’s degree in social services and eventually became the women’s program coordinator at the agency where she began taking classes.
For 12 years, she worked to help end the cycle of abuse that identified her for so many years.
“During this time, my son Warren got out of jail and hated me for being a Christian,” Bartlett said. “He hated who I was. He hated that I changed the rules.”
But four years after his release from jail, Warren called and said he was dying of cancer. Despite his malice toward her, Bartlett took a leave of absence to care for her son in the last six months of his life.
“God restored our relationship in that time, and it was wonderful,” Bartlett said.
By that time, her son, William, had moved to America and joined the U.S. Army. When she found out Warren was dying, she told William, who was deployed in Iraq at the time.
William returned to New Zealand, where he ministered to his dying brother.
“Warren gave his life to Jesus,” Bartlett said. “He died in my arms; he was going to be in the arms of Jesus.”
A couple of years after Warren’s death and returning back to work, Bartlett was walking around her office and lost all feeling in her legs. She became semi-paralyzed from the waist down, then completely confined to bed for several months.
“God found a way for me to have surgery, and I had an operation that I found out later was very rarely ever successful,” she said.
Bartlett had total reconstructive surgery on her back, where she had bone grafts and metal rods placed to reinforce her spine. She had to relearn how to walk, but by God’s grace, she did.
About six years ago, after William married and settled in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and had his first child, Bartlett decided to move to America to care for her first grandchild.
She now cares for four grandchildren during the week.
Though she wears a back brace while working and walks with a cane, she walks confidently. Though she now lives thousands of miles away from her other sons, God is still at work, restoring their relationships.
Bartlett began coming to Southeast when she moved to Indiana, and it wasn’t long until God used her passion for identifying and fighting against domestic abuse to help women in Indiana.
Former Indiana Campus Women’s Ministry Leader Erica Brieschke reached out to her about starting a small group for women who face abuse.
She was connected to Southeast’s Support and Recovery Ministry, and the group began.
Every week, women from all over gather together and leave their burdens at the door. The group is a safe place for women to learn about domestic violence and abuse—what it looks like and how to identify it—and receive support.
“Education is power,” Bartlett said. “And you don’t know what you don’t know until you do know. And when these women do know, they can make more informed decisions. I don’t try to give my opinion of what women should or should not do. I don’t try to convince anyone of how I think they should handle their situation. It’s up to them to receive the information, encouragement and prayer they’ve been given and follow what God is telling them to do.”
The group is available to any woman who has been or is currently in a situation of domestic violence or abuse, or for women wanting to understand how domestic violence and abuse affect women, children and society.
Women do not have to be a member of Southeast to attend. For more information on the Domestic Abuse Support group, contact the Indiana Campus at (812) 704-1951 or email@example.com.
Women will be referred to Bartlett and can meet one-on-one to learn more about the group before attending.
“Abused women don’t know they are being abused,” Bartlett said. “They may have the emotions or the bruises, but abuse is hard to self-identify because it’s typically inflicted by someone who loves you. It’s not just physical abuse; it can be emotional, verbal or sexual. And there’s so much shame that comes from being abused. It’s the hardest, but most important thing to allow God to lift from you. And it starts with asking God for the courage to come to a group like this.”