DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Domestic violence, experts say, thrives in secrecy. So a Dallas church is using the pulpit—and a panel of experts—to help bring resources to both victims and the abusers.

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“The church, to me, is the hope of the world,” says Concord’s Senior Pastor Bryan Carter, “which means that if the church doesn’t address certain issues, I think we’re in a great deal of trouble.”

So on Sunday, speaking to a packed congregation, Pastor Carter tackled the difficult issue head on— addressing the abusers directly.

“My message to them was ‘it’s wrong, it’s a sin, and you can get some help.’” Carter says at least one abuser came forward after the service asking to speak with counselors who were on hand.

The church too often puts on a façade of perfection, says Carter, when in truth, believers are not immune to society’s ills.

“We are all in need of grace and it’s not only for the victims; but, the abusers that are present. There are abusers present in the church that have to be spoken to as well.

But, it was the story of a survivor that had the congregation in tears.

“There’s so much shame attached to this,” says Marissa Castro, “you don’t want anyone to know.”

Castro says she endured 10 years of abuse. But, finally found the courage to end the relationship when her ex-husband became violent in front of their 2-year-old son. She talked about the experience in a videotaped testimony that was shared with the congregation.

“My son looked confused, scared… and just the look in his eyes. I knew that would be the day.”

Castro says she wrestled with the decision to go public with her story. But, somehow always knew that it would one day be her “testimony.” She says she the many news stories of women murdered by their abusers is a constant reminder “that could have been me, too.”

“You want to believe that this is the last time, that next time it’ll be better and the next time it’s not better,” says Castro. “For a lot of us, the next time, it’s worse.”

She says she realizes that the vicious cycle of abuse is hard for those untouched by it to understand. “Maybe for some of us it started as just a push or verbal abuse, escalated to choking, a gun to your head, a knife to your throat. And some of us, we don’t make it out.”

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In the past 7 months, Pastor Carter says the Concord congregation has been touched 3 times—that he is aware of—by domestic violence that ended in murder. He is serving on Mayor Mike Rawlings’ domestic violence task force and says he had been planning and praying about preaching on the topic for several years. But, he says the murders helped convince him that the time had come.

The faith community has often faced criticism for remaining silent on the issue of domestic abuse—adopting a stance of family preservation, at all costs. Pastor Carter acknowledges that the church has struggled to maintain that difficult balance; but, hopes others communities of believers will speak up as well.

Still, it was when Pastor Carter at the conclusion of the service asked abuse survivors to stand up that the breadth of the problem, for many, hit home.

“I wanted to give people hope by allowing survivors to stand,” says Pastor Carter, “so when they began to stand, and so many stood—it just—I think it took all of us a little back. But, it also provided such a sense of hope and encouragement.”

Throughout the three Sunday services, he estimates as many as 400 women stood and acknowledged abuse at some point in their lives.

“I had a young lady who said ‘my standing up was the first time I acknowledged what happened to me in my life.’ Another individual said, ‘this gave me hope that I can now take steps to get out of this situation.”

Pastor Carter says the response to the sermon has been overwhelmingly positive. But, he knows there is still much work to be done and “there are some cases where people were sitting next to their abusers and we don’t know who they are.”

Hee hopes that by bringing resources into the community—local shelters, counselors and law enforcement are taking part in the panel discussion– the church can bring awareness to a difficult issue—while also providing hope for a way out.

“If it’s freeing just one person, one woman that’s in a dark place like I once was,” says Castro, “ my job is done.”

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