The Sunday service started, and I was excited to speak. I’d been praying for this moment for quite a while now — I was about to give my testimony in front of a whole church. The service started, and two songs into worship I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the pastor, motioning me back to his office . . .
This would be the first time I’d talk about my story in a public setting. I’m usually a socially awkward introvert, believe it or not. It takes a lot of energy for me to put myself out there in a social environment, and it would take a lot more to speak in front of an audience.
But I didn’t feel any nerves thinking about speaking that Sunday. I guess I felt equipped and encouraged from attending the recent YOBBERS retreat.
I didn’t want to keep all those experiences for myself; I wanted to share them with other people.
I wanted people in a dark place to know another side of life beyond pain, condemnation, and loneliness. I wanted to share all those stories of love, hope, brotherhood, humility, and vulnerability, all revolving around the redemptive power of Jesus.
I didn’t want all that hype to turn into nothing.
Just a week before I was to give my church testimony, I attended our second annual YOBBERS retreat. It was a weekend where everything just felt like home: a place to sit back, put my feet up, and have familial conversations.
A place where I didn’t have to explain what being same-sex attracted (SSA) in this world is like. A place where I don’t have to start at “zero,” educating people that being gay wasn’t my choice or that I can’t just “pray the gay away” or get married to be “fixed.”
The YOBBERS retreat was an environment where I didn’t have to put up any big defences. A place where we could just talk about the real problems and think about real, practical solutions.
There’s already been several blogs about the retreat, so I won’t go into much more detail. But at the end of our three days, this passage from Hebrews 12:1-2 (TPT) stood out to me:
As for us, we have all of these great witnesses who encircle us like clouds. So we must let go of every wound that has pierced us and the sin we so easily fall into. Then we will be able to run life’s marathon race with passion and determination, for the path has been already marked out before us.
We look away from the natural realm and we fasten our gaze onto Jesus who birthed faith within us and who leads us forward into faith’s perfection. His example is this: Because his heart was focused on the joy of knowing that you would be his, he endured the agony of the cross and conquered its humiliation, and now sits exalted at the right hand of the throne of God!
The retreat was a great reminder that I’m not on this journey alone: trying to honour God with my life whilst being in a world and a general church culture where it’s rigged for me to fail. A reminder that I literally have 43 other men with names and unique stories running the race alongside me.
These were the realisations that excited me to give my testimony at a church. These were the things that I wanted to communicate. As people experiencing SSA in a church environment that doesn’t really talk about the practicality of living life with SSA, it’s easy to feel alone and singled out.
This passage and this retreat were just two perfect reminders how God always equips us when He calls us to do something. And we are at peace knowing that He is always pursuing us, full of joy and walking with us every single day, knowing that we are His.
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Just unpacking my luggage now and looking back at last weeks happenings. "In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others." – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
The ATL Crew
“Who’s this artist?” one guy in the car asks.
“Taylor Swift!” one guy answers. “Love her! Been listening since her country days till now!”
“And that’s how you became gay!” another guy comments as the whole car bursts into laughter.
The retreat being the highlight of my long American trip, I thought everything afterward would just go downhill. But boy was I wrong. I joined the “ATL crew” afterwards, a group of people catching flights home from Atlanta airport.
We took a five-hour road trip from North Carolina to Atlanta and rented an Airbnb for the night. From very deep theological discussions, life stories shared, reflections on Troye Sivan songs, and jamming to Taylor Swift, long drives always have the most fun experiences.
My favourite moment of the trip was when one of the guys started making “that’s how I became gay” jokes. He told random stories that ended with, “And that’s why I’m gay.” That joke caught on the whole drive and opened up a slew more that made the whole road trip such a laugh.
The road trip was like a more condensed and concentrated version of the YOBBERS retreat, having an environment of openness and common understanding. We understood each other on the same level and could joke about things that in other scenarios might invoke memories of serious pain and hurt.
The next day, I hung out with the remaining guys who had later flights. We went around the hipster parts of the city and had coffee.
Afterward, of all the things, we decided to watch Boy Erased. We all huddled up on the couch, growing closer and closer, cuddling up as the movie progressed to the more painful scenes. I sat there unsettled with the movie but also grateful.
Thankful that our retreat didn’t have a hint of resemblance to the things in that movie. And that I could watch it with the support and comfort of my brothers’ arms.
I noticed one main difference between the environments in the film and our lives we’d been living the past couple days: Jesus.
I didn’t see any hint of Jesus in that program from the film, even if it was full of religiosity. In contrast, the previous days were personally so full and evident of the fruits of being in Him, full of love, grace, compassion — all without compromising truth.
I wanted to communicate all of these things in my church testimony. I wanted to show others like me that following Jesus and choosing to honour Him whilst experiencing same-sex attractions isn’t a life sentence of sorrow, sadness, and loneliness.
I also wanted to communicate to people who aren’t same-sex attracted that, being the body of Christ, this environment should start with all of us. That there shouldn’t be a need for someone to travel 4,000 miles and fly to the other side of the world to experience this environment.
We are the Church, the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Reflecting both His love and His truth, working in harmony at the same time.
So, what happened that next Sunday in the pastor’s office? Two songs into worship, the pastor tapped my back on the front row. He called me to follow him through the middle of the pews in front of everyone, out the sanctuary, and into his office.
“How are you feeling today, Daniel?” he asked.
“I’m doing great,” I said. “I’m ready!”
“Well, I’m not doing so well,” he said.
We sat on the couch for a brief moment looking at each other. Confused, though with a slight inkling of what would soon happen, I asked why he’d called me in.
The pastor said he was having a hard time reconciling my testimony with the Sunday service. He gave me a couple reasons why.
That there wasn’t enough time in the service, that his sermon wouldn’t blend with my testimony, that he was concerned with how the more conservative people in his congregation would react to my story and the terms that I’d use.
In the short amount of time he gave his explanation, all sorts of thoughts came into my mind. I thought I’d just wasted my time flying there, not sleeping until 2:00 that morning and then waking up early to write and rewrite my script for sharing.
That I should have just enjoyed my long American trip and the people along the way instead of tuning out and being absent because I was digesting things and thinking of the best possible way to communicate my story.
Then my thoughts started digging deeper into my own personal insecurities. Was this pastor saying that my testimony was invalid, a confession that’s not worthy of being heard, an insignificant story that isn’t worthy of anyone’s time?
Most devastatingly, was this pastor implying that I wasn’t living a life honouring and reflecting Jesus?
I remembered all the things that had happened the previous week leading to my testimony. I remembered what I wanted to communicate.
That important things take time, that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, that there is another side to my current circumstances, that I need to humble myself. #FootTribe
And that most important of all my identity is in Christ; my value and the significance of my story is based on Him alone.
I needed to preach to myself first what I wanted to communicate to the congregation that day.
As I looked into the pastor’s eyes, I saw sincere care with a mix of serious angst and confusion. I saw myself when I first came out. Venturing into an unknown world. Dealing with a polarised topic that the church doesn’t really understand.
I looked at the pastor and said, “I respect your decision.”
We stood and prayed as he wrapped his arm over my shoulder. We walked back into the service, I came back to my seat on the front row, and he started preaching.
The Next Day
The next day, I woke up to a podcast notification. It was Laurie Krieg’s “Hole in My Heart Podcast” with a new episode titled: “Leading a church at a time of sexual questioning.” It was an episode for pastors and church leaders explaining the whys and hows of engaging conversations about sexuality.
It was as if God were nodding to me and saying, “You know that botched testimony yesterday? That’s part of my plan. Thanks for doing your part.”
That afternoon, my friends drove me to the airport. They were the pastor’s children. We listened to the podcast and talked about how they could better engage their church with this topic.
So, really, this was just the start.
We said our goodbyes, and I got my boarding pass to walk through security. As I showed my pass to security, I was directed into the priority lane. Confused, I looked at my pass; apparently, I’d gotten upgraded to a higher class!
Milking every minute of my first time in this airport lounge, devouring all the free food, I looked back at the last two weeks. All the ups and downs, all the stress, all the laughs, and all the triggers.
It was like God had planned my whole two-week American trip, ending with this, inserting purpose into every single situation and interaction.
The past two weeks had been such a wonderful learning experience. And it was now time to bring it all back home.
From Romans 8:28 (TPT):
So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose.
Have you ever shared your testimony, including sexuality, in front of a church or group of people? Have you encountered any resistance with openness to sharing your story in a church body?