The spring semester of my junior year of college was . . . interesting. I found myself in campus ministry leadership, yet with doubts about my faith and confidence. Busy with leadership, classes, and friendships, I got pulled into the common question for college students in campus ministry:
What are you doing this summer?
I felt an expectation to do something meaningful with my summer. So, I ended up applying for a summer mission trip.
The paper application was daunting, and the phone interview was even worse. I found myself sharing my sexuality with a stranger . . . over the phone.
As I hung up, I knew there was no way I’d be joining that mission trip. My time and energy went back to school, band, friends, and my campus.
Needless to say, getting the phone call to join this team in Cameroon left me shocked — and thrilled.
As a late applicant, I had less time to raise the necessary support. Having never raised support before, I was naively confident; I think the last of my support came in just a week before we left.
The couples leading the trip sent several emails to get us ready for Cameroon: ideas for raising support, verses to consider, details about flights, and the rundown of what we’d be doing. They also encouraged us to pray for unity in our group.
I’d be the only student going from my university, but my semester experience in France proved this wouldn’t be an issue. Especially knowing I’d be in community the whole time.
After just 36 hours together in the US — five guys and eight gals from twelve different universities, along with five leaders — we flew across the ocean. We arrived in Yaounde, the capital, but my luggage and the luggage of four others did not.
Maybe this should have been a sign for what was in store? We took the mishap in stride and made jokes about our airport amenities.
During one of our first devotional times, I latched onto 1 Timothy 4:12 (ESV):
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
A leader talked about how God is interested in progress, not perfection. My evangelical, Midwest upbringing, along with my attitude of always striving to do good, made me shocked by this idea.
What does progress mean or even look like for a person . . . like me?!
The next day, we split off by gender and shared our stories: the baggages and joys we brought with us to the summer and the team. While it helped me see connections with the other guys on the trip, I didn’t leave that sharing time feeling encouraged.
The anxiety of fitting in as “one of the guys” still lingered because, you know, I liked boys.
That Sunday, we went to our first church service in Cameroon. Three hours later — after some lively singing, percussion, and one of the longest sermons I’d sat through — we grabbed lunch and got ready to attend the national soccer game we’d been invited to.
We got into our taxi groups of four and were instructed where to meet. The taxi with myself and three girls dropped us off in the wrong place.
Reminder: we’d only been in Cameroon for six days. We discussed trying to get back to our “home,” but decided to make our way to the stadium instead.
My anxiety was through the roof, and yet there was a sense of boldness as the only male and only French speaker in that group. The walk felt like miles with the comments I overheard about the girls, but we made our way to one of the stadium gates.
Before we left, we were told which gate to meet at, but they weren’t numbered. So, I tried to communicate with somebody who looked official. He just urged me to enter this particular gate anyway.
I told the girls, but as we got closer to the gate, we got split into pairs by the crowd. As I made it through, I looked back and could tell something was wrong. A worker inside told the two of us to move on, and we told them we were waiting for the other pair.
Apparently, some men in the crowd had been harassing the other two girls. Was I even doing my masculine job to care for and protect these women?!
After talking to many Cameroonians in French and showing them my ticket, we eventually made our way to our supposed seats, only to have the last person tell us we were on the wrong side of the fence. The match was starting, so they led us to our section, right next to a 10-foot fence.
As we sat, the rest of our group showed up on the other side! One of the Cameroonian ministry leaders spent the first quarter talking to officials so that we could cross the fence and — FINALLY — be reunited with our team.
Once together again, we enjoyed the match. And found ways to laugh at the crazy events of the afternoon.
The next day, we began going out on the Yaounde campus. We got to know some of the campus ministry staff and students, as well as the campus itself.
One evening that week, we were getting ready to head to dinner but one of the guys hadn’t joined us yet. I ran back to the room and walked in on him changing. I fumbled with my words and turned right back around.
Great. He already knew my story, my issues. How awkward did that make him feel? Would seeing him naked impact my ability to be friends with him? Or just be normal at all?
The next day, on the way to campus, my taxi group got stuck in traffic. Our taxi bumped a few other cars before traffic came to a full stop. While stopped, some guy tried to get in the car with three American girls in the back. He didn’t, but it stuck in my head when we got to campus.
The voices flooded my mind.
How useless am I not to protect the females on the team? I am so weak. I am nothing like the other guys on the team. What am I even doing here?!
With all that had been going on, my team director decided to have a chat with me. After some word vomit from me, he asked the question that I hadn’t yet put into words: Do you want to go home, Kevin?
“We understand the difficulties you’ve been through these ten days, and we can arrange to get you home,” he said.
And so I wondered . . . would I stay?!
Have you struggled to feel or act like a man among a group of men or women? What triggered this insecurity, and did you step into the discomfort or retreat from it?
I’ve really enjoyed reading your various experiences while being a Christian struggling with SSA in college. I’ve felt the weight you’re describing almost on a daily basis… constantly battling in my head, “Am I Manly Enough?” I wrestle with whether or not I’ll measure up to the other men around me! It’s in these moments I have to really contemplate what example of masculinity I really want to measure up to? Do I really care about imitating the toxic masculinity we see all across our country? Or are there better examples of a version of masculinity that is set apart and God honoring? I look to Christ first and foremost as the standard of masculinity. I also look at other examples of men who loved the LORD and serve him.
So much of my insecurities come from a culture that values men who are stoic and isolated.
I often times wonder had I grown up in a culture that valued male friendships and didn’t over sexualize (literally) everything, if I’d even struggle with SSA? Since I wouldn’t have this huge unmet need for male community and to be truly known by my fellow brothers in Christ.
I look forward to learning more about this mission trip.
I was actually chatting with one of the pastors at my church about masculinity the other day. I think there are aspects of “traditional cultural masculinity” that are good, and healthy to be part of/learn. But he agreed that we in this Side B / YOB community bring some needed balance to what masculinity means. For me, being around other men and having space for authenticity – in struggles, joys, recreation – has meant a lot.
And the topic of over-sexualizing could be it’s own blog post. Maybe that will happen some day.
Kevin, I understand so well that feeling of inadequacy and inferiority when I fail to live up to the masculine standard that other guys do!
When I have failed in similar ways I look at Scripture and determine if I actually did sin against God or others. If I did, I ask Him to forgive me and just move on, asking Him to help me not to repeat the failure. I may also ask others to forgive me if I have failed them, too.
Whether I have or have not sinned, I seek to know I am forgiven and move on without shame. Shame will only disable and distract me.
Shame is the worst. In large part because of what you have stated. The best thing to do is to get back into Truth.
I only know you from reading your posts but I’m betting you stayed. All that how useless and weak and I’m nothing stuff you faced before and kept going. And it’s not just masculine issues, at least for me. Isn’t that place where we’ve got nothing, the same place where we find we got enough in Jesus, and faith proves true, he proves true and there’s life to go on? Sometimes it seems like everything’s out to get us to stop. Hey, you’re still here writing good stuff about facing things in faith, and that’s really encouraging.
Ah, have I written enough now that my character is coming through?!? We shall see, but I couldn’t help but give a good cliffhanger with this story.
And yes. There will be many more of my stories of feeling weak and only being able to see on the other side how that recognition of weakness brought me back to Jesus. It always catches me by surprise when it happens in my life….even though its Biblical (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Somehow it frequently is tough to remember how true this is in the middle of those weak, trying moments though.
Hi Kevin, thanks for sharing. I can totally identify with not feeling “manly” enough. Being introverted, soft spoken and a little effeminate from when I was about 5 years old, I have always struggled with feelings of male inferiority throughout my school years into university and subsequent working life. When I compared myself with my male friends and acquaintances many of whom come across as confident, sports and women loving, current affairs savvy men, I used to feel inadequate and unworthy and had difficulty relating freely with some men especially the gruff, muscular, rugby playing types a few of whom I was secretly attracted to. By God’s grace, however, I have grown in my masculinity over the years thanks to prayerfully reading what the Word says about me as a Christian, counseling and reading a couple of “Significance and Security in Christ” themed books.
In my marriage unfortunately, I have never felt confident in my manhood despite having been married for 19 years, fathered 4 children and generally been a faithful and cooperative husband (in my view). My wife is an assertive choleric and has always earned more than me. On paper and as the Bible says, we are “one” in holy matrimony so these sorts of things probably shouldn’t make me feel inadequate but I notice that at some level they do from time to time. I must say she has never been condescending or disrespectful towards me but she is not the most empathetic person I know either. In our early marriage years, I renewed my efforts to fix myself to become the more manly man I thought she expected me to be but I found that trying to do that through self effort was a fruitless endeavour. God mercifully showed me through an emotional burnout season I went through about 5 years ago that He lovingly and intentionally created me as the unique ISFJ MAN I am and that I needed to start seeing myself as He saw me. Over the years, insecurity, inadequacy and fear of rejection have been (and continued to be to some extent) major inhibitors of intimacy and vulnerability in my marriage relationship and although we have grown in our acceptance of each other as we are, I cannot say my wife and I are close. Over the last few years, we have not had sex very often as a result (“very rarely” if you ask my wife). Right from when we started dating, I have never been strongly physically attracted to my wife. From what I have read, one of the primary motivations for sex on the part of the same sex attracted partner is emotional closeness and if this is absent, (as in my case currently) the prospect of intimate relations is not naturally appealing. This makes me feel particularly guilty and reinforces my feelings of inadequacy as I feel as if I am failing her as a man and disobeying God by not giving myself to her as He commands wedded couples to in 1Cor 7:2-4. Anyway, I am praying and trusting God with the future of our relationship, working on building our friendship as a couple. I also anticipating going for some Christian marriage counseling in the near future so that we can be helped to break down the barriers that are (from my perspective anyway) preventing us from having a more intimate, fulfilling marriage.
Bryane – Welcome and thank you for sharing your story with me/us!
You mention comparison during your school years, and I feel that. The comparison game draws us in SO easily, only to confuse us more about what is truth. I think everybody deals with this on varying character traits, and some handle it better than others. But, yes, it is easy to seem like less than.
Congratulations on your marriage, even if it isn’t always easy. I can’t say I understand fully, as a single thirty something, but I am glad you are here. I would encourage you to lean into the truths about eh MAN that God has called you to be – even if it doesn’t fit all the American cultural norms of masculinity. And feel free to reach out (if you want to) to our authors who are also married – they may have more encouragement and be able to relate better than I can? Will be praying for continued goodness in your family – keep on journeying!!
Hi Kevin-Thanks for your encouragement and prayers. I will definitely reach out to some the other married YOBBers sometime….I pray for all you YOB Bloggers giving thanks for your vulnerable honest sharing and keeping this web site going…..Keep on blogging!
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