I like to think of myself a “One-Twelve” Christian. Before I explain that, let me provide some background. I’m Colin, a gay man in my mid 60s from New Zealand. My parents were loving Christian ministers who modeled what it meant to be Christ-followers. While I never questioned the existence of God and accepted that I was loved, I knew from my teens that I was attracted to men. Over the years, I experienced the usual struggles to reconcile what this means in regards to my relationship with Christ, while being a member of a Fundamental Holiness-teaching church. Remember: this was during the 1950’s and 60’s, and we were living in a different social environment.
When I was 16, my parents retired from ministry and shifted to another part of the country. It was decided that I would live with an elderly couple from church so I could continue my high school education. On one level, I was so looking forward to the freedom this may provide, but on another level, it was frightening. Fortunately, I was a bright student and initially retreated into my studies. I soon learned, however, it was easier to spend as little time as possible in the house, and I began to discover the gay subculture that existed in New Zealand in the early 1970s. I quickly discovered how to “do church”, “cope with my studies”, and all else that was expected of me, while having a secret, emerging life as a gay man.
You need to understand that at this time, there was strict criminal legislation in place prohibiting same-sex male to male behavior, punishable by prison sentence. This did little to deter me until one evening, the police intervened and I was told, “If you carry on like this, we are going to lock you up.” This was frightening, and I finally found the courage to utter the words “I’m gay” to myself, and then my minister. He was the first person I came out to. Understandably, that conversation did not go well and I withdrew into myself, convinced I was not worthy of God’s love. Fortunately, God did not leave me in that space and surrounded me with caring medical and professional support to face the future. Sadly, the church wasn’t so enlightened.
In 1985, we were finally facing the possibility of law change, which would remove the threat of imprisonment. Some Christian churches led by my denomination initiated a public petition to fight against this change. For many, the church was neither a place of healing nor safety, and the gospel message became, “There is no place at God’s table for you.” Sadly, during that time, a number of my friends walked away from the church, with some turning their backs on faith journeys altogether. In some cases the impact on their families was tragic. But for me, God had already instilled some of what I call “One-Twelve” verses from scripture, with the first coming from John’s gospel, chapter 1, verse 12.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (NIV)
This verse, with its clear, unconditional message, left me in no doubt that God was calling me to follow him, trust him, and was preparing me for the next step in my journey. I admit, I fought this calling, for I knew that this would involve challenging conversations, and I was deeply aware there would be those in the church who would struggle to understand. As a result, I had to learn to rely solidly on what God’s Spirit told me and I began to understand the power of God’s grace. I could sense God saying “I have a plan for you, trust me!” But it would be another 20 years before I would see the fulfillment of that ministry.
One Sunday in 2004, I connected with a couple through church outreach. Upon invitation, they attended some events at church and sometimes came to worship. They were already Christ-followers, and we became good friends. But God was now about to test my faith in ways I could not have imagined. As I shared with them, the husband opened up about some challenges he was facing. They were significant and while I felt inadequate, I had opportunity to support him, for I identified with his journey.
I was now called on to be a prayer warrior, spiritual confidante, adviser and advocate. Sadly his physical and emotional health proceeded to deteriorate as he tried to process how God could possibly love him. Tragically, in 2007, I found myself being asked to speak words of comfort to a grieving family as I attended his funeral service, one resulting from self-harm. God was calling me to do something much bigger than I ever thought I was capable of doing. Admittedly, I was still scarred and feeling vulnerable from what had happened in 1985, but through a series of what I now understand to be God-controlled events, things were about to change, and I began to discover an online ministry, supporting others who were experiencing similar hurts to my friend, who needed to hear a gospel of love and compassion. It was through that experience that I finally searched the words “gay” and “Christian”, and that started me on a journey that I never envisaged. In January of 2009, I found myself in Anaheim at the Gay Christian Network conference wondering what God was doing by taking me there.
But one thing was clear. God’s Spirit was powerfully and palpably present, and it was speaking into the hearts and lives of my new friends. Through it, lives were being changed, hope was being restored, and healing was taking place. And on that Sunday, January 11th, 2009, God was speaking to me, too, with specific undeniable messages relating to future ministry and calling. At that moment, God distinctly told me, “These are my people and I love them. These will become your people, and you are to serve them. My plan for you is to bring a message of hope, healing and compassion, for they are part of my kingdom.”
I’d never heard the voice of God so clearly as I did that Sunday. I began to understand God’s plan for me and, over the next few months, events which had been described to me occurred exactly as God said. There were just too many coincidences for me to dismiss what was happening. It was overwhelming, but it was also empowering, and I was in no doubt that this was the hand of God, that I had been prepared for this moment.
I’ve come a long way since then. Doors have opened, others have closed. I’ve been privileged to walk with countless folk who have been on challenging journeys including youth, older folks, parents, families, friends, and pastors. I’ve discovered a wonderful network of friends around the world who are totally awesome and get what this ministry is about. But the thing that warms my heart the most is watching God’s transforming power at work and knowing that I’m privileged to be part of that. Be assured that God is indeed at work. While there have been painful and difficult moments, in those times, another “One-Twelve” verse helps me put it in context–2nd Timothy 1:12:
“That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” (NIV)
So what can I share from my experience? Firstly, God thoroughly prepared me for this journey in advance. Secondly, I was not left to go it alone, God has guided me and placed the right people in my path. Just as God did with Noah, I’ve been called to move far beyond what I ever felt possible or physically capable of doing, and to be a voice where previously I may have been silent. I would never have chosen this pathway for myself, but I am so glad God had other ideas.
As a gay man, I still often reflect, “Lord God, am I in your will? Am I doing what you would have me do?” Invariably, God surrounds me with peace, and confirms once again my calling. The last of those “One-Twelve” verses is from 1st Timothy 1:12. It’s become meaningful as I allow God to take control:
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.” (NIV)
Christ remains my focus. My strength comes from Him; He tells me I am worthy of this calling, and reminds me that He is the master planner.
Be encouraged to listen as God’s Spirit speaks to you. Be ready to respond to God’s call to follow, but most of all, know that you are accepted, you are welcomed, and you are loved.