George was my drug dealer. He was also the sound engineer in a band I hung out with. All in all he was a pretty wild character who is his calmer moments saw himself as a seeker, a philosopher of sorts, in that he would get stoned, stare at the stars, and get all deep and spiritual.
I didn’t take George’s seeking all that seriously given that his pursuit of truth didn’t extend to his drug dealing or ripping off his friends. George got picked up by the police for a stack of unpaid parking fines and was sentenced to two weeks in the local jail. Keeping on his quest for truth (and to quell some of the boredom), he took along his mother’s big Greek Orthodox family Bible. I can’t imagine what the police thought when he walked in with it. It probably weighed ten pounds.
You know what happens next. George begins reading that big Bible and the Holy Spirit falls on him. He is born again right there in the local lockup!
When the police released George ten days later, he was bursting at the seams—ready to tell the world about his newfound faith. His brother John picked him up from jail and gave his life to Christ before they even arrived home.
An Unlikely Community of Faith
The two then banded together, Bibles under one arm and a copy of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth under the other (it was the 1980s after all!), and went out in hot pursuit of new converts. They compiled a list of all the people they sold drugs to and called it their evangelistic “hit list.” They would pray for each person and then catch up with them and tell them about Jesus. I was on the hit list, as were a number of my friends, including my sister Sharon and dearest friend Mark.
My journey to faith didn’t actually begin when George shared the gospel with me; God had been working my case for a long time. I just hadn’t realized it. Like George, I was a seeker, and in the weeks before coming to Jesus, I had sensed something was in the wind. I kept telling my friend Jason that my “answer” was just around the corner. He thought I was maybe taking too many drugs, and maybe I was. But I was expectant, never thinking for a moment that my answer, like George’s, would be Jesus.
When Jesus came into my life everything changed. All those old clichés you hear—being lost and then found, being blind and then seeing—applied to me. I encountered God in such a dramatic way that I knew my life would never be the same. Within a very short time both Sharon and Mark also gave their lives to Jesus. The three of us were living with a bunch of others in a big community house, and were living and identifying as gay.
God set up residence among a group of people who had little clue about him or what the journey of faith entails. Within a period of about six months, over 50 people—friends and contacts—had come to know Jesus. But not everyone who lived with us was thrilled about our newfound faith. There was much debate and sometimes outright hostility. At times it felt like the two kingdoms were warring against one another. And they were! But God’s Spirit was at work, and a new community of Jesus followers was being formed. Originally intended to indulge our hedonistic lifestyles, our home became a place for all sorts of people seeking refuge, healing, and personal transformation.
Stumbling Upon Church
But we didn’t have a church. George had found God in prison; we had no real connection with other believers in the outside world. As I look back now, I laugh thinking how easily we could have ended up as some weird cult. But intuitively we knew we needed to go to church and meet other Christians.
One night, Sharon and Mark stumbled on a cute, old church building with the name “Christian Chapel” above the doors. Seeing a light shining from a side room, they knocked tentatively on the door. An older, willowy-looking man appeared. He was dressed in a white shirt and tie and introduced himself as Pat, the pastor of the church. Pat explained that they were in the middle of a prayer meeting and invited Sharon and Mark to join. They nervously declined but said they would be back Sunday morning with their friends.
A few days later, about 12 of us trundled along to the church. As we made our way down the center aisle to the front of that little Christian Chapel, I’m not sure who was more shocked—the church members or us. Talk about a clash of cultures. The men were wearing suits, and the ladies had on hats and gloves. We were dressed like we had just rolled out of bed after a hard night partying. I still had on my pajama top!
We were a ragtag bunch of ex-prostitutes, drug dealers, gays, punks, and goths. They were a fundamentalist church filled with conservative-looking old folk. Yet despite the obvious differences between us and them, we managed to stay. Those older folk had no clue what to do with us, but they did know how to love and how to pray. They somehow managed to reach across the cultural divide to lovingly embrace us and include us in the bigger church family. The early years of our discipleship were worked out in the context of that little church.
Not all those church folks embraced us that easily, of course. There was some grumbling going on behind the scenes. Pat eventually let us in on a little secret: given that the “youth” group was in their 60s, that Wednesday night prayer meeting that Sharon and Mark stumbled on had been set up specifically to pray that God would bring young people into their church. Pat would constantly remind the grumblers that we were the answer to their prayers, and it wasn’t his fault they weren’t specific enough with God about the type of young people they wanted!
A Bible Study On the Fringe
Pat really was one amazing, grace-filled pastor; it was like nothing fazed him. He came to our home dressed in his suit and tie every Wednesday to lead a Bible study. Nothing too radical about that, except that while the Bible was being taught around the kitchen table, drugs just might be being bought and sold in the living room, men could be in bed with each other upstairs, and it was highly likely the crazy Greek brothers John and George would be noisily casting out demons in the backyard.
Pat used to tell us we were the apples of his eye. He never once took a moralistic, tongue-clucking approach with us. He knew God was at work in us, and he didn’t want to mess with that. He knew the Holy Spirit would eventually sort some things out, and despite how he might have personally felt about our crazy lifestyles and wild household, he remained true. I can still see him sitting at our table with his big Scofield Bible and that little twinkle in his eye. And while he did eventually ditch his suit coat, he always wore his characteristic shirt and tie.
Many of us eventually left the Christian Chapel to go into full-time ministry—a wonderful testament to a church that was willing to go beyond their comfort zones to embrace a strange people from a strange land. Pat’s ability to see the bigger picture of God’s redemptive purpose and priorities meant he didn’t get judgmental or controlling, nor did he push us beyond what we were ready to own and live. He modeled Jesus in his open-hearted posture toward those who were seen as sexually scandalous—a posture that is sorely needed within the church in any time and place.
—Debra Hirsch is author of Redeeming Sex. This article is excerpted from Redeeming Sex; copyright 2015 by Debra Hirsch. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.