Voices of Hope

Despite the culture’s shift toward celebrating homosexuality, ministries showing people a path out of sexual brokenness are alive and well—and finding a receptive, grateful audience. There are dozens of these ministries making a life-changing impact on people in hundreds, if not thousands, of churches and communities in the U.S. and around the world. 

This month, we’d like to introduce you to a few of them. 

Coming into the Light

Pastor Peter Hubbard doesn’t remember how long ago he started counseling people who were experiencing same-sex attractions (SSA). Maybe it was 12 years ago; maybe 15. But he remembers how he felt.

“At first, I was clueless on how to respond,” says Hubbard, a teaching pastor at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, S.C. “Like many pastors, I knew (the behavior) was wrong, but I didn’t have any idea of the struggle (people went through) or how to connect the hope of the Gospel to it.

“I spent many, many hours talking with them, listening to them, weeping with them—the shame they felt, the guilt, the hopelessness.”

Since then, Hubbard has read many authors who’ve broken free of homosexuality. He became an author himself, writing Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church (Ambassador International, 2013), and launched a website (loveintolight.com) for people wrestling with SSA, as well as their loved ones and pastors.

And he’s brought the topic out of the shadows at his own church. Rather than just dealing with it in private counseling sessions, he’s taught the broader congregation about homosexuality and how to respond.

About seven years ago, Hubbard introduced a five-week series on the subject—during Sunday services. “Every week, we had someone who’d experienced SSA or lived a gay lifestyle but now was following Jesus,” he says. “We did this so people could see their real-life brothers and sisters—so they could see, it’s not just a problem ‘out there’ in the world. It’s in here. It’s us. Their struggle is our struggle.”

Hubbard didn’t spring the topic on the congregation; he worked with church leaders to give them ample advance notice and meet with parents of teens. “We said, ‘Bring your teenagers. They’re talking and thinking about this, whether you realize it or not. In the age of social media, even homeschooled kids hear way more than their parents would like to think.’ ” (Separate activities for younger children were arranged during those weeks.)

That series has had a lasting impact on the church. “Now people know how to think biblically about the struggle, and they don’t think those who deal with it are different from them,” Hubbard says. “We’re all sinners in need of salvation, and the remedy is there for all of us.”

It’s also made those who have to fight against and heal from SSA feel freer about saying so—and asking for help.

“Now people share their struggles and say, ‘Pray for me,’ ” Hubbard says. “Many, many people have come forward to do that in recent years. I could tell you story after story.

“Obviously, you’re never going to hear about those stories on the news, because it’s assumed they can’t happen. But they do. There is hope; there is help.”

Veteran Voice

It’s been about four decades since Andrew Comiskey walked away from homosexuality. And he’s been helping others make that journey nearly all that time.

In 1980, Comiskey and his fiancé (now wife), Annette—then college students at UCLA—were asked by their pastor at the Vineyard Church in Santa Monica, Calif., to start a support group for other young people who were embarking on the same road Andrew had traveled. 

“We began to gather with a few men and women who were just beginning to leave their homosexual identities,” Comiskey says. “They had just become Christians, and they wanted help.”

The couple has helped far more than a few men and women since.

They founded what today is known as Desert Stream/Living Waters Ministries (desertstream.org). The latter half of the name refers to an influential program to bring healing from homosexuality—and from other kinds of sexual and relational brokenness as well. A 20-week program built around worship, teaching, and small-group support and prayer, Living Waters has been used in hundreds of churches worldwide, and currently is found in roughly 50 U.S. churches. There are also about 100 groups in 20 other nations.

The culture has changed radically since Comiskey started his work. And that has brought major challenges.

“Homosexuality has gone from being seen as shameful—a taboo topic—to being seen as not only shameless, but something to be applauded,” he says. “When churches that try to take the Bible seriously also try to be taken seriously by the culture, some have become increasingly compromised. 

“The attitude now is, ‘We’re all so messed up, how can I judge what you’re doing?’ rather than ‘We’re all broken, so let’s make efforts toward greater holiness together.’ In this atmosphere, we’ve certainly got our work cut out for us. ”

But the changes have brought opportunities for ministry too.

 “People badly need to talk about it,” Comiskey says. “When we do our ministry, people often say, ‘Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard any good news about homosexuality.’ To hear something hopeful and truthful and redemptive is just what they need.”

Responses like that help sustain Comiskey in his labors. So do the people he meets—like a young man he knows who, after identifying as a girl in junior high, found his identity as a man through the help of loving Christians. After many rounds of Living Waters, he now helps others align their gender identity with their biological sex, much as Andrew started helping others out of homosexuality in his youth.

“It’s wonderful to see the work you’ve done over the years become helpful and effectual in people’s lives,” he says. “One of the great gifts for those of us who’ve persevered in this area is to see the fruit of that work in people who need help today.”

New Blood

Twenty years ago, Rodger Gaskin was one of those people benefiting from Living Waters, a program in which he later became a leader. Six years ago, he joined Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., and met Ken Williams, who also had a background of overcoming homosexuality. The two men—both pastors—became leaders in a men’s ministry at the church.

And about two years ago, they started sharing experiences with a third pastor and Bethel member, Elizabeth Woning, who had once been a lesbian activist—lobbying for same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT pastors in the Presbyterian Church (USA)—before an encounter with God set her, too, on a path of repentance and healing.

Together—and with Bethel’s blessing and encouragement—they’ve drawn on their combined experiences to launch a new ministry, Equipped to Love (equippedtolove.com).

“We call ourselves that because we’re focused on equipping the larger body of Christ to minister to people experiencing same-sex attraction,” Woning says. “We don’t want to just tell them, ‘Go out the back door to this ministry to deal with your issue, and when you’re fixed, come back into the larger congregation again.’ Healthy community is absolutely vital to achieving wholeness.”

In addition to ministering to individuals, Equipped to Love has concentrated on training pastors, lay leaders and other church members to understand homosexuality and other kinds of sexual brokenness, and to help them address it with both love and truth—especially with family and other church members.

“It’s been amazing, the number of people expressing gratitude for being able to talk honestly and openly with those of us who have had these experiences, and who are moored in Scripture,” Gaskin says. “They want to see this grow and flourish.”

The honesty and openness start at the top. “The three of us have made ourselves very vulnerable, sharing intimate details of our lives,” Woning says. “The fruit of that has been an open door for others to do the same.”

That willingness to share reflects the heart the leaders have for others facing the same sort of struggles. 

“When we see someone living an LGBT lifestyle, we see pain,” Williams says. “We don’t see someone marching in a gay-pride parade, someone with a bad attitude. We see someone who needs to be rescued, whether they know it or not.

“We also want to go through the church, find someone who’s struggling silently, and say, ‘There’s hope’—to find them spiritual moms and dads, brothers or sisters, like the people who found me, who were so transformational for me,” he adds. “We want them to be able to say: ‘I will not be defined by my temptations. I will be defined by who Christ says I am.’ ”

Amen, Gaskin says.

“Jesus designs us, and He transforms us,” he explains. “The Gospel is powerful enough to transform any and every one of us. We desire to live lives holy and pleasing to Him. That’s what we’re after.”

Truth and Love

Stories of ministries like these are familiar to Anne Paulk. But even after decades of hearing them—they never get old to her.

“So often, this is the origin point of these ministries,” she says. “They start with people who have had personal experience in these areas. They know what they’re talking about. They know what the pain is like. They know what the growing is like—how difficult it is, how delightful it is.

“It’s a recurring story. You have a case of a person seeing the kindness and mercy of God, being transformed, and then becoming an effective agent for healing others.”

Paulk is in a good position to know. She’s executive director of the Restored Hope Network (restoredhopenetwork.com), a coalition of nearly 60 ministries, pastors and counselors working in this field. Together, they’ve impacted thousands of lives.

The Network serves as an invaluable referral group, helping others find the ministries and resources they need.

“People contact us—by phone, email, social media—saying, ‘We have a crisis; where can we get help?’ ” Paulk says. “We direct them to their local group, pastors or counselors—sources that we’ve vetted (which) are biblically solid, many of which also address other issues: sexual addiction, pornography, various relationship issues. We have individuals who have walked through those things and are ready to help with them.”

Over and over, Paulk sees firsthand why this work is so important.

“We hear from people who are despairing, some of them at the point of, ‘God, if you don’t do something, I’m going to take my life,’ ” Paulk says. “It’s tragic. We can have a realistic hope, give people something concrete to hang onto, something we know from experience. Change can happen—not necessarily that you’ll never have another homosexual thought for the rest of your life, but that it doesn’t have to consume you. There is healing; there is wholeness.

“That’s why it’s so crucial that ministries like Desert Stream/Living Water and Love into Light and all the others exist. They’re shining a light of hope for those who are looking for it.”

Restored Hope Network was founded in 2012 by many ministries that had been part of the now-disbanded Exodus International. That group’s leadership had increasingly strayed from the principle that a transformed life—reflecting God’s design for men and women—is not only possible, but necessary. The members of Restored Hope are determined to uphold the biblical standard.

“It’s harmful to have messengers who say, ‘Come into the church, but remain as you are,’ ” Paulk says. “That’s contrary to the church’s historic message: ‘Come as you are and let Jesus change you.’ ”

It takes courage to deliver that message these days, Paulk says. But that’s a quality the ministry leaders she knows have in abundance.

“I’ve seen so many people who are tenderhearted leaders with amazing character. Those who speak out are risking a lot. They know they’re going to get raked over the coals, but they do it anyway.”

And they do it for one reason above all: love.

 “If we can’t have truth, we can’t have love,” Paulk says. “They must go hand in hand.”

 

For More Information: To get Focus on the Familyís links to resources on dealing with and healing from homosexuality and gender confusion, visit http://bit.ly/2wEiOKk.

Originally published in the February 2018 issue of Citizen magazine.
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