Wayne Henderson, my high school science teacher introduced me to Jane Goodall’s world of Chimpanzees via video tape. Later in college I actually met Miss Goodall. I chatted with her for 20 minutes, speaking 800 wpm and at the end of our conversation, she took out a post card bearing a her picture and wrote a small note to me. “Follow your dreams”, it said. It would be several years later that I would step onto the Killer Whale Stage at Sea World Orlando and indeed begin to do just that.
When I began training for the Sea World swim test, all I could think about was swimming with Killer Whales. I prayed about it. I talked about it. God was so gracious. I spent the first four months of my career at Shamu Stadium. My first challenge was to dive to the bottom of Shamu Stadium’s front pool, 36 feet to earn my trainer’s whistle. It was one of the most terrifying feats I had ever attempted. I practiced for weeks. I called people back home for prayer. Eventually, I made it. Then I got moved from Killer Whale to Sea lion and Otter Stadium. Swimming with Killer Whales would be another three years away, but I never lost sight of the goal. I was simply honing other skills necessary to succeeding when I would return to Shamu Stadium.
And return I did. 22 months later, my time at Sealion came to an end. Back at Shamu Stadium I was closer to making my dream a reality. Month after month, I was learning the show roles and Killer Whale Behaviors. The day came when I was put on the water work team of one of our most experienced whales. 14 years of waiting had culminated into that first amazing day in the water. With all the senior trainers gathered around and my friend Dawn snapping photos, I climbed aboard a Killer Whale for the first time. I was so excited it didn’t really sink in that I was actually in the water with a Killer Whale. There were a million eyes on me at the time, but I was alone with my whale in the middle of a dream. Months later my father would be watching the video and celebrating along with me.
A short while after that I was moved back to the Sealion show. As God often does in prayer, He posed the following question to me. “What are you going to do now that you have accomplished your dream?” I hadn’t given it much thought. Over the next few months, years and moments in between, God began to place a new dream in my heart.
Luke 12:48 says “…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” I believe God honored my dream to swim with Killer Whales, because in many ways I honored him with my life. I believe he also had a higher purpose for my time at Sea World. You see, as I was training to pass the swim test at Shamu Stadium, I was also beginning the process of walking away from homosexuality. I had struggled with homosexual desires from a very young age. The entire year of 1999, I was swimming, reading the bible, praying and submitting.
When I moved to Orlando in 2000, a lot of interesting things happened. Exodus International relocated from Seattle to Orlando. The very next year, I would begin a two-year stint as the Emcee of their national freedom conference using skills I had learned on stage at Sea World. God brought a troubled teen into my life named JD, as well. Myself and another trainer met him when he was 14. He would come to Sea World and do his homework in the bleachers at Shamu Stadium. We heard that he had a pretty bad home life, so we used our position of influence to impact his life. JD was the first young man with whom I ever shared my testimony of “coming out of homosexuality”. He also struggled with homosexuality. I mentored him for a number of years, before he decided to embrace a homosexual identity.
In many ways, I saw it as a ministry failure. Right out of the gate, I witnessed to someone. I shared my life, my very heart and they rejected the truth, but I felt it was a rejection of me. I had a lot to learn. I don’t see it as a failure any more. JD is now a young man in his late 20’s. He still calls me “Big Brother”. He is still gay. I respect his walk, though because he has had to work hard for everything he has. I am very proud of him. I still wish that he would follow in the footsteps of my story of redemption, but I love him regardless.
It’s 2013. 15 years after I began my Sea World career. Here I am. Finally, giving place to that question that God asked me so long ago. “What are you going to do…?” God helped me accomplish some amazing things that many people only talk about. My dream was a great dream for a child. Now God is calling me to something else. The dream He has for me. A dream where the purpose, passion and plight of my past culminate into a rescue mission for men trapped in homosexuality. I have been given so many great gifts from my Father, that I see no greater path than to submit my life in service to the needs of others.