I’m currently in Anchorage, Alaska, 4 hours behind my home city of Orlando. Orlando, a city whose only major news centers on new rides and attractions. A vacation destination for the entire world. And with the eyes of the world focused on our city, tragedy has breached the walls. I woke this morning as so many did, to texts of “Are you okay?” and “Have you heard the news?”. I was transported back to the morning of the Oklahoma City Bombing when I was awakened by a friend to the news from my home state. This type of evil is not something you ever get used to. This type of loss steals your breath away and freezes your soul deep inside.
I have been in ministry to the gay and ex-gay community ever since I walked away from homosexuality in 1998. After spending 1999 in Oklahoma I moved to Orlando in January of 2000. I fell in love with Orlando. Nothing really ever closes and there is something to do every moment of every day. A year after I moved, our lives would change as terrorists stole away our national security and momentarily our confidence to travel. I worked for Sea World at the time and on 9/12 there were 400 people in the park. For a moment it appeared that evil had won. Orlando was quiet for a few months, almost as if we were holding our breath in anticipation of what came next.
Fast forward to these past few days. As I texted one friend after another and found them safe, my heart quieted a bit, but the ominous weight of death hovered over me all day. This senseless, barbaric tragedy happened in my city to my community. Stuff like this doesn’t happen in our city. There are young men in their 20’s and 30’s who entered eternity last night. There are family’s deprived of brothers, fathers and sons. Someone’s little girl will never come home again. There are words that will never be spoken. That should cause each of us stop for a moment and pray. Now is the time to mourn for those who lost their lives, minister to the wounded and step alongside families experiencing loss. If we can be the church to the LGBT community in Orlando, then evil will not triumph this day and we will be servants of Jesus.
I have had the privilege of being in the lives of many gay men in Orlando. I have seen the way God has gifted them and experienced their talents at theme parks and church services alike. I have ministered young men through bad dates, breakups, divorce and suicidal thoughts. I have hugged and held them when they were hurting. I have given furniture, food, time and tears. I have given them my heart. One doesn’t have to agree with one’s sexual orientation to be the church to a hurting world. Most of the crap I went through during my life as a gay man has been reference material for my daily ministry around Orlando and elsewhere.
We can no longer be the church who worships God openly on Sunday and hides our Christianity away from the world the rest of the week. If there is human need and we can meet that need and we fail to do so, the bible says we can chalk that up as sin. If you wonder if you have a ministry, the answer is yes. If you have a heart and two hands, you are well equipped to minister to the victims of this heinous crime. God tells us in His word to go into all the world and preach the gospel. You need look no further than just outside your door. Satan has brought the fight to our city this time. He has taken from us loved ones and souls dear to God.
20 years ago I could have easily been one of those young men in that club. I was a young man who was raised in a Christian home and knew all the right things to say and do. But I had also been hurt and wounded by the church and every man that I had ever encountered. I wasn’t looking to be sinful. I was looking for a place to finally belong. I was looking to quiet the source of my raging pain. I was running from demons inside my head. The clubs were my safe places. They still are to many men and women in the gay community today.
Christian friends and family. It’s not time to picket and criticize. It is time to pray over that friend or loved one who is gay. Pray that Jesus would reach them with the message of eternal life. It is time to find out the name of every club in your city, gay and straight, and commit to pray over them. It is time to google the club addresses, get in your car and do drive by them praying for the patrons. Sure some of these folks in those clubs are going there for a night on the town, but for some in the gay community the bar is their church, their social club, their home away from home a refuge from the world. Lest we forget how many times we retreated to our own safe places before Jesus led us to the church. Let us respond with grace to listen well, share the truth of the gospel and fervently pray for the salvation of the lost. We know what’s at stake here.
And to my gay friends. I am deeply, sorry for your loss. I may have physically left the gay community, but my heart remains there for people who are alienated, rejected and wounded. I pray that God blesses you and keeps you safe. I pray that you will experience the love of Christians around you. I pray that more than any other time in your life that each of you would experience the love of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ loves you. God loves you. I pray that if you have been alienated and disenfranchised from Christian community that the Holy Spirit would draw you back. I pray that now more than ever you would experience the true nature of God. I pray against any enemy that would steal, kill and destroy further. That each and every one of the remaining survivors would experience full recovery. I praise God that 53 people were able to escape the club and get to safety. May God guide the hand of the doctors working to save lives. May as many of you who were affected by this atrocity feel the comfort of the Holy Spirit as we begin to heal as a city.