This is the story of Jonathan, Director of True Freedom Trust.
I was brought up in a loving, moral, church-going family and benefitted from Christian input at Sunday School from a very early age. From around about the age of 10 or 11 I became very conscious of being attracted, both emotionally and physically, to my male school friends rather than to my female school friends. I hadn’t chosen to have those feelings and I spent most of my teenage years fighting against them and tormenting myself with guilt over them. Finally, aged 17, I reluctantly started to identify myself, inwardly at least, as being gay.
Gay certainly wasn’t what I wanted to be, and I would have loved at that stage to have been able to talk through my feelings with someone. But there was no-one I felt I could turn to. Not my parents, not my friends and certainly no-one at church. The only times that I’d ever heard Christians talking about homosexuality were always in very condemning, harsh, judgemental ways.
Finding no way to reconcile my vague kind of faith with my sexuality, I decided I had no option but to leave the church and to try to find a partner. I’d heard and read that gay people were very promiscuous, with many sexual partners, but that certainly wasn’t what I wanted. I was searching for love, for a special someone to share my life with. I soon met a guy of my own age and over a period of time we fell in love and entered into a long-term, committed relationship together, a relationship that was completely hidden from all my family, friends and colleagues.
As I look back, I can see that God didn’t reject or abandon me during the seven years that I lived in a gay relationship. He was very gracious and merciful and gave me continual reminders of His existence and of His desire to be right at the centre of my life. Slowly but surely He convicted me of the wrong decision that I’d made as a teenager to get involved in a gay relationship, and He brought me to faith in Jesus Christ, aged 24.
My actual conversion was a pretty dramatic, sudden affair. It was initiated by my walking into Lansdowne Baptist Church in Bournemouth one Sunday morning in a state of some turmoil. This followed a prolonged period where I just sensed God’s hand pressing down on me in judgement. It’s what I call my Psalm 32 experience; God’s hand heavy upon me, day and night, sapping my strength until I finally acknowledged my sin to Him. It was in that state of feeling under God’s judgement that I turned up at Lansdowne Baptist Church. Why there? Well because for some years I’d lived right opposite that church with my partner and had often noticed how happy, joyful and peaceful people looked as they came out of the church building Sunday by Sunday. It was as if they had something that I was lacking, and to put it bluntly, I was jealous!
I don’t recall anything at all about the specifics of the service that Sunday. The only thing that struck me quite powerfully was the thought that ‘God is in this place.’ After the service I was approached by the Minister for Pastoral Care who chatted with me and suggested that I looked like I needed someone to talk to. My pride was tempted to say, “What me, in need? Who are you kidding? I’m fine!” But the reality was that by this stage I was a broken man, so how could I possibly turn down the offer of someone to talk with?
The very next week we met up and he sat me down and offered me a cup of tea (a very English thing to do!) Before I told him anything about me or my life, he simply asked did I mind if he read something to me from the Bible. My reaction was, ‘sure, whatever’. I wasn’t really bothered, having no idea, of course, at that stage of the power of God’s word to pierce a human heart! As he read these verses from Jeremiah Chapter 29, they cut right into my heart like a sword. I know it’s a little bit of a cliché but it really was as if God were speaking directly to me:
“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”
Now I had already heard, understood and previously rejected the gospel, so I took those words as an immediate call to turn back to God and to put my trust fully in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sins and personal salvation. I knew immediately, at that very moment of conversion without anyone having to tell me, that becoming a Christian and seeking God with all my heart meant my getting out of the gay relationship that I was involved in. That wasn’t easy, either for me or for my partner, but I knew so clearly in my heart that this was what God required. The one thing that I had longed for and strived for throughout my early childhood and teenage years (i.e. the ‘perfect’ relationship with another guy) was, in fact, holding me captive and not delivering the promised liberty and satisfaction that I craved.
I also knew that God had some very positive plans for me; plans to prosper and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future. And a few years after becoming a Christian I moved to London to train at Bible College. After my training I went on to serve at a church in East London for ten years, firstly as Assistant Minister and Youth Worker and subsequently as the Pastor.
Throughout my early years as a Christian, I became aware of and was involved with the ministry of True Freedom Trust: firstly from the perspective of personally needing some support, encouragement and practical help to leave behind a gay lifestyle. But I later got involved on a voluntary basis too – leading a support group, pastoring and caring for fellow-strugglers, doing the Bible teaching at various conferences, and for a number of years I also served on the Board of Trustees.
When I first met Martin Hallett at Spring Harvest in the mid-nineties, I had no idea that ultimately our meeting would lead, some years in the future, to my being appointed as the Director of the ministry that he co-founded 32 years ago. But little by little God began to nudge me in this direction and with the benefit of hindsight I can see that He’s been preparing me and moulding me for this role from the moment of my conversion. In His perfect timing, I would be ready to take on the Director’s role at the exact point when Martin Hallett was ready to retire. The Lord finally engineered various circumstances (including using the pain of a breakdown and a period of deep depression) to bring me to the point of being willing to say ‘yes’ when the Trustees invited me to take on the role.
I should state that I have not been “healed” or “cured” or “delivered” of homosexuality. My experience now is that God gives me grace daily to live a celibate and, I would stress, a very fulfilled life as a single man. My struggles with same-sex attraction did not end at conversion, as many Christians might assume. I am aware that I have "feet of clay", as we all do, and that I will have to face weaknesses as my journey continues. Those times are the opportunity for me to receive God’s mercy, love and forgiveness. He has set me free from captivity to sin, and despite my own sinful desires, he is keeping me from returning to that captivity. I’m also discovering, through my ongoing struggles with same-sex attraction the reality that God’s power is made perfect in weakness and that when I am weak, then I am strong.