This short note is to embrace my journey of hope as an African child, a devout Christian, a leader, who also happens to be gay. For many years whilst I struggle to find a place to reconcile my dignity in faith and sexuality, the first dialogue on sexuality and spirituality ignites hope for many in Stellenbosch South Africa, November 2009. This note finally serves as a beacon of hope for the future and I invite you to share this hope with me and many on this journey.
It was the 31st October and yet another trip to South Africa, this time visiting and attending a conference in Stellenbosch. My excitement was multi-fold, first attending a conference on an anticipated dialogue about Christianity and Sexual Orientation with many African people, amongst my joy is also meeting my father whom I was forced to leave behind in Nigeria in September 2008, aftermath of my experience with the Nigerian media’s unethical reporting of our church, House Of Rainbow Nigeria, a mission I lead that welcomes and affirm sexual minorities.
I arrived in Cape Town on the 1st November after a long but interesting overnight direct flight from London Heathrow, the weariness of the flight was less of a concern as all my thoughts and energy focussed on meeting my father. I was met at the airport by John and Telwin both very courteous host of the conference.
I had time after I checked in to my hotel in Stellenbosch to make the 1 hour 10 minutes train journey to Cape Town to join my friends, brothers and sisters for worship at Good Hope MCC Cape Town, listening the Rev Greg Andrews a visiting minister, I was reminded of the joy of being part of an inclusive ministry, a mission we take for granted in many parts of the West but extremely essential in Africa, sharing blessings at Communion was a joy. A ministry that challenges us not just to celebrate the Open and inclusive Holy Communion and love of Christ but to also take that love to the end of the earth, come to the table and be filled with love and take that love to the people out there, echoed Revd Andrews. I took time after the service to reflect on my time in prayers. I was delighted to be amongst friends. Revd Pressley drove me back to my hotel accompanied with three others. What a joy in my soul.
After breakfast on the 2nd November, I left a message at reception to call me as soon as possible once my father arrived, my excitement was much as I embraced my father, we spoke unending over a few cups of Rooibos tea, and decaffeinated coffee, retracting our experiences and later had lunch, the conference registration was set about 4pm. Whilst my father arrived with his luggage missing, it wasn’t long before I offered him clothes from my wardrobe and it was just like happy times again, my shirt fitted him like my twin, I unpacked my bags with gifts I had got him from the UK.
I was anxious about the conference as it is about the focus of religion and sexuality, many people arrived from other nations in Africa, I was getting filled with anxiety on the outcome of the conference, I have prayed for this day and I believed firmly that God will guide us, will aid us and provide us with the knowledge to gain and break out of every chain. I am persuaded that nothing can separate us from the love of God and the relevance of our participation will be guided by the Holy Spirit.
As the deer panted for the water, so my soul longs after God. This song was in my spirit and I begun to look at the situation for which dialogue was important, the discussion for the liberation of the Holy Scripture, the rescuing the word of God from wordmongers, to share insights from personal experiences and the lack of compassion. At the end of the 2nd November, I was so excited, I have met many people, all fine, all strange, all beautiful, all intellectual, all spiritual, there were some strangeness which exhume my own outlandish approach to life. I felt that since we are here we are determined to take the road and veer on the side that seek to be part of the solution and stop being part of the problem, my views were later shared by many.
I became attached to my father and we spent quality time together, he has always been my greatest mentor, a sole motivator of my thinking. A joy to call him father, brother and friend. We spoke about the past in order to look into the future and appreciated the present time. After dinner we said our good nights and I went to join a few people for an extended social time.
On the 3rd November, it was the day of the first step into the conference on dialogue, Devotion with praise, worship and prayer opened the day, the peculiarity of fear came upon me, as we received guidance on how best to approach dialogue, assuredly it was the first time I felt that I would not need to debate, argue, dispute, disagree, be confrontational, there was an overwhelming willingness to listen, hold, touch, watch, speak honestly, the dialogue between professional biblical scholars and the simplicity of sexual minority people, we dined together, we laughed, we comforted each other soothing away as much pain as we can. I sensed the Holy Spirit was there, I knew certainly in my mind that Jesus looked with favour and I heard him say “Thank you to all participants, for you are doing this to me”
Three speakers spoke from the heart, about the challenges of Faith, Culture and Human Rights, each settled amicably without judgement, all the people listened. After the first session of the dialogue, which required that we identify the stumbling blocks to dialogue, the six colourful groups had time to interact, the barriers are coming down, we are on the journey to breaking down walls, and building up hope. Without any harshness, people’s mind are reconciling, one lesbian woman spoke of her joy that her father was here, her father responded; I too echoed with a joyful heart for the presence of my father at the dialogue, the support and love of these parents were immeasurable.
After dinner, myself and my father had a wonderful time reflecting on the day.
4th November, so many things came into my mind today, first it was my 44th birthday, and last year, it was the American Presidential election date, which elected Obama. Whilst the American experience brought change for the Americans, I am experiencing so much personal changes in my life, change which includes love from my own heart, the beauty of God’s holiness, accepting the burden of a pioneer for change, the passion for the inclusive love of Christ gospel, my congregation, my own self created families, at home in Nigeria and abroad. The joy of knowing that God stands with me and will lift me up in times of trouble and protect me through fires and burning rage, my entire being loving God, was part of that change.
I look forward to this day more in the tranquillity of Jesus increasing love and also clarity of my visions, missions and goals, thanks you Jesus. I know that when we lean on God with faith, mountains will move, valleys will be exalted, and Praises will fill the heaven and the earth.
My friends, brothers and sisters in Stellenbosch have begun the celebration and it was my joy to be woken up and be greeted on this joyous day. Thank you God. Just before breakfast on the 4th November, I went to my dad’s room where we prayed intensely for the love and blessing of God, I felt it, I received it and I claimed it. The day started at the conference with greetings for my birthday, many lovely notes and greetings followed, the day was joyful, as the evening approached, and we got ready for the short trip to Moyo Restaurant, a typified South African joint, its style of the dishes were robust, from vegetables to bush meat, eat till you drop, the kitchen was huge and the serving area was buffet style, there were musicians and dancers everywhere to keep you entertained, we opened several bottles of wine and dance till it was time to return to the hotel, at the hotel the party continued with scores of drinks bought at the bar by friends and well wishers, I was contained with jubilation and love. The night was over and it was time to hit the sack.
On the 5th November I was invited to say a prayer at the closing Devotion which was led by Bishop David Russell, this honour to serve with a retired Anglican Bishop was not only invigorating but enlivening to the glory of God. I reproduce the text of my prayer below;
“Holy One, Precious God, Our Father, Dearest Mother, God of inclusive love, we thank you, for we know that, this first African Dialogue on Sexuality and Spirituality is about winning souls, this first African Dialogue on Sexuality and Spirituality is about the healing of broken vessels, this first African Dialogue on Sexuality and Spirituality is about gathering of the lost sheep.
We thank you Jesus, we thank you for your wasteful generosity of patience, we thank you for your wasteful generosity of boldness, we thank you for your wasteful generosity of compassion, and we thank you for your wasteful generosity of faith, hope and love.
We pray that our faith will move mountains, the way forward shall be filled with hope, who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, no, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Jesus who loved us. For we are convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ our Lord.
Go in the peace and love of God and everyone present would say Amen, Amen.”
Shortly after the morning devotion, I was invited to take part in a pre press conference meeting to finalise the text of the final draft of the press statement. At 2pm after lunch we were ready for the South African Media. I shared the panel with the Director of IAM, Rev Pieter and the Director of TRP Madelene, Bishop Christopher from Uganda. The experience was extremely positive and a further in-depth interview ensued.
Our brief time was soon at end and departing was more painful, big hugs and kisses of good bye was challenging, but we departed at Cape Town Terminals knowing that God had full and total control of the future, which is filled with hope for all lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex Christians.