"I think God has called us to minister to all people and we can't leave anyone out," medical missionaries with the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) told students and faculty at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Their presentation focused on support ministries for people seeking freedom from homosexuality, families of homosexuals, and people with HIV/AIDS and their families.
Fred Loper and his wife, Lavada, were guest speakers on the seminary campus during the Christian education division's annual "special event day" March 25.
The HMB's only medical missionaries, the Lopers emphasize establishing dental, medical and other types of health care ministries in the United States. They began teaching HMB missionaries about HIV/AIDS as they encountered people with the virus in the late 1980s.
Their ministry as health educators and their interaction with people suffering from AIDS led into a larger area of ministry with homosexuals, especially for Lavada, who serves on the board of directors of "First Stone," a ministry to individuals seeking freedom from the homosexual lifestyle.
Explaining there is hope for people who struggle with a homosexual orientation, Lavada said, "Homosexuality is not a thing. It's not an issue. It's people."
She talked about Mike, a friend who had found freedom from the homosexual lifestyle and later was diagnosed with AIDS.
"In churches he had only heard that it was wrong and that you go to hell for it," she said, explaining his hesitation to talk to anyone in the church, expecting rejection since his father was comptroller for the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.
"The verse that stood out to him, though, was 1 Corinthians 6:11: 'and that is what some of you were. But you were washed … .'" The verse gave him hope, she said.
In a video, Hope for the Homosexual (available through the NAMB), Mike shared his testimony and explained the emotional needs behind his desires. "It was a way I could have relationships that I desperately needed in my life," he said.
"You use the sex to heal the hurts and the sex causes more hurts. … It becomes a vicious cycle," he said.
"I tried being a Christian and living the homosexual lifestyle at the same time," Mike said, "but I couldn't make the two match."
Mike realized he could change only through Jesus. And although he was able to overcome homosexuality through Christ's power, friends' encouragement, and support ministries, he soon was diagnosed with AIDS, a disease that overcame him in 1995.
When he found out he had AIDS, he cried for three days, he said, but then realized God would take him through the disease.
The video also features his parents' testimony about coping with his homosexuality and following his illness with HIV and death from AIDS.
"You feel hurt and disappointment," Mike's father said, "and you question yourself: 'What did I do wrong?' But he was my son and I still loved him."
His mother added, "I wanted to stop it, but some things you just can't fix."
Since Mike's death, they continue to coordinate the Christian AIDS Network, an organization providing education and support for people with AIDS and their families, founded by Mike before he died.
"People drive as far as 60 miles to participate in the support groups," Lavada said, expressing the urgent need for support groups for parents and loved ones of people with HIV/AIDS, as well as support for the person who is sick.
"(Ministry to homosexuals) is a long-term commitment. It takes a long time to change behaviors," she said. However, she said that discipleship programs such as "Pursuing Sexual Wholeness" (a one-year program including Bible study, accountability, and group work), have an 80-90 percent success rate for those who commit to the process.
The Lopers also stressed the importance of confidentiality, sensitivity, and a firm, loving response as components of ministry with homosexuals.
Resources and Ideas
The Lopers cited the following Bible study and support group resources for people seeking freedom from the homosexual lifestyle and help for those with AIDS:
• Exodus International North America.
• Regeneration Books.
• Love in Action.
• Pursuing Sexual Wholeness.
• Christian AIDS Network.
Recognizing many churches do not know where to begin, the Lopers suggested the following ministry ideas for churches wanting to reach out:
• Show a video such as Hope for the Homosexual.
• Begin a support group for people seeking freedom from homosexuality.
• Begin support groups for parents and loved ones of homosexuals, or for people with AIDS.
• Organize care group teams for people with AIDS.
• Send cards (that do not say, "get well soon") or cookies to hospital chaplains to distribute.
For more information, call NAMB at 1-800-634-2462.