Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On the steps of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Chiang Mai, Thialand): An expression of Love, Belonging and Completeness.

by Steve Parelli, Chiang Mai, Thailand. July 15, 2009 (year 2552 in Thailand).

As we slowly descended the long staircase of 306 steps shortly after our temple compound experience of Doi Suthep, Jose turned to me somewhat suddenly and with a warm embrace and the tilt of his head to my shoulder, he said something like "don't ever leave me."

I forget the exact words, but I remember their context. By "leaving" he met, "departing this life."

You see, just as we were about to leave the temple area after our more than two-hour visit, we met a young gay Thai man who was entering the temple area to worship . . . and he was all alone. We caught each other's eye and smile and knew in a moment that he was "family." After introductions were made, and the "yes-I'm-gay"-and-"I-thought-so" remarks, we sat and talked briefly. Like most people who upon learning that Jose and I have been together for 12 years, our new friend smiled gleefully and congratulated us. Then we asked about him. Did he have a boyfriend? "No," he said. But he had had a boyfriend. They were together for six years. And then, just six months ago his boyfriend died suddenly -- he was killed in a motorcycle accident. Our temple friend had moved from his rural town to start life over again in the big city of Chiang Mai. It was too much to continue living where he had lived with his lover. Now, in Chiang Mai, he was running his own business. New people. New places. A new beginning. We exchanged phone numbers with the idea of maybe meeting up again. He said, "Let's remain friends always" as he turned to the temple and we towards the hillside steps to make our decent back into the flow of humanity – where living and dying are both a part of life.

Suddenly, Jose unashamedly expressed his affection there on the descending steps. We were easily a spectacle to any tourist passing by. Like something out of those romance movies where an American couple in a European city spontaneously embrace – not a passionate embrace – but a happy-moment embrace, with laughter and joy and hugs. Jose was kind-of like that, though more subdued, yet obvious enough. I remember the days (long ago) when any kind of public affection like this would have humiliated him and he would have sternly corrected me for having attempted such public expressions.

He's passed all that, and naturally so, for it is just that, natural for us to feel and express affection.

So, yes, there on the hillside steps that lead to one of the most sacred temples of north Thailand, with the sad story newly told to us of two gay lovers separated by an untimely death, Jose, with his head tilted to my shoulder and his arm drawing me into himself, said, "Don't ever leave me."

Of course, Jose gives me no reason to go. May God have every reason for me to stay.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Latin America meets Nepal: Mexican humanitarian womam helps LGBT people in Nepal

by Jose Ortiz
Chiang Mai, Thailand. July 12, 2009

A “chance” meeting
I was having breakfast with Steve in the dining room of our resort outside of Kathmandu when all of a sudden I noticed that the couple next to us was speaking Spanish. Well, just hearing the language of heaven (as we Spanish speakers call it) simply warmed my heart. Wow, it was so wonderful to hear a familiar language in a far away land. Of course, I asked where they were from and discovered that they were from Mexico. The couple had been living in Nepal for over 10 years. They came to Nepal after living in other parts of the world due the husband’s job.

When the woman, Lupita, heard that we had networked with the Blue Diamond Society, she lit up. Lupita had worked with drug addicted people, many of whom, after they had recovered, joined the BDS. She was touching LGBT lives for the better, and only later realizing what their sexual orientation was. What are the chances that the Spanish speaking person I happened to meet also happened to have such an interesting personal connection to the organization that was sponsoroing one of our talks? In addition, Lupita was thrilled to hear we were reaching out to the pastors to address the misconceptions and misinterpretations regarding homosexuality and the Scriptures. She has gay friends herself back in Mexico and absolutely adores them, she told me.

She was not just any expatriate
I mentioned to her that we were going to give a talk to BDS members that Wednesday, July 8. She gleefully said she must know where it was being held and that she would definitely attend. By the way, she is also an Ortiz by marriage. But the “coincidences” don’t stop there. When I got to the speaking venue and told one of the BDS staff that Lupita was coming, he asked with a smile, “you mean Lupita Hernandez?” As I searched my memory for her maiden last name, the BDS fellow described her to a tee. She had been the recipient of an award (from the LGBT community, I think) for her humanitarian work as a foreigner in Nepal. So, God once again has put us in contact with a key person in our travels just because we (Steve and I) always try to be friendly and interactive with people spontaneously.

It was great to see her smiling face come through the door and greet me with the warmth and kisses typical of Latino friendship greetings. A bit of “mi gente” (my people) right here in far away Nepal. Later that week, as I spoke to her from my mobile phone as our flight was about to depart from Nepal, Lupita said that what we shared at the Wednesday talk - warning the LGBT community of the fallacy of Christian "ex-gay" conversion ministries - was so important and that she wished to stay in touch as she would assist the LGBT community in all that she could. As coordinator for Africa, Asia and Latino/as in USA, I am so pleased to see this international/cross cultural networking and collaboration. It is one of my favorite aspects of working with Other Sheep.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Seeds Sown at Pastors' Seminar

by Jose E. Ortiz. Gokarna Forest Resort, Kathemandu, Nepal. July 7, 2009.
During the Other Sheep seminar for pastors held in a part of Kathmandu called Lalitpur (which means the Beautiful City) we were honored by the presence of some Nepali gay, lesbian, transgender activists and a pro-LGBTI straight ally named Indira. Three LGBT activists and a straight ally came specifically to speak to the 26 pastors in attendance as Christian believers that wanted the pastors to hear their story. One of the activists that spoke was the leader of the lesbian organization called Mitini. Her delivery touched me deeply. This young woman shared how she had converted from Hinduism to Christianity out of a sincere attraction to the faith. However, she felt she could not continue attending church because of the way she was treated in response to her obviously different mannerisms and appearance. She did fit the outward expressions of what the members expected of a Nepali woman. This serious, rough-looking woman, as she finished telling her story of conversion, rejection and subsequent falling away from faith, walked to her seat in tears. Many were not unaffected; the pastor seated to her right immediately began to speak to her.

I was later informed by Indira who translated the stories, that a few pastors were not unaffected; the pastor seated to the Mitoni woman's right immediately began to speak to her. I was later informed by Indira, that a few pastors asked the lesbian to their church, that she would be respected there. I don’t know what these pastors intend to do if she takes their offer. Will they show love to her with the goal of changing her? Who knows, but the good thing here is that now these pastors’ hearts have been moved when encountering, maybe for the first time, an openly homosexual individual. Indira, who is also an open-minded Nepali Christian and straight ally, told us that she believes that our meeting was the first time a group of Nepali pastors met with gay and lesbian people. In addition to the woman from Mitini, they heard from a transgender woman, and a gay man and from Blue Diamond Socity – all Christians. Indira said to me later, with great conviction, that this kind of exposure and education for pastors must continue. She went on to tell me that some pastors from a particular church had requested that the Blue Diamond Society (the LGBTI activist group) come to their church to further inform them on the matter of homosexuality. Seeds have been scattered by this event and I believe some of it will fall on good ground and produce fruit – fruit of understanding, compassion and hunger and thirst for justice. These initial reports give me such hope.

Interaction with Nepali Pastor on Sodomite Passages

by Jose E. Ortiz. Gokarna Forest Resort, Kathemandu, Nepal. July 7, 2009.
At the pastor’s seminar held on Sunday, July 5, a pastor began to talk with me during the meal time. He was theologically trained and had studied Greek and Hebrew. We had had a nice interaction at the beginning of the seminar when he gave me the name of his church wile signing in. His church’s name had the word Elohim in it. Upon hearing Elohim I recited Gen 1:1 in Hebrew which has the name of God -Elohim - in it. He laughed and said “I can only remember just the first three words of that Hebrew text," amazed that I knew the whole verse. I explained that I had just completed a 10 month course in Hebrew. The pastor then said let’s see if you remember it 5 to 10 years from now and we both laughed.

During the meal time, after Steve had discussed the erroneous insertion of the word Sodomite in the translation of five Old Testament passages, amongst other points, the pastor shared some interesting observations with me. He noted that a lot of the pastors in Nepal are not theologically trained; by that, he meant seminary training complete with biblical languages. He also noted that he believed that one could count on two hands the number of pastors that were functionally knowledgeable of Hebrew and Greek. Finally, he said “it probably would have been better to leave the bible in the hands of those who are trained to read and understand it in the original languages!” We both chuckled and I agreed by saying the translation of scripture into the language of the people was a good thing and a dangerous thing because an errant translation, leading to an incorrect interpretation, can lead to harmful application. I didn’t say it quite so poetically at the time but since I am on that kick, here is another little ditty I thought of: Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when mistranslations we believe!