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Jason’s Story

January 1, 2008

This story was included in Hidden Voices, a book edited by Kristofer M. Neely, published by The Hub City Writer’s Project and sponsored by Piedmont Care, Inc. and The Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg.  For more information about Hidden Voices visit

On New Year’s Day, 2005, I conducted an afternoon wedding. Returning to my office following the ceremony, I found a young man whom I did not know waiting for me.

“Are you Pastor Neely?” he asked.  I introduced myself.  He gave me his real name, but I will call him Jason.  He asked, “Do you have time to talk with me?”  I invited him into my office.

Jason explained that he was just walking past the church when he saw all the cars.  He found his way into an open door, discovered the wedding, and decided to wait for me.  “It’s New Year’s Day,” he commented, “and I want to talk with a pastor.  I’m ready to turn over a new leaf.”

I settled back to hear Jason’s story.  I thought he must be in his mid-thirties, but his gaunt face and slender body showed wear and tear far beyond his years.  Jason, who grew up in South Carolina, was a high school athlete before he became a high school dropout.  “My Mom died when I was in the eighth grade,” he explained.  “I could never do anything right for my dad.  My best was never good enough for him.”

Jason enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps to try to please his father.  He served in Desert Storm.  “I wanted to re-up, but they wouldn’t let me.  I think they knew I was gay.”  After that, Jason’s father disowned him.

Jason had been living in Atlanta for almost ten years.  “I did all the wrong things,” he said.  He returned to his hometown soon after Christmas because he had received word that his father had lung cancer.  “He’s been a smoker all of my life,” Jason said.  “I tried to get him to quit, but he never did.”  I noticed a pack of Marlboros in Jason’s shirt pocket.

The trip home was a disappointment to Jason.  Though his father is dying, he would still have little to do with his son.

“My dad is real sick, and so am I.”  Jason continued, “I found out I was HIV positive a couple of years ago.  Now I have AIDS.”

Jason has, in his own mind, accepted the unfair stereotypes about AIDS being divine retribution upon gay men.  In nearly forty-two years of pastoral ministry, I have learned that trying to fix blame for human suffering is neither helpful nor redemptive.

“The way I figure,” Jason explained, “I deserve AIDS the same as my dad deserves lung cancer.  Doesn’t the Bible say we reap what we sow? My dad and I are both going to die.  I don’t think either one of us has very long.  My dad says he’s going to heaven.  I want to be sure I’m there, too, even though he thinks I’m going to hell.  I believe that heaven is my best chance to make things right between us, but first, I want to be sure I make things right with God.”

I spoke with Jason about his faith.  He had grown up in a Baptist church, where he was a member of the youth group.  As a teenager, he had been baptized.  Jason came to me on New Year’s Day to confess and receive the forgiveness of God.  We prayed together and before he left to hitchhike to Atlanta, we embraced.  Jason wept and thanked me.  I shed a few tears of my own and bid him goodbye.

Jesus offered forgiveness instead of condemnation to a woman caught in adultery.  He embraced the leper before he healed him.  Some have said that AIDS is the present-day equivalent to leprosy in Jesus’ day.  While people with AIDS are not immediately identifiable and AIDS cannot be contracted by casual contact, the stigma that AIDS patients carry is similar to that of first-century lepers.  Jason wanted what every person in every age wants, simply to be loved.

Jason did not stop at the church and wait for me on New Year’s Day to ask for money or medicine.  He did not ask for transportation.

He wanted a new beginning.  Though he gave few details, he wanted to confess, and he asked for the gift of forgiveness.  I had the privilege of being the pastor Jason chose at random to hear his story and to offer the assurance of God’s grace.

Jason’s visit was a gift to me.  It gave me the opportunity to form a new resolve.  My New Year’s prayer is that God will grant to me what the Apostle Paul called the mind of Christ: to view others with the eyes of Jesus, to hear others with the ears of Jesus, to love others with the heart of Jesus, to respond to others with the spirit of Jesus.

Will Jason and his dad ever be reconciled?

Only heaven knows for sure.

-Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, January 2008

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