I’ve been wanting to read Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope by Christopher and Angela Yuan ever since seeing it recommended by Tim Challies, and I am glad to have finally done so. I’m predicting it will be one of my top ten books of the year.
Christopher and Angela take turns with the chapters, describing events from their different points of view. They open the book with Chris’s coming out to his parents that he was gay. Angela did not object on Biblical grounds: she was an atheist who hated Christians. I don’t think the book ever explains just why she was against his homosexuality, except that they had hoped he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a dentist, and patients would probably avoid a dentist who had the potential to be HIV positive. Maybe it just didn’t fit in with her idea of a perfect family, but it was devastating to her.
Angela had come from an unhappy home and had put great stock into having a good family. But over the years her husband grew cold and distant, her oldest son rebelled, and now Christopher was going in a direction completely unacceptable to her. She gave him an ultimatum between his family and his homosexuality, and, believing he had no choice in his orientation, he left home to be with friends who would accept him as he was. Angela crumpled to the ground in despair, feeling she had nothing left to live for. She made plans to end her own life, but wanted to talk to a minister first. Though he was kind, nothing really changed in her heart. He gave her a booklet which she later read, and her eyes were opened to the truth that her lifelong desire for belonging could be fulfilled in belonging to God. It was even a relief to know and admit that she was a sinner, that though she was far from perfect, God still loved her. “I had not been seeking God, but I was found by him” (p. 19).
Chris, for his part, was glad to get away from the “Chinese-mother guilt-trip drama” (p. 8). Coming out to one’s parents and the inevitable negative reaction was a rite of passage among his friends. He finally felt free to live as he wanted to. He “started going to gay clubs and began tending bar” (p. 23) at night while attending dental school during the day. Eventually the party scene took over his life. While feeling low after a broken relationship, he accepted someone’s offer of the drug Ecstasy, and within a very short time started selling drugs to support his own habit, then became a popular and leading seller in his area and even across the country. His schooling suffered to the point that he was eventually expelled, but it no longer mattered since he was making money hand over fist and enjoying life and popularity.
Until he was arrested.
During this time Angela had been growing in her own faith and her husband Leon had come to the Lord as well. At first she tried various things to get through to Chris but finally realized that she could not “fix” him. She could only fast, pray, show him love, and not shield him from the consequences of his actions. She and her husband did not intervene when Chris was threatened with expulsion from school and after he was arrested asked the judge to give him a sentence just long enough to bring him to God. Once after reading Psalm 46:1, “Be still, and know that I am God,” she knew “as hard as it was, I knew I had to quit striving and trying to make things work my way. But rather, I had to let God do things his way and in his timing” (p. 73). “It may have just been easier for us to give up on our son, but God said, Wait! He gave us faith to hope against all the evidence we saw and to trust he had a plan, Leon and I committed to focus not on hopelessness but on the promises of God” (p. 109). She “prayed specifically that God would do whatever it took to bring our son to him — not to us, not out of drugs, not out of homosexuality…but to the Father” (p. 159).
With Christopher’s arrest, his popularity vanished. None of his “friends” wanted any more to do with him. One day in prison, he saw a Gideon’s New Testament on top of some trash, and he took it back to his cell and began to read mainly just as a way to pass the time. Over time, both with reading the Bible on his own and studying it with others, Chris came to believe on Christ.
Being in prison had taken care of getting Chris off drugs and out of the party scene, and he came to admit they were both wrong and he needed to stay away from them once he got out. When he talked with a chaplain about his homosexuality, he was told that the Bible did not condemn homosexuality and gave Chris a book explaining that view. That sounded wonderful to Chris, but as he read the book and then studied the Bible, he felt the book did not line up with what the Bible taught. He did discover that in “Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 — passages normally used to condemns gays and lesbians…God didn’t call lesbians and gay men abominations. He called it an abomination. What God condemned was the act, not the person. For so long, I had gotten the message from the Christian protestors at gay-pride parades that the God of the Bible hated people like me, because we were abominations. But after reading these passages, I saw that God didn’t hate me; nor was he condemning me to an inescapable destiny of torment. But rather, it was the sex he condemned, and yet he still wanted an intimate relationship with me” (p. 186). Being gay had been a major part of his identity, but as he continued to study the Scriptures, he “began to ask myself a different question: Who am I apart from my sexuality?” (p. 187). He details his thought processes and conclusions in a chapter called “Holy Sexuality.” One conclusion was:
God’s faithfulness is proved not by the elimination of hardships but by carrying us through them. Change is not the absence of struggles; change is the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of our struggles. I realized that the ultimate issue has to be that I yearn after God in total surrender and complete obedience (pp. 168-169).
This book touched me on so many levels. What a joy to see the journey of how God brought both Christopher and his parents to Himself.
Christopher’s testimony from a documentary is here:
You can read more of Christopher’s life and ministry at his web site, www.christopheryuan.com.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)