A certain evangelist in town organized the restaurants into giving the ministers in the area a breakfast once a month at a different restaurant. Of course, they had to be big enough to seat about a hundred people, but he pulled the plan together. At one of these breakfasts I sat next to a man I had never met. He had his notebook open to a page where he had written the initials S.I.D.A. This is French for A.I.D.S. I leaned over and told him I knew French, so if he ever needed someone to speak to a French person, I’d be happy to help him.
He whispered back that S.I.D.A. is Spanish, and he didn’t know either French or Spanish. We laughed, but he took down my phone number. This was my first encounter with the possibility to speak French to someone, and I wondered if this was why I had taken the intensive French classes just before moving back to the States.
I also learned from this minister that he was the head of the A.I.D.S. program in town, and that he was not only gay, himself, but he also had A.I.D.S. My only encounter with someone H.I.V. positive had been a young woman in France who came forward for prayer during one of my prayer lines. She sent word back to me some months later saying she was completely healed, but the doctors didn’t believe her about the prayer line and were insisting her original diagnosis had been false.
I left the breakfast assuring the Director I would help him however I could. Within a few weeks he called to ask me to facilitate a support group of Christian H.I.V./A.I.D.S. men. I told him I would pray about it, and I hung up. Later in the day I set myself to pray. Before I could even say, “Lord…” He took my hand to the phone and dialed the Director’s number. I had never had the Holy Spirit move my body like that! I said yes.
The next Saturday, I entered the Church Hall with trepidation, knowing myself to be untrained for what lay ahead. Everyone was already there, waiting to check me out, to see whether I was skilled enough to handle their group or not. A tall, lanky guy smiled through his mustache and extended his hand. “Hi. I’m Sandy.” I took his hand, wondering if I had any cuts on my skin through which I could get A.I.D.S.
A pudgy man dressed in rumpled clothes, stuck his hand out but remained in his chair, motioning toward his oxygen tank as if giving me a reason he didn’t stand. His tubes were taped to his cheeks. “And I’m Greg.” he wheezed.
The third man didn’t get up nor did he extend his hand. He sat like a lifeguard lounging on a pedestal, his tank top and shorts displayed tanned, shaved legs and arms, and robust, golden, chest hair. “My name’s Chris. I’ve had A.I.D.S. the longest of anyone here.”
“You certainly look the picture of health,” I commented.
“Yeah. My t-cells were down to 2, but I changed my diet and started taking that new medication that’s just come out, and I’m back up there, but they’re starting to fall again. You can’t change the final destination of this disease; you can only prolong its outcome.”
Greg wheezed in, “Do you know about this stuff, Marty?”
“No, I don’t.” I admitted.
“Then how can you expect to be any good for us? Anybody involved with A.I.D.S. needs to know all about it,” he grumped.
“I think what I do know will help you more than the newest medication,” I said assuredly. “Now who are the rest of you?” I turned toward an older couple and a striking young woman.
“I’m Cass,” the young woman flipped. “I don’t have A.I.D.S, but my boyfriend just died of it.” I wasn’t sure if she was bragging or if she were still angry.
“And we’re Jane and Bill,” the older gentleman said, “We’re elders in this church that has offered space for the meeting, and our son happens to be gay. His lover has A.I.D.S. and is expected to die soon.”
There were three others who refused to give their names. They sat on the window sills as if they were ready to jump. As time went on, they became an integral part of the group. A big happy family.
With those identifying proclamations, we all sat in comfortable chairs making a tight little circle. “I’m Marty, as you know. I am here to be your Encourager. That’s what I want to be known as, and I am asking Bill and Jane to be your Facilitators.” They nodded their consent. “I want you to know right up front what my objective is. I want to teach you how to stand on the Word of God so securely that you will not die from this disease, but that you will live, and you will live to proclaim the Glory of God.”
They all looked at me in astonishment. Even Chris unfolded his well-built arms and leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. I gave them a strong lesson that first day which they lapped up like dogs at the water trough after a long run. In the middle of the week that followed I received a phone call from Sandy. He sounded terrified.
“Marty! We’re all here at the hospital. I’m sorry to tell you this, but Greg is dead. We’d met for pizza, and halfway through the meal Greg just slipped away. The ambulance came, we went with him to the Emergency Room and the doctor just pronounced him dead.” A sob came out of Sandy’s throat.
“No!” I shouted. “In the name of Jesus, he will live and not die. Sandy, are you with him still?”
“Yes, we’re all around the gurney and the doctor just left the room.”
I shouted, “You guys start quoting Scripture over him like I taught you last Saturday. I’ll be right down.”
“O.K.” Sandy seemed to buck up. “I have my notes with me. We’ll do it.”
By the time I arrived, Greg was sitting up in bed drinking a soda. The following Saturday, Greg was there with his oxygen tank. After what happened, the group seemed especially eager to learn more Word. But that week it happened again. Only Sandy was with Greg this time, and he called me immediately. We agreed over the phone that Greg would live and not die. I rushed to the Emergency Room, as did every other member of our group that Sandy called, and again Greg came back from the dead.
But this time Greg stepped into his own authority in the Lord, and when he arrived on Saturday, he came without his oxygen tank. Greg has never had another crisis. At every session, I aimed the group in the direction of healing and standing on the Word of God. It worked.
Riding for about six months on this plateau of success, we bobbled when suddenly the Lord changed the objective of the group. It came time to deal with the homosexuality. I knew by the Spirit this was where we were heading, and I approached it like mounting the climb on a roller coaster, sucking in my breath as we inched over the top.
I learned so much about my husband in delving into the lives of these precious men. Sandy, a talented musician and dramatist, had been raped as a pubescent teenager. Chris, the son of a military man, had been taught as an adolescent to mutually masturbate by a member of his Dad’s headquarters. Greg had an overbearing Pentecostal mother who made his father take him to the woodshed and beat him every night after work.
None of them had family members molest them like John did. He attended only one of the meetings and could not bring himself to go again, saying he couldn’t handle the shame. But I thought maybe now I would learn how to address the homosexuality issue, take it home to John, and together we could overcome the problem.
It frustrated me that the men were not taking responsibility for being homosexual. They wanted to blame the people who led them there. I didn’t want to tell these men they were responsible for their own decisions, and that they had chosen their own behavior. I wanted them to discover it on their own. I tried asking pointed questions that would uncover their decision-making process, but we never arrived at that point of self-discovery. The wall of resistance remained impermeable. However, I saw where John stopped in his level of overcoming his condition. If he wouldn’t confront who opened the homosexual door for him, how could he go beyond that to his decision-making processes? If he would not acknowledge being molested, how would he confront the pain?
During one of the sessions, Sandy said the Lord had been telling him to begin saying, “I am a heterosexual man.”
I asked, “What did you do?”
“I looked in my bathroom mirror and said, ‘I am a heterosexual man.’”
“How did that make you feel?”
“It made me feel queasy.”
I looked at the others and noticed they did not meet my eyes but shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. “Does it make the rest of you feel queasy to hear Sandy say this?”
No one would answer. The next week they all called the Facilitators and told them they were tired of the group. That was our last meeting. We kept in contact socially, but I never again had the input into their lives like our meetings gave me. However, I can report that all of them, having been older than I was at the time, died normal deaths at a normal age for dying. Except Chris.
Chris met someone on the street from the old days, and in their casual conversation, the man told Chris he had inherited his floor length ermine coat, and he thanked Chris for it. That brought back a flood of memories, and Chris asked if he could put the coat on once more for old times’ sake. That was all it took. Chris plunged back into the old lifestyle and he died six months later.
The demise of the group was just like with my own husband, I ran into a brick wall. I never told them about John. Perhaps they knew. People who carry certain spirits seem to recognize each other in a crowd. Other men approached John right in front of me. They think we don’t see them. But if the group knew about John, they didn’t tell me.
The whole time I “encouraged” the group, John saw a doctor regularly for chest pains. His blood pressure spiked, and we needed to check it daily at a fire station. One night, lying in bed while John sat reading a book, he quietly announced, “We’re not going to have sex anymore.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because of my blood pressure.”
“Do you mean we aren’t ever going to have sex again? Is this a life sentence?”
“I’m afraid so.”
He went back to reading his book. I stared at him for a long time, and when I saw he had no intention of acknowledging me, much less talking any further, I rolled over and cried. It wasn’t that we had a great sex life, but what we did have, I enjoyed. He took it away like he was throwing away an old newspaper. He was right. We never had sex again.