Jamie Pape gave the following testimony today after her baptism at First Christian Church in Fort Smith, AR. Her words were for her church and members of the LGBTQ+ community who have been victims of hate and bigotry.
I want to thank everyone for being here today, not just for being here for my baptism, but really my rebirth as a human. I stand here in front of you, a simple humbled servant of God. I stand here only a short time removed from some very evil acts of violence, acts that send ripples of fear in their wake. I morn for those touched by this, but I also send out encouragement. This is not the end. I want them to know that they are loved by us and most importantly by God. God mourns the loss alongside you and will be there to comfort you. My plea is to never give up.
I know fully that pit of darkness that you can get close to. I have looked at it for most of my life. I know what fear can do. As a young child, I knew something was not right, and because of that I have endured countless acts of evil. I have been beaten and burned, but yet something kept giving me the strength to carry on.
I used to pray, every-night: “God please end my pain, God please, take me from this world.” Then, I would wake up, still living, but not alive, still here, but not. Confused as to why, afraid of what could happen should anyone discover my truth, confused as to why me, and alone, despite being with people who loved me. I felt like there was no one like me. Sure, there were characters on daytime talk shows, but I did not see people. I felt alone and afraid.
Now, I will not stand here and say that it was all gloom and doom. I had good days, and I had awesome days. The day I looked into someone’s eyes as she responded the words: “I do.” The day I held a tiny baby in my hands and realized this is why, this is why I was placed here. Then another came, and yes, another. I have three beautiful children who now are entering adulthood. I thank God for these, for they gave me a purpose, yet I still sat alone many nights, afraid, oftentimes depressed and silent. I still said the same prayers, had the same fears.
Fear ruled my life, until a little over two years ago. I decided to not let fear rule me any longer, to not live in pain any longer, to be fully truthful and honestly share that truth. SO I came out. It was not an easy road, and one I still travel to this day. But I do not walk it alone.
And yet, despite having taken this big step, that pit of darkness followed. Many times I feared it would consume me. I got to a point of wondering why God hated me, and I said one final prayer, I said God If you love me please, please speak to me, please show me that you love me… that Friday my boss at the job I had, for, no reason looked at me and said God loves you Jamie, just the way you are.
That night, I prayed. I said “God, thank you for speaking to me, but I need more. I need a church, because I used to go, but hate and fear drove me away from church. The next day, I met Dr. Jarrett Banks. He had said something I will never forget. He said: “I want to be your friend. Whether or not you come to church, I want to be your friend. He invited me to come here, no strings attached, just a promise that I would be safe. So I came. I faced my fears walking though the door. At first, I went in the wrong way and had to come around to the right door.
But I did. And with a deep breath I opened the door. I walked in. I stood right over there. I was going to sit alone. But someone noticed me, and she waved to me to come over. At first I thought maybe she was waving at someone else. Nope, she was indeed waving to me. So I went over. During that service I cried. I cried, because I felt a presence in my soul that I had not felt in ages. I cried at the words spoken about being inclusive.
Which brings us to today—a day where we celebrate a rebirth, as well as an early thanksgiving. I give thanks that God has placed all of you into my life. I thank God that people are starting to see the truth. I thank God for everyone who has been given the courage to stare down fear, and hate. And I thank God for giving strength to people to stand and defend those who cannot quite yet defend themselves. I give thanks to God… for life.
So in closing, I say this to those who hurt, those who mourn, those who fear: God loves you. We love you. I love you. Together, we will defend you, support you, and comfort you, until you can once again stand and do the same for others.