Angel Armando Pastor Nolasco is coordinator of the social action and HIV/AIDS ministry among the Latino community, operated by St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Union City, New Jersey. Armando grew up in a machista social environment and a fundamentalist church in Lima, Peru, attended seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and found the way toward his current life through a gay Christian group in Buenos Aires and the work of the Other Sheep Foundation.
(The following biographical statement was written by Armando Pastor and translated into English by Morris Floyd & Alex Hernandez.)
My name is Angel Armando Pastor Nolasco. I was born in Lima, Peru, am 38 years of age, and currently live in the United States. I grew up in the Lima neighborhood of Comas, with 9 brothers and a sister.
My childhood was full of fears, uncertainties and doubts--all because since I was in elementary school I felt attracted to a buddy, but I never acknowledged it because I didn’t understand what was happening with me. When I was a youth, Peru was an extremely machista country–and it still is. They raised me saying that a man should never cry, that the man is the head of the household and a woman is to serve men, whether she likes it or not. It was a difficult time for me because I had to guard against all types of feminine manerisms, which could cost me a beating. In spite of everything, I always knew there was something different about me, but I didn’t really understand it.
As the years passed, most of my siblings entered the police forces, accentuating the machismo in my family. Sometimes I went to the Baptist church that was near my house and learned the songs of Sunday School (although I have to admit I was more interested in the sweets they gave out than in the Sunday School lessons). When I was 13 years old, for reasons I either don’t know or don’t remember, I began to feel attracted to a neighborhood boy. For three years we met secretly just to kiss and snuggle. This situation produced a lot of fear and anguish in me because I still did not understand what was happening; all I knew was I was doing a 'bad thing.'
It was a time for going out with girls. I liked women who were the most feminine. Feeling that I could protect them, I started to copy the masculine ways of my brothers, never allowing myself any attitude that would reveal myself to others. This was one of the first masks I put on in my life.
At the age of 16 I found myself in a crisis and prayed to God in tears, pleading with him to help me stop this “dirty sin” that I was committing with my neighbor. I started going to the Comas Baptist Church (where I had been going when I was a child). There I made a decision for Christ and depended on 'religion' to stifle what I was feeling inside. These were beautiful days, with the ghost of the past seemingly disappeared.
At 19, I decided to enter the Seminary to become a pastor. I had my first girlfriend, but the ghost of the past kept after me, ever more powerful. I started to pray and to fast, because perhaps God had stopped listening to me because of something bad I had been doing. On top of my ghost I had added the guilt of not having done right before God. In my church I was taught that God is always ready to punish the disobedient and unspiritual. At 23 I graduated from the Baptist Seminary but I also ended the relationship with my girlfriend. It was a difficult time for me. With my attraction to men growing ever stronger, I started to pray even more, and to read the Bible. As far as everyone else was concerned, I was the 'perfect Christian.' My pastor was proud of me and gave me second place in the ministry of the church. I was very respected by everyone; what I said was the word of God. I was wearing the mask of the the 'perfect Christian' and didn’t want anyone to think otherwise so I had become even more religious.
I recall that a young man came to my church and we became good frie nds. I began to disciple him (being famous for being the best discipleship teacher in the church). In one of the sessions, he confessed that he liked men but that he knew this as a sin and wanted me to help him give up this desire. I felt very compassionate toward him and spent as much time with him as I could. We prayed together, fasted, read the Bible, went out evangelizing, etc., although I kept struggling with myself inside. I decided that on Sunday after church, I would tell my pastor what was happening. But on the Saturday afternoon before, my friend called me to say he wanted to tell the pastor what was happening. We walked to the parish house together. This was the worst day of my life and I suppose it was the same for my friend. When my friend finished telling the pastor what was happening, the pastor said he could not help him with this sin and that he had to leave the church because the Pastor was afraid he would cause problems with the other young men of the church.
My friend left the church in tears, and all I could do was hold him and weep with him. I couldn’t go against the pastor, he was the 'servant of God.' This closed my heart and made me very fearful, then I decided not to share anything with the one who was then my 'pastor.'
At 24 I became the boyfriend of a girl from church. She was the perfect woman, feminine, delicate and above all spiritual. I remember that at this age I was thinking a lot about suicide, feeling that nobody could help me. I decided to seek help in another church where nobody would know me. Many pastors began to pray for me, lay their hands on me, exorcising all kinds of demons and this produced a short period of peace. The told me 'but you are a good man, you are very masculine, you cannot be a 'fag,' this is some kind of demon that is trying to confuse you.' So I told myself, 'I am not the problem, the problem is the demons,' and I decided to read 20 chapters a day, pray 4 hours a day. I disciplined my mind not to think, I exorcised myself, and I also did therapy for a while. Of course I did this in secret, since a 'Christian cannot do therapy because he has the Holy Spirit.'
I decided to leave the church and escape from God. I told my girlfriend that I wanted to live in Buenos Aires (I made up a multitude of lies so that she would support me in this decision). I told my pastror that I would go to Buenos Aires to study because I wanted to mature in the ministry. He didn’t like the idea very well, but finally accepted it--because one cannot leave the church without the blessing of the 'servant of God.' When I left Peru the only thing I knew was that I felt 'free,' but I didn’t know that two things would accompany me in this new stage of my life--my fundamentalist religiosity and my ghost from the past, homosexuality.
The incredible thing is that when I arrived in Buenos Aires I began attending a Baptist Church (I didn’t want to “lose myself in sin”). This church welcomed me in a very special way and–although it may sound mystical–God told me 'This is the place where you will be pastor.' While I was attending this church, I began studies at the International Theological Seminary (TIRANO). It was an interdenominational seminary that began to give me a new perspective about Biblical interpretation.
After I had been attending this church for a year and a half, they wanted to make me their pastor. I was very fearful of this because of what was going on inside me (I’m referring to my sexual orientation). Having lived in Buenos Aires for two years, I returned to Peru to visit my parents and my girlfriend. There in a conjunction of mysticism mixed with fear and hope, I decided to marry my girlfriend (I really did love her and thought 'this is a good women, she is spiritual and we will leave together.' This was another of my great errors in life, only God knows that it was never my intention to hurt anyone, least of all her. When I married, I went back to Buenos Aires with my wife and accepted the pastorate that had been offered.
Only a few days after getting married, I had a major crisis. I told my wife what had been going on inside me and together we decided to struggle against the demon of homosexuality. I started looking for psychological help and among a group called 'Return to Life,' where they offered to cure homosexuality (an ex-gay group). At the beginning it seemed I had found the solution God was sending me. But as time passed, things continued unchanged. The Christian psychologist told us 'the important thing for you to understand is that you are going to carry with you the temptation to desire men throughout your life; the important thing is not to fall into sexual sin.' And I said, 'and what happens in my mind?' although I may not have sex with men, I continued wanting them. Sadly the cure they offered did not bring me true peace.
After I had been in this group for four years, the psychologist told me that I was cured and that it was time to announce my cure to the media--radio, television. This was very frightening to me because I knew I had not been cured of anything–I went on desiring men. My marriage was breaking apart. My wife and I decided to separate, but it turned out she was pregnant. I wanted to fill my emptiness with the birth of my daughter, but sadly I could not. I learned the art of pretending in front of others and I began to lead a double life (inside, I felt dead.). I felt nothing but hate for this God that didn’t listen to me, this god whom weeping I had begged thousands of times to help me, and I told Him, 'Heal me, I don’t want to be homosexual; I want to be with my wife and daughter.' But sadly there was no response, and I felt like the most miserable man in the universe.
In 2004 I decided to leave the pastorate and my wife, and in 2005 our divorce was final. This was the worst pain I have experienced in my life, but I was sure it was for the best."When I left the pastorate, I was totally crushed, for two reasons: the first was that I had lost my economic support, while having a a daughter for whom to provide. For 19 years I had worked in the church, and I had no other place to go. This caused me a lot of anguish, having no house, no money, no medical insurance for my daughter, and not knowing how my daughter was going to eat from one day to the next.
The second crushing thing was the fact that I thought my life as a Christian had ended. In this time of anguish I met two persons who changed the direction of my life. The first was Marcelo Saenz, director of a Christian gay group. It was surprising to me that there would be such a group. We met together, and Marcelo began with great patience to show me another way to interpret the scriptures, and above all that God loved me without respect to my sexual orientation. The second person I met was Thomas Hanks, director of the Other Sheep Foundation. This foundation helps sexual minorities and regligous who leave their place. The Other Sheep Foundation began helping me financially and paid for my studies at ISDET (the Theological Faculty of Argentina). At this school, God finished knocking down all my fears about my sexual orientation. Beginning to interpret the Bible in a non-fundamentalist way opened my mind and my heart.
At the beginning of 2005, I began work for the Lutheran Church, which I found out about from Tom Hanks. They have a program called 'Ecumenical Pastor for HIV/AIDS.' Pastor Lisandro Orlov, director of the program, interviewed me to find out whether I would fit the needs for this program. They have a house that provides home for people living with HIV/AIDS, called the Inn of Solidarity. It was one of the most marvelous jobs I have had in my life. The house included people of different sexual orientations and was staffed by a team of psychologists, social workers and people from various denominations – with the aim of enabling those with HIV/AIDS to be reestablished in society, through work. My work has three parts: management of the house; pastoral counseling for the residents, including their family members; and accompanying them to their treatment (meetings with their attending physicians, hospitalization, etc.).
Gus Vinajeras, pastor of the Church of St. Matthew in Union City, New Jersey, found out about the work of the Inn and and was interested in my working with the population in his area on HIV/AIDS issues, because most of the population are Latino. In this way I traveled to New Jersey to work for St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church. Today I am coordinator of the social action and HIV/AIDS program in the community of Union City.
In this new stage of my life, God has continued showing me grace and mercy. I am seeking to know God in a different way, not as a God who judges, but as one who became 'vulnerable' because of his love for us. I still have a long path to travel. Today I have accepted my sexual orientation with dignity, trusting that God will continue to heal me and that God will pardon me for the ill I have done to others that I love (my ex-wife). My daughter is the greatest treasure God has given me, and we talk by telephone every day. I am sure that when she is grown, she will understand the decisions I have had to make.
Today, I finally understand that 'in the cross, the ground is level for everyone.'
(The original Spanish submission has been removed from this Profiles Gallery at this time--at Armando's request--because some persons in Peru have been using that information to harass his family there.)