Preparing for a Porn Conference: This Christian’s Walk on the Wild Side

I never thought these words would ever come out of my mouth, but here it goes… In exactly one month, I will be attending a porn conference in Vancouver, Canada.  

Now before anyone freaks out – or rushes over to their cell phones to call my parents and tell them that their 24 year old daughter has fallen off the deep end – let me tell you why I will be attending this conference.

First things first: Jesus loves porn stars.  No, really – He’s crazy about them.  He doesn’t just like them, He loves them.  And you know what else?  Jesus loves people who watch porn too.  Yes, you read that correctly.  While I was in South Africa this past year, my faith and knowledge of “who God is” was challenged immensely.  I realized that His love ran deeper than I ever could have imagined and that His healing power was greater than I ever could have anticipated.  He is a God of inclusion, and His arms are always open to receive anyone who runs to Him (no matter how dirty or how sinful that person might be).  Isaiah 59:1 says, “Listen! The LORD’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.”  

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Jesus had a talent for drawing in the people that everyone else pushed away.  The whores, the murders, the diseased, the liars, the cheaters, the arrogant, and even the dead.  Not only did he draw them in, He made it a point to chase after them.  When the religious leaders looked at a deadbeat or a criminal, they saw a waste of space – but when Jesus looked at them, He saw a daughter or a son who needed restoration and freedom.  If Jesus, brimming with perfect holiness, was willing to walk into the most dimly lit and shameful places of the world to find the people who needed Him desperately, then I must be willing to do the same.

Only God can turn our ashes into a thing of beauty.  The Lord has an amazing way of redeeming our pasts.  He can take something that was once ugly and disgraceful and He can turn it into something worthy and full of hope.  It’s my turn to get free with ya’ll.  I had a really bad porn addiction in high school, and I had an incredible talent for hiding it from the people closest to me (which meant that no one knew I needed help).  I used porn as an escape, as a coping method, and as a way to “take the stress away” until it finally began to consume me.  Some serious damage was done.  My perception on love, sex, and “healthy relationships” became completely disfigured, I felt so much shame and guilt that I started to lash out on my family members and I distanced myself from God, and I started buying into the lies that I was worthless, broken, and most definitely gross.

BUT GOD.  Those are two of my favorite words in the universe.  But God… put me back together.  He reached out to me when I was deep in my self-made pit of despair, and He pulled me out and grabbed ahold of me (despite the fact that I had no strength at the time to hold onto Him).  Romans 5:8 says, “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  He cleaned me up, set me free, healed my hurts, and He told me who I was in His eyes: valuable, beautiful, righteous, blameless, cherished, loved, and most importantly… His.  He’s given me a heart to reach out to those who struggle like I did, to reach out to the women who think they aren’t worth something (or someone) of value, and to reach out to the brokenhearted and abused.  He had taken the messed up pieces of my past, and He redeemed them for His glory and for my benefit, and let me tell you… it’s the greatest feeling in the world! Now, I get to find others who are in need of hope and healing.  I get the opportunity and the honor of sharing the love of Christ with those who have never experienced love before, and it’s all because of His mercy and grace.

Even though this trip (with Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale and xxxchurch) will only last for a short week in February, my mission to create change and to bring hope and love to others will last for my entire life.  It’s not going to be an easy journey.  It will be dark one, a dangerous one, and the fight will be a spiritual one.  Sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography are all over the world.  The battle is a big one, and it’s one that ends in death, both spiritually and physically, for so many.  I was recently challenged with the thought… “What would happen if I loved those people (the johns, the strippers, the porn stars, the addicts, and the pimps…) as much as Jesus loves them? How might the world be different?  

I’ve decided to give it a go and find out.  Partner with me in prayer and with steps of faith.  Let’s be bold together as a community (all over the world) and as a united church.  We are commanded by God – Who is the Mighty Warrior fighting on our behalf – to not be afraid, so let’s be strong and courageous, and let’s inspire change. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Nothing is to hard for Him.”

If you’d like to donate and support me in this fight, please visit:

http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

The Birds and The Bees

Oh, the beloved comfort zone.

The place where everything is simple and cozy and warm.  The place where you aren’t stressed out, afraid, or anxious.  It’s a place where nothing catches you by surprise and everything remains the “same old, same old.”  For this American, it’s a place that has completely disappeared into thin air ever since I stepped onto South African soil.  No, seriously.

Question: What’s more uncomfortable than public speaking?
Answer: Public speaking about sex to a group of teenagers in a church.

(Are your palms sweating yet?)

Sometimes I just have to sit down and laugh at God’s ridiculous sense of humor (but this usually happens after I bang my forehead against the wall repeatedly in exasperation).  I was 17 when I made the decision to follow Him anywhere and everywhere.  There are times when it’s fun and exciting, and then there are times when it makes me want to run very far in the opposite direction (like back to Miami).  Prisons, street corners, soccer fields, and schools have all been a part of my exciting journey.  But honestly, this week’s challenge of “sex talk in a church” was probably the hardest thing that I’ve had to endure yet.

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Here’s why:

Some of the darkest moments of my life revolve around love, lust, and relationships.  Whether it’s sexual abuse, pornography, addiction, cheating, or just plain heart break … I’ve been there.  I’ve felt the guilt, the shame, and the dirtiness associated with sexual immorality and low self-esteem.  It hurts, and it’s definitely not something that simply “rolls off the tongue” during day-to-day conversations.  (Exhibit A: “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Sam, I enjoy long walks on the beach, singing along to the Pitch Perfect soundtrack, and for years I’ve struggled with pornography and people pleasing.  What’s your favorite color?  Do you have any pets?”)  Yeah, no. That would never happen.

However, as I reminisce about the adventures I’ve had, I can see how the Lord has taken those hated moments of my history and used them for “His glory,” and that’s a pretty incredible thing.  It says so much about who God is and so little about my need to measure up.  In fact, Jesus tells me clearly that I don’t need to measure up.  That part was never in my job description; it was in His.  There’s a quote by Martin Luther that sums up this idea quite nicely.  It says, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”  Preach it, brother.

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I am in love with a God who calls Himself Redeemer, Healer, and Savior.  This means that all of those guilt-ridden moments in my past represent promise and vindication.  I have been given the privilege of bearing scars that tell a beautiful story of grace, mercy, growth, forgiveness, and unconditional love.  Don’t get me wrong, I used to hate my story and I used to hide those “metaphorical” scars.  But each time I share pieces of my past with someone else, it brings hope and healing to the listener (and also to me, the speaker).  I have found that there is freedom in confession and grace in vulnerability.  With each honest and transparent conversation, my feelings of fear and insecurity fade.  My hope is that when a girl notices my “metaphorical” scars, she would know that she’s not alone.  My hope is that she would be able to look me in the eye without shame and say to me, “wow, Sam, I have one on my heart shaped just like that too!” … and vise versa.

I am not the same person that I used to be (2 Corinthians 5:17), my screw ups are no longer counted against me (Romans 8:1), and because of that, I’m no longer scared to share my story (2 Timothy 1:8a).  My eyes have been opened to how the Lord uses our testimonies to protect, encourage, and liberate others.  His plan is so much greater than anything my mind’s understanding can grasp.  Every now and then, I am blessed with a quick glimpse of His bigger picture, and it motivates and encourages me to keep moving forward (even into the scary places).  So instead of focusing on the mistakes that follow me and the weaknesses within me, I can focus on the strength and the perfect love of the One Who stands before me.

Dr. Steve Brown says it best, “The only people who get better, are the people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway.”