We just happened upon Focus on the Family (in Costa Rica)

On Sunday, April 20, we just happened to pass Focus on the
Family.  We were heading out from Bernal Esquivel's home, just
three blocks away, starting out on our vacation.  He drew us a
map to show us the best way out of town.  He did not mention that
we would pass Focus on the Family.  Our destination was La Fortuna, which took us the rest of the day to
get there.  We were taking the scenic route pass the La Paz waterfalls and traffic, through the mountains,
was slow at times.

So, just minutes into our drive we made an unexpected stop:  "Look," I said.  "That's Focus on the family."  
Being Sunday, it was closed.  We took these pictures which you see above.  "Next week when I am still here
and you are back in NYC, I will make a call on Focus on the Family and see if I can speak with the director."

Our first full day in Costa Rica and already ideas for contacts were falling into place.
My Wednesday, April 30th meeting with
Sara Arias, the Assistant to
Sixto Porras, Regional Director for Focus on
the Family the Hispanic World
On Wednesday afternoon, April 30 (2008), I entered
the bookstore portion of the building complex of Focus
on the Family, San Jose (actually Guadalupe, a suburb  
of San Jose).  

I asked the attendant if I could be introduced to the
Director.  I explained that I was with Other Sheep and if
at all possible I would like to share our ministry with him
or her.

I learned that the Director was not in but that his
assistant, Sara Arias would be happy to meet me.

My meeting with Sara far exceeded my expectations.  
She treated me with the utmost respect and showed  
sincere interest in Other Sheep.  
She came out to the lobby area to meet me and then permitted our meeting to take place in her office
area.  At the very outset I let her know that I was a gay Christian with an evangelical background, that I
had pastored as a Baptist minister and that our organization, Other Sheep, took a different view on
homosexuality than Focus on the Family.  I wanted her to know from the very beginning what I was all
about so that she would not feel she was being misled.

So how did I do with my little Spanish?  Actually, I was relieved and surprised to learn that Sara spoke
perfect American English.  From about age eight to twelve she had lived in Indiana where her mother
was earning her degree in teaching English.  When they returned to Costa Rica, her mother taught
English and continued to speak it in the home.  Talking to Sara was like talking to anyone back in the
States.

Sara permitted me to tell her my story how that at age eight I "received Christ as my Savior" and that at a
young age I felt called to ministry.  I told her how I knew as early as 12 or 13 years of age that I was gay
and how I tried to implement Christian principles on "victorious Christian living" so that I could live the
straight life though a gay man.   She permitted me to enlarge upon my story.  I kept it brief and hit the
highlights from being married ("I had told my wife prior to marriage") to being a father and minister, to
going into counseling with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, to taking part in "ex-gay" support groups.

I told her about the last ten years (since October 1997) and my pursuit to study all I could in the area of
homosexuality and the Bible as well as other related areas of study.  I told her about my same-sex
domestic partner, Jose Ortiz, and his story of Christian faith.  I told her that I know many evangelical
Christians who are gay.  I explained that the church (as an institution) may have this whole issue wrong
and perhaps should take a more careful look at homosexuality.

I told Sarah about
Bernal Esquivel and his La Comunidad Arco Iris and how I had spoken to the
group.  I told her I knew of a second group, an evangelical Lutheran group that meets in San Jose, too.

She expressed interest in meeting Bernal Esquivel and also possible interest in meeting some of the
members from his group in the form of an active-listening dialogue.

I would like to comment here about my deep respect for Sara Arias for how she handled me.  Often,
when I speak with individual evangelical Christians as I did with Sara, I hear the comment towards the
end of our meeting "I will be praying for you."   Or, "we love the sinner but hate the sin."  It's as if the
evangelical Christian cannot dialogue without rebuking what they understand as wrong.  I had
established with Sara at the outset that I knew I was asking her to listen to me speak from a point of view
that Focus on the Family did not share.  I told her that I listen to James Dobson on a regular basis back
in the States (his morning radio program while making Jose's lunch to take with him to work) and that I
was aware of their strong views against homosexuals and homosexuality.  That having been established,
it was as if she did not need to tell me in her own words how wrong I was (I already knew; I've been
listening to evangelicals all my life).  She listened to me with utter respect and not once injected a
judgment against me personally or against homosexuals in general.  I never felt more respected -- which
is not to say affirmed in my sexual orientation, but respected as a person -- by any evangelical, except
perhaps by the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Manhattan, who also has given Jose and me a
respectful listening ear.

On
Monday, May 5, as I was heading out for the airport to return to NYC, I stopped off again at Focus
on the Family and spoke briefly with Sara for a second time.  The book
The Children Are Free (in
English) had arrived in Costa Rica and I was giving her a copy as I had promised.

I also had written out for her the contact information of Bernal Esquivel.  She received me this second
time with the same grace and interest she had shown before.  I am grateful for having met Sara Arias.  
Her loving disposition toward me was greatly felt and is appreciated.  She is a credit to Focus on the
Family.

Written May 8, 2008
Bronx, New York
Steve Parelli
Sara Arias photo copied the
covers of the these three
books.  She also received
my "ex-gay" story in Spanish
and said she would circulate
it in the office.  The following
week I was able to give her a
hard copy of the book
The
Children Are Free
in English
See my
personal
story on the
"ex-gay" ministry,
a Spanish copy of
which I gave to
Sara Arias at
Focus on the
Family, Assistant to
the Director.  It is
available in
Spanish and
English.
Assistant to the Director of Focus on
the Family Hispanic World grants
meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica, with
Other Sheep Executive Director
April 30, 2008
Steve Parelli in front of
Focus on the Family,
Costa Rica,
April 20, 2008
This is an Other Sheep website
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This web page was created and published on May 8, 2008.
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  • Other Sheep
    Coordinator for
    Central America,
    Bernal Esquivel, and
    his partner Rafael


  • Executive Director
    speaks to la
    Comunidad Arco Iris
    group in San Jose


  • Executive Director
    meets professors and
    staff of the Latin
    American Biblical
    University.


  • Executive Director has
    lunch with students of
    the Latin American
    Biblical University


  • Hispanic Focus on the
    Family grants meeting
    with Executive Director;


  • Additional contacts
    made along the way
Click over the photo
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Other Sheep 2008 Costa Rica Contacts
Follow the arrow (click it) and take a tour of
scenic Costa Rica
.  Visit the Arenal Volcano.
Take the road to Santa Elena. See the
Caribbean coast, rain forests, wildlife, and
some personal shots of Steve and Jose.
Focus on the Family is the international ministry of radio speaker Dr. James Dobson.  It is an evangelical ministry and often the
representative voice of the religious right in the Untied States in political and social concerns.   James Dobson and Focus on the
Family regularly oppose equality marriage for homosexuals and actively support the "ex-gay" movement.
www.family.org              www.enfoque.org  (Spanish)