A Cold Cup of Water

Church’s compassion fosters dialogue with LGBTQ community.

Four years ago, Jack M. Sampier, senior pastor of Hope Restored Church, now Newbreak Hillcrest in San Diego, prayed a mountain-sized prayer. For 16 years he and his wife, Dixie, along with the congregation, had been reaching out to the Hillcrest neighborhood. Hillcrest, which sits north of Balboa Park, is home to the city’s large LGBTQ population — and Newbreak is situated in the heart of the neighborhood. In fact, an annual gay pride parade — one of the largest in the nation — marches past Newbreak’s front doors.

Sampier, the only U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries missionary associate ministering to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, led the congregation in changing the worship service time to Sunday evenings so the church could minister during the day — offering free coffee, dog bowls filled with fresh water for pets, and a prayer canopy. Slowly over the years, Sampier saw those in the LGBTQ community begin to warm to the church, seeking prayer and counsel.

But Sampier was nearing retirement age and wanted to know that the time and energy invested in the community mattered eternally.

“This is tough and intense ministry,” he says. Still, he began to sense the next great revival in the U.S. would be in the gay community, although he wasn’t sure he would still be involved in ministry long enough to see it happen. So Sampier prayed.

“I thought about Moses and how even though he never entered the Promised Land, God allowed him to see it,” Sampier says. “That’s what I asked God to do for me.”

A year later, in 2005, on the day of the city’s gay pride parade, rain poured down, drenching participants and spectators alike, driving them into dry spaces — including directly through the open doors of Newbreak. Sampier went to the balcony that morning and looked onto the sanctuary. The parade participants and crowd listened to worship music and talked about Jesus with San Diego State University’s U.S. Missions Chi Alpha Campus Ministries students. A couple of those who sought sanctuary from the weather accepted Jesus as Savior.

“God took me to the mountain so I could see what He’s going to do,” Sampier says, his voice breaking with emotion.

Sampier became pastor of the then-struggling church after serving as presbyter for the San Diego area, but he wasn’t convinced ministry to LGBTQ was his forte. He told God he didn’t understand them, but he says God encouraged him to try. Although Sampier never experienced sexual identity confusion, he could understand the deep emotional wounds many feel because he himself had a devastating childhood in which he had been molested.

His changed attitude didn’t transfer to everyone in the church, however. The first Sunday he opened the doors to gays and lesbians, offering free water, restroom facilities, and a place to get out of the heat, some church members took offense, believing the pastor advocated their sexual behavior. Sampier cleared that up immediately.

“I explained that we love people and lead people to God, and it’s His responsibility to change them,” he says. “But no, we do not accept or affirm their lifestyle. We do, however, accept people.”

Sampier became a founding board member for ReStory Ministries, the AG outreach that equips local churches to biblically and compassionately address issues of homosexuality and gender identity.

“Jack has a real love and genuine heart for these people,” says ReStory Ministries founder Ginger Haan. “They can tell he truly cares about them.”

Now 79, Sampier recently stepped down from his role at ReStory Ministries, as well as his role as senior pastor, which he held at the church for 20 years. He remains a U.S. missionary associate, helping pastors understand opportunities to minister to this underserved population.

“These are God’s children — and He wants them back,” Sampier says.

Ginger Kolbaba

Ginger Kolbaba ( www.gingerkolbaba.com) is a speaker and author who lives in the Chicago area. She is the author of Your Best Happily Ever After and co-author of Breakthrough: The Miraculous True Story of a Mother's Faith and Her Child's Resurrection.