Out of a Far Country
By Shelly Esser
On a cold, drizzly morning, Angela Yuan bought a one-way train ticket to Louisville to say a final goodbye to her son, Christopher—and to end her life. Born in Szechuan, she grew up in Taiwan, and came to the U.S. in 1964 full of hopes and dreams for a better life. She grew up in a cold, atheist Chinese home, with working parents who were never around; she was always lonely and hungering for love and affection. So when she married her husband, Leon, she set out to make sure her family would be different. “My life’s work would be home, family, and my husband’s career as a dentist,” Angela said. Eventually, they were blessed with two sons—Steven and Christopher—and Angela set out to be the doting Chinese mother. From the outside they looked like the picture-perfect family living the dream with a thriving dental practice. However, Angela and Leon’s marriage was struggling and Angela felt empty and hopeless inside. All she and Leon ever did was argue and avoid each other. Steven had left home for college and wanted little to do with his parents. Angela’s last ray of hope was Christopher who was obedient, caring, and thoughtful.
But then the bottom fell out. Christopher announced that he was gay. Angela was devastated. In an exchange that sent Angela into despair, Christopher stormed out of the house back to his friends in Louisville, “who accepted him just the way he was.” With that rejection, something died inside Angela.
“Our family was broken, and my life was falling apart. Every dream I’d had for years—for my marriage, for my sons, for my future—was gone. I could see no more reason to live. I was certain that I’d have no satisfaction or happiness in this world. I saw only sadness, disappointment, and rejection. And I wanted no more of it. Death’s road seemed less painful—so it was the one I chose,” Angela writes in the book she co-authored with her son Christopher Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope (Waterbrook Press).
Before Angela headed out to what would be her last trip, she and Leon stopped by to see a minister to listen to her pain. Angela poured out her story, but he was unable to provide any real encouragement to her hopeless heart. When they got up to leave, he handed her a booklet that would forever change her life.
The next day she boarded the train, with the booklet. Finally, she looked at it. She began to read it. Interesting, she thought. She was captivated by every word. The booklet talked about how God loved everyone—even homosexuals. As she continued reading, she realized that she was not reading it for Christopher, but for herself. “I read a statement that pierced my deadened heart,” Angela remembers. “‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.’ Nothing? You mean God loves…even me?” She had never heard that before. A peace washed over Angela. She was having a life-changing encounter with the living Christ. What was going to be a trip to end her life became a trip that gave her life.
But as Angela’s life became transformed, Christopher’s spiraled down into the pig pen. Not only was he active in the gay community, he became a drug user, then drug dealer, eventually serving three years in prison, and when it seemed like it couldn’t get worse, it did. Christopher tested HIV positive. But like in Angela’s life, God miraculously intervened. Theirs is a love story, God’s love for a mother and son, both lost, both prodigals in their own unique ways—and how God found them in the mess, redeeming them to Himself, and bringing them home.
JBU had the privilege to recently sit down with Angela and Christopher to hear their story of redemption and how the power of God’s Word and prayer literally changed their lives and brought this mother, son—and husband out of a far country. Today, they travel the world telling their story, and helping the church respond in a Christ-like way to those impacted by homosexuality.
JBU: You came here with all these dreams. Was there a moment that caused it all to crumble?
Angela: The day when Christopher told us, “I am gay.” I was not a Christian. My life was already a wreck and I felt hopeless. So at that moment I just felt like there’s no sense for me to live another day. I was totally determined that I would kill myself. Nothing could hold me back. I didn’t know it at that time, but God was using that situation to show up on the train.
Christopher: It was a buildup of many years, but this was the breaking point. That event was devastating in itself, but compared to all the other things it was like the straw that broke the camel’s back.
JBU: The pamphlet you got seemed like an incredible divine intervention. Tell us about it.
Angela: It was about homosexuality! But the pamphlet also shared the love of Christ. All my life I was hungry for love. I didn’t know what it was. The void was getting bigger and bigger. Nothing could fill it. The Holy Spirit used that moment. For the first time, I experienced what unconditional love was. That was the breakthrough for me. When I read how God loved me, a sinner, I couldn’t believe it.
JBU: When you had your conversion, it turned everything upside-down almost immediately—you grew spiritually at a speed that takes most people years. How did that happen?
Angela: I was discipled by a woman I met in Louisville for six weeks and then got introduced to BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) when I returned home. I experienced miracle after miracle. God put me in the right place. I started to study God’s Word. I was so hungry like a sponge. I didn’t want to stop.
JBU: How integral was knowing and studying God’s Word in sustaining you when your life was still a mess?
Angela: Reading the Bible was a miracle because I didn’t like to read. When I was in Louisville, I could read the Bible from the moment I woke up in the morning all the way to midnight when I closed my eyes, more than 12 hours straight. I couldn’t put it down. My daily devotional time with God and His Word helped me not to let go, even one day.
JBU: In the seven years after you became a Christian and were praying for Christopher, did you have moments when you felt discouraged?
Angela: I often felt discouraged. The minute I looked at my life and the mess or looked at Christopher’s life or my husband’s life, I got discouraged. But I remained encouraged by being in Bible study and God’s Word, and the women in my group encouraged me too. Leon and I committed to focus not on hopelessness but on the promises of God. Constantly, I was reminded that I needed to move my eyes away from my own situation and put my eyes on God’s promises. And that I could only face my life through God’s Word and the prayers of others.
I also feel those years when Christopher was in the far country, my life was full. God gave me opportunities to serve and help other women. That helped keep my life fulfilled as well. Instead of always focusing on my problems, I would give out to others.
JBU: Tell us about your prayer closet.
Angela: Every day in the morning before I went to work I spent time in my prayer closet. My prayer closet is a shower room in our home. We converted it. The novelization of the movie, The War Room, written by Chris Fabry, who had seen my prayer closet, dedicated the book to me. The other day a friend said, “Did you watch War Room? The closet is just like yours.” Chris was in our home and he took pictures of my closet. I went to my prayer closet before I even walked out of my bedroom in the morning, because I wanted to focus on Jesus instead of focusing on something else. So the first thing I do daily is go into my prayer closet to study God’s Word and pray. I will go in there, sometimes to cry or sometimes to sing. It is really my sanctuary. My prayer closet is the place where I can hear God’s voice and keep hope.
Christopher: My mom’s prayer closet isn’t just where she would only pray; she actually did all of her Bible study and prayer together. She didn’t view prayer and reading and studying the Bible as two separate things. You read the Bible which causes you to pray and you pray and that causes you to read the Bible more. So as Mom studied the Bible she was led to pray.
JBU: How did you get the idea for your little shower/prayer closet?
Angela: I was led by the Holy Spirit because I was totally a wreck. The first couple months after coming home from Louisville, I didn’t want to go to church. I didn’t want to see anyone. I was in so much pain. I felt like I had just come out of the hospital and had a bandage from the top of my head to the tip of my toe. I was so afraid to face the world. I just wanted to stay in that little apartment in Louisville. For six weeks, I was alone reading God’s Word. Then I came home and had to face reality. I had the idea to make a prayer closet.
JBU: You kept praying.
Angela: Yes, for seven years.
JBU: Without any evidence that God was hearing or answering those prayers. What kept you praying?
Angela: God’s Word. Every time I read God’s Word, I saw that He never gives up on us.
JBU: How did you pray for Christopher during those hard years of drug use, drug dealing, and living as a gay man?
Angela: So many times I prayed, Lord, do whatever it takes to bring this prodigal son to You. I prayed that he would hit rock bottom. I started asking God for wisdom and discernment. I wanted to step aside so God could work in his life. What was most important was that Christopher became a Christ-follower. I prayed that my son would turn to God.
I realized that the biggest issue was not Christopher rejecting me or his family, but rejecting Jesus Christ. So my prayer was that Christopher would surrender his life to Jesus Christ first and foremost. That changed my focus. My goal was no longer that he would stop taking drugs, leave the homosexual community, or become heterosexual. It was a very big turning point for me and how I was going to pray and love Christopher.
Christopher: I think that’s helpful for parents of prodigals because most of the time parents are focusing so much on the prodigal’s behavior and making that the main problem. My son is doing drugs; my daughter is in prison; or my son has run off with his girlfriend and they’re living together. They are praying, “God make my son stop doing drugs or pray that he’ll get his life together and stop playing video games.” The focus has to be “Are our children following Jesus or not?”
My mom also fasted every Monday for seven years for me, too.
JBU: Even an extended fast at one point.
Christopher: Yes, she once began fasting and felt, “I’m going to fast until God tells me to stop.” She fasted for thirty-nine days.
Angela: I felt God calling me to fast for a longer period of time. So I began a juice-only fast with no end in mind. It lasted thirty-nine days. During that time I wrote down many prayers in my journal. There were a few that I would recite each morning and throughout the day. I was so afraid that God might somehow forget my son! So like a persistent widow, I would repeat them relentlessly, asking God to act. Asking God to have mercy on Christopher. Asking for a miraculous breakthrough. I knew that it would take nothing short of a miracle to bring this prodigal son to the Father.
I just wanted to know that Christopher was His and that my son would be safe—if not in this life, then in eternity. I got down on my knees and asked God to please give me just one day—even an hour—of knowing that Christopher has received Christ before I died.
JBU: At what point did Leon come to Christ?
Angela: He started going to church with me to my surprise and then began attending a Bible study. It was there that he gave his life to Christ. In the process, God was healing our relationship.
JBU: When you got the call that Christopher was in jail, how were you able to count your blessings?
Angela: I started listing my blessings that began with Christopher’s incarceration. And as his years in prison passed, I kept expanding the list by using more adding-machine tape. Today it’s longer and taller than I am. Christopher was finally in a safe place, and he called us for the first time after years of non-communication and silence. An indescribable peace came over me as I thanked God. It was an answer to my prayer.
JBU: How would you suggest parents feeling fear, guilt, shame, and a sense of failure on behalf of their child deal with it?
Angela: Realize that it’s normal to feel pain; it’s okay to cry. But we cannot stay there forever. We need help. Our first help is from Jesus Christ and His Word. Then we need to seek other’s help. Find godly friends who can understand and support you, who will walk alongside you. We cannot do it by ourselves. I always encourage women to go to a Bible study to strengthen her before thinking about helping her child. We need to stop focusing on how bad our child is. That can be overwhelming. If you are thinking about how you are going to fix your children, how bad he is, every day, month, and year that can become an idol because that’s all you’re thinking about; that’s all you want God to do for you. We need to turn our eyes and focus on Jesus. That’s why I put the song lyrics, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus on the mirror in my prayer closet to remind me of where my focus needs to be.
Christopher: Also tell parents that it’s not their fault.
Angela: That was very difficult for me to accept. But the more you study the Bible and understand the gospel, realizing that we are all sinners and that our kids are sinners by nature, it became easier to let go and realize that it’s not my fault.
JBU: Was there a point, Christopher, when you thought what has happened to Mom?
Christopher: I noticed a change immediately when she was in Louisville for six weeks, which wasn’t expected. She was reading the Bible and she was never positive toward Christianity before.
JBU: How did you deal with all of his rejection—throwing your cards and Bible in the garbage, telling you to get out. It must have broken your heart?
Angela: It was very painful, but it caused me to pray and study God’s Word more. I pictured Jesus having a bottle for my tears. I like this picture because it shows how much He cares for me and that He’s not wasting my tears. Again, BSF was my lifeline. Throughout the week I would become dry, but I went to BSF to fill up, to listen, and to study the Word of God with other women. I left feeling rejuvenated. I could get through another week.
JBU: How did you have the energy to send another card or make another call?
Angela: I kept them in my prayer closet so when I was reading the Word or praying, I would write a card to send to Christopher. I thought he might throw the card away, which he did, but I sent it anyway. As parents, you can feel discouraged because your child doesn’t want to listen or talk. What do you expect? He’s a prodigal, he’s rebellious. God will use our efforts if we never give up.
JBU: Your mom kept reaching out to you. What would you say to parents about not giving up on the relationship?
Christopher: I would do as my mom did. Whether you have very little contact or zero contact, if you know their address, send them a postcard, don’t put a lot into it. Simply say, “I love you,” “I’m thinking about you.” Today texting is so convenient, so take advantage of it. Just keep it very simple, “Love You. Thinking About You. Praying for You. Hope you’re having a great day, Love you forever, Mom.” If you’re a mother or father and you’re doing that every week, a couple times a week, it’s going to plant seeds. If you are just saying “I love you,” a child may see it as annoying, but it won’t be offensive to them.
JBU: When did you realize that “God loves my gay son?”
Angela: I began to see that Christopher was just like I was, a sinner who rejected Christ. And that God loved everyone—even Christopher—regardless of what they do. I thought that if God can love my son, then I could still love him as well.
JBU: How do we encourage kids who are struggling with same sex attraction in the church?
Christopher: Parents need to show what true gospel love looks like—that it is full of grace and full of truth. We don’t always do that well. Usually with these kids, the issue isn’t that we haven’t communicated enough truth. The issue is we haven’t shown enough of God’s grace, love, and compassion.
JBU: How would you encourage the family now that doesn’t have the happy ending—who are still waiting (you waited seven years)?
Angela: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. The minute we move our gaze away from God we sink. A BSF teacher told us that life is like a canvas... a tapestry…on the one side we see only the mess. Our life is like that. We haven’t seen the finished product yet. So all those things I learned when I studied the Bible helped me to have a different perspective for my life. God never promised we would have a rosy life, but He carries us through tough times.
JBU: When did you finally surrender your life to Christ?
Christopher: When I was in prison, I found a Gideon’s New Testament in the garbage. It was brand new and had never been opened. I had a lot of time on my hands so I read it in my cell. God became personal to me. I started studying the Bible with a Christian inmate and eventually was leading Bible studies in prison. It was miraculous!
JBU: How did you become reconciled to your parents?
Christopher: When you are in prison no one else will visit you! My parents were the only ones who were there for me; everyone else deserted me. So often we can limit our prayers. Parents will pray, “God bring my son around, but just don’t let him go to prison. I don’t want him to be homeless. I don’t want him to…” whatever it is and we modify this, so we’re limiting God. That might be the exact thing that your son has to go through to experience the living Christ. We should never put modifiers on our prayers. We should never limit God. Oswald Chambers says, “We’re not here to prove that God answers prayers, we’re here to be living monuments of His grace.” Too often we think God is obligated to answer our prayers our way, yet God can be using those circumstances in a powerful way. It was in prison that I found Christ. God had answered my mother’s prayer, Lord, do whatever it takes to bring this prodigal son out of that far country to you.
Angela: And God grows us through that prodigal child or difficult circumstance.
JBU: When you think about the miracle of your story what comes to mind?
Angela: You have to trust the promises of God’s Word and keep at prayer. God is in the business of going after the lost.
Christopher: The countless hours in prayer my parents spent on their knees on my behalf. I have seen my mother’s knees, brown and calloused from kneeling in her prayer closet. And the pages of my father’s Bible are worn from thumbing through God’s promises. They did this for me. My parents welcomed me home. God welcomed me home. After being lost so long in a far country…I am finally home.
Pick up Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope, by Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan, for the complete story. The book speaks to prodigals, parents of prodigals, and those wanting to minister to the gay community. To find out more about the Yuan’s ministry, go to christopheryuan.com.
Dr. Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan travel nationally and internationally to speak at churches, conferences, youth conventions, and colleges about God’s desire for prodigals of all types to return to Him. They have co-authored their memoir, Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God, A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope.
Angela is a businesswoman and advocate for Chinese-American culture causes. She has been involved with Bible Study Fellowship International, serving in leadership for more than thirteen years, and was a part of the pioneering team invited by the Chinese communist government to start BSF in Beijing.
Christopher teaches at Moody Bible Institute (MBI). He holds a bachelor’s degree from MBI and a master’s degree in biblical exegesis from Wheaton College Graduate School. In 2014 he completed his doctorate of ministry degree from Bethel Seminary.