“The best expression of sexuality is in a marriage relationship,” said Jimmy Hester, cofounder of True Love Waits. Hester will retire on Friday after serving through LifeWay Christian Resources for 26 years.
True Love Waits is a campaign that encourages young people around the globe to make a commitment to sexual abstinence and purity until marriage.
Since the movement's inception 18 years ago, approximately 3 million Americans, 1.1 million Africans and hundreds of thousands of youth from other parts of the world have signed cards declaring their commitment to sexual abstinence.
At the time the ministry was established, Hester said, most sex education courses taught safe sex but didn't promote abstinence. During the testing process for a Christian-based sexual education program, he heard a similar complaint from parents and youth alike, “We really don't have a way to express our beliefs about sexual abstinence before marriage.”
Hester and cofounder Richard Ross decided that commitment cards could help. Teens and young adults could sign a card, something tangible that states their commitment to abstinence, so if anyone asked about their beliefs they could simply pull out the card and show them.
While in a cafeteria one day, the duo wrote their ideas down on a napkin and later presented them to LifeWay for approval.
In 1993, during a national youth ministry conference in Nashville, Tenn., they unveiled True Love Waits in front of about 1,200 youth workers by bringing 72 teens on stage who had signed the commitment cards themselves.
“Within the next 48 hours we were just inundated with media requests from all over the country,” Hester said in an interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday.
True Love Waits has been featured on The Today Show, Nightline and The Phil Donohue Show, as well as in publications like Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Teen Magazine, Life Magazine and Family Circle.
By July of the following year, the ministry was able to display over 210,000 signed commitment cards at the first ever True Love Waits national celebration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Hester said he and Ross never expected the movement to grow like it has.
“When Richard and I sat down ... we were hoping to reach churches within the Southern Baptist Convention ... God took our expectations and kind of blew it out of the water,” he commented.
Today, over 100 organizations use True Love Waits to promote sexual abstinence until marriage, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a national Catholic youth organization and crisis pregnancy centers which use the cards as part of their educational programs.
So why is True Love Waits so effective?
“God's blessing it,” said Hester. “It has been newsworthy because it is different. It's a counter-culture kind of thing.”
True Love Waits recently introduced the next phase in their project, TLW 3.0: A Path of Purity. Their approach is still the same, but with the added goal of helping parents identify major milestones in their children’s lives that can be used as teachable moments to keep them on a pure path.
Though he is retiring, Hester said that he will continue to serve True Love Waits as a spokesperson and will continue to help shape the program's future.
“I'm retiring from a job. I'm not retiring from ministry.”