A survivor of the Orlando Pulse nightclub mass shooting is recounting the trauma of that night and how God used it to bring about his repentance and why he now says he is no longer gay.
In an interview last week with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association on their "GPS: God. People. Stories" broadcast, Luis Javier Ruiz spoke of his journey out of the homosexual life, how the Holy Spirit continues to transform him, and how he is now ministering to people.
Now in his 30s, Ruiz explained that although he grew up in the church it was during a time when many congregations did not have the tools with which to engage this issue, and what he learned was how to keep secrets. All the while, he was struggling with his sexuality, having experienced same-sex attraction since his childhood. He finally came out as a homosexual to his family toward the end of his high school years.
On his mom's birthday, they were listening to a radio program where someone was railing against homosexuals in an abusive manner complete with charges of "they're going to hell" and 'they're an abomination."
"It was bad," Ruiz recalled the experience, "and we got into an argument about it ... and I just ended it with 'Mom, you know what? Your son is gay. How about that?"
His parents did not take the news well and his relationship with them soured; they often wondered what they had done wrong as parents and began to question their ministry in the church.
After high school, Ruiz joined the armed forces and served for 15 years. He kept his sexuality a secret from the military.
"Basically they saw this one guy in the army, and at night I would go out to the gay clubs and go hang out and party and live my life the best way I knew how without God," Ruiz said.
When he completed his active duty, he ended up moving to Florida and started leading a double life of sorts. He got involved with a Bible-believing church and even did an internship there. At the same time, he was also a part of the Orlando LGBT community. He went to a friend's house to celebrate his birthday on June 11, 2016, and he and some of his friends went to the Pulse nightclub later that night. Early in the morning on June 12 he was hanging out at bar when he began hearing what he thought were fireworks.
But those sounds were really gunshots.
"I hear this guy, yelling 'Run for your life! Run for your life, get out of the club!'" he said.
Yet Omar Mateen, the shooter, continued rampaging and Ruiz got stuck amid the chaos. A friend grabbed him and pushed him out and he started running toward the door amid the screams and bodies dropping all around him.
Mateen murdered a total of 49 people that night and was subsequently killed in a gunfight with police.
"While this is all going on, I'm thinking 'I'm about to die, I'm about to go to Hell. Like, why did I even come [to Pulse],'" Ruiz said of that night.
He managed to get out of the club but there was a fence too high to climb over. He headed toward a gate and managed to kick it open. A mad rush toward this new exit ensued and Ruiz was trampled underfoot and sustained several injuries. He was in such pain he went to the hospital. From there he watched the media coverage of everything that transpired and saw the names of his friends who were murdered.
"I was sick, depressed and hurting for a long time," he recounted.
He received even worse news days later upon getting an email telling him that many of the people who died that night were HIV-positive and he was urged to get tested. He did so and found out that he, too, was HIV-positive. Ruiz sank deeper into depression, thought he was going to die, and became furiously angry.
But God met him in the midst of it, he said.
"It's either you submit and surrender yourself to Me or it's just going to get worse after this," Ruiz recalled the Holy Spirit speaking to him.
"We have a real enemy," he said, "who doesn't want us to get free from anything."
While in bed one day shortly after this, through tears, he cried out to God, asking Him transform his life with this power that he had heard about in church and read about in the Bible for so many years. He decided to surrender everything, including his sexuality.
"I even said: 'I'm gay, God. This is how you're taking me. Take me as I am. I don't know if you're supposed to take this away from me or not. I've tried this many times.' And in the midst of all that, automatically, things started falling off of my life."
"I gave Him my gayness. I gave him my pornography addictions, everything," he said.
He sensed the Holy Spirit prompt him: "How about you give me you."
"It's not a gay to straight thing. Just give [Him] your heart," Ruiz said.
Many have asked Ruiz if and how God changed his sexuality but the Pulse survivor maintains that is the wrong mindset to have.
"God calls us to purity because homosexuality is a sin," he stressed, emphasizing the importance of knowing Christ intimately and following His heart; such is the key to real transformation, he explained.
Today, he is working to bridge the chasm between the church and the LGBT community, equipping churches across the nation to love those who identify as LGBT while simultaneously ministering to those still in that life that they might know that they, also, can be set free from the power of sin.
"We're no longer silent," he said of the community he has found of young men and women who have left lesbianism, homosexuality, and transgenderism behind and who are at present putting on Freedom Marches and doing ministry around the country.
"We are free. We are free in Jesus. Yes, you can come out of homosexuality. You can be free from porn addiction. From anything."
He believes that though he should have been the 50th person killed that night in Orlando, God planned something else for him.
"God had something else for me. And I'm thankful because now I'm able to share my story of hope, my story to the world, to let them know that there is God who changes [people] and who transforms."
"I tell people: I was 'born that way' too. I was born a jerk, I was born a liar. You know what? We must be born again. The Bible says we must be born again. If there is sin, God is going to walk you through it, in His timing and His process.
Earlier this year, Ruiz told CP in an interview soon after he finished speaking at the Freedom March at the Sylvan Theater in Washington, D.C., that he considers the secular media coverage of his story, particularly their repeated warnings against "conversion therapy," deceptive.
"Honestly, I don't know what that is," he said of the practice.
"I've never been through conversion therapy. I've been through Holy Spirit therapy. That's the only [kind] I know. All they are trying to do is, I think, it's lies. It's fake people and fake news."