Leaving the gay lifestyle behind
The last time Angela Yuan saw her son was when he threw her out of his house. It was Christopher's retribution. His parents cast him out of the family after he announced he was gay. Angela prayed every day for God to save her son.
Now they reunited inside prison walls. They were still separated by the bulletproof glass, but joined in prayer for the first time. She didn't know the dark path her son had walked. He didn't know her prayers were about to be answered.
Thou shalt not covet
Christopher Yuan's first sexual thoughts came at age 9, when he found a trove of adult magazines in a friend's bathroom cabinet.
"It was that rush of doing something wrong," he said.
With the rush came the realization he felt attracted to both genders. When puberty hit, Yuan bought his own adult magazines.
The attraction to men felt instinctual. At 16, he met an older man at a gay social club and had his first sexual experience.
When his mother found out about it, she forced Christopher into counseling.
"We thought I was fixed after that," Yuan recalled. "Basically, we just didn't talk about it."
He tried dating girls, but was still attracted to men. After finishing Hinsdale Central High School, he sought a rugged image to squelch his thoughts and joined the Marine reserves.
It wasn't a cure. The weekend training sessions in Gary, Ind., took him away from the watchful eyes of his parents. After training, he'd rush to Chicago's gay clubs.
"I decided, 'I've just got these urges, and I'm just going to satisfy them,' " Yuan said.
He decided to become a dentist like his father. He enrolled at Louisville University in 1992, where gay bars were just blocks from campus.
"For me, that was just like freedom." Yuan said. "I felt like I belonged. I was in school. I was smart. I was in shape. I was a Marine."
With all that going for him, it was easy to tell his parents he was gay.
Angela recalls it well. It was "worse than receiving news of his death."
Her life was crumbling. Her son rejected her. Her marriage was failing. At night she'd tape her eyelids to control the swelling caused by her tears. She decided to visit Christopher.
Then she'd kill herself.
Before boarding a train to Louisville, Angela visited a chaplain for advice. She left town with just a purse and a pamphlet. It told her God loves all sinners. He hates only sin itself. For the first time she believed she could love her son even if he were gay.
Christopher was shocked by the transformation.
"All I remembered is them kicking me out of the family," he said. "I really thought she'd just flipped her lid."
No gods before me
Yuan was deeply rooted in the gay community by then. Much of his social life was at gay clubs. That's where he discovered drugs, but didn't have much cash now that he was cut off from his family. So he started selling to friends to support his habit.
He soon found he could sell up to 100 hits of Ecstasy in just one weekend at the clubs. He quickly added his classmates and even one of his professors to his clientele.
Being the man everyone came to for a good time was addictive. The money was fast and easy. Yuan used the business skills he'd learned at his dad's dental office. He began flying to other states to buy and sell more drugs.
Yuan's schoolwork did not improve with his travels. The university decided to expel him for his absences and poor grades. Yuan asked his parents to convince the university to let him stay on.
"By then I was just praying to God to do whatever was necessary -- that could even mean death -- to make him do right," Angela said.
Yuan's parents supported the expulsion. He was furious. It was another reason to disown them.
He moved to Atlanta, and gained a foothold in the gay club scene by dealing drugs. He sold Special K, cocaine, marijuana, LSD, mushrooms, steroids, Ecstasy and a pure form of methamphetamine known as "ice."
It was a Hollywood lifestyle: all the drugs he wanted, a new sports car, an expensive apartment with a pool, his own personal bodyguards.
"I had become God," Yuan said. "I would walk into a club and, literally, a sea of people would come up to me."
Honor thy mother
Angela didn't know about the drugs. She just knew her son wasn't living right.
She'd play Christian songs on Christopher's answering machine. She'd mail cards every other week. Every space on all four sides was filled with her words. They all ended with "Love you forever, Mom."
On holidays, she'd send Yuan a plane ticket home and wait for him at the airport. He'd never show up. He'd never call.
So his parents went to him.
"All I wanted to do was have sex and do drugs and sell drugs, and they didn't fit into that schedule," Yuan said.
He kicked them out after a couple days, but his dad left him a Bible. When the door closed, Yuan threw it away.
He was now at the peak of his drug-dealing and using. He'd burn 10 days in a row smoking ice, not eating or sleeping until he'd pass out from exhaustion. He dropped from 180 to 130 pounds.
Yuan was also at the height of his promiscuity, sleeping with multiple partners in a day, often not knowing their names.
To make his life seem legitimate, he became a promoter, coordinating parties at clubs. The club would supply the bartenders. He'd supply the drugs and DJs.
"I thought I was invincible," Yuan said.
At home, Angela swooned in spiritual devotion. She fasted 39 days in a row, living only on vegetable juice. Her prayers were desperate requests for her son's salvation.
In 1998, she believes God answered her prayer.
Yuan was sorting a large drug shipment on his kitchen table when a dozen U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officers, Atlanta police and two German shepherds arrived.
Drug orders were coming over the fax and phone even as agents stormed through. Yuan ran his drug deals like a business. He kept every receipt and had a ledger detailing all transactions.
The agents took everything. All told, the DEA busted Yuan with various drugs having an estimated street value of nearly $11 million today.
He began calling friends to bail him out. None of the 20 people he tried took his call.
There was one number left.
Angela Yuan was walking in the door from her Bible study group when her phone rang.
She flew to Atlanta the next day. She saw her son behind a thick pane of glass.
She asked Christopher if he would allow her to pray for him. She pressed her hand to the glass. Yuan met her palm with his own. It was the first time he ever prayed.
Two days later, Yuan paced the facility, beginning to realize his mistakes.
On top of a garbage pile was a pocket-sized Gideon's New Testament. He took the book back to his cell.
"It began to change me," he said. "If I knew that, I wouldn't have picked it up."
There was a lot to change.
"I thought I'd probably stop selling, but not doing drugs or going to clubs," he said. "I didn't even consider giving up the gay lifestyle."
Yuan cut a deal to testify against other drug dealers the government had built a case against because of Yuan's files. He got six years.
"I was just crushed," Yuan said. "I was going to be ancient when I got out."
He was 28.
Yet, a new low was coming.
Hope and a future
Yuan found himself one morning shackled in front of a prison nurse. He saw tears in her eyes as she gave him a piece of paper. It read:
It was a death sentence on top of his prison stay.
Back in his cell, Yuan gazed at the empty bunk above his own. Etched into the frame was a message: "If you're bored, read Jeremiah 29:11."
The verse speaks of God's plan of peace and happiness for everyone.
"God really used that verse to speak to me," Yuan said. "Regardless of who I was, or what I'd done, he had a plan for me."
Yuan used that hope to conquer the sins he believed led him to ruin: drugs, greed and homosexuality.
He started with support groups, but couldn't accept the ideology of forever being an addict even once he was clean.
"One of God's most important messages is you can be completely changed," Yuan said. "You should never identify yourself by your struggles. My rebellion does not constitute who I am. I don't consider myself an addict anymore."
Yuan made God his addiction. The cravings vanished.
Next was letting go of the drug dealer lifestyle. His prison sentence was enough to convince him to quit.
Sex was last. He hoped to balance homosexuality with the Bible, but only found an ultimatum.
Yuan was not instantly cured of his attraction to men. But he decided his sexual thoughts would no longer define him. He didn't believe thinking about men made him a homosexual any more than occasional murderous thoughts made someone a murderer. Yuan decided to follow God by committing to celibacy.
"People say, 'How can you live without having sex?' " Yuan said. "Well, it's possible. It's not even an aspect of who I am."
The cleansing was complete. It was time to start his second chance at life.
Paroled to God
Federal agents used Yuan's drug files to nail a key figure they'd long sought. Yuan was the star witness.
Testifying risked his safety. In prison, only a child molester is lower than a snitch.
Yuan's new faith became his courage on the witness stand.
In exchange for his testimony, his sentence was cut to three years. He'd already served nearly two. He had to figure out what to do with his second chance. The Bible and ministering to others were all he cared about.
He decided to enroll in the only Bible college he'd ever heard of, Chicago's Moody Bible Institute.
Yuan needed letters of recommendation from people who knew him for at least one year as a practicing Christian. That meant slim pickings. He eventually secured letters from a prison chaplain, a guard and a fellow inmate.
Yuan left the rest to God.
He didn't wait long. Yuan was accepted to Moody after his release in July 2001.
He graduated in May 2005 and was accepted at Wheaton College's graduate school to learn biblical exegesis --a systematic study of the Bible.
He now teaches at Moody and shares his life story with whatever church congregation will hear it, including South Barrington's influential Willow Creek Community Church. He travels around the world in good health thanks to checkups every three months.
Yuan's life is not free from temptations, but he believes his faith continues to deliver him from evil. He rejects the sexual labels of homo, hetero and bi-sexuality. He says God has even opened his heart to female relationships and marriage now.
"Not everything that feels good is right," Yuan said. "Attraction is not a choice, but acting on those attractions is. Acting on same-sex attraction is not encoded into DNA like ethnicity or skin color. Black people can't wake up one day and say, 'I'm no longer black.'
"Gay people can wake up and say, 'I'm no longer gay.'
"I'm living proof of that."