THE ORIGIN OF PHOENIX MINISTRY
The early stages of our ministry began with our Founder and President, Gilbert Gonzalez Jr. He was culturally raised Roman Catholic, but he quickly veered into agnosticism in his adolescence with the actions self-proclaiming Christians were giving him. These actions included hate and discrimination of his gay orientation which he realized at an early age and had inherently reconciled and affirmed. Thankfully, God had other plans for Gilbert. With the help of his high school teacher, Cheryl Perez, he encountered a spiritual awakening. The attacks that Gilbert was receiving from those Christians were now fueling him to read God’s Word for himself. This is how his love relationship with God began. Everything he was reading affirmed what he already felt innately. It was then that his friends had approached him to share his journey with them.
In 2008, Gilbert casually began holding Bible study in his apartment in Union City, CA with a few of his close friends. A lot of his friends expressed their frustrations with reading the Bible because of the Shakespearean style in which it was written. That was when Gilbert found that he had a gift for teaching. He was able to comprehend the Word, digest it, and repackage it in a way that was easy for his friends to understand. He included a nice home cooked meal with the study, so the atmosphere was very intimate and drew many of his friends, family, and neighbors. During this time, he realized that there was a community hungry for spiritual things of God whose needs were not being met. Things were going well with the study when Gilbert came to a crossroad.
Gilbert’s passion at a young age was to be in entertainment, and his dream was about to be realized when his industry contacts asked him to move to Los Angeles in 2010. At this time he had already stopped searching. So, with prayer, careful consideration, and counsel from his mentors, he moved to Southern California with a few dollars, top ramen, and a prayer. Amazingly, God provided a job and housing for Gilbert within a month of moving to Los Angeles. He started attending The Dream Center at Angelus Temple, eventually calling it his home church.
Gilbert’s struggle with non-affirming Christians resurfaced while attempting to start a Bible study in his new home church. He was faced with adversity and different levels of rejection on multiple fronts. There were friends who questioned his Christianity, others who questioned his orientation, and still others who were friends but only in private because they were in denial about their own same-sex orientation. As things appeared to grow darker for Gilbert, a glimmer of hope appeared when he went to a NoH8 Campaign photoshoot in Orange County.
In 2012, Gilbert was pleasantly surprised to meet another Christian man who was also openly gay. They quickly became best friends sharing much of their lives with one another. The one best friend grew to many best friends. The following year his friend suggested that they start an LGBT Bible study. Because of the recent events surrounding Gilbert’s spiritual journey, he agreed to co-lead the group allowing his friend to take the reigns. That group was appropriately named Rainbow Bible Study because of its focus on LGBT issues. Only a few months later, his friend decided to step down from leadership and pursue other endeavors leaving Gilbert to lead on his own. The little but sure flicker inside of Gilbert quickly began to grow and grow, and suddenly, burst into flames.
In the summer of 2013, Gilbert started having recurring dreams
about his favorite fictional characters from childhood. Most
notable was X-Men’s Jean Grey and her alter ego as the Phoenix.
The Phoenix is a guardian with immense power and her role was
to insure that people were helped, nurtured, and protected.
Gilbert saw this as a great metaphor for himself and the
burgeoning ministry. In the short time he had experienced being a church leader, he had
witnessed and even worked alongside several ministers that abused their roles in
leadership. He observed the devastation that came to the people that were under their
care and knew that it was his destiny to help them recover. Over a very short time period,
confirmation of the name Phoenix came from multiple sources, and Gilbert knew that he
wanted to start a non-profit organization. He knew that this could be the very way he had
always wanted to help people by living a life of service. It could not just be about people
that identified as Gilbert did. It had to be bigger. Gilbert had a desire for all people to
come to know Christ, and becoming a bridge ministry would ultimately become what he
would want the most.
It was an exciting time for the LGBT Christian movement. Exodus International, a globally renowned ex-gay reparative therapy organization had recently closed its doors after 37 years of failing to change LGBT orientation. Gilbert believed that the Holy Spirit would breathe life into the LGBT Christian movement from this darkness just as the phoenix rises from the ashes. In preparation for the movement, he completed the paperwork for his non-profit organization, and on October 4, 2013, our ministry, PHOENIX MINISTRY, was officially born. However, he still led the group and studies on his own while praying for leadership to step forward, and in due time, God provided.
In 2013, Gilbert promoted a consistent attendee of the studies to help with Treasury named Mike. Mike had been involved in several ministries previously, had often displayed remarkable wisdom was very compassionate. Most importantly, he was a devoted Christian. By early 2014, our ministry was one of the fastest-growing LGBTQ+ affirming Bible Studies in Los Angeles County. The studies were groundbreaking and prompted people to think outside the box. They were richly encouraging while character challenging, and the social events were family-friendly and felt like an extension of what was happening in the studies. The Bible studies became a community much like the first Bible study in Northern California. Furthermore, the group felt like a family because they were a family.
In September of 2014, Lawrence Lee visited PHOENIX MINISTRY for the very first time. After finding Mike, Gilbert
asked Mike to join him as he journeyed deeply in prayer that God would provide a third person to complete the newly forming board. It was during this time, that Lawrence coincidentally showed his strengths. He was structured, loyal, and levelheaded. The style and approach of PHOENIX MINISTRY also really jived with him. During this time, he had a Spiritual awakening and experienced personal revival. He began to radically seek ways to serve God, which caught Gilbert’s attention. Because it paralleled their journey in praying for a third member, Lawrence was approached to join the Board in 2015. After careful prayer and consideration, he enthusiastically accepted.
With three board members, the paperwork for 501(c)3 approval was completed in 2016, and they went to work on guiding our organization to expand to the next level. We grew, and new members arrived after hearing about our unique style of service. Not only did we produce groundbreaking music videos and short films, but we also created an approachable and spiritually solid space for individuals seeking a relationship with God that did not feel comfortable in a conventional church setting. We became well known for our reverence and presentation of Scripture in an easy to understand life-applicable way, all while being completely affirming and celebratory of all orientations and gender identities.
By June of that year, we grew enough to expand to another location. We went full circle and re-launched the Bible study that started it all in Union City. Former members from the San Francisco/Bay Area were ecstatic to hear “Bible study is back!” They arrived at our first study, and the enthusiasm was infectious. Members from our Los Angeles group even made the trip to be part of the celebration. The duel Bible studies proved to be great ways to strengthen our community statewide. With the revival of our Northern California group, we desperately needed a new leader, and earlier this year, the remarkable Izek Campion was tapped. He proved himself faithful, genuine, driven, and passionate about God’s word and the vision of our ministry. Today, he is a sensational asset, and he currently leads and facilitates the Northern California division of the ministry.
Matthew Lonn was one of the original members of the Southern California group in 2013. He has been a devoted attendee of Bible study and trusted friend of countless members for years. He also has a gift for service and is a man of profound honesty and deep integrity. He shares in our vision and is always there to encourage and uplift his peers. Matthew was recently promoted to serve as the Event Coordinator for our Southern California division, and he is also the Editor-in-Chief of the PHOENIX HERALD. Today, Matthew still brings out the best in us and our cheerful members.
Over the past several years, we have seen each other through the genuine struggles of life. Thankfully, we have each other for encouragement and prayer. Despite what we have achieved thus far, we are embarking on our biggest journey yet, and that’s where you come in. We are gearing up to expand to even more locations and equip even more people’s lives with community, life-applicable biblical teaching, and a unique spiritual experience that allows and encourages all people into more intimacy with God. So, get involved today, and be part of this exciting story that is being written this very moment!