Ex-gays happily married to each other for 35 years: God gave give us a new identity
Anne Gustavsen, Korsets Seier
Tove lived in several lesbian cohabitations, and Bjørn had a male lover. Both were active in the gay community in the Norwegian capital Oslo. But something happened when they became Christians.
“No one tried to convert us. Nor did we turn to God to be freed from homosexuality. It just happened naturally due to the new life we received inside. It cannot be explained; it has to be experienced”, Tove (79) and Bjørn (75) Refstad emphasise.
“When we embraced salvation, we became completely new creatures. The old was gone, and everything became new.”
The Norwegian couple sits close together on a sunny afternoon in their home in Tørboda in Sweden. They married 36 years ago – and have not regretted that decision a single day.
Not judges, but witnesses
The two became heavily involved in the fight against the Partnership Act in the 90s. They experienced a lot of opposition and storms against them then, but they are both keen not to judge others.
“We are not called to be judges; we are witnesses. We can only tell what we have experienced and hope that it can bring hope and faith to people who are struggling”, they say.
The two are willing to fight for the freedom to tell what God has done for them.
“It shouldn’t only be gay people who have the right to speak”, says Bjørn.
When they decided to get involved in the Partnership Act in the 90s, it wasn’t because they wanted to provoke or cause trouble, Bjørn explains. “It was something God put on us to give people hope for change. After all, we had lived in the gay community and seen that people were not doing well. They give the impression that the sun always shines, but that is not true. God sees the tears and the misery, and He wants to tell them about the supernatural love from Him.”
Bjørn believes there must be a counterweight to all the voices that say: “You just have to accept who you are.”
In the 90s, as today, the couple experienced many Christians were afraid to get involved and speak clearly, including among leaders. They felt that they were very much alone in the struggle.
“Many fear the consequences of saying something politically incorrect. That’s why many people withdraw”, Bjørn believes.
“Sometimes it is important to bring out what is real and true, and then we should rather take the heat. Those who fight on the other side are very outspoken in their belief that they must be understood, accepted and respected. That generosity must go both ways”, adds Tove.
However, the Refstad couple also does not believe in conversion therapy, which is currently being hotly debated in the Norwegian media.
“I don’t believe in it. We don’t need methods and therapies. We need God to come into our lives and sort out our chaos. For us, the transformation was not man-made; it was divine”, says Bjørn Refstad.
“When God’s Word had its effect on our lives, everything fell into place. We received a new identity”, says Tove.
Lonely and insecure
When Bjørn started hanging out in the gay community in Oslo, he had spent 20 years in an orphanage. He was lonely in the big city and was looking for company.
“I came to an orphanage when I was two years old, and these difficult years probably created identity problems for me. I was very insecure about who I was and insecure in relations to women. I grew up in a female-dominated institution and had no contact with my family”, he says.
He felt insecure when it came to everything related to marriage and family.
“Family life was very frightening for me. I only had negative associations with it from growing up, and I had lost contact with my family.”
As a newly employed banker in Oslo, the young man was introduced to the secret gay community in the capital. Homosexuality was still illegal in Norway, but Bjørn tells of a large gay community in Oslo even then. Many in the bank where he worked were gay. Bjørn joined them after work and was soon part of the community.
He remembers that he was in a famous gay bar in 1972 when homosexuality was decriminalised in Norway. He remembers the cheers going up when the news reached them. Later it turned out that Tove had also been in the same bar that day, but the two did not know each other then.
“I was drawn towards this environment and gradually began to accept and identify myself as gay. I can never say that I felt any happiness in it. Even though I got a boyfriend, I always felt like something wasn’t right. But it helped against the loneliness. It was good to belong.”
Bjørn met many nice people in this environment. Some loved living this life, but Bjørn also remembers many intrigues, a lot of infidelity and a lot of alcohol. “I got to see the back of the medal”, he says.
On New Year’s Eve 1972, Bjørn was so depressed that he took an overdose of medication. “Everything was meaningless and chaos inside me”, he says.
That is when he was introduced to the Gospel. First, at a street meeting in Oslo with the well-known Christian singing duo Curt and Roland. “I stood as if glued to the asphalt when they sang and testified”, says Bjørn. “What I heard was almost too good to be true.”
Later he dropped in on a meeting in the Salem church. There he decided to become a Christian. It is 50 years ago now.
“Then everything fell into place when it came to my identity. I never had any conversations about it, no prayers either. I just met the resurrected God. I experienced that God cleaned up my life without realising who He was.”
Newly saved Bjørn joined a Bible group in Grünerløkka. There he met Tove for the first time.
Tove’s background was just as sad as Bjørn’s. She grew up in a good home and trained as an infant and maternity nurse. But when her father died, Tove’s world crashed, and she became depressed. It would be the way into psychiatry and drug abuse, where Tove was in and out of psychiatric institutions for 14 years.
“It was hell. I received electric shock treatments and was drugged down.”
At Gaustad Hospital, Tove saw much suffering, and several of her fellow patients committed suicide.
It was in this environment that she also started abusing drugs. In the end, she ended up as a drug addict. “After two years, I took an overdose, not because I wanted to die, but because it was a cry for help. Then I was put in closed wards, in a cell with bars and a toilet in one corner. It was like a prison”, says Tove. “Then my mother said stop and took me home.”
Already in her teens, Tove had been bothered that she did not fall in love with boys as her friends did. Well-meaning people around her encouraged her to live out the gay feelings that arose.
“I hung out in Oslo, in the same places as Bjørn. During the years after I came out of psychiatry, I had three different cohabitating relationships. In one of them, we also put a ring on each other’s finger”, says Tove.
As a broken 34-year-old, addicted, thin and disillusioned, Tove got a place at Ten Center’s girls’ centre in Rakkestad. Ten Center did outreach work among drug addicts in the capital and rehabilitation centres for drug addicts.
“On the first day, I had to get rid of all drugs and tablets. I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. But I fell asleep instantly and slept like a little child all night. I didn’t experience any withdrawal symptoms either”, says Tove.
“This is how it was for everyone who entered there. God’s presence was so strong, and we were embraced by prayer. It set us free.”
After 15 transformative months at Ten Center, Tove got a job, an apartment in Oslo and a good Christian community around her.
“I became a new creature and got a new mind, the mind of Christ. I began to think God’s thoughts and reflect in God when it came to who I am.”
Eager to tell her old friends about her new life, Tove brought some friends down to the gay bar to witness. “They knew me; that’s why we were allowed in. Otherwise, they were very careful about who they let in”, explains Tove.
“We told about Jesus and prayed for people there. Many were deeply moved and cried when they heard us tell.”
In love with a man
Suddenly, love affections hit Tove like a bomb. And this time, the romance concerned a man. “I got a shock of joy”, says Tove. “I had never been in love with a man before. Now I was so in love that I could hardly sleep.”
Tove had started a cell group in Oslo, and Bjørn came there. “Tove fell so in love with me. I knew about it, but I needed to go through a long process before I was ready to propose to her”, says Bjørn looking over at his wife.
For several years they were just good friends.
“I was terrified of everything called marriage and family. I had only seen the back side of family life at the orphanage: broken families characterised by alcohol and violence. But then God began to heal me on the inside”, Bjørn tells.
Bjørn attended the Livets Ords (World of Life) Bible School in Uppsala, Sweden. Seven years after he met Tove first, he realised that he had to go home to propose to her.
“God’s word had worked in me, processed and prepared me to become a husband and a family man. At Bible school, I experienced the truth that God overshadowed my bad experiences. God delivered me and made something completely new in me.
Bjørn travelled home in October 1987 and asked Tove to sit down before he could say what was on his mind. “I have decided we will get married on New Year’s Eve,” Bjørn said. And so it happened. Bjørn was 39 and Tove 44 at the time.
“The love for Tove had grown. Now she has become the most important thing to me”, says Bjørn.
Tove had waited a long time for Bjørn to come to her. But now he was here. “It was completely natural for us to enter into marriage together and have sex with each other as man and woman”, says Tove
It is now 36 years since the wedding, and both characterise life together as an exciting journey. They are both concerned with helping individuals and have had an open home for people who have needed a safe haven. They have also moved when they have experienced that God has led them to live near people who needed their help.
“From a human point of view, it is impossible to understand what has happened to us, and many may think that it is us who have managed this, and not God. That is completely wrong. Only a supernatural force from God could set us in complete freedom”, says Tove Refstad.
This article was published on June 10th, 2023, in Korsets Seier, the Pentecostal weekly magazine at the newspaper Dagen in Norway, and translated by CNE.news.
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