Hine Tihore didn’t know any other Christians on campus, so she would head to the smokers’ area by herself to pray. Each day she sat on a wooden bench sheltered by kowhai and pohutukawa at the Massey University campus in Wellington, and she talked to God.
“I was praying mainly for the students on campus to know Jesus, for his Spirit to sweep through this place,” she said. This is her heart: For students to know Jesus, and to know that they are loved by God.
Hine was new to both uni and to Christianity then, early in 2016. This past spring, as leader of TSCF’s fledgling Christian Union on campus, she sat on that bench again and explained how she is living a life that she never dreamt possible.
From her teen years, Hine was searching. “I felt like there was something that needed to be filled,” she said, “but I kept trying to fill it with alcohol, sex, gambling—anything.” The harm was compounded when a family member sexually assaulted her.
“I thought men were the problem,” she said. “At the same time—you know, the Devil puts stuff around and twists truth—he took advantage of the fact that I didn’t know the truth about who I was. I came to believe that I was gay.”
About the same time as Hine came out, her younger brother came to faith. Over the years, both their sister and their late father became Christians through her brother’s witness.
At the age of 28, Hine was settled in Melbourne. She was engaged to another woman, still fettered by addictions and working a job she didn’t enjoy. She had never pursued higher education.
“At the time, I didn’t think I could,” she said.
She was also living with terrible anxiety and a deep conviction that she was unlovable. Until a couple of years ago, Hine struggled to even look at herself in a mirror. “I didn’t love myself because I didn’t know I was loved first,” she said.
Her family had attended church when she was a child, but left without understanding the gospel or the reality of a loving God. By the time Hine and her partner visited New Zealand five years ago, her family knew God and were united in prayer for the pair.
“That’s why I love prayer so much,” she said. “My testimony reminds me that prayer is answered, because they were praying for me. And they didn’t stop praying for me.”
That visit was a turning point for Hine and her then-partner.
“We went for a trip to Rotorua, and the whole way we were talking about Jesus—two gay girls in a car,” Hine recalled. “One had never really had anything to do with Jesus, and me, who had my family coming back to it. The whole way we were talking about God, because we felt something but couldn’t explain it. I was trying to tell her everything I could remember about religious education in primary school, I was telling her these Bible stories and testimonies that my brother and sister had told me.”
Hine had also seen the changes in their lives and was unable to ignore the reason why. When it was time to return to Australia, Hine’s sister slipped a Christian book into her bag and her brother prayed for them.
“At the end of the prayer, my partner said to me, ‘I’ve never felt anything like that in my life.’ Then we went to the airport, and we weirdly both had this overwhelming sense that we were going to die. We’re sitting in the departure lounge, both in tears, so I turned to her and said, ‘I think we need to give our hearts to Jesus!’”
Hine’s sister had previously told her that she must confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour and repent of her sins, “so I haphazardly led us through it.”
When they got home, Hine read the book and started reading the Bible at her sister’s encouragement.
“I just opened it up and started in Ezekiel,” Hine said. “I’m like, what is happening? What does he mean with the bones coming to life? What? None of it made sense. But I read it anyway because she said, ‘Just persevere. Just keep reading.’”
Her daily commute was more than an hour each way by train, so she used the time to dig in. God was working, she said, revealing himself to them by providing freedom even before they really knew what they were doing.
“My sister had pointed out that the thing in my head saying bad things to me wasn’t me,” Hine said. “That was groundbreaking. That was such a revelation. She said, ‘That’s not you; that’s the Devil. It might sound like you, but it’s not.’
“He would constantly speak very loudly—‘You’re useless. No one really likes you. You’re nothing.’ I felt really worthless.”
Hine latched on to 1 John 4:4 and responded by repeating it: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” The voice silenced.
“Another thing was that my partner at the time was heavily addicted to synthetic drugs,” Hine said. “She’d done all sorts of drugs, but her addiction to synth was really bad. She literally couldn’t go 10 minutes without it.” Attempts to quit had resulted in severe withdrawals, and neither of them felt they had the power to break their addictions. One day Hine asked God to do this for them, and she said the answer was instant.
“She never picked up the bong again,” Hine said. “She had minimal withdrawals, and it was nothing she couldn’t handle. We knew right then that God was real.”
They moved to New Zealand six months after that visit and began attending church for the first time. They went to Equippers Lower Hutt, where Hine’s family attended.
“The first time we went, we were waiting for people to judge us,” she said. “We were waiting for people to flinch or stare or something. And when they didn’t, we relaxed. We thought, no one is here to judge us. Someone probably did, but we never saw it because God shielded us from it.”
However when they decided to get baptized, Hine’s brother told them that they couldn’t while they continued in a lesbian relationship. They took offense and stopped going to church for four months.
“About a year later—after God had walked me through so many things, and healed me in a lot of different ways, built back my trust in men again—he said to me, ‘I’ll turn you from this sin, and I have a husband for you.’ At first I was like, ‘You must have the wrong person! I’m engaged to another woman,’ but he didn’t stop saying it. And it was very gentle, it wasn’t forceful, it was just—this is how it is.”
Through reading the Bible, Hine was convinced that her church’s take on sexual ethics matched God’s design.
“I got to the point where I had to read it for myself,” Hine said. “Even though I might not have understood the theological side, the academic side—I just read the words. I read the words and went, okay, this is what it says.
“Then it’s confusing because you say things like, ‘I love my partner so much, and isn’t God love?’
“And identity plays a huge part in it. You put your identity in being gay, so when you reject that, you feel nowhereness.”
Added to this confusion was Hine’s concern that breaking up would damage her partner’s recovery and her faith. She submitted her will to what she knew God wanted of her, but asked him for one thing: “Make sure she’s okay.”
As they prepared to go to a church conference, both of them knew something was going to change.
“We started to have a practical conversation, and she brought it up,” Hine said. “She said, ‘If we break up, I’ll be okay.’ And the second she said, ‘I’ll be okay,’ I literally felt something leave my body—a weight, a shadow. I felt instantly joyful. That’s when we knew, it’s done.”
Hine said that it took another three days for her former partner to believe that their lifestyle was counter to God’s will. Once she did, she also felt that release.
“Admitting that it’s sin is the hardest thing to accept, but once you do, that’s where freedom is,” Hine said. “It’s weird. Rather than it condemning you—I think that’s why I denied it, initially. Rather than explaining it away with certain things, the truth of it is, if you don’t accept it, then it can’t change you. Then you can’t fully accept Christ and you can’t fully accept everything that he is.”
When they arrived at the conference, Hine met someone who knew her brother. When they made that connection, the woman said, “You’re the sister we were praying for!”
“I said, ‘Well it worked, because I literally just walked out of that life two weeks ago.’ For my brother, it was seven years of praying for his family and not one of us showed any interest, seven years until one of us set foot in church. And now, we fill up a row.”
And alongside her brothers’ friends in church, the ones who prayed for her, Hine now meets to pray for others.
“The way I see it, my testimony is not my own,” Hine said. “It’s the result of, obviously, God’s grace, but also a lot of other people’s prayers and their faith and their diligence. It’s their faith.”
During semester time, you can find Hine on campus early on Wednesday mornings for the worship and breakfast hosted by the campus chaplains. A dozen people crowd into a room to sing, read the word and pray together. Then they spill out to make coffee and toast in the open area adjacent, where more people join them. CU members, a Student Life staff member, chaplaincy and students in search of food and conversation mingle for another hour.
When Hine met Ian, one of the chaplains, in the second semester of 2016, just three people were meeting to pray. She joined in their efforts to start a Christian presence on campus. Ian introduced her to Kim Shaw, TSCF’s Wellington Team Leader at the time, to help form a student group. When Kim shared TSCF’s aims at their first meeting, Hine felt that they aligned with the students’ vision for a group and so the CU began. It is still small, but has a committed core.
The group received some unexpected attention in 2018 when someone complained to the student body about what they overheard during a meeting in a public space.
“They said they felt uncomfortable listening to our stories, and anyone in the LGBT community would have also felt very uncomfortable,” Hine said. “So it was recommended that we hold our meetings in an allocated room, which ironically we had asked for, but the logistics weren’t right and the public space ended up working better. So I replied and said, ‘No thanks, we’re happy where we are.’
“I said to them, look, this is my background. We weren’t saying anything disrespectful, I was just telling a story of my life. The point of the story is how it’s important for us as Christians to love people as they are. I don’t see how that’s offensive. I love how Massey encourages diversity, but that includes allowing Christians to be who they are too. So I was sure they didn’t want us to feel hidden away.
“I also said to whoever that person is, I’d be happy to meet with them, but nothing ever eventuated.”
While the complaint initially annoyed her, the situation ultimately made Hine more thankful for a testimony that bridges societal divides. “I’m from that community,” she said. “God found me and loved me while I was in the gay community. So it wasn’t about us hating on ‘the other side,’ it really wasn’t. It was about sharing how the love of Christ transforms.”
Hine is stepping back from leading the CU in 2019 because she has been elected Māori Executive on the Student Association. She sees fresh opportunities there, both to ensure that Māori are well represented on campus and to bring a Christian perspective to the Student Association.
She’s at home on campus. It’s small, with fewer than 4,000 students. Hine has connected with so many people in various capacities that, as we walk the halls, she regularly greets familiar faces.
This will be the third year of her communications degree, majoring in marketing and minoring in linguistics. Hine said that she didn’t know much about anything when she first enrolled, but has begun to see reasons for the course she’s been led on. University life suits her so well that she is considering a doctorate in linguistics and hopes to become a lecturer.
Last August she joined other students who are part of IFES movements at the South Pacific Regional Conference in Vanuatu. She found the time there an important opportunity to connect with believers around the region and to look back.
“I kept reflecting and thinking—he’s completely changed my life in the past five years,” she said. “There’s things that he took, things that he walked me through. There’s big things that people can see, that are obvious, but there’s a whole lot inside that they can’t. I might not be able to ever really express—not living with weight and shame and condemnation, or anxiety. And finding my worth and my identity. It’s been such a short time that he’s just put a whole lot in and worked a whole lot out.
“In Vanuatu I just sat and thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ I have no idea where my life would be otherwise.”
The contrast between Hine’s life before and after finding her identity in Christ is stark, and she wants others to discover the same freedom—stirring up “undercover Christians on campus” (as she calls them) to walk with conviction and share the gospel with those who haven’t heard it.
“It’s so important for me here to show others that they’re loved, because a lot of the message in the media is that they’re not,” she said. “Being in Christ is so much more than we’re taught to believe in society. We’re taught to believe that it’s a religious thing, and it’s anti-freedom. That being a Christian is oppressive and it’s offensive. …
“It’s not the truth. I’m so much more than I ever thought I was. I’m not confined to my sexuality or my ethnicity or my occupation, or my financial status or anything. It’s more than that.
“Now I’m working on knowing my identity as a child of God.”
– Maryanne Wardlaw, Communications Manager