Luis Javier Ruiz heard the gunshots, smelled the gunpowder, and felt sheer terror as a gunman brutally mowed down 49 people inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL in June of 2016.
“We hear noises, actually like firecracker noises,” he recounted to CBN News.
But it wasn’t firecrackers.
“You see people running and screaming and my friend that passed away pushed me towards the door and told me to run for my life,” he continued.
As he made his way through a tiny exit, Ruiz says he was trampled by other partiers.
When he was finally able to stand he escaped to a 7/11 down the street.
That’s when something peculiar happened.
“I remember a lady coming up to me and she looked towards Pulse and she said ‘what’s going on?’” he recalled.
“She lifts up her hands and starts praying over Pulse. She looks back at me and she was like ‘You’re not supposed to be here,’” he recounted.
He says he knew her message meant something more.
Ruiz grew up in a religious family, a preacher’s kid and a former US Marine.
Now, he says Jesus is his personal Savior and he's no longer gay.
"I should have been number 50!" he wrote in a Facebook post.
"Going through old pictures of the night of Pulse, I remember my struggles of perversion, heavy drinking to drown out everything and having promiscuous sex that led to HIV," he continued.
"The enemy had its grip, and now God has taken me from that moment and has given me Christ Jesus. I've grown to know His love in a deeper level. 2 out of the 49 were my close friends and are no longer with us. They lost their lives that night. I should have been number 50 but now I have the chance to live in relationship and not religion - not just loving Christ but being in love with Christ and sharing His love. I know who I am and I am not defined by who the enemy says I use to be - but who Christ Jesus says I am," he posted.
Despite recent headlines, Ruiz says he did not come to Christ through conversion therapy but through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“It wasn’t a gay to straight thing. It was a lost to a saved thing. Someone encountered me and told me how much God would change me if I stopped doing it on my own strength. If I fall in love with Christ, he would do everything else,” he explained.
He tells CBN News he’s received threatening and hateful messages on social media since his announcement.
But despite it all, he says he still loves the LGBTQ community.
“I love them. I have a love for them. Whatever they believed in, I’m not kicking them out. We’re actually welcoming them back,” he began.
“You’re not going to see me with picket signs, saying you’re going to hell. I apologize to those kids who grew up like me, pastor’s kids, who have been tainted with that message,” he continued.
Ruiz is just one of many young people who have voluntarily abandoned their LGBTQ lifestyles participating in The Freedom March.
The March took place in Washington DC and featured worship and testimonies from people just like Ruiz.
Freedom March founder Jeffrey McCall can identify with Ruiz. The former LGBTQ activist once lived as a woman named Scarlet.
“I would push it. Push transgender rights and homosexual rights,” he told CBN News.
Now, he says he’s pushing a new message.
“I wanted to have a march where everyone who came out of homosexual or transgender lives could come together, to have an event to hear each other’s stories and also to have an event to speak on the freedoms we found through Jesus Christ,” McCall continued.
He says his walk to Christ didn’t involve conversion therapy either. McCall believes bringing members of the LGBTQ community to Jesus takes grace and truth.
“You can’t have one without the other. The woman he (Jesus) saved from being stoned, he showed her grace first and stopped them from murdering her. Then he told her the truth. Go and sin no more,” he advised.
"I am a living example that there is revival in the LGBT community," MJ Nixon, an ex-lesbian and co-founder of the march, told CBN News. "When I came to Christ He really showed me the truth of my real identity."
Nixon is CEO of Uprooted Heart, a ministry devoted to helping those struggling with homosexuality and transgenderism find Christ. She recently produced a documentary called Here's My Heart , which shares the testimonies of 12 millennials who have left the LGBTQ lifestyle.
But despite their lifestyle, God continued to reach out to them and show them His love.
"I thought that being a homosexual was the most detestable, the most degradable sin that one could ever be a part of and that God would want to have nothing to do with me. But I found that God loved me in spite of me. I found out that it was my sin that God was drawn toward me, that he gave his own life for me," said Ronald McCray, who is also featured in the documentary.
(Documentary cast at premier: Katherine Budny Photography)
Nixon believes it is time for the church to embrace and love the homosexual community without compromising its stance on biblical marriage, especially in an age when more millennials identify as LGBT than any other generation before.
"The church should be the number one thing that people think about to say 'this is the safest place I can go and I can be open about what I'm going through," she said. "God sent His son so that not one would perish…and that is everyone in the homosexual community."