Arteh Odjidja

We All Have a Place in the Lord’s Church

Arteh Odjidja
02/12/21 | 4 min read
The Lord won’t hinder us in our journeys to gain our testimony. It’s through trial that we gain the wisdom and the fortitude to withstand the storms that attempt to displace our faith.

Growing up with same-sex attraction was an isolating experience. My life felt contrary to all the messages I’d been raised with as a Christian from a first-generation Ghanaian-British household.

As I grew up and began to uncover my passion and talent for photography, I found ways to empower people by telling their stories through portraiture. I found success in my career this way. However, I struggled to feel empowered by my own story and to accept myself for who I was.

After university I began attending church again after years away. I remember having a strong desire to understand why, despite my progress towards my goals and dreams, I still felt so unsettled in my life. I began attending a local Pentecostal church that I’d spotted one day walking in east London. I would attend every Sunday to listen to the sermon offered that week. I’d stay for the service and discreetly leave with a polite thank-you to the ushers. They were lovely people, but I wasn’t confident enough to stay around and mingle.

I developed a pattern for attending a new church for a few months, then deciding to try another, then another. I loved the feeling of being around others worshipping God, so I just kept going back for more. I would pray often to understand God’s purpose for my life. No soul-affirming epiphany came, but the deep desire to know Jesus Christ never waned.

After about eight years of prayer and seeking out the right church for me, my answer came. In 2015 while out in town, I came across two missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who invited me to attend their Church. One was from China and the other was from St. George, Utah. I had recently left a large international church I had been serving in for a few years, so I was once again searching. With nothing to lose, I accepted their invitation and attended a Sunday sacrament meeting that same weekend.

A familiar feeling came over me as I arrived at the chapel; its decor reminded me somewhat of the Methodist church of my youth. That day I felt the Spirit and knew without a doubt in my mind that I needed to know more about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. So I made more appointments to see the missionaries and learn.

Self-acceptance didn’t come straightaway, but I felt the Spirit working with me, leading me to new friends and mentors whose faith and knowledge strengthened my own. I persevered to learn and serve, but the question persisted in my mind, “I am gay and Black—where do I fit in the restored gospel plan and in the culture of this Church?”

The Lord is no respecter of persons; we all have an important role to play in the gathering of Zion.

Keeping my concerns all inside felt suffocating. I repeatedly poured my heart out to Heavenly Father, as I have done throughout my life, and I finally received an answer one evening in March 2016 at home in my London flat. It was the unmistakable presence of the Spirit. I received this message: “Just follow me, and I’ll show you the way.” I felt a massive sense of relief, of peace—letting go of the need to have all the answers for the future and simply trusting Him. I fell to my knees and gave thanks.

I made the decision that evening to trust Him and was baptised a few weeks later in April. I learnt an important lesson that day about obedience and trusting the Lord with the unknown. This lesson has been further compounded over the last four years of being a member, serving in callings and leadership responsibilities. Sometimes the Lord may not want us to see too far into the future; He wants us to be obedient and walk forward in faith and hope. His Spirit reminds me daily that He’s with me and that although life isn’t always fair or smooth, I have to trust that He’s leading me back to Him and to the full measure of my creation here on earth.

The Lord won’t hinder us in our journeys to gain our testimony. It’s through trial that we gain the wisdom and the fortitude to withstand the storms that attempt to displace our faith. The Lord ministered to me through the scriptures, the attentive missionaries, and the nurturing presence of my bishop. I realised through time that as a child of God, He loves me as I am, and my struggles gave me purpose and helped me find faith in my Saviour who would help me become more like Him.

I believe my purpose is to offer perspective to others through my words, my art, and my insights—to encourage compassion towards others. I don’t think my life is any more important than anyone else’s, but hopefully my perspective can offer others the peace I now feel about having a personal testimony of Jesus Christ and His purpose for our lives.

As an artist who captures human stories, I’ve become enlightened to the many hidden faces of humanity: the untold stories, the silent and silenced voices of suffering. It is important to me to inspire others to empathise with those we deem as “other,” as we are all brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go before division, injustice, and prejudice are eradicated from people’s hearts. I know how integral it is to our collective progression to have charity in our hearts and to bear one another’s burdens.

I try to champion unheard voices because that’s the very least I can do to play my part and love as the Savior would. I recently completed a two-year photojournalism assignment in the Niger Delta to help raise awareness of the damage caused to the local environment from repeated oil spills that effect the local people in major ways. Polluted water and farmlands and infant mortality are big issues facing these communities, who rely on agriculture and fishing to survive. So I made it my mission to make the world aware of the burdens people there face every day. I continue to speak on the issue today amongst other causes that I feel passionate about.

Arteh Odjidja
Arteh Odjidja is an award-winning portrait photographer and educator born and raised in London. Arteh considers London to be his home and a place of inspiration for his work. He also draws much inspiration from his global travels and his focus on empowerment through the medium of portraiture.