Six years ago, Khymanie Usher was 13 years old and had just started at Pallotti High, a Catholic school in Belize City, Belize. It was a transitional time in her life, and she was struggling.
“I really had low self-esteem,” she said. “I was depressed a lot. I didn’t have any kind of respect for myself, especially in how I dressed. My religion wasn’t a major part of my life.”
There was conflict in her home as her parents often argued, and she wondered if having a boyfriend might make her happy.
Chastity speaker Jason Evert was invited to her school to give a presentation. His talk had a transformational effect on her.
“I sat in the auditorium at school and right there I changed my way of thinking and how I saw myself. For the first time I realized that I didn’t deserve what I was putting myself through,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “I took everything that he said to heart, and I’m a totally different person now. I’m closer to God. I’m more focused on the things that really matter to me, and I’m in no rush to be in a relationship. And I am totally committed to waiting [for sex] until I’m married.”
Usher especially remembers Evert sharing the testimony of Crystalina, his then-new wife, who, after three promiscuous years as a teen, embraced chastity. Usher said, “Hearing what he said about her and how much she turned her life around gave me a new sense of confidence — that I did not need to stay where I was.”
Today, Usher, 19, is a college student at the University of Belize, living a much more contented life, is a committed Catholic and calls the Everts her role models.
A better kind of love
Evert recently celebrated his 13th anniversary as a chastity education speaker. During that time he has spoken to more than 1 million teens and young adults.
“I love what I do. I would pay to do it,” he told OSV. “One of the joys of my apostolate is to get emails from young people like Khymanie who tell me they’ve remained pure years after they heard me talk.”
Evert is an apologist on the staff of Catholic Answers in San Diego whose special focus is talking to young people about the virtue of chastity. He travels extensively in the United States and abroad, spreading the message of chastity.
Mary-Louise Kurey, herself a chastity education speaker who served for seven years as director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Respect Life Office, invited him annually to address the archdiocese’s high school students. She said: “He’s truly the best chastity education presenter I’ve ever seen. He shares with the students a vision of a better kind of love, the kind of love that God calls us to live in chastity.”
Kurey has observed firsthand how students, after hearing his presentations, come up to him afterward to hand him packages of birth control pills and Playboy memorabilia and request that he remove them from their lives, as they wish to make a new beginning in a life of chastity.
Evert, 35, grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he was active in the Life Teen movement. He attended the Franciscan University of Steubenville and volunteered as a sidewalk counselor in front of abortion clinics. His experiences with Life Teen and counseling would lead him down his career path.
In Life Teen, he led retreats and met teens losing their Catholic faith over issues related to sexuality. At abortion clinics, he said, “I’d meet women 30 minutes away from having abortions. I’d think, ‘Why couldn’t I have met them six months before?’ It impressed on me the importance and urgency in teaching the virtue of chastity.”
An internship at Catholic Answers led to an offer of a full-time job as an apologist, which would develop into his chastity ministry. In addition to his wife, three other chastity speakers are part of his apostolate.
Central to Evert’s message is that chastity is not a negative, a mere repression of sexual desire, but a positive. Chastity comes from the will, and is motivated by a desire to love. The unmarried man who loves his girlfriend will find a creative outlet for his sexual energy — for example, bringing her flowers, writing her notes, carrying her bag — which will deepen intimacy in a healthy way. Chastity helps people to fall in love and marry for the right reason; whereas premarital sex can cloud the judgments of unmarried couples.
Evert shares with his audiences statistics to support his arguments. One is that virgins who marry have a 70 percent lower divorce rate than those who are not, and people who practice chastity before marriage have higher rates of fidelity within marriage.
“Chastity frees us to love,” Evert said. “We’re not in the relationship for taking, but for giving.”
Chastity is more than just not having sex, Evert says, but is part of one’s lifestyle. This includes the way one dresses and talks, and the entertainment he views. Pornography quickly destroys the virtue of chastity, particularly in men. “No one comprehends how widespread pornography is,” he said. “Boys are becoming addicted to it in the eighth grade and begin to act out what they see.”
A porn addiction prevents a man from having a godly and successful marriage, Evert believes, with divorce the common result. It also prevents him from hearing the call to the priesthood or religious life.
Matthew Fradd of Australia was 22 years old and thought himself a practicing Catholic, despite having what he described as an addiction to porn. A female friend gave him a “Romance without Regret” CD by Evert. Fradd said, “I remember thinking that there was no way Jason was Catholic because he was too cool.”
For the first time, the Church’s message of chastity made sense to Fradd. “Jason’s talk was different than other chastity talks I’d heard,” he said. “It wasn’t about guilt or shame. It was about the real demands of authentic love.”
Fradd resolved to change his life and the way he viewed sex. Today, at age 27, he lives in Ottawa, Ontario, and is employed by NET Ministries running an anti-pornography website, www.theporneffect.com. He stays in regular communication with Evert. He also married Cameron, the woman who first gave him the Evert CD, and has two children.
Receptivity to message
In his 13-year apostolate, Evert has discovered that the struggle against sexual sin is universal. In whatever part of the world he visits, and whatever the socioeconomic status of his audiences, “all the kids are going through the same stuff.”
He’s also been amazed by the receptivity of youths to his message; he asserts that he has never had a disrespectful audience. Evert always remains after his presentations to talk one-on-one with teens and recalls one group of boys who brought condoms to the assembly to throw at him. After listening to Evert, they had a change of heart and listened attentively, thanking him afterwards.
Evert is busy at home, as his wife (as of this writing) is about to give birth to the couple’s fourth child.
However, he is looking to expand his apostolate. “I want to find ways to grow,” he told OSV. “As Pope John Paul II suggested, we want to use modern communications technology to reach out to every teen in the world with the Catholic Church’s message of chastity.”
Jim Graves writes from California. Visit www.chastity.com.