“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.
‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded.’ declares the LORD. ‘They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,’ declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 31:15-17
Recently my world has been rocked by two Daniels*. If we could sit by the fire on a chilly Mexican evening, I would tell you the long version of their stories. For now, I’ll just tell enough to peak your interest and hopefully your burden to pray for each of them. Their stories are Advent stories—Jesus bursting onto the scene of their dark, turbulent existence and puncturing it with Himself.
In November, I had the “airmiles gift” of visiting Kenia in Cape Town, South Africa. While Trever diligently worked here at the MTC (Matthew Training Center, Guadalajara, MX), Kenia and I had a delightful mother-daughter time. She enthusiastically opened her world to me: heart-stopping beauty; a merging of cultural, language, and race diversity; the sweet hospitality and affection of her colored neighbors in the township of OV, the aching burden of violence, unemployment, addiction; and neglected, abused and love-starved children running in through her door and into her heart.
One of the first days I was there, as I looked out the window of the little house that Kenia calls home, to the young men dealing drugs, to thin women inhaling their fix, to the children running barefoot over stones and glass in the street, I heard the sweet, clear notes of a gospel tune. There in front of the flats across the street sat Daniel- eyes closed, rocking out a victory song over darkness. Kenia takes him to church on Sunday nights in a neighboring black township. Each week she asks him what he hopes God to do in him, and she shares her hopes also.
She has a little banking system with him so he can eat bbq meat with others after church. The things that his addict brothers cannot steal from him are his gift of song, his joy, his love for Jesus. He closely watched and listened to Kenia and I in our relationship. Daniel is a 15 yr. old boy who has every reason to be bitter about life, or to follow the example of his older siblings. But he yearns for new and radically different models in his life—ones that lead him in following Jesus. The picture of his sweet smile and gentle attitude, that bold voice of praise and innocent desire for a loving family has been seared on my heart.
This is an Advent for us, for Daniel, for you. Advent means “coming.” Jesus, what will your coming to us today mean? May Your message of hope and healing for broken, fractured people be the song you sing over my young friend Daniel. Give him Your song of love—to sing over his people in OV. Give us all a glimpse of Your coming Glory!
His life intersected with ours 19 years ago, not because he or we had anything in common, but because our Father wanted Daniel to know that He loved him and He asked our family to be the flesh and blood of that God-message. It wasn’t an easy request. Daniel was an angry, cold-hearted killer. Even his fellow gang members didn’t like or trust him. His nickname was “Stench,” for his bad character left a stench over his family and community. Even good people could be heard saying that everyone would be better off without him around. And really, for all the enemies he had and crimes he committed, there is no logical explanation for him being alive today. But, as you’ll see, God reaches beyond logic and reason to draw near to even the most corrupted soul.
Daniel was baffled by the love and courage he saw in our family. He was drawn to our God of mercy and forgiveness. For a time he lived with us and absorbed the acceptance, love and discipleship he received. He hardly had time to take firm steps on his journey with Jesus when he received a phone call with the news that his brother had been shot and killed. Daniel’s enemies pinned a message to his brother’s body, “This is what happens when you mess with us. Sooner or later we will find you.” As Daniel fell to the floor weeping, our Silas wrapped his arms around Daniel and wept with him. Later he told us that Silas’ act of love deeply moved him.
However, in the following days, the enemy obsessed Daniel with a forceful desire for revenge. His hatred toward his brother’s killers and toward himself for bringing death and grief upon his family produced in him a dangerous rebellion and rage. After several threatening altercations with us, the Lord prompted me to the task of asking him to leave our home. Even though he understood why he had to leave and received the blessing of money and food to get him going on his way, he left bitter toward God.
Over the next weeks his bitterness grew, until he acted out against us in a distressing assault and robbery, and stalked us to take our lives. He slandered God by saying that he would prove that he was more powerful than Him. How many times did we cry out to God, like David in the Psalms, to be our rock and refuge! God strengthened us through those turbulent times.
Shortly after we moved from Cali to Bogota, he was captured and arrested for a murder and sent to prison. We were grieved that he had turned away from God, but at the same time relieved that he was no longer out on the streets and admittedly, threatening our lives. We moved from Colombia a few years later, and in these numerous years since, have heard varying reports that he had been released from prison, and whether he was dead or alive.
Then last week, I received a message that, as I said earlier, rocked my world: Hi Joan. This is M*****. I choose to use the name Daniel now to protect my identity. What joy to message you. I love you all very much. Only God knows how terrible I feel for what I did to you. With all my heart I ask you to forgive me.
Jesus, if Your victory is forgiveness 70×7, if Your victory is glorious redemption and reconciliation—then, yes, YES! we delight in following You into victory.
Before we left Cali, God gave each of us family members the opportunity to stand face to face with Daniel, embrace him and speak our forgiveness to him. But now, out of the blue, 5 short statements and 1 plea tug at the cobwebs and rattle the box where old memories and old pain lie. Trauma sets boundaries in our hearts, some healthy and some unhealthy. Some of us have wrestled with the unrealistic fear of meeting Daniel or others like him again in life. There have been times when I have seen a person on the street that reminds me of him, and my heart jumps. I confess that I would have been good with never seeing him or hearing from him again in this life.
Then this. As I wrestled with how to answer or whether to even answer, I read this in a study on the life of David: “Few things make us want to flee more than the prospect of fighting on old battle. The moment an old enemy reappears, we want to run into the nearest forest and never come out…Satan is watching for just the right moment to pull the rug out from under us, but even that rug is under God’s feet. And He always has victory in mind. Consider this carefully- we may not always follow Christ to victory, but He is always leading.” (Beth Moore)
We want the victorious life, even if the battle for obedience means wrestling fear to the ground and raising the peace-making flag over that old opponent.
So, I wrote the declaration of forgiveness that Daniel needed to hear again, and gave him the words of freedom and peace that the Lord put in my heart for him.
Yesterday, his response was: Joan, you don’t know how happy I am to hear this from you. I’m fighting the good fight—it hasn’t been easy but I am trying to be the best father I can be, to be a transformed person. I have changed so very much. My heart belongs to God. You all are the most beautiful people I have ever met. I love you all. Greetings to the whole family.
This is an Advent season, for us, for Daniel, for you. Advent means, “coming.” What victory is Jesus coming to lead us in? Jesus, if Your victory is forgiveness 70×7, if Your victory is glorious redemption and reconciliation—then, yes, YES! we delight in following You into victory.
Come Lord Jesus- be our Advent Story!
Recommended Advent album: Young Oceans-Advent
*They both have the same name, but their names have been changed to protect their identities.