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No more Daniels…..

The reality of Daniel’s death took a few days to sink in.  When I first heard through Facebook, that he had been shot, I was really hoping that it was just a rumor or something. But as I talked with my good friend from Newark on the phone the other day, the gruesome details of his brutal murder penetrated hard. Run down by two guys.  Shot 22 times. It seems too painful to bear at times.

Daniel was one of the first kids Danny met when he moved to Newark.  Daniel then became attached to Danny’s hip.  He was ALWAYS at Danny’s house, hanging out with him, eating dinner with him, being his right hand guy as Danny led worship and led many of the ministry endeavors of the church.  It was almost annoying at times.  When Danny and I were engaged and I would come up to visit, we’d spend the WHOLE day with the kids (Daniel was always there) and then I would look forward to sneaking away on a date where it could just be Danny and me for a couple of hours. Daniel inevitably always asked if he could come too. My soon-to-be husband showed “boundaries” and said “no” much to the relief of his eager soon-to-be-bride.

Daniel loved the “Brick City Kid rap” that Danny had written for the kids. It presented a stark contrast of the street life we saw around us daily and the hope we have in Christ.  Danny even recorded it with Daniel rapping it along with his cousin, Omar. They guys performed it for our Thanksgiving talent show and we prayed that its words would ring true in their lives and in the lives of all the street kids in Newark.  We were proud of Daniel and had high hopes of him being the first of generations of kids who would grow up to live by the hope we have in Jesus instead of by the generational struggles that pervade the streets and homes of our neighborhood.

One day, pre-marriage, Danny and I went over to Daniel’s little apartment in the housing projects. His grandma, mom, aunts, brother, and cousins all lived in the little two bedroom place.  He emerged from “his” room with a picture.  there was a little two year old boy with a fro sitting on a large African American’s lap.  “That’s me, and that’s my dad”, he pointed out to me.  I asked him where his Dad was now, and a he mumbled “I dunno”.

When it was time for Danny and I to marry, Danny packed up his things, said many tearful goodbyes, and moved to Virginia so that I could finish my last year of college. That year was a turning point in Daniel’s life.  The other kids who were in that initial “pack” always gave us saddening reports.  “Daniel’s changed.”, “Daniel started smoking.”, “Daniel started hanging out with the wrong guys.”  To tell you the truth, I wasn’t very surprised.  Danny had been the most stable relationship in his life for the past year and the most positive influence he’d ever received, so with the huge void that his absence brought, I’m not surprised that Daniel started seeking “family” in the “pre-gang” relationships.  At least there were older guys there.  His home was full of women.

When we returned to Newark, we tried to get Daniel back involved again.  His presence would come in waves.  Some weeks when mission teams were there, he practically never left the church building, but then other times there would be long spells when we didn’t see him.  We’d always bend over backwards to make sure he went on different trips with us-paintballing, camps, mission trips.  It even involved writing letters to parol officers to convince them to let him leave the state with us. (He’d already started getting in trouble with the law).

So many cards were stacked against Daniel.   From getting in trouble at school (because of his hyperactivity) to being literally on the streets all the time.  He couldn’t read well, and dropped out of school early.  His mom didn’t know what to do for him anymore and moved to another part of the city when he was about 15.  His only future was earning a place on the streets with the Crips. or so it seemed when so many relationships have let you down.

The last few years of knowing him, he seemed to be slipping away from us. Each time we saw him he looked more and more hardened by street life.  But at the same time, when he’d spend time with our family each year on his birthday, we would see glimmers of the old Daniel.  The radiant smile that lit up his face.  The tenderness towards our kids.  And the eagerness to be in Danny’s presence…. one of the few men that had consistently loved him.

This week a midst our weepiness and deep mourning (every time I break down-mid breakfast, mid-story time, mid-homeschooling, I get these “are you an alien?  my mom doesn’t CRY?!” looks from my kids) Danny and I have thought long and hard over what we could have done differently.  We should have been more firm about him getting tutoring in reading (but at the time we didn’t have anyone available who could).  We should have chased him down and loved him enough to keep him out of the gangs (but Danny running a busy ministry and we had so many kids who were showing up, that it was hard to go hunt other ones down).  We should have recruited more people to mentor one on one. (but people who didn’t live in Newark were busy with their own lives).  We should have prayed more for his life. We should have done this. We should have done that.

In this heart-wrenching week, I’ve cried out to God for two things. That Daniel’s death would not be in vain-that it would be a sobering warning for the other teens that we have invested in who are now wrestling with the pulls of street life.  That they would truly see that “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword” and that message of the Gospel that I KNOW they have heard from us would rise up in their Spirits and draw them into walking with God.  The other thing I have been praying is that his death would stir up the people who don’t live in Newark, to recognize the great need for “go-ers” to uproot and go replant in the city.  It may not even be in Newark.  But there are Daniels on every inner city street in America.  Daniels who need to be loved for who they are.  Daniels that need someone to hope in them. Daniels who need an affirming male in their lives and a home away from home to retreat to so that they are not left to the ways of the streets.  Daniels who need to hear the message of a Savior leaving Heaven itself to enter into “his” world to redeem him from it.  And Daniels who need to SEE this happen, this incarnation, through people who claim Christ and are truly willing to walk as Christ walked.  Out of the splendor of the suburbs and into the dirty, smelly streets of the “world”.

I want to see

No more Daniels.

because someone SHOWED up

and were beautiful feet,

and loving arms,

and encouraging lips

so that there would be

No more Daniels.

This is a song by Lecrae, one of the few rappers that our kids in Newark can look up to.  May this song be heard not only with ears and sentiments, but with action and truth, and beautiful feet that “plant a church in Daniel’s projects”*.