22 Bullets Later…

This is a post from my husband Danny’s blog reflecting on Daniel’s murder. Right to the heart as usual…

Danny and Daniel back in 2003

I buried Daniel last Friday… He was 19 years old.  It’s been two weeks since he was murdered and I was hoping all the emotions would have faded by now but they haven’t.  My wife Kimberly has wept every day as she thinks about him; it’s still hard to believe he is gone.  He was one of the first kids I met in Newark when I moved there in 2003 to help my grandfather re-plant an inner-city church in a needy neighborhood in Newark NJ.  He was 11 when I met him. I’ll never forget the day. This wide-eyed little African American boy with a basketball in his hands walked by me as I was sitting on the porch. I asked him if he liked basketball and he simply said: “I can beat you.” So I challenged him and made the stakes quite high. If he beat me I would give him 5 bucks, but if he lost to the white boy (me), he would have to come to church with me that Sunday.  I beat him real good… so good in fact that he started coming to the church every day and brought all his friends.  He always wanted to be around me.  When Kimberly and I were falling in love and she started coming up to Newark to see me, we would pretty much just hang out with Daniel and “The Brick City Kids” the whole time.  After dinner time we would try to send the kids home so we could have some time together or go out on a date, and Daniel would always pout, never understanding why he couldn’t go with us… He was like a son to me and I had become the father figure he longed for. Great memories… I can honestly say that Daniel was really the start of Safe Haven Urban Redemption (The non-profit organization we founded) and a big reason why God led us to Newark.

Daniel flashing his smile

One of the hardest things was watching the circumstances in Daniel’s life unfold and watching the choices that he made in response to his circumstances lead to the inevitable consequences. When he was 15, his mom lost their apartment where the whole family (and lots of relatives) were living (about 8 of them in a small two bedroom) and moved into a different housing project with her boyfriend and the recent father of her newest baby. Daniel ended up having to move in with his uncle in a housing project with serious gang issues. As a 13-year-old, he had believed in Jesus as his Savior and joined the church (without his family), but this move pulled him away from his community and began impacting him in a terrible way.  Slowly we watched him fall into the traps of gang life and saw the consequences. I remember visiting him in jail when he was 16 and helping him get out and into a program.  He started coming to the church again and I saw hints of the faith he had so honestly confessed… It was still there, like a struggling flower trying to stay alive in the midst of a blizzard.  I remember driving home with him from a youth retreat we went on in Virginia and hearing him talk about how Jesus was the only thing that got him through each day of his hard life.  Multiple times he confessed that he wished things could go back to the way it used to be, to the good old days before I had kids and a family and a ministry to run-when we could just hang out all the time… My heart broke for him then as it does now… More

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From the Mouths of Babes-Trinity’s healing

My Sweet Trinity

One night Trinity had been particularly sweet about paying people compliments.  I decided to jump on that and encourage that encouraging behavior.  While I washed dishes, she sat and we talked about how paying compliments is a way to use words that “are useful for building others up according to their needs so that it might benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29) (Finally! A chance to use the verse without it applying to the “unwholesome talk” part that was coming out of my kids mouths).  We also talked about Proverbs 12:18, “the tongue of the wise brings healing”.  We talked about how we can help heal and encourage and bring joy to people when we speak kind words to them.

Then, a few nights later, Danny got home from work and I immediately broke down weeping about Daniel again.  Through the tears and sobs, I could see Trinity staring at me in a pained and shocked face. While curled up on his lap, I tried to mumble out what I was feeling to Danny which led to more weeping. Trinity continued to stare.  Then Trinity started in with her ” tongue of healing” that she had just learned about the other night.

“Mommy, you look pretty.”

Mommy, your skirt looks so pretty”

Mommy, your hair looks pretty.”

“I like your shirt, Mommy”

“I like the white thing right there”

“Your necklace is pretty, Mommy”

“Your pink toenails look so pretty.”

“Mommy, I like your bracelet.”

Danny, was wondering what on earth was going on with the barrage of compliments, but it quickly registered in my mind….Trinity saw her Mommy in pain. She knew how to bring healing.  By saying nice things.  She was going to fix the problem with compliments.  If it were only that simple.  Oh, childlike faith.

But, sweet Trinity, keep seeking to use your tongue to bring healing.  The Healer will use it.  His Word promises it.

God uses persons….

Danny and I upon our knees

crying out to the God of the Universe

for our city, for those kids.

Where is your heart for Newark, Lord??

Clear as day,

He says,

I put it in you.

This is why I weep,

this is why I mourn.

This is why I will not rest,

but am driven to my knees

and then to action.

God who is a Spirit,

used a Person,

to fight back sin, suffering, death, and hell.

That Person resurrected,

and now, His Spirit

is sent,

into many persons.

To fight back sin, and suffering, and pain

with His power, with His heart.

So now, I, as a person,

indwelt by the Spirit of the greatest Person,

will weep,

will mourn,

will be propelled to action.

I have been given a new heart, His heart.

Because God uses a Person inside of  persons.

No more Daniels…..

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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 curses 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 with roaches running rampant and the TV always blaring.  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 being put in front of a television from infancy (resulting in attention disorders and truncated brain development) to having no father or even father figure in his life until he was eleven and met Danny.  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….the only man 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 Lacrae, 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”*.

**Seriously, our church is desperately struggling and needs laborers, worship leaders, a pastor, a Sunday School Teacher. We can’t afford to have this one light be shut down in this neighborhood. Please contact me if you are willing to GO.

A Surprise Trip to San Diego

Benjamin's first airplane ride AND trip to the West Coast

This post is a continuation (post #1) of A Watchman on the Walls, so read that if you want to know what is going on.

My incredibly cool older brother is really good at what he does.  He is a natural leader, persuader, and hard worker.  So when his wife, Susan, called me up and told me that Ken had won the most honored award in his company, I wasn’t all that surprised. But the REALLY fun part is that, as part of the surprise, the recipient’s entire immediate family would be flown out to San Diego to the company’s national conference held at the five star resort, the Grand Del Mar to be there when the winner was announced. With a two weeks notice I arranged for friends to take different shifts of watching my kids with my amazing husband taking the night and morning shifts, so that Benjamin and I could fly to San Diego for a 36 hour trip to watch my brother receive the award  and celebrate with him.

Me and my big bro., Ken

I was SUPER excited to get to see Ken as well as my other brother and sister who were being flown out. But I was also excited to be in an atmosphere other than home, the seminary, and our church, so that I might be able to share Christ with whomever I encountered. I had my husband praying, and my kids praying that Mommy might be able to share Jesus with people who don’t know Him as their Savior.

The first flight I sat next to a woman flying back from Disney with her two kids and husband.  I silently asked the Lord for opportunities to share His truth with her, as we struck up a conversation about raising kids. I tried to ask deeper questions that might lead to eternal matters.   “In raising your kids, what types of hopes do you have for their lives?” “What types of principles do you desire to instill in them?” The typical modern mentality emerged “That they would believe in themselves”  “That they would be good people.” “That they would realize that family is important” etc. But it also unearthed some of this woman’s history-she had grown up in a Pentacostal church, and her husband in a Catholic one. She admitted that she feels bad that her kids don’t really learn much about God, although she still believes in Him. The conversation didn’t dive into the full Gospel, but I did bring up the fact that all people, including children are worshipers (Thank you, Ted Tripp) and that they will always be worshipping something, so if you don’t want your children running into drugs, or alcoholism, or abusive relationships, they’ve got to be taught about the One who can be worshipped without still leaving them empty….  The God who is actually worthy of worship and who pours back into His worshipers. We parted ways after the plane landed, and all I could do was pray that God would trigger something in her heart to send her and her family searching for Him.

The next flight I sat next to a woman, who was busy reading a book, but I kept asking the Holy Spirit to come into that situation.  Eventually I struck up a conversation, and I found that she was involved in a church, but said that she just hopes that God would forgive her for the ways she’d messed up.  I tried to explain that Jesus already took all the punishment that we deserve and we are able to be forgiven because of HIS perfect record not our own.  But she kept saying that she just hoped that God would look at the good stuff she had done, post “the mess up”.  I wanted to scream, “That’s not how it works!  You are FREE if you stop trusting in yourself to earn a right standing before God!” But it just seemed like my words were hitting a brick wall, and not being internalized.  I came away from that conversation discouraged, and understanding more fully that it truly IS only the Holy Spirit’s work that opens ears and eyes.

The chauffer that drove us (all the family members that were flown into the airport) was super friendly and almost like a tour guide as we drove around San Diego on our way to the resort.  It was too hard to try to have a deep conversation with a bunch of people in the vehicle, but I just trusted that it wasn’t the Lord’s will for that particular leg of the journey.

More to come…the super exciting part, an amazing divine appointment.

Watchman on the Walls…

“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, BUT I WILL HOLD THE WATCHMAN ACCOUNTABLE FOR HIS BLOOD.”(33:6)  My eyes froze upon these words as I was reading through Ezekiel.  I read and reread the that 33rd chapter of this prophetic book.  God was telling Ezekiel that he was called to be a voice to warn the people of the upcoming judgement of God.  He could either recognized the oncoming disaster and do all in his power to warn the people of its imminence, and thereby be faithful to his God (and free himself of being guilty at their death) or he could keep silent and be accountable for their blood.

Silence.

It comes in the form of “not wanting to offend”.  or “just letting them see my different lifestyle”. or “being too busy” or “not knowing how”. or just plain laziness. But, still, it is silence.

IF  I believe that “all have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) that means every person I meet, from the grocery store clerk, to my next door neighbor, to the person sitting next to me on an airplane (and including myself!) – no one meets the standard of a perfect, holy, God who requires holiness of anyone who is to enjoy His presence

IF I believe that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a) then that means every person I meet is bound for hell-complete separation from the LIVING and from the God who is the Giver and Sustainer of Life.

IF I believe that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor.5:21) then there is a glorious hope and escape from the hell we’re headed towards.

IF I believe that “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23b) then Jesus is the means by which we gain that escape from hell, the ONLY means and this gift needs to be shared with and received by many.

IF I believe that the “Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matt. 18:14) then I’ve just found out what God’s will is.

And if I believe all this, I must do everything BUT be silent.

And here in Ezekiel I read a passage that truly causes me to tremble.  I can warn people of what God has revealed through the Holy Scriptures and be used to save some, AND free myself of bloodguilt

or

I can be silent and be held accountable for all the people God has placed in my life, or even just in my passing, and I did not bother to make God’s glorious redemption story known to them.

Being a stay-at-home mother of four, AND being removed from my consistent platform in Newark to be able to share this good news, had resulted in silence up to this point.  But as my spirit was convicted by this passage, I knew I had to be actively warning, actively proclaiming, actively being “beautiful feet that bring good news” (Rom. 10:15) But I could not engineer these situations and opportunities.  I had to ASK for them, and trust that I would RECEIVE.  I had to SEEK them out, and trust that God would lead me to FIND them.  I had to KNOCK, and believe HE would OPEN THE DOOR.

A trip was upcoming, and airplane rides are the perfect place to start.  Someone is sitting next to you, and they’re stuck there until the plane lands.  A captive audience for the duration of the flight.  OR a Divine Appointment by the One who seeks and saves the lost, and uses fumbling, broken, ill-equipped people to be the mouthpiece. To be the watchman on the wall.

The next few posts will continue these thoughts…and adventures.

Surprise trip….

A Beautiful Divine Appointment

Last Leg of the Journey…