Brother Danny

11.23.10 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[4]

On Thanksgiving morning millions will wake up to the aroma of turkey in the oven; breads and rolls baking to a golden brown, and the smell of fresh-baked pies - apple, pumpkin, maybe cherry, wafting through their homes.  They’ll have their morning coffee, maybe thumb through the paper and turn on the television to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  They’ll make sure the final cleaning is done, pull out the gravy boat for its annual appearance, and dust off the extra folding chairs to arrange around the children’s table.  I know about the children’s table; I still end up there some years.

But for Danny Cahill, Thanksgiving morning will hold very little of this significance.  He won’t be worried about preparing a meal or visiting with family to enjoy one; he won’t be watching football on TV; and whereas a lot of Americans will spend a few moments of their day giving thanks – at least on a superficial level – Danny will have the entire day to reflect on God’s purpose in his life and give thanks because, you see, Danny not only has a thankful spirit, he’s also homeless.

I first encountered Brother Danny via email in 2006.  He had emailed Family Life’s prayer line asking for simple prayers – for provision, safety and health.  He never asked us to pray that he’d find a home or a job, or be given a million dollars.  He never lamented over his condition, in fact he knew it well.  And he always ended his emails with the phrase, “GOD richly bless you…”.

The emails would arrive every couple of weeks, sent from public computers at libraries or cyber cafes in New York City.  Danny became a regular on our prayer list.  About a year after I first read his email I decided to write him back and simply ask a few questions, like “Who are you?”, “What’s your life story?”, “How are you doing?”.  I wasn’t sure if I’d hear back but sure enough, a couple days later I received a return email in which he explained much of his life story.  He was in his sixties and had been homeless, off and on, for a number of years.  His parents died when he was young and he was raised by an abusive uncle.  Some other bad experiences led him into occasional drug use and he became an addict.  At times he was able to hold a job and maintain an apartment in the city; he struggled as many people do with the power of addiction and the lack of a support structure of family and friends that many of us take for granted.  He lived at various missions and shelters for months at a time then would be out on the street if the shelter closed or lost its funding. 

Along the way, he went to a mission one night and heard a salvation message and gave his life to Christ.  Not to get a free meal but because he understood his relationship with God wasn’t what it should be.  He kicked drugs and has been clean and sober for 24 years.  His life didn’t have a miraculous turnaround – sometimes life in the streets, as perilous as it can be, is preferable to trying to build a ‘normal’ life. 

Obviously I felt a tremendous empathy for Danny.  While I couldn’t relate to his background or situation, I felt a tugging of the Spirit to continue our dialogue and we have over the last few years.   I tried last year to connect with him in the city – he spends most of his time in lower Manhattan – but for a variety of reasons it didn’t work out.  His prayer requests have continued to come in and while he and I have continued our correspondence, the staff has been praying for him and his needs at the same time. 

Then something amazing happened.  One of our staff members said to me a couple weeks ago that she and some friends were going to the city that weekend.  The Lord had put a burden for Brother Danny on her heart and she wondered if we could finally connect with him, just to meet him and perhaps help him out with some clothing for the coming cold winter months.  It was a “God moment”.  A series of emails went back and forth asking where he would be on Saturday (at the public library on 23rd near 6th Ave.), what sizes he wears (L or XL) and if there was anything specific he needed.  Many staff members contributed money and clothing and 24 hours later the group left for New York.  We were praying for them every mile of the drive and on Saturday as they ventured downtown to find Brother Danny. 

They say that it’s sometimes easy to spot another Christian in a crowd.  Something in their demeanor, their eyes, their smile, how they carry themselves.  It was that way with our group and Brother Danny.  Amidst a busy flurry of activity in the library, their smiles of recognition instinctively brought them together and they sat down to enjoy a couple hours of stories and fellowship.  I got a text with a photo of the group and Brother Danny while they were there and it just about made me cry to be able to put a face with the emails I’d been reading for four years.  They had a wonderful time together and we were able to provide him with a number of clothing and personal items along with some gift cards.  But more than the material goods, as necessary as they were, Danny was grateful for the fellowship and friendship.  He wrote me that afternoon, “Wow there is not a lot i can say right now, i am trying my best to hold back the tears but couldn’t brother Cecil.  They were the nicest Christian people i have met in so very long.  The gifts were more than i could of dreamed of but it was the love they gave me that broke my heart.”    

What happened that day, in the middle of a bustling city with millions of people going about their business, was the essence of what the Gospel is about.  We didn’t help a homeless person – we made a friend. 

Is Danny just another sad luck story?  Over 36,000 adults and children are homeless in New York’s five boroughs; is he just a statistic?  Someone who isn’t trying hard enough?  Someone you’d avoid if he walked past you on the sidewalk?  No.  Danny’s a child of God.  He actually feels a calling to minister to other homeless people because, as he says, there are always those who have less than he has.  One way or another, God provides for him. 

So as we celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday – and I hope it’s more than just a prelude to Black Friday for you – remember that God provides for all his children, even if they’re spending the day riding the 8 Avenue Express and eating Thanksgiving dinner at McDonalds.  I asked Danny if he does anything special on Thanksgiving.  Here’s what he said:  “To be honest with you i do not celebrate holidays anymore.  If you go to a mission they treat you like a goldfish in a bowl, they fall all over you but the next day you are right back where you were and they are gone.  The best thing i have found is to find another homeless person who has it worse than me and try to cheer him up.  That helps me not feel sorry for myself.  But the first thing is thank the LORD for his love, a happy holiday and pray that someone gets saved that day.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Don’t put a piece a pumpkin pie around me with whipped cream because that baby is gone!  GOD richly bless you and happy Thanksgiving to you brother Cecil.  You made mine just by asking.”

As you celebrate with friends and family, remember the words of Jesus, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Happy Thanksgiving, Brother Danny.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 11.23.10 Annymous commented

Such a great blog Cecil. Brought a smile to my face and joy in my heart. Praying for Brother Danny and everyone he represents this week!

on 11.23.10 Mary commented

You caught the "God-ness" of this story, Cecil. Now I'm wiping away the tears too.

on 11.24.10 Robert commented

Cecil, this really puts things in perspective. Thanks for letting us share in the story of Brother Danny. God bless you all at FLN for what you do.

on 11.24.10 Christie M. commented

I just read this and it really sticks in my heart. There are so many people like him who have found themselves on the street without any hope. Thank God for people like brother Danny who know God has a plan and purpose for their life even if it's something we would struggle with. God gives us grace to handle our circumstance. Thank you for sharing this example of God's love.