Over eight years have passed since we lived in California. I wondered what might have happened to him, so I asked my husband if he had heard anything. My husband’s family had known Danny’s when they were younger. I never met him face to face, but I remembered seeing him pirouette (twirl) on and off the sidewalks in the neighboring town in California. In big red letters, his t-shirt read, “Jesus loves you.” And with hands held high he would proclaim boldly, “Jesus is faithful! Jesus is faithful!”
I’m currently in CA visiting again. One evening last week, I settled in at my favorite local coffee shop to write for the last hour they were open. On the opposite end of the bench from where I sat, a man spoke to me, “Hey, how are you this evening?”
Halfheartedly I replied, “Fine, thanks.” Then I continued what I was doing, trying to make it clear I had an agenda and was uninterested in idle chit-chat.
He went on enthusiastically, “It’s really nice weather out there, isn’t it?
I thought, “That’s a likely line.” Smiling I said, “Yes it is” and went straight back to what I was doing. I know, I know it wasn’t very nice, but I had a time limit. I’m staying with my in-laws, who don’t have wireless internet, so I was hurrying to use the wireless in this coffee shop. Besides, I didn’t want to encourage random conversation with a man I didn’t know.
Two young guys came in and sat down across from him. Their meeting seemed planned. The tall one was wearing a black shirt with skulls. The friendly gentleman beside me had his Bible open and smiled as they joined him. When they sat down, the tall one said, “I have a question for you. What is a God?”
Now, they all three had my attention. Anyone who knows me knows I want people to hear the truth about God. I listened closely. I wanted to hear the friendly guy’s answer.
He told them there are many gods (little g) but one true God (big G). He explained how things in this world become the object of people’s worship and become little g’s—fame, money, jobs, people, food, self. But there’s only one true God who says, “There shall be no other gods before me.”
He said, “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one can come to the Father except through Him.”
With every question, He gave a detailed scriptural explanation. I’ve never heard anyone teach God’s Word so boldly, with that clarity and confidence, without opening the Bible. It was apparent, He knew God’s Word. It was hidden in his heart. Excitedly he spoke, “Jesus was in the beginning… Through Him all things were made that were made… ”
I sat on the edge of my seat. I wanted to cheer him on! I spoke up and said, “For whatever it’s worth, I can’t help but hear this conversation, and everything he’s telling you is the truth!”
They questioned, and he continued, “This world is filled with darkness… Jesus is the light of the world… We are to be light in the darkness, and Jesus helps us do that… God is a good God, and He wants all to come to repentance and life. He made a way for us through Jesus. We all have a choice to accept or reject Him.”
About thirty minutes into this evangelical question and answer, He began sharing from personal experience. I overheard him say, “I’ve never had many friends. At one time in my life, it really bothered me. But over the years, I’ve learned as long as I have Jesus, I’m never alone. I’m completely fulfilled. He’s all I need. He’s all any of us need.”
My heart-felt like it sank to my knees. Here, I had sat down to write about my love for Jesus, yet I had snubbed this sweet guy who just needed someone to talk to. How wrong was I? It made me sick. Meanwhile, those guys listened to every word he said.
He went on, “I danced for the San Francisco Ballet and traveled all over the world. I got to see some amazing things. But all the beauty and riches in the world don’t compare to knowing Jesus and having a relationship with Him.”
“The San Francisco Ballet? Could it be Danny?” I wondered!
The guys apologetically had to leave. He asked for their names so he could pray for them. When they stood and began introducing themselves, I discovered they didn’t know each other at all. No one had planned this meeting except God.
He turned to me after they left. I had hardly written a thing. He said, “Thank you. You are an encourager. I knew you were praying for me in your spirit as I was talking to those guys. Will you please pray for them?” He reached for my hand, “What’s your name?”
Shaking his hand, “My name is Rivera, and yours?”
He replied, “Daniel. You know like in the lion’s den?”
I smiled, “Yes. I know Daniel.”
He said, “Humility is beautiful. You know, you are beautiful.” Then what he said next penetrated my heart. Jesus Himself may as well have been speaking in that moment. He smiled and said, “You know Rivera, we can have the Bible memorized and can minister to people all day long, but if we don’t love, none of it means a thing.” I knew this truth from 1 Corinthians 13, but I obviously needed to be reminded. It’s so simple yet so easy to forget, isn’t it?
I smiled. “Daniel I agree with you. Thank you for that truth.” I silently prayed, “Lord, I repent. I did not extend love and grace toward Danny earlier. Please forgive me!”
Then I asked, “How can I pray specifically for you Daniel?”
“Pray that I remain pure and steadfast. Early in my walk with God, I messed up a lot. Pray that I finish well. I just want God to look at me and say ‘well done!’ Yes, just pray that I finish well.”
God used Danny, a misunderstood ballet dancer with few friends, to speak truth over me that night. He did it in love, and I experienced church right there over my computer and coffee. Daniel loved me through my unlovely, self-centered behavior. He was being the church.
It’s what the church is called to do, genuinely love people like Jesus: when they mess up, when they’re un-loveable, when they’re different, and even when we don’t necessarily understand them.