Over eight years have passed since we lived in California. I wondered what might have happened to him. My husband’s family had known Danny’s for years. I remembered seeing him pirouette (twirl) on and off the sidewalks in the neighboring town. With hands held high he would yell, “Jesus is faithful! Jesus is faithful!” In the years we lived there, admittedly, there were times I wondered what would possess this man to do that.
During one of my last visits to CA, I settled in at a local Starbuck’s with my favorite latte to write while they were still 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.” I continued what I was doing, trying to make it clear I 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 writing. I know. It wasn’t very nice, but I was pushed for time. I was staying with my in-laws, who didn’t have wireless internet, so I was hurrying to use the wireless.
Two young guys 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?”
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 the 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 to the guy with the skull shirt and said, “For whatever it’s worth, I can’t help but hear this conversation, and everything he’s telling you is 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. Our Father can’t have anything to do with sin, but He wants a relationship with us. He made a way through Jesus. Jesus died for our sin. 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. He had me when he said, “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 saw 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. Apparently, they didn’t know each other at all. No one had planned this meeting except God.
He turned to me after they left and said, “Thank you. You are an encourager. I knew you were praying for me 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 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. I’ve 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 laptop 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.