God established this ministry to focus on changing one life. Be that a child, a teen, a mom, a homeless addict, or anyone else, each person is different. Their situations and backgrounds are different, and God’s plan for each of their lives is unique and amazing. Helping people discover the love of the Father and a new life in Jesus Christ, walking with them into the destiny God has designed for them, and then seeing God use them to change the lives of others – that is what Urban Harvest Ministries is all about.
Danny is one of those people – a teenager with a difficult background who found hope. Jesus changed his life. Today, God is using Danny in powerful ways. Here is Danny’s story, in his own words:
Like most teenagers growing up in the Bronx, I had no hope, no joy, no sense of purpose, and no direction. By the time I was ten years old, I had been to more funerals than most grownups would ever attend in their lifetime. My grandfather passed when I was five, my father was murdered when I was six. It seemed every year my family and I attended one funeral after another. It was an uncle, aunt, or some other relative. Sometimes the funeral was for a close friend.
After my father’s death, my mother eventually met my stepfather. Everything at first seemed good. But my older brother and I quickly discovered that he was a major drug dealer in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. I never did like him growing up because besides being a drug dealer, I viewed him as someone trying to replace my dad. I missed my dad. The pain of his death was still fresh in my heart. It was not easy for me or for my family.
The pain continued. I’ll never forget the day my uncle’s girlfriend came in screaming into our apartment, “They got him! They got Fluffy!” Fluffy is my uncle’s nickname. I loved my uncle, who I affectionately called “Tío.” Since my father’s passing, he was the closest thing I had to a father.
That day, the police raided our neighborhood and arrested many people, including Tío. After his arrest came the arrest of one of my other uncles. Both ended up serving lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in drugs.
Eventually, my stepfather ended up going to prison for his involvement in drugs. By age 11, I had no father, stepfather, uncle, no man whatsoever in my family I could model my life after. I had no one to teach me how to dress, how to drive, how to treat a lady, how to fish, how to stand up and take responsibility for myself.
I always yearned for the love of a father. I would watch TV shows like The Cosby Show, Family Matters, and Full House hoping that I could be a part of “that” family just so I could have the “talk” with dad.
I had a mother who loved me, but a mother can’t be a father. Only a father can be a father. Only a father can love you with a father’s love. I yearned for a father’s love. It was my heart’s cry all through my young life! I felt empty. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be loved by my father. I wanted something real! I continued life angry, confused, and totally empty.
The year is 1996. I was 13 years old and in junior high school. I was invited to a church called Harvest. A classmate of mine said, it would be “cool” if I came. So, to impress her, I did.
My first time at Harvest was for an evening Bible study. As I walked through the door of the Harvest Center, I instantly recognized three of my neighbors that lived on the same floor as I did in our apartment building. All three of their jaws dropped as they saw me. I felt uncomfortable. They knew me, they knew my faults, my family. I didn’t want anyone knowing my life. I wanted to leave, but I knew I couldn’t since I had just arrived. I stayed. I listened.
In came this tall white man. That was weird. Why? The only white men in my neighborhood were police. We didn’t trust police. But Pastor Tom was different. When he spoke, his words seemed sincere. His words were kind, gentle and genuine. He spoke about the love of Jesus. He spoke about the love of the Father.
“Father?” I said to myself. What does God know about being a Father? What does God know about my situation? After the Bible study was over, I darted out the door. I thought it was nice but didn’t have any intention of coming back.
But something drew me back. Something kept prompting me, leading me, tugging at my heart to return. So I did. I went back once more, and then again and again.
I’m glad I did come back. After attending a few Bible studies, I learned Jesus was the Son of God who died on the cross. I learned that God was my Father. That was one of the reasons why Jesus came – to introduce us to His Father. “‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God” (John 20:17). I learned that no matter what happened in my life with my biological father, my Heavenly Father had never abandoned me. “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10). I gave my heart to Jesus. A few months later, I was water baptized. A few months after that, I joined the youth group drama team where I was personally mentored and trained for ministry by Pastor Tom.
Even though everything about Harvest church was genuine – the love, the family, Pastor Tom, the Father’s love, I still wanted to live “my own life.” I decided to stop attending Harvest. I was a senior in high school and I didn’t want to miss out on the “fun” of being a senior. I turned away from my faith. Like the prodigal son, I wanted a taste of the “good life.” I ended up leaving Harvest never to return.
I graduated with fairly good grades. I started attending Lehman college in the Bronx and did very well, but that emptiness started to return. That love I had experienced several years before was no longer there.
After the passing of my grandmother, the family and I decided it was time to get out of New York and start a new life elsewhere. We made the move to Florida in 2003. Yet, I never forgot Harvest. I never forgot Pastor Tom. Most importantly, I never forgot the Father.
Away from all my friends, my childhood memories, away from everything I ever knew, and away from the Father, I once again felt empty. I knew it wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. I couldn’t blame my family for wanting a better life in Florida. I knew the reason I was empty, the reason I no longer had joy, peace, or a sense of purpose was because I walked away from the Father’s love.
One day, I woke up and realized what I had to do. Like the prodigal son, I “came to my senses” (Luke 15:17) and made a commitment to go back to the Father. I went back to His Word. I went to church in Florida and I rededicated my life to Christ.
I started attending a small Christian church. I was so hungry for God that I was attending four different churches at one point! I went to every Bible study I could get into because I just wanted to hear more! I was thirsty for God, but wanted more, much more.
I felt God calling me to go to Bible college. Little did I know that He was setting me up for my destiny. I told the Lord, “I just want more of you. I’ll do anything you want me to do. Just don’t make me pastor.” I didn’t want to pastor. I saw firsthand what pastors go through. The 3:00 am phone calls about someone involved in a horrific car crash. The burdens they carry. I honestly thought, “Why would anyone want to be a pastor?” That is why I specifically told God, “Don’t make me a pastor.”
Well, the Lord is not without a sense of humor. After completing my bachelor’s degree, the Lord called me into the ministry. And yes, I began pastoring. I quickly realized the joy of being where God called me and doing what He called me to do. The joy of serving people. The joy of leading individuals to Christ through the preaching and teaching of His Word. The joy of baptizing the sheep and marrying a husband and wife. Even the honor of burying their loved ones. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I am grateful to Harvest and to Pastor Tom and his family for laying a solid foundation in my life. Without the guidance, teaching and discipleship I learned at Harvest, I would not have risen out of the streets of the South Bronx to the place God has me today. If not for Harvest Church, I would have never encountered the love of my Heavenly Father, the love I always wanted.
A place of finding God’s purpose and setting me on the road to my destiny … that is what Harvest is all about! That’s what God did for me.
We thank God for what He is doing through Danny and his family! We also rejoice that God’s Word is certainly true: “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).