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« Post-Easter Reflections | Main | Motives for a Better City »
Saturday
Mar052011

Downtown with Daniel

Daniel Harris is one of the most amazing men I've met - ever.  He exhibits a deep and consistent faith that challenges me and incites in me a hunger for God.  After being with Daniel, I leave and long to pray, read the Scriptures, visit with dear friends, be still and quiet, sing, cry and laugh.  He's just that kind of blessed, gifted, gentle, mischevious soul.  

Daniel lives in East Memphis, but his heart is for the downtown Memphis community.  The eclectic Bohemian blend of homeless people, City Hall movers & shakers, business tycoons, young professionals, artists and owners of the small corner shops and cafes that make up the community - that's where Daniel's life comes alive. 

He stumbled into this passion after reading the Bible and discovering God's heart for the poor and for cities.  And when that message took root in his heart, he's never relented.  Over the past 7 years he's consistently traveled to downtown Memphis to build relationships, share his life, hear their stories and point folks to the One who pursues with love and hope and grace.  When I mean consistently, I mean 3-4 days a week, spending anywhere from 10-20 hours each week investing in the downtown community.  And it shows.  If you walk anywhere with Daniel, you feel like you're with the Mayor.  And that's what I call him, the Mayor of downtown.  

Several months ago, just before Christmas, I was with Daniel.  It was after dinner one night and we walked into a cigar shop.  The owner and Daniel have struck up a remarkable friendship.  I walked in and it was like when Norm would walk into Cheers and everyone would shout, "Norm"!  Everyone patted Daniel on the back, the ladies gave him kisses on the cheek, the owner stuffed cigars into his pocket and the gentlemen surrendered their seat to Daniel.  

This same cigar shop, a few months prior, had emptied out into the streets in search for Daniel.  Daniel had been reported missing and word spread to the shop.  Family and friends were concerned.  When the cigar shop owner got the message, he announced it to everyone in the shop and they poured out of the shop and into the streets; an impromptu search party.  Daniel was discovered at a tavern down the street leading a Bible study.  

I have seen this scene, of downtowners caring for and loving Daniel, be played out over and over.  Literally a dozen times in the last 18 months since I've known Daniel.  People love him.  They listen to him.  They talk with him.  They share things with Daniel; secrets, hurts, fears, memories, questions, regrets, hopes and prayers.  Daniel is their pastor; he's the chaplain for downtown - literally.  

Here's the thing though.  Daniel has Cerebral Palsy.  Which means, that each time he goes downtown, it is (in my mind) an Everest sized chore.  Generally he takes one of the Memphis Public Buses to get downtown.  And while he's downtown, he makes his way up and down the streets.  He's quite mobile, but like I said, it is a challenge.  Still, Daniel is undeterred.  He knows that God has called him to this place, these people and this community.  This has been his rhythm - living in a different part of the city, but having his heart beat for downtown, he travels in and out of the heart of Memphis each and every week.  

But today, that rhythm began to change.  Today, the boys and I helped Daniel move into an ancient apartment in the heart of downtown.  Through the prayers and efforts of several people, Daniel was able to secure a wonderful place in the very neighborhood he loves so deeply.  

I've known several people whose hearts have been for a place and a people.  Friends who felt called to international missions and took short term trips to the location of their calling while they waited for the right time to relocate.  And when they were finally able to go, it was a celebration.  Which is why I wanted to be a part of this move.  

Though the distance and culture are quite a bit closer than, say Indonesia.  The passion, the heart, the faith...well, I just don't know that I've known anyone 'wait' better and more faithfully than has Daniel.  And now, a new season of his life and ministry is about to begin.  And, frankly, I wanted to be there for its birth.  

Daniel's move may have gone unnoticed in much of downtown, just like Jesus' birth went unnoticed by much of Bethlehem.  But, though unaware, the world changed on that day.  And I think similarly, in some small ways we won't realize until seasons yet to come, downtown changed today because a man of tremendous faith and love moved into the neighborhood.  And that can still change things.

Reader Comments (1)

Thanks, Matthew, for this story. Daniel is my kind of man, a man who loves the city and its denizens. I'm praying his new home is quite comfortable and adequate and that his work in the city will be blessed a million times over.

June 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDelaine Zody

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