Dr. Dharius Daniels: Our greatest joy and our greatest pain comes from the same place: relationships. And so I knew if I was gonna live life as the Creator intended, then I had to get this this right in my life.
Lifting Each Other Up Changes Everything: Dr. Dharius Daniels & Ron Hall – Episode #203
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Our stories this week demonstrate the power of relationship, and what can happen when we allow God to change our lives through unexpected friendships. We’ll hear from pastor Dr. Dharius Daniels and author Ron Hall.
Dr. Dharius Daniels has always wanted to live a life of purpose. As a young college student, he felt sure he was destined to go to law school until a friend and mentor helped him see how God could use him to reach others far outside the courtroom. Over the years, Dr. Daniels began to realize that relationships have the power to change our lives, and if we’re seeking to live a life of purpose, that journey starts with serving people and lifting each other up.
Dr. Dharius Daniels: I grew up in a small town in Mississippi called Kilmichael, Mississippi. The last census, I think, pegged the town at about 630 people. No stoplights, one full-time police officer, one doctor. But it was an amazing upbringing, and I would say the size of the town made the town highly relational. You knew the majority of people in the town. There’s this proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child,” and my life is really the fruit of some of the relationships that I formed early on in my life in that small town, and the impact that those relationships had in my formation.
One Person’s Power to Change Lives
I went to college with all intents and purposes of going to law school. We had to take classes on political theory, and a lot of the political theorists we were studying were actually theologians. I started sensing the call, the sense, the urge, the prompting to use my life to serve people in a different way other than the courtroom when I started seeing the impact that some of these political theorists had on shaping our world and shaping the way that people think.
Theologians have influenced culture, they’ve influenced society, and in some way, we’re all making different contributions to make the world better and make people better. And so that’s what I started sensing the call of God to abandon my law school plans. It took me about two years to get to the place where I fully let go of them, but I just got to the point where I knew the way I was supposed to live my life was by serving others through serving the church.
I cannot overstate the power of one person’s ability to change a life. Sometimes you are planting seeds and you are making an impact, and you have no idea the fruit that’s going to come from someone else’s life later and the impact that you have actually made.
There are several people all throughout my life—I mean, my dad, that’s gonna be the first one. In my book [Relational Intelligence], I talk about a story with one guy, his name is Terrence Alexander, and I met him when I was in college. By God’s providence, he had transferred to my school from another school, and we met. During one of the most difficult seasons in college, he just as a friend mentored me, coached me, and really helped. He was a thought partner for me as I was trying to sort through the decision to abandon my plans to go to law school and to go to seminary. God using him is one of the reasons I’m in the ministry right now and doing this recording with you right now.
A Gospel That Reaches Real Lives
I came from Mississippi, which was Bible Belt, small. My dad led a smaller church. He was a bivocational pastor for the majority of my childhood. And I get to go from that right to New Jersey, and I started interning at this church while I was at a seminary.
I was interning at this church in the inner city. Now, I came from a rural Mississippi, and now I’m serving in a church in the inner city in the northeast. It was a completely different way of life, a completely different social reality that people were dealing with.
I’ll tell you what experience I had. I was interning, I was working a number of different apartments, I was working with youth with a Christian education. And I remember one of the classes was just kind of helping people wrap their head around what the Bible was and how to study it. I remember one lady sitting, looking at me, and at the end of class, she came up to me and she said, “You know, I’m embarrassed.”
I said, “Tell me why.”
She said, “I can’t read.”
And so what I began to see is the need for an expression of the gospel that did more than address people’s morals, but addressed people’s lives.
“What I began to see is the need for an expression of the gospel that did more than address people’s morals, but addressed people’s lives.” – Dr. Dharius Daniels
I want to plant and lead a church that does more than simply help people with their morals, but helps people change their life. And so the name Change Church is birthed out of that conviction. That’s kind of the heart of our church in what we feel called to do. And I think that’s probably one of the reasons we talk so much about relationships, because I think you can have a high standard of living without doing relationships well. But you cannot have a high quality of life without doing relationships well.
“You cannot have a high quality of life without doing relationships well.” – Dr. Dharius Daniels
Developing Relational Intelligence
Relational intelligence is the ability to define and align your relationships. And so when I say define and align, this is what I mean: it’s possible to give labels to relationships that those relationships don’t actually reflect. Just because I call someone a friend doesn’t actually make them one. So that’s the defining part.
This whole idea of aligning your relationships, it’s about aligning your own personal investment. And it’s about aligning your expectations so that you aren’t expecting something consistently from someone who is unable or unwilling to give it. That leads to frustration, it leads—sometimes, at least—to pain and betrayal and things of that particular nature. And no one is perfect. We’re not God. So there are gonna be times where, you know, we make relational mistakes. But it’s one thing to make those mistakes because we’re imperfect. It’s another thing to make those mistakes because we’re naive.
There is no area of our life that is not directly or indirectly impacted by our relationships: our physical well-being, our financial well-being, our relational well-being, our spiritual well-being. And I go so far as to say in the book that I believe in relationships of purpose partners, that at the end of day, purpose isn’t just about the acquisition of things. Purpose is about assisting people in some way. When you carry out your life’s purpose, you’re going to be adding value to other humans, directly or indirectly.
“There is no area of our life that is not directly or indirectly impacted by our relationships: our physical well-being, our financial well-being, our relational well-being, our spiritual well-being.” – Dr. Dharius Daniels
Narrator: Dr. Daniels’ book, Relational Intelligence, is available wherever you buy books.
We’ll be right back with our interview with the author of the New York Times bestselling book Same Kind of Different as Me right after this message from Jesus Calling.
Ad: In this season, it’s important to remember to help the people in our communities by shopping locally—something that’s important to Jesus Calling author Sarah Young, because as she says, “I’m very grateful that there are local Christian bookstores committed to bringing the best in Christian resources to cities and towns around the world.” So this week, remember to look for Jesus Calling products at your local bookstore. And if you can’t get to a local bookstore near you, remember to check online at a favorite local retailer to see if shipping or curbside pickup is available.
Narrator: Ron Hall’s life was centered around a successful career as an international art dealer and a passion for his Rocky Top ranch on the Brazos River, but growing up, he was a poor kid who just wanted to escape poverty. With hard work and determination, he eventually became an investment banker and international art dealer, but his obsession with success led to rockiness in his marriage—culminating in a confession of infidelity that was ultimately met with forgiveness from his wife, Debbie. It was the power of that forgiveness that opened Ron to a series of circumstances he would never have been able to predict—and ended up in an unlikely friendship between Ron and a homeless man named Denver who changed Ron’s life and the life of an entire city.
Ron Hall: My name is Ron Hall, and I think most people know me today as an author, screenwriter, and producer of the book, Same Kind of Different as Me, and of the film of the same name.
I run a homeless foundation that we call The Same Kind Foundation, which is named after our book, Same Kind of Different as Me. Some people also know it as the Same Kind of Different As Me Foundation, where we try to raise money and help the homeless. But for most of my life, for the last forty-five years, I’ve been an international art dealer, and that led me to where I am today.
The Quest to Escape Poverty
My mother was a Christian woman who took us to church and made us be in Sunday School and church every Sunday. But, you know, we never talked about that other than when she woke us up on Sunday morning. She said, “It’s time to get dressed for Sunday School.” And, you know, the only excuse for not going was you would have to wake up dead.
We were there in church, but church, religion, anything like that—God, Jesus—nothing like that was talked about in the home. I never saw my mother or father pray. I did see my mother reading her Sunday School lesson from her Bible in her recliner. But, you know, nothing was ever talked about like that.
When I was a kid in the world, I grew up so poor that I could barely pay attention. I had no ambition, really, to do anything except escape poverty. I guess it was hunger. It was hunger for things that I didn’t have or couldn’t have.
But, you know, I didn’t even know what I didn’t have until I was about twelve years old, and at the local skating rink, I met a girl from on the other side of town, and she liked me and invited me to her birthday party. Her mother came to pick me up in a brand-new Oldsmobile sport coupe—I had never seen anything like that in my life—and she drove me to a side of town that I didn’t know existed because I had never crossed the tracks to that side of town. And all of a sudden, I saw beautiful manicured lawns and big homes and big trees and beautiful cars parked in driveways.
And so when I saw what other people were living like, I said, “Wow, this is what I want.” You know? So really, from that day forward, I began dreaming of getting to a point where I could own a new Oldsmobile sport coupe, where I could live in a home with a beautiful manicured lawn, in a big home. I began dreaming of those things and planning.
But truthfully, I didn’t feel that I was smart, because in our high schools, I was never encouraged to do anything. In fact, we didn’t even have a college counselor in my high school. They made an announcement one day, and they said, “Anybody that wants to go to college needs to be here on Saturday morning to take a test.” And, you know, that was the first time I knew that you had to take a test to get into college. It was called the ACT test. And so I showed up that Saturday morning and took the tests, and I never knew how I did on it. But I guess I made it up to get into college.
And so I went to talk to the principal and I said, “I want to go to college, where should I go?”
And my principal said, “Well, I really only know two colleges, because I went to both of them. That’s East Texas State and North Texas State.”
So I said, “Well, okay, I guess I’ll go to East Texas State. That sounds more interesting.” So that’s how I decided on college.
Same Path, Different Directions
Then my plan for success was to go to TCU and marry one of those rich girls. Debbie was not a rich girl, as Debbie just happened to be about the poorest girl at TCU financially, but she was rich in many other ways and she was very rich in spirit. And God knew what He was doing when He put [my wife Debbie] in my life.
“God knew what He was doing when He put [my wife Debbie] in my life.” – Ron Hall
Debbie and I were kind of on the same path. She had grown up a lot like me: in church, but not a believer. And so we started life together, really. We were drawn to each other. We were all about our parties and fun, and we didn’t go to church together. I never went to church with her until after we got married. We enjoyed the parties much more than the classes.
I ended up being drafted into the Army, and then after I got out of the Army, I realized that I need to come back and get serious about an education. So I came back to TCU, Texas Christian University, and there I began to study and I found out that I was actually smarter than I thought I was because I started making good grades and making all A’s. I stayed and I got an MBA after I got my undergraduate degree, and then all of a sudden I was offered a really great job as an investment banker at a local bank.
Through that first week on the job, I was in Houston, Texas, and met an international art dealer who had just come back from Paris on an art deal. And I said, “Well, how do you get a job like that? I’ve never been to Paris. I would love to go to Paris and be able to work there.”
And he said, “Well, you don’t get a job like this. You just have to do it.”
So before that day was over, he had talked me into buying a painting that I could not afford. I wrote a hot check for it, and then I borrowed the money to cover the hot check. And then I had ninety days to sell it. And in ninety days, I sold the painting and made more than I was making as a banker. I said, “Well, I think I’m going to try this.”
So I began doing that part-time for four years until I was making more, actually, than the chairman of the board at the banking company that I worked for. I was an international art dealer, I was traveling the world buying and selling a lot of great masterpieces that you would recognize in museums.
And, you know, I was quite full of myself. I really loved what I was doing. I told people that my wife and I at the time, we were both living purpose-driven lives. My purpose in life was chasing the almighty dollar and her purpose in life was chasing the almighty God. And our paths took a vastly different direction.
“I told people that my wife and I at the time, we were both living purpose-driven lives. My purpose in life was chasing the almighty dollar and her purpose in life was chasing the almighty God.“ – Ron Hall
A Betrayal Forgiven
I was traveling to Europe four or five times a year. I loved my job. I loved being in the international art world and the people that I was dealing with. It was very exciting. I was in beautiful places, doing wonderful things. [Debbie] was very excited about her life as a believer, and meeting with ladies and discipling them and being a mentor to them, their spiritual leaders. But, you know, as our lives began to really drift apart, the intimacy began leaving because she was chasing hard after God. I was chasing hard after money. And so the intimacy left our marriage.
You know, I was very egotistical. I was very proud of what I had accomplished, and so I just felt that I deserved to be intimate with another woman. And so I chose that. When I confessed that to [Debbie], she gave me Christ-like forgiveness. She threw my sin as far as the east is from the west, and vowed that if I would never do that again, she would never bring it up again.
And you know, there’s a difference between forgiveness and redemption. She forgave me, and she kept her part of the bargain. But redemption comes from Christ. And I knew that I was redeemed, that I was forgiven. On the day that she forgave me, I promised her I would do anything that she asked me the rest of our lives together, because the forgiveness was so, so powerful.
After I had violated our marriage and had experienced that forgiveness, she asked me to begin volunteering at a homeless shelter. This was gonna be something that would bring us back together. I didn’t know it at the time. I did it reluctantly. We showed up at a shelter after she had a dream about a particular homeless man that would change our lives in our city. She woke me up the next morning and she said, “Ron, it was like a verse from Ecclesiastes 9:15, where Solomon said ‘There was found in the city a certain poor man who was wise, and by his wisdom, our city in our lives will be changed.’” And so she asked me that morning to go with her into the inner city of Fort Worth, Texas, in search of this wise man from her dream.
And so that morning, we got in our cars and started driving around the inner city, because she said in her dream, she had actually seen his face. And so she knew that if she saw him, she would know that her dream had actually been from God. And so we began looking for this homeless man in her dream. But we didn’t see him, so we stopped.
Later that afternoon, I began volunteering at an old rundown homeless shelter in the inner city of Fort Worth. We’d been there a couple of weeks serving an evening meal, when all of a sudden, in storms in this giant-looking man wearing no shirt and no shoes, just some raggedy, old, unzipped britches. And he’s screaming at the top of his lungs, “I’m going to kill whoever done it. I’m going to kill whoever stole my shoes!”
And Debbie said, “That’s him!”
And I said, “That’s who?”
She said, “That’s the man in my dream!” And then she told me, “I believe I heard from God, Ron, that you have to be his friend and find out if my dream was real.”
And I said, “What, honey? I was not at that meeting you had with God. And if I’m going to be friends with someone who wants to kill everybody, I think I should talk to God myself.”
And so that night I went home and I did have a little talk with God. And though I didn’t hear an audible voice, I know He told me, “Ron, for the forgiveness that Debbie and I have shown you, being friends with a homeless man is a very small price to pay.” So that led me on my new path of pursuing friendship with the homeless.
Finding a Remarkable New Friend
The next morning, after I had that talk with God and after our initial meeting, we’re meeting after our encounter with Denver, where he was threatening to kill everyone. The next morning, Debbie asked me to go in search of him and to see if I could get him in my car and take him to have coffee and find out about him. She really wanted to know if her dream was real and if this was a poor, wise man. And so I began pursuing him at her insistence, for her and for God. And for the next five months, almost daily before I would go to my art gallery or go to my job, or if I was in town and in the city, I would drive into the inner city in search of this wise man of her dream.
And it took me five months to finally get him in my car. We go to breakfast one morning, and he says, “So what is it that you want from me?”
And I said, “Hey, man, I just want to be your friend.”
He said, “Well, I’ve had no peace in my life since you and your wife showed up on the streets of Fort Worth. Can’t you get control of your woman? You are driving me crazy.”
And I said, “Well, no. As a matter of fact, I can’t get control of my woman because she’s on a mission from God that we have to be your friends. And so she’s told me that I have to be your friend, so I want to be your friend.”
And he looked at me with this incredulous look, and he said, “You want to be my friend? That’s it?”
“That’s it. Straight up, man. There’s no other reason for me to be here.”
But, you know, that was really a lie. I was wanting to be his friend because Debbie was asking me to be his friend.
A few days later, I mean, obviously so incredulously, I thought, Hey, buddy, you just looked a gift horse in the mouth. That’s an old Texas expression, you know? You just looked the gift horse in the mouth. You don’t know who you’re talking to and what I can do for you, because after all, you are the man of my wife’s dream. And if she wants you to have some new shoes and new clothes, I could do that for you. I can get you a new car. I can even get you an apartment or a house. I have the ability and the natural resources to do all of those things for you. And truthfully, you have nothing to offer me, so you just better behave yourself and be nice, if you want any of these things that I can do for you…
That was the arrogant person in me thinking that he had absolutely nothing to offer me and that I would be his benefactor if he cleaned up and behaved himself. He lived by a dumpster in the inner city of Fort Worth, and he was known as Suicide on the streets, because they said messing with him was the equivalent to committing suicide. He always carried a baseball bat, that was his form of protection. Nobody messed with him, and really nobody knew his name because he didn’t tell anybody his name.
That morning at breakfast, I asked him, “What is your name? I know it’s not Suicide.”
And he said, “That’s really none of your business.”
I said, “Well, in case you’re wondering, my name is Ron Hall.”
He thought about it a second. He looked at me, and he said, “Okay, my name’s Denver.” And that’s how we got started.
The next day after that meeting, I went to see him at his dumpster. I took a seat on the curb next to him at a stinking dumpster, and he was dressed in ragged clothes. I took a seat at what I eventually called the “classroom of the University of Denver.” He was staring into my eyes and wasn’t saying anything, and he was scaring the living daylights out of me because I still believed [he was] a man named Suicide. He was dangerous and he was crazy. My mind was really so warped about this that I thought maybe the man of Debbie’s dream had been sent to by God to kill me as my punishment for being unfaithful ten years earlier, because it made no sense to me why I had to be friends with a crazy man known as Suicide.
And so when he didn’t say anything, I took a seat on the curb, but he didn’t say anything to me. He just started staring into my eyes with this laser beam drill, a stare that was just cutting right into my heart and soul. And I was scared. I began shaking. So the only thing I could do to break the silence of the moment was ask him a question. And I said, “Hey, what’s it like to be homeless?”
I guess I must’ve caught him off guard, because he thought about it a second, and he said, “Are you one of them Christians?”
I thought, Wow. “Yes. How did you know? Wow, yes, why do you think that? Because I’m down here helping?”
And he said, “Helping. If you want to help somebody down here, you have to crawl down in the ditch with them. And when they’re strong enough to crawl out on your back, then you helped them. But other than that, you’re just blessing them. And we appreciate your blessings and thank you for that. God is checking you out to see what kind of person you really are,” he said, “because most of you folks look at the homeless as a problem. But through God’s eyes, He sees this as an opportunity for the faithful to show the love of Christ. We’re all homeless. We’re just working our way back home.”
“‘God is checking you out to see what kind of person you really are,’ he said, ‘because most of you folks look at the homeless as a problem. But through God’s eyes, He sees this as an opportunity for the faithful to show the love of Christ. We’re all homeless. We’re just working our way back home.’“ – Ron Hall
And I thought, Wow, what brilliant input, insight, wisdom he has.
My mind flashed back to Debbie’s dream of this poor man who was wise, and I knew that I had just a moment to make up my mind. And if I ever heard from God in my life, it was at that moment. And I know He told me to take a chance and be his friend. And at that moment, God rewrote the story of my life and repainted the canvas of what the rest of my life would look like.
Narrator: As Ron and Denver’s relationship began to solidify, Ron received some tough news: his wife Debbie was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Denver became their prayer warrior during the months that followed. Ron shares the heartbreak of his wife’s passing and the impact this man who he once thought had nothing to offer as a friend became a lifeline as he watched his wife slip away.
Debbie’s Dying Wish
Ron: On the last day of her life, Denver came to the house like he had done. The man that I thought had nothing to offer us for the nineteen months [knew] that she was suffering with her cancer. He would show up at our doorstep every morning or at the hospital with a fresh, relevant message that he had gleaned from hours on his knees at night by his dumpster. He stayed up all night long for those nineteen months praying and interceding for us. And he would bring us these messages. And not once was he ever wrong.
On the last day of her life, he came to tell us that this was it, God was going to take her home. And so he wanted a few minutes with her, and he wanted it alone, and he went to kneel beside her bed. And he said, “Ms. Debbie, I was talking to God last night, and He’s told me the only reason you’ve been hanging on so long is because you don’t know who’s going to take care of the homeless when you pass. God told me. He said, ‘Denver, you go tell Ms. Debbie to lay down her torch and you pick it up, Denver, and you carry it for the rest of your life.’” And he said, “So that’s what I want to do, Ms. Debbie.”
She asked him if he would speak at her funeral and share another dream that she had envisioned for a new homeless mission in Fort Worth. When they got through talking, he knelt beside her bed. [Here was this] man who one time, at sixteen years old, had been roped and dragged by the Ku Klux Klan for helping a white woman change a flat tire, and the Klan had made him promise he would never again speak to a white woman. He had kept that promise for more than fifty years. He knelt beside her bed, he kissed her on the forehead, and told her, “Ms. Debbie, I’ll see you on the other side, and I’ll carry your torch.”
Her final words to me were, “Don’t give up on Denver, Ron. God is going to bless your friendship in a way that you can never imagine.” And with that, a few hours later, she entered the kingdom of heaven and Jesus saw her face.
Debbie’s Dream Realized
Soon after helping raise $30 million and building that new homeless mission, Debbie’s dream, Denver was honored as the Philanthropist of the Year in the city of Fort Worth for helping raise that money. Denver and I actually lived together for more than ten years, until he joined Ms. Debbie in heaven. And over those ten years, I’d written a new book called Working Our Way Home that describes how Denver and I became best friends, closer than brothers, roommates who traveled the world, helping raise nearly $100 million for the homeless all across America.
During those ten years we lived together, we witnessed so many miracles. But, you know, we have to give credit back to where the origin of those miracles came from, because they were made possible by just an ordinary woman named Debbie who followed her extraordinary dream.
I was reading Jesus Calling this morning, and you know, I’ve been working on some big art deals, trying to get my life and my finances back in order after working for the homeless for the last twenty years, basically. Things haven’t been going as planned. I’ve been working on these deals where just everything seems to go wrong. But in Jesus Calling this morning, it said:
When things seem to be going all wrong, stop and affirm your trust in Me. Calmly bring these matters to Me, and leave them in My capable hands. Then, simply do the next thing. Stay in touch with Me through thankful, trusting prayers, resting in My sovereign control. Rejoice in Me—exult in the God of your salvation! As you trust in Me, I make your feet like the feet of a deer. I enable you to walk and make progress upon your high places of trouble, suffering, or responsibility.
And I like to combine that with a verse back from March 9th in Jesus Calling. It says:
The world is a needy place; do not go there for sustenance. Instead, come to Me. Learn to depend on Me alone, and your weakness will become saturated with My Power. When you find your completeness in Me, you can help other people without using them to meet your own needs. Live in the Light of My Presence, and your light will shine brightly into the lives of others.
You know what? It’s crazy, but I witnessed the miracle of a homeless ex-con known as Suicide, who did not know how to read and write, become a number-one New York Times bestselling author. I witnessed Debbie’s act of kindness to an angry homeless loner, who spoke to no one except in anger, and how that act of kindness transformed him into a nationally known motivational speaker. But I’ll tell you, I know for a fact that her dream of this poor, wise man was from God, and it was real because I’m the only living witness to see how so many lives in our city of Fort Worth, Texas—and now many cities across America—were changed by her forgiveness and her forgiveness that she showed to me, and an act of kindness that she showed to Denver. My good friend Denver, who was my homeless mentor, taught me more about life than anyone.
“I witnessed the miracle of a homeless ex-con known as Suicide, who did not know how to read and write, become a number-one New York Times bestselling author..My good friend Denver, who was my homeless mentor, taught me more about life than anyone.” – Ron Hall
Narrator: Ron and Denver’s incredible story is told in full in the movie and book, Same Kind of Different As Me, which can be found on Netflix and Amazon.
If you’d like to hear more stories about life-changing relationships, check out our interview with Growing Pains actor Jeremy Miller and his lifelong friend Dr. Brandon Lane Phillips.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with motivational speaker and bestselling author Dr. Rick Rigsby. Dr. Rigsby is a master communicator whose stories inspire people all over the world with truths from the wisest man he ever met: his father.
Dr. Rick Rigsby: I go all over the world and tell business people, “That which you emulate will be that which you replicate.” It comes from a third grade dropout who said, “Son, you’d rather be an hour early than a minute late.” You know, what he was really saying to me is, “How you do anything is how you do everything. It’s never wrong to do the right thing. You tell somebody you’re gonna get there at five, get there at four. Be ready to work.” That sticks with me to this day. I’m sixty-three years old. I can not in any circumstance be late, or I’ll hear my father’s voice.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook Live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on jesuscalling.com/video.