The following text was delivered by Ryan Newcomb in October 2003 at Prepare the Way 2: A vtONE event. It’s a touching story of why it is important that Christians, especially Christian leaders prepare themselves for spiritual attack. If you’re working with the goal of advancing the kingdom of God, you’re working against Satan’s plan, and he’s going to attack you. So often Christians forget of the reality of Satan in the world. Satan has a plan for our lives, just like God does. Satan’s plan is very simple–just to keep us from living out God’s plan.
All That’s Left Undone
I have a friend from back home named Daniel. I first met him when I was 16 and a sophomore in high school. Daniel was 14 and in the 8th grade. Danville is a small town, and, at the time, most churches there were still conservative in their ministries. The concept of youth pastors, vibrant outreach to junior high and high school students, and the modern worship movement were foreign to Danville. But, a few churches were joining the cutting edge at the time, and Daniel’s church was one of them.
The first time I stepped into the “youth room” that housed Xtreme Student Ministries at Third Avenue Congregational Church, I was blown away. There was a Pepsi machine, sofas, lounge chairs, drums, guitars, a ping-pong table, and someone who was actually less than 30 years old preaching the Word of God! Xtreme was amazing, and I longed to be a part of the excitement that it brought me to be there for the first time.
Daniel was one of those natural musicians that just makes me sick! At the time, I had played guitar for a little over 2 years. Much like today, I had to try as hard as I could to be less than average! Daniel, meanwhile, had picked up guitar, bass, and had become a wonderful drummer. With our love for music and our love of acting like complete idiots for the fin of it, we became instant friends.
Perhaps the only thing more amazing than Daniel’s gift on the drums was his faith in Christ and love for other people. I had grown up in church and had accepted Christ when I was 7 years old. Yet, there was something fake about my belief in Christ while there was something genuine and real about Daniel’s. Here was where the challenge to know God who He really is was first handed to me. Not because someone just sat me down and told me to, or because I read it in a book, or because I heard it preached in a sermon. I was challenged to immerse myself into the truth of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit because I saw it lived out each and every day in the life of my friend Daniel. The summer before my senior year, I tried out to play guitar for Xtreme’s praise band aptly named “Weird Fish.” I was fortunate enough to make it as a mediocre guitarist, and the experience became invaluable because all that I learned about worship and music that year are the foundation of why I’m here before you tonight. The relationship that I developed with Daniel and his family also became invaluable. I believe that people are only fortunate enough to call a few others a true friend in this life. And, at 21, I don’t know a whole lot about much of anything. But I do know that Daniel and his family are a prefect picture of what true friends really are.
When me and several of my closest friends graduated from high school, it seemed like the world was turned upside down. There were a few like Daniel who were two years behind us in school who were left behind. Spiritually, Daniel and the others were left to fend for themselves much like I was when I journeyed to Virginia Tech. We had leaned on each other so much that our futures were left dangling as those supports were jerked out from underneath us. Fortunately, I found a wonderful group of brothers and sisters at the Baptist Student Union much like all of you have found at other campus ministry groups here at Tech. Some of my friends were not that lucky, and some of them chose their own way of facing. Daniel was one of those.
About midway through my first semester here, I received some pretty discouraging news: Daniel had started messing with drugs. As innocent as it sounds, he started by tripping on the DXM depressant found in most over-the-counter cough syrups. After giving Daniel the choice, my former youth pastor, Ryan Jasper, had to watch Daniel leave the praise band and eventually church all together because he refused to give up the drugs, the parties, and the instant popularity they had handed this once social outsider. It seems that Satan goes after the ones He knows can do him the most damage. And, Satan always knows exactly where to strike.
The summer after my freshman year, Daniel’s situation had only gotten worse. I went to the beach with he and his family that July. It was there that I discovered that the smile, the joy, and the peaceful spirit that was the Daniel I had come to love and admire was now gone. The world was sucking Daniel dry, and all that remained was something broken and dark. Over the next year, I went to see Daniel when I could. I prayed for him continually, I spoke and prayed regularly with his parents, and never ceased pleading on his behalf. The drugs moved from cough syrup to marijuana to needles of DXM to acid and even to cocaine. Finally, in the fall of 2002, the battle reached its height. Daniel was with a few other guys in the basement of a house. A guy both of us knew from high school, in the midst of days of drugs, handed Daniel a needle and asked Daniel to shoot him up. That was when Daniel broke. After having disappeared for days, Daniel went home in the middle of the night. He walked into his parents’ room and asked them to help him. It was the breakthrough that we had all been praying for.
Yet, the battle for Daniel was just beginning. After a few weeks under psychiatric care, he was released to extensive counseling. We soon learned that Daniel had gotten his long-time girlfriend, Jessica, pregnant, something that Daniel later recounted to me as one of his greatest regrets. As discouraging as that news sounded, it seemed to spark something inside of him. He and Jessica began attending a new church with Daniel’s family. Jessica became a Christian, and, with the help of Christian brothers who shared his struggle and a renewed dependence on the Word of God, Daniel was beginning to turn his life around. He asked Jessica to marry him, and I was to sing at their wedding last May. However, the wedding did not happen. I called the house to talk about the ceremony only to find out Daniel was in the hospital. His parents had found him unconscious from an overdose. All of us were crushed.
I’m not sure what it was about this episode. I don’t know if it was getting so close to losing it all or simply the remembrance of the truth that had lived inside of him all that time. Either way, Daniel emerged from the hospital a new man. Finally, after three years of struggle, the smile, the spirit, and the personality of my dear friend returned.
As some of you may know, I am a singer and a songwriter. By last June, I was 6 months into recording a CD of some of my songs. I had desperately wanted Daniel to play the drums, but I could not have him be a part of a ministry if it wasn’t who he really was. Because of the turnaround in Daniel’s life, I was finally able to do what I had longed to do for quite some time. After a month of being clean and a renewed spirit inside of him, I brought Daniel onboard to record all of the drum tracks for my CD. I hadn’t seen him that excited in a long time. Every time we spoke this summer, he told me how hard he had been working on the songs, and the few drum parts I was able to hear in between our busy work schedules were indeed amazing.
In August, I was taking a short trip to Florida to visit the church I worked at the summer after my sophomore year of college. I was leaving on Saturday, August l and returning on Thursday, August 7th. Daniel and I were going to head to Blacksburg on Friday the 8th to record the drum tracks and to spend of weekend together of good times, a needed break from 3 years of what seemed to be nothing but hard times. Knowing Wednesday with the youth group and driving back on Thursday would be crazy, I called Daniel that Tuesday night in Florida to talk about our plans for leaving on Friday morning. What followed would be the hardest 5 days I’ve had to live in my short time on this earth. The weak voice of a broken Lisa Shelton, Daniel’s mother, told me that Daniel had been missing since the evening of Saturday the 1. The following day, I received word that Daniel had taken his own life. At the age of 19, Daniel was gone.
Two months ago, along with 9 of my closest friends, I laid Daniel on his grave. As a man, I suppose that I was raised not to cry that much. So, it is safe to say that I have never cried like I cried for Daniel.