Drifting With Darren Part I

It was a bitter, cold night in January–the kind of night that someone could literally freeze to death. There I was, homeless, walking the streets and looking for a place to stay in New York City. Like the other 50,000 people without a place to call their own in this town, I was desperate to keep warm. I had joined a group that no man wants to join, but unlike the others, I made this choice on purpose. I was on a mission. Let me go back and explain how I got here.

My name is Juan Galloway and I am President of an organization called New York City Relief. For 24 years, New York City Relief has operated outreaches to the homeless in the New York City metro area. We do this with our two customized mobile homeless resource centers called The Relief Buses. These buses serve a lot of delicious food to the hungry, but our goals reach much further than that.

New York City Relief relentlessly mobilizes volunteers and resources to bring relief to the homeless. We go directly to the transient in their hour of greatest need, to compassionately provide connections that lead to life transformation.

Our vision is to enter the hearts of the homeless– not just dole out things they need, but to understand who they are and what they are going through. Usually this means pursuing friendships with the people we serve. As we talk on the sidewalks in front of The Relief Bus, we hear amazing stories that change us.

When we discover who people are and learn the roots of their problems, we are then able to connect them to the resources to overcome these hurdles– resources like shelter, detox, drug/alcohol rehabilitation and the ultimate resource: God.

Several years ago, our staff read a book together called When Helping Hurts. This book suggested that when you are endeavoring to help people, it only makes sense to involve them in the process. Why assume what people need when you can ask them to partner with you to transform the community? It was in this spirit that I invited a homeless friend named Darren to join several board members, staff members and I for a day of prayer and strategic planning. We invited him to get a perspective from someone who is on the streets. Rather than imagining what help homeless people needed, we went straight to the source. We were glad that we did. Darren gave valuable input that day, and the experience definitely led me to go deeper…

This story is about him and the adventure we embarked on, on the chilly, unforgiving streets of New York City. Darren was my host and guide into the unseen world of the homeless. He allowed me to live with him, ask him lots of questions and get to know the real Darren. It was an honor and a privilege to have such a good teacher and protector.

Darren is 33-years-old and African American. He is a tall, good-looking guy with a quiet, but friendly manner. He has been homeless for the last ten years. You probably wouldn’t know he is homeless, because Darren takes good care of himself. He showers three times a week and washes his clothes at a center that provides those services for the transient community. His clothes are a little worn, but presentable. Darren prefers being called a drifter or transient, rather than homeless. Many homeless are known for being addicts, alcoholics or mentally ill. Darren is none of those.

I have known Darren for about 6 years. He comes to The Relief Bus regularly at Chelsea Park on 9th Avenue and West 28th Street in Manhattan. My friend Austin Bonds, who was the Director of Outreach at the time, invited Darren home for the weekend once to help him move into a new house. Darren does odd jobs like this all the time and it was a good opportunity to make some money. I was helping Austin move too, and this was the first memory I have of meeting Darren. Every time I would spend time on The Relief Bus at Chelsea Park, I would continue to see Darren and get to know him a little better. Many times we would talk of spiritual things and I would share about my relationship with Christ. He was willing to talk with me about God, but not willing to make any real changes in his spiritual life. This went on for years.

One week, I got word back from our outreach team that Darren had made a decision to put his faith in Christ and become a Christian. I was blown away. Our staff of urban missionaries gathers every Tuesday morning to worship, talk about how to apply the Bible to our lives, pray for our friends on the streets and each other. Darren was one of the guys we were regularly praying for.

One day I came out on the bus and I saw Darren beaming. He exclaimed, “I just became born again!” I replied, “I heard that you prayed to receive Jesus a few weeks ago on The Relief Bus. He said, “Well I did pray with a volunteer team that was here from Ohio, but I wasn’t totally sure about it.”

Darren went on to explain that later after that experience, he met a Christian young woman at the library who invited him to church. The girl was cute, so of course he wanted to go along! What he didn’t anticipate is that he would be so impacted by the message that day that he would end up committing his life to Jesus Christ. As he told me this story, I saw a new light in his eyes. This wasn’t the same old Darren.

All the seeds we had planted in his life, God had watered. All the prayers we had prayed, God had answered. Before me was a man who literally owned nothing but the belongings on his back in his backpack, yet he had now obviously received a new inheritance and was rich with a new kind of treasure.

Darren went on to attend a small group at a church, which was studying The Purpose Driven Life together. This was a great primer in how to journey with God. When I found out what a reader Darren was, I gave him a couple books I had written. One is a semi-autobiographical book titled, Gods Beggars. The other is a paraphrase of the book of Matthew and Acts, titled The Street Bible. After reading the books he wrote me the following letter:


Thank you so much for loaning your two publications, Gods Beggars and The Street Bible to me. You tell a story that is certainly engaging and thought provoking. I admire your charitable spirit and the sacrifices that you and your wife, Tracy have made on the behalf of the disadvantaged in society. Your patience and perseverance in dealing with society’s most unlovable and difficult people should be an inspiration to any follower of Christ and speaks volumes about the caliber of your character.

Yourself and The Relief Bus serve as a bridge and a link to the mainstream world, ensuring that the disadvantaged don’t fade into the background and are not completely dismissed by society.

Your personal story has assisted me with my character development in seeking to grow and become a better Christian.

More so than anything else in the two books you loaned to me, was an account of Jesus that had a lasting impact on me. In God’s Beggars, on page 147 of Chapter 9, you document an account where Jesus is mistreated merely because of his poverty:

“We know that as a carpenter he was a blue-collar manual laborer, but he was also the King of Kings, which makes him royalty. Being God, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, making him richer than any Texas rancher, yet Jesus lived as a peasant among other peasants and lived off of the charity of others. He had no home to speak of and was chastised for eating raw grain out of someone else’s field on the Sabbath. That doesn’t speak of great wealth. Though he was incredibly wealthy, He chose to live amongst and to live as, the poor.”

I was deeply touched and even moved to tears after reading that. I actually stopped reading the book at that point and spent the rest of the day deep in thought over that passage. I can relate to the scorn and mistreatment that Jesus endured for being impoverished. I can also relate to the way he was persecuted for being different and labeled a freak, outcast and misfit.

I can relate to all of that.

Yet, this very same man would go on to sacrifice himself of all of humanity and die for all of our sins so that we may have a chance at everlasting life. He even dies for those who mistreated him and saw him as less than an animal.

What a hero!

How can you not love, admire and respect such a person as Jesus? Reading that account about Jesus in your book made me relate to him and feel even closer to him. Wouldn’t it be cool to take him out to lunch one day?

I’ve always had a thing for people who sacrifice their comfort or even well-being for others. My heroes have always been those who sacrifice for others, for the greater good. Even before I became born again, these were the type of people I admired. I’ve never been attracted by wealth, or an abundance of material possessions or the people who live that life.

I one day hope to make great sacrifices in an effort to make the world a better place.

Any Christian can go to church, read the Bible and socialize with and fellowship with other Christians that are safe and stable in life like them, but it takes a special type of Christian to wade into the darkest, most desolate areas of our world and to bring God’s love to them while trying to save them. Such Christians are an elite bunch much like a special operations or SWAT team, or a search and rescue team or some other type of elite and specialized outfit. All Christians should be this way, but sadly they are obviously not. Nonetheless, I respect you deeply for choosing to be one of the elite and taking on some of the most hardcore and daunting challenges facing society and Christianity.

Once again, thank you so very much for the books and even more, thank you for being such a good friend to me.

God bless you, Tracy, River, Hailey, Corban and Connor.



First of all, reading that letter made me cry. I was moved to know that my books had touched his heart. His letter gave me insight into Darren’s soul. I came to realize how studied and intelligent he is. I also learned how sincere he is in pursuing God. Darren later explained that he attended John Jay College for six years, working on a degree in criminal justice. Half of the time he attended college, he was also homeless.

Over the years, I have really enjoyed the growing friendship that I have had with Darren. He is thoughtful and kind.

He sent me this E-Christmas card last Christmas:


Thank you for all that you have done to enrich my life in 2012. You are a wonderful friend and have remained a steadfast ally in my ongoing battle to restore my life. I look forward to future opportunities at strengthening our bond in the 2013 year.

I wish you and Tracy and your children a safe and Merry Christmas as well as a Happy New Year.


Several years ago, I asked Darren if he would be willing to let me come live on the streets with him to learn about people on the streets and the conditions they face. He wasn’t ready at the time and I don’t blame him. He wasn’t particularly proud of his situation and this was a bold step into his inner world.

Over the last six months, I asked Darren to attend a Christian businessman’s group in Manhattan called the New Canaan Society. It’s a very vibrant group of men who don’t act “churchy” or religious. They have excellent speakers come and I thought he would get a lot out of it. Most of the men who go there work on Wall Street. While attending with me, Darren heard some amazing Christian men share their stories. These high-powered businessmen humbly shared how God rescued them from themselves. This led to some great conversations.

The men at NCS didn’t know Darren was homeless. They could see that he wasn’t dressed in a suit like them and probably wasn’t in the same economic world, but they graciously welcomed him to the group.

While leaving the meeting one morning, I asked Darren again if he would consider letting me shadow him on the streets. This time he agreed to help me out. He would become my host and guide into an unseen world that most people don’t even know exists.


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