My Impending Death

The title of this article should be Our Impending Deaths, because we all have one foot in the grave. I am not dying right now in the traditional sense, but we are all dying and decaying every day until the point where our hearts stop pumping, our brains stop firing and our lungs stop expanding. As Job 13:28 says, “So man wastes away like something rotten, like a garment eaten by moths.” I am not a morbid person, but there are times in my life when I think about the end.

Sometimes I talk too much about Heaven with my wife and she tells me to stop it because it means I am going to die which she finds disconcerting. While I do not want to die, I do like the idea of Heaven. My favorite book on the subject is Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You by John Burke. My wife found this book while standing in line at the drugstore. It was sitting in the little spin-around book rack that has Christian books in it. Normally, this would be enough to turn me off completely as a book snob, but I needed something to read on the beach one summer and there it was. 

Imagine Heaven detailed many near-death experiences by people who were resuscitated back to life and told the story of their experience going to Heaven or Hell. It was pretty gripping stuff that the author related directly to scriptures that jived with their accounts.

It turned out to be one of my favorite books and reminded me of one of my other favorite books titled, Deadline by Randy Alcorn, a fictional mystery in which the people who keep getting murdered go to Heaven and meet Jesus. Maybe my wife is right and I do like death and/or Heaven too much. I just find it to be something to look forward to. No more taxes, no more reality shows, and no more political shenanigans by the usual suspects. Heaven sounds more amazing with each word I type!

In my last article I mentioned that last year I presided over a funeral, and although it made me sad to see people miss their loved one, I was glad to support them in such a difficult time. The man who passed away wrote his own obituary. I thought that was a brilliant idea and rather than leave this duty for my loved ones to figure out and potentially get wrong, I decided to follow his example and write my own obituary which I have included below. I hope that you enjoy it and that this gives you food for thought on how to live the life you have left, how you want to be remembered and a reminder to prepare for the afterlife. You might even want to write your own obituary. Please don’t feel sad reading this or when I actually do kick the bucket, because my life was blessed, filled with adventure and in between all the tough times, filled with loving family, friends and laughter. Also, I know where I am going and it makes this place look like chopped liver.

Juan Galloway


1970 – ?

Juan Carlos Ricardo Galloway was born very caucasian yet with a very Spanish set of names in San Francisco in 1970. He was born on 7-11-70 during which his parents, Richard and Dixie Galloway were running a 7-11 convenience store in Pacifica, CA. Later on he was blessed with a younger brother, Mike and sister Rachel.

Soon after, his parents moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to start their own chain of convenience stores. When he was 10 they encountered the life changing power of Jesus Christ, were radically transformed and started taking Juan to church. At the age of 11 they moved to the Virgin Islands to do missionary work and became a healthy family. It was at this time that Juan gave his heart to Christ.

The family moved from the Virgin Islands to San Juan, Puerto Rico and then later to Dallas, TX. It was here that Juan finished his last 2 ½ years of high school and met the love of his life, Tracy Lucia. It was also here that Juan discovered his other passion, writing and playing music. Juan was a guitar nerd who was obsessed with rock n roll. Over his lifetime he literally wrote hundreds of songs that he performed all over the world.

At the age of 18, Juan had a supernatural experience in which the Holy Spirit fell on him and revealed the nagging question in his heart-what was he supposed to do with his life? God made it clear that his purpose in life was to tell others about Jesus. At that moment this neurotically insecure teenager was transformed. He began to do street evangelism on the streets of downtown Dallas and lead people to Christ every time that he went out. 

After high school, Juan attended Christ For The Nations Bible Institute where he met with some skaters who together started his first band, Sanctified Noise. The highlight of their three-year punk rock career was playing at Cornerstone Music Festival in Illinois. Also during his CFNI years, Juan began to do outreach to people struggling with homelessness. He fed and prayed for many. Other students became interested and began to join him for weekly outreaches.

In 1991, Juan moved to New Jersey to join his parents Richard and Dixie who had started a Christian outreach organization to people suffering from homelessness called New York City Relief. Tracy joined him in New Jersey and they were married in 1992. After working some entry level jobs there for a year, they moved to California to find jobs in youth ministry.

They finally found a job as youth pastors at New Life Church in Redwood City, CA and led The Blast youth group there for the next 3 ½ years. It was during that time that Juan led a youth mission team to Tijuana, Mexico and was so dramatically impacted that he would go on to do missions in many other countries over his lifetime including Colombia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Finland, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Haiti and the Philippines. During that stint Juan also started an outreach band called Echoplex that performed all over the bay area. 

The most important thing to happen during their years in northern California was the birth of his daughters River and Hailey, who he adored.

In 1998, Juan and Tracy moved to work as youth pastors at The Gathering Place church in Hackettstown, New Jersey. There they led the U-Turn youth group and started a youth club with regular concerts and a skatepark. During ten years of youth ministry, Juan and Tracy ran many camps and retreats and took many youth around the world doing missions. During this season, their sons Corban and Connor were born. 

In 2002, Juan was asked to join the staff at New York City Relief as an urban missionary. He and Tracy joined up and moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey to start East Coast School of Urban Ministry. They also started CityTribe Church in the garage of the base at NYCR and went on to help plant three other churches in Paterson and Elizabeth. Three of the churches catered to the poor and houseless while The Noise Hip Hop Church ministered to and through hip hop culture.

Juan went on to serve as Director of Communications at NYCR and in 2010 he was asked to take the role of President/CEO. He worked there for over 20 years and was happy to help grow the impact of NYCR to bring help and hope to friends living on the streets. One of his favorite parts was connecting the body of Christ to people challenged with homelessness and watching God’s presence manifest in the encounter.  Juan loved speaking at churches and conferences to tell the story of God’s heart for the poor while challenging the church at large to come meet Jesus through the least, the last and the lost.

Juan wrote multiple books while at NYCR including God’s Beggars, The Street Bible, Provoked and Imagine If You Were Homeless. He wrote countless articles for magazines, newspapers and his own blog. Juan recorded multiple podcasts including his favorite, 36 Questions, with his wife Tracy.

The most meaningful part of Juan’s life was his love affair with his wife Tracy and the joy of being with his children River, Hailey, Corban and Connor. Juan fulfilled his dream of starting a family band with his children and of taking each to do missions trips together. Being close to Tracy and his four children was his greatest treasure.

Juan believed that the measure of a man’s life was how he loved others and he made it his life’s goal to grow in that regard. He wishes to be remembered as someone who loved Christ above all and endeavored to live out the truth of the Word of God which he consumed ravenously and regularly. 

Most people are made out to be angels at their funerals, but Juan was no angel. He had plenty of character flaws and weaknesses like everyone else, so don’t bother putting him up on a pedestal. If you knew every dumb thing he ever did, you would feel a lot better about yourself.

If Juan accomplished anything of significance in life, he would chalk it all up to grace. He always said that this scripture summed up his life,

“Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭1:26-29‬ ‭NLT‬‭‭

If you are reading this obituary and are unsure of what the meaning of life is or where you will spend eternity when your life is over, he wishes that you would allow God to fill your life with purpose, meaning and joy by entering into a relationship with Jesus. To Juan, Jesus was everything.

I will close with this verse which sums his life and death all up, “And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭1:20-21‬ ‭NLT‬‬

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Standing With The Homeless On The Frontlines of Covid-19

Mother Teresa once said, “When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her.  It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.”

Last year, there was a staggering 39 percent increase in the number of homeless people who died in New York City.  From July 2018 to June 2019, over 400 people living on the streets passed away. In the current pandemic, that will pale in comparison for people living on the streets, unless we mobilize and take action now.

Serving hot meals in the Bronx.

March 26, ABC News reported, “New York officials have confirmed the first homeless death from the novel coronavirus, a grim statistic that homeless advocates fear could rise in coming weeks.” 39 people from 12 different shelters in New York City have now been diagnosed with Covid-19.

I am the president and CEO of New York City Relief, a mobile outreach to people struggling with homelessness.  Since 1989, our mission has been to connect people to what they need to have a better life. In this health crisis, we have our hands full serving those most at-risk: the elderly, sickly, addicted and lonely.  They are exposed on the streets with no way to “socially distance” themselves from each other and the infected.

Before the pandemic spread across America, news stories were full of headlines about the homelessness crisis.  New York City has the largest population of people who don’t have permanent housing. Now, over 80,000 people are struggling to find a meal as homeless services are closing when the need is greatest.  The fears are legitimate and we understand workers must be protected. However, during one day of outreach alone last week, we served 800 meals in 3 hours–a new record for our organization.

This tells us where things are headed.

Our staff and volunteers are stepping up to the frontlines during this crisis to help those who cannot help themselves.  Many are putting their health at risk for the sake of strangers who they consider to be their brothers and sisters. They are also potentially putting their families into harm’s way through secondary exposure.  In other words, it’s getting real.  

Now is the time for all New Yorkers to support community-service organizations like New York City Relief that are fighting for our homeless neighbors right outside our doors.  We need extra funds for safety supplies such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and forehead thermometers. I am calling on Americans to rise up, as we did after 9/11.  It’s simple: give so that others can live.

The city, state and federal government can only do so much.  It’s time for us all to sacrifice for the sake of the other. When preparing his country to face war, Winston Churchill famously said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”  It will take spine and grit for us to fight this war against the spread of Covid-19. 

If you are on the fence about helping, maybe this will bring things into focus: 

Helping the homeless helps everyone. 

Flattening the curve for our neighbors on the streets flattens the curve for all of us.

During my 17 year career serving friends challenged with homelessness, I have officiated at funerals for those who died alone on the streets. 

Flattening the curve for our neighbors on the streets flattens the curve for all of us.

If compassionate people step up to do what they can, many of these tragedies can be averted.  We have the power to effect change and protect those in danger. 

Now is the time to act. 

Courage.  We are all in this together.

PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN. EVERY GIFT COUNTS. To make a donation to support our efforts on the streets, click this link.

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Death On The Streets & Hope For The Future

Recently I helped officiate at the funeral of the father of a good friend of our family. I was honored to say some words of comfort and encouragement to all of the loved ones of this very accomplished man. He wrote his own obituary and it was so inspiring to me that I even followed his example by writing my own.

I have been a minister for many years and I have always told people that I much prefer officiating at funerals rather than weddings. It’s not that I don’t like weddings. It’s just that funerals are an appropriate moment for people to think about death, life and eternity–even for those who don’t consider themselves “religious.” I like to speak into that moment to give comfort, hope and direction on how to prepare for their own death one day. I also like to be there in a time of great need for those who are mourning and need someone to stand up for them in a time of great difficulty.

Juan and friend at Harlem outreach

It’s a gift to me to be of service. I think that’s why I like working at New York City Relief. We get to be there for people during the worst moments of their lives.


I once knew a Haitian man named Freddie who lived in an abandoned building across the street from the New York City Relief headquarters in Elizabeth, NJ. He attended the church I pastored, and I remember imploring him to let me help him get off of the streets. Unfortunately, he didn’t take me up on my offer and one night, Freddie had a seizure in that abandoned building and passed away. I held a funeral service for Freddie and all of his family came to celebrate his life, including a daughter I didn’t even know existed. We sang hymns in Creole, ate Haitian beef patties and I shared the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. Seven people responded to choose to follow Christ and together we found beauty in ashes.

Even in sorrow, we can find hope. It makes me think of this verse from Psalm 9:18

 “God will never forget the needy;

    the hope of the afflicted will never perish.”

Shocking Statistics

Recently, I read an article about the number of people living on the streets who died in New York City last year. Shockingly, the number of deaths of people experiencing homelessness rose by a staggering 39% over the previous year. From July 2018 to June 2019, 404 people living on the streets passed away.

The number of deaths of people experiencing homelessness rose by a staggering 39%.

Many of these individuals are buried in a potters field on Hart Island, located a few miles offshore from the Bronx. Wikipedia says, “The remains of more than one million people are buried on Hart Island. The dead are buried in trenches. Adults are placed in larger pine boxes placed according to size, and are stacked in sections of 150, measuring three coffins deep in two rows. Inmates from the Rikers Island jail are paid $0.50 per hour to bury bodies on Hart Island.”

The top five causes of deaths of people living on the streets last year were drugs, heart disease, alcoholism, accidents and cancer. Ten of the people committed suicide. The facts are that if you don’t have a place to call home, your life will be shortened by 20 to 30 years. It is tragic for these precious souls to pass away in such dire straits and hidden in anonymity–almost like they never existed. Once upon a time, these men and women were born to parents so eager for their beautiful babies to accomplish their hopes and dreams and experience a wonderful life.

Seeing A Brighter Future

I think it is important to remember the lives of those who died in a state of homelessness in order to acknowledge their value and remember that they are precious in the eyes of God. I believe that this can give us inspiration and courage to do something about those people who are still alive and trying to survive on the streets right now. We don’t have to wait until a funeral comes to honor someone.

NYCR volunteers making friends during outreach

The motto of New York City Relief was borrowed from the United States Airforce Pararescue. It says, “These things we do, that others may live.” I invite you to join us on the streets to build a life-giving relationship with someone who might feel very alone. Show them they matter by giving them your time and a listening ear. We’ll do the trickier part of connecting them to physical resources that they can use to get off of the streets. This is just one way you can help our friends on the streets see a brighter future. 

To volunteer, visit our website at newyorkcityrelief.org/volunteer

Please consider partnering with us by making a gift to help people see a brighter future at newyorkcityrelief.org/donate

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The Final Stretch- Part 14 of STREET PILGRIMAGE

Chapter 14 The Final Stretch

After an exceptionally long week (which is the understatement of the year) of living on the streets of New York City , it was finally the last day of my street pilgrimage. As my experience was concluding, I learned something very valuable from a man who was pretty rude to me. He was suffering from homelessness, and was grumpy from a long night of trying to sleep on the subway train. I wasn’t surprised at his behavior, because having had the exact same experience myself, I could relate and didn’t take his bad attitude personally. What did surprise me was when he actually apologized, leading to a very meaningful encounter…

I saw things during this week living on the streets that I will never forget. Here are a few memories that come to mind: While panhandling outside of Penn Station I saw a man walk by with makeshift sandals constructed from tape. His feet were swollen to the point of disfigurement which made my jaw drop. It was freezing outside and I was shivering. How could he just be wearing pieces of tape? I wanted to yell out, “NO!”, chase him down to find out what was going on and help him immediately, but I was held back. Although It was hard to see him suffering and not do something to help, that’s not why I was out there. I was on a spiritual pilgrimage.  My reason for being there was to understand his pain, not heal it. I felt terrible and powerless. Seeing the man in that condition left me shaken and weepy–probably because I was so exhausted and emotional myself after a week of sleepless nights.

As I walked alone down the sidewalk, I passed a drugstore and saw a little Asian woman curled up on the floor with some plastic sandals on–no socks even. Again I was shaken and wanted to go into savior/rescue mode. This was unacceptable so I looked , grimaced, questioned myself and then moved on. How could I see someone so elderly, frail and vulnerable and not do something to help her? Earlier that morning I saw men sleeping outside on the frigid sidewalk, one without even a blanket. I don’t know how they could stand it. Death was so close for these people and I felt the weight of it.

The homeless situation is worse than you could possibly imagine–people suffering greatly, self-destructing slowly or quickly like human time bombs. Despite all of this heartache, I also saw Jesus working amongst the lives of the burned out and brokenhearted. There was beauty hidden beneath the ashes. That week I experienced brokenness myself at a whole new level, but also experienced God’s presence along with peace and joy–a bittersweet experience that is still changing me. Your soul cannot be exposed to the depth of the human condition that I had encountered and come away unchanged. It reminds me of a quote by Bryan Stevenson in his book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

“There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”

Allowing myself to feel others pain was changing me. Although I had worked amongst the houseless for 16 years at that point, I could feel my heart of stone turning into a heart of flesh. I had compassion before, sure, but this was another level that the master potter was using to shape my heart to resemble his. 

The Father’s Heart

That last morning, I went to a place called The Father’s Heart for breakfast. Since 1997, this ministry has operated many programs helping people move from dependency to dignity and from poverty to prosperity. I was just there because I was hungry and boy was I glad that I had picked this place to eat.

When I arrived, there was a line running all the way down the block (see above). A regular volunteer named Jesse went out of his way to engage me while I waited in line. Jesse was exceptionally friendly and even prayed for me. When I finally got inside, the place was packed and jumping. They had 150 happy volunteers serving a hot breakfast to about 300 people. The eggs and hashbrowns were delicious.

As I sat down to eat breakfast, I kept my head down because my parents had been friends with the founders, Pastors Chuck and Carol Vedral for a long time (See Pastor Chuck above). They knew me and I didn’t want to be spotted and found out. As I ate my sumptuous breakfast, one of the staff, named Pastor Terry was befriending some men sitting next to me. He was pouring out love on them and was so encouraging. He was so genuine and the men could tell he was being real. This was my kind of place. The Father’s Heart truly lived up to their name.

After breakfast, I left to go panhandle in Washington Square Park (see picture below). I found a good spot under the famous arch. After not too long, a man pushed a full-sized piano in there next to me and started playing classical music. He was quite talented and the music reverberating off of the inside of the arch was sublime. He invited some of the crowd to lay under the piano (see photo above) to hear the beautiful sound of the piano resonating off the instrument and the concrete surfaces around it. I raised $16 and 2 hand warmers that morning. The pianist gave me $5, which I thought to be exceptionally kind of him.

St Joe’s

I stayed in lower Manhattan that day in order to visit St. Joseph’s Church for lunch. It was located only a block from Washington Square Park at 6th Avenue and Washington Place. I discovered St. Joe’s through a directory of New York City soup kitchens called Street Smarts. This booklet was a godsend to me as it provided a map (see above) showing every organization in the city that served hot meals. New York City Relief has been distributing these booklets to people for years, but this week it was keeping me fed. To my delight, I discovered that not only was the food delectable at St. Joe’s, but the customer service was excellent too. The team there decorated the whole dining hall for St. Patrick’s Day (see below), including the volunteers wearing silly green hats. Instead of the room being a dark dismal basement like some places, they had transformed the space into an uplifting environment. I can tell you as a recipient of their creative efforts, these personal touches matter. 

I sat down next to a disheveled looking man with a tired face and tried to make small talk. He was grumpy and callously gave me the brush off. Afterwards, he said that he was sorry for acting that way. The man explained that he was exhausted from sleeping on the train the previous night. I told him that I could relate to his experience and that I hated trying to sleep on a moving train. I remarked that I had stayed at the New York City Rescue Mission that week and liked it much better I liked it. The man replied, “Yeah, but you have to go in by a certain time.” I agreed with him, but related how much I enjoyed the hot shower and comfy bunk. 

I told the man that I had slept in Port Authority the night before and that it was preferable to the subway shaking me awake while it bounced down the tracks. He liked that idea and remembered seeing people sleep there before. I taught him the trick that a man named Jacques had taught me to avoid getting hassled by the police. Jacques and his wife are house painters who sleep on the streets during slow periods like winter when there isn’t much work available. 

I explained that if he bought a cheap NJ Transit train ticket, the authorities wouldn’t toss him out of the waiting area into the cold night. The man asked how much the ticket had cost and I replied, “$3.50.” I gave him my ticket to use and said that I wasn’t planning on staying there that night anyway. He was touched by my gift and quite thankful. I offhandedly asked if he’d heard of The Relief Bus. He wasn’t sure. I gave him a New York City Relief connection card and told him the organization had great soup and free socks, hoping that he would drop by the outreach sometime. This connection card is a tool NYCR uses to communicate the times and locations of all of our weekly outreaches. (Download and print your own!)

Had we not continued our conversation, it could have been very easy for me to base my opinion of the man on his first impression. His initial behavior was awful and he didn’t seem like a very nice person. This is how many people struggling with homelessness get judged–at their very worst moment. It reminds me of a quote by Brennan Manning in his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness.

“Most of the time we’re wrong in our judgement of others. The tragedy is that our attention centers on what people are not, rather than what they are and who they might become.”

Once I took the time to slowly and gently nudge my way through the man’s walls, he softened and I found that he wasn’t a bad guy at all, just incredibly tired. After we pressed through the awkwardness, I could start to see who he really was, and even who he might become. By being patient, I had made a friend.

Sonya, Back From The Dead

After lunch, I made my way towards Penn Station to begin my long awaited return home. In Penn, I met a lady in a wheelchair who was begging for change. The woman looked like she had experienced some serious trials in life. I was drawn to her at that moment and knew I was supposed to connect on a human level, not just coldly hand her some coins. I did give her all of the loose change that I had collected that week. It must have weighed several pounds and been worth more than $10. She was extremely grateful for the gift. I asked the woman her name and she said, “Sonya”. I told Sonya that I was helping her out because God had helped me out. 

Those few moments we spent together were quite poignant. Sonya told me some intimate details of her life–that she had died once, but had been revived. She had prayed that God would keep her alive for the sake of her husband and 6 kids. Fortunately, her prayers were answered. I asked Sonya how I could pray for her and discovered that she lived with her sister, but her “jerk brother-in-law” wanted to kick her out. I prayed for God to help Sonya in her difficult circumstances and gave her a New York City Relief connection card

It turned out Sonya knew our organization from an outreach she had formerly frequented in the Bronx. She explained that she currently lived near our Harlem outreach site and would gladly visit The Relief Bus the following Saturday. 

Being loved can get you through almost anything and not feeling loved could be the worst hell you could ever experience. 

One Track Mind

As I left Sonya and made my way through Penn Station to find my train, the transit hub was overflowing with St. Patrick’s Day parade-goers all dressed in green and ready to party the night away. I didn’t give them a thought as I had only one thing on my mind. I couldn’t believe that I was finally on my way home. I couldn’t wait to see my family. Each evening, as I had tried desperately to fall asleep on the streets, subway or shelters, I had thought of my wife and children as I attempted to drift into unconsciousness. 

Unlike the many people who I had met struggling to survive on the streets, I had people to anchor my soul to who were thinking about me and praying for me. These thoughts brought comfort and helped me get through those trying, uncomfortable nights. I knew that many others weren’t so fortunate. It was an important lesson to remember–that being loved can get you through almost anything and not feeling loved could be the worst hell you could ever experience. This highlights how demonstrating compassion and friendship to people who are alone in their terrific hardships could be one of the most significant acts you ever perform. 

Prior to my street pilgrimage, this passage from the the book of Lamentations was conceptual to me, but through my encounters with the people I met struggling to survive each day, it became more real and tangible: 

“The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.” Lamentations 3:19-22 NLT

Stay tuned for my next article in my Street Pilgrimage series titled, Home Sweet Home.

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