This week, I got a text from a friend. His name is Daan Christensen. He is Dutch. I met Daan the first day of my study abroad semester in Spain in the bathroom of the language school I was attending. He was the first student I met and coincidentally my first friend. Our encounter was rather odd; I had to ask him how to turn off the water faucet.
Daan and I became quick friends. Our bond became fraternal; he, having been two years younger than me, was like a younger brother.
Though only 18, Daan’s ability to feel and make sense of the world always stunned me. He was and is the philosopher type. He and I would often have intimate, long discussions about anything and everything, oftentimes over a game of chess. He was incredibly smart and fun-loving. An extrovert, he attempted to show me a world I had never known.
Daan’s message on Wednesday came as a surprise.
I had sent him a message the week prior having thought of him and wanted to see how he was. He was not good, he said. In fact, the sincerity and sadness in his voice was frightful. His best friend had died in a horrific accident, and his grandfather lay dying, having received a cancer diagnosis just two weeks prior. “I’m not really good right now,” he said.
I could not have imagined the gravity of Daan’s situation. His friend had fallen from the apartment balcony while Daan was asleep in the same room; they had been drinking. Daan was woken the next morning by police interrogating him. “I can only remember it in pictures,” he said of that morning. “It was like a nightmare.”
Less than a month later, his grandfather fell ill and was taken to the hospital. The doctors revealed he was consumed with cancer. He had only weeks to live. Daan credited his grandfather as the only father he had known. His diagnosis was just another shrouding wave of tragedy. His father had died of suicide as a child.
As Daan narrated his story, I ached with pity. Then, Daan spoke of a third person…a nameless man from Africa he met on the train.
Daan told me how he had just wanted to be heard and confided in the fellow. There are less expectations from strangers. Daan detailed the death of his friend and the agonizing experience of watching his grandfather die. The man happened to be a Christian. They spoke for over an hour. Daan had never been interested in religion, as most young Europeans are not. It is my experience that the young European seeks to try everything and then determine what is suitable or good for their life. They want no advice, no guidance. Daan had been this way when I knew him. Yet, he was a thinker. We had spoken about God before.
Daan told me that he left the man feeling something. He couldn’t really describe it, but I knew exactly what he meant. Daan’s story sent chills up my spine. I knew the man had been no stranger. He was a deliverer. You see, I had called for him.
I often make it the habit to pray for other people in other people’s lives. Simply put, I pray for strangers. This time, I had prayed for an African man.
When Daan first told me that his friend had died, I asked him a question: “Daan, do you have hope?” He responded, “I don’t believe in hope.” So, I prayed.
My prayer was simple and one I had prayed before: “God, I cannot be with Daan during this time. But would you send someone? Someone to be a light. Someone to give him hope. May he feel you. May he experience you.”
God heard me.
I have no doubt that the African man was God-sent. I have no doubt that he was the stranger I was praying for. Daan told me that the man had asked him if he knew the meaning of his name: Daan Christnesen, literally Daniel, son of Christian. He told me he had never liked his name before, that it was boring and old-fashioned. Now, “I’m proud of it,” he said.
What is in a name? Shakespeare asked this. Though I doubt he was the first. I do not know where Daan is today or what he is thinking, but I continue to pray for him. I pray he will finally understand who he was made to be, that he would fall in love with the Creator instead of the creation. He is a dear friend, one I would miss sorely in heaven.