In 2005 Nathaniel Daniel had lost everything. He was jobless, homeless, addicted to drugs, and involved in criminal activity. His wife had left him, taking their three children with her. This year he will graduate from Eastern Mennonite Seminary with a master of divinity degree.
“We are never beyond God’s reach,” says Daniel. “We are never beyond God’s love. That’s the message I want to take to people with addictions. My seminary degree is part of my testimony and witness to what God can do.”
Daniel is planning to start a chapter of U-Turn for Christ, the program that turned his life around, in the Harrisonburg, Va., area. U-Turn For Christ is a residential drug and alcohol program for men and women who are seeking restoration from drug and alcohol addiction. It has a Biblical foundation.
Daniel entered the U-Turn program in 2005 at the urging of his estranged wife, Eleni Maile. He completed several months of residential treatment and then, in phase two of the program, did six months of service helping survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
Finally, Daniel was reunited with his family and they moved together from California to Tennessee, where Daniel continued to work for a branch of U-Turn. In 2007 Daniel returned to Harrisonburg for a high school reunion at Eastern Mennonite High School.
“I realized as I was giving my family a tour of Eastern Mennonite High School and Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) that I wanted my family to be a part of this community and that I wanted to study in seminary,” he recalls. His older son, Yonaton, is now a rising sophomore at EMU. His younger children, Yosef and Asene, are students at Eastern Mennonite High School.
“The seminary has been incredibly challenging, intentional and formative for me. The people here have been able to speak into my life. They affirm who I am and also continue to stretch and pull me, preparing me for what God has called me to do.”
Daniel says he is also pursuing a conflict transformation degree to address the ways that addicts hurt not only themselves, but those around them: “Helping people restore relationships with others is part of the healing process.”
In 2010 Daniel was ordained in the Mennonite Church. He and his family attend Lindale Mennonite Church in Linville, Va.
Daniel is one of 18 graduates who received degrees on April 27. Daniel and 12 others received master of divinity degrees, four received master of arts in religion degrees, and one received a master of arts in church leadership. Six received graduate certificates.
Daniel’s story embodies what Lee Snyder PhD, president emeritus of Bluffton University, told seminary graduates in her commencement address titled “Reclaiming the Story.”
“The biblical narrative ‘is not a safe or simple story,’ but then neither are our stories safe or totally comprehensible. We join a cast of unlikely heroes, scruffy characters and needy travelers on a journey of faith. Beloved of God, we are invited into a company of individuals who have experienced the Redeemer’s transforming love.
“The church has a story which must be shared. It is ‘scripture’s grand narrative’ that allows us to abound in hope rather than to wallow in despair.”
Daniel and his classmates will enter into a variety of congregational and other ministries upon graduation. Some will continue in ministry roles they have now, and others will embark upon new ventures, as Daniel plans to do by launching a local chapter of U-Turn for Christ.