BY BRIAN JONES
During the first week of school this year, I found myself at an event called Up All Night, where I was hoping to make some new friends. WSU goes all out to offer students a fun evening back at school - they brought in a magician, a DJ, a dance floor, and multiple game systems. After a full night of meeting people I was feeling exhausted, but I saw my friend Anne standing next to a guy that I knew I had to meet. He was wearing a tank top and shorts that revealed numerous tattoos all across his legs and arms, and only half of his head was buzzed. I thought he looked crazy, but I walked up and immediately had Anne introduce me to my new friend, Damian. With out any hesitation I asked him about all of his tattoos and what they meant to him.
In all honesty, I had trouble focusing on his explanations – the alcohol on his breath and the intensity in his eyes stole my attention. I quickly gathered that he had lived a really hard life; each tattoo symbolized the stories that made him who he was that night. Since it was getting late, we swapped numbers and parted ways. After that, I hesitated to ask him to hang out again, but something propelled me forward into friendship. I knew this guy was unlike anyone I had ever met. Days later I decided to snag him up, take a trip to Wal-Mart, and hear more about his life.
As I grabbed my groceries, Damian told me insane stories about going to concerts and living life on the edge. At one point, he pulled some alcohol out of his knapsack, took a drink, and moments later carelessly spit on the floor. I thought, “Who is this guy?” Typically, after spending time with someone who is difficult to relate to, my knee jerk reaction has been to simply avoid them. But Jesus is now woven into my DNA, and I knew that Damian was someone I would eventually become friends with. In fact, I think Damian and I spent almost every day together after that for the next month. You learn a lot about someone in a month, and Damian rarely stops talking. That month his story literally took me to my knees.
Damian’s mother was seventeen when he was born. His father left before he Damian arrived and his mother had started doing heavy drugs. Because of this, he spent his entire childhood bouncing from house to house depending on the man that his mother was seeing, living homeless in the stages in between. By age twelve, he was already smoking pot and drinking alcohol.
His whole life he moved from city to city, each time being the new kid and having to make friends once again. As a result, he was always a pretty angry kid and got into fights everywhere he went. When his mother did finally remarry, his stepfather was abusive, but because his mother was not stable financially they had to stay and endure. Damian’s mom could no longer care for her son once her husband kicked them out and they were left on the streets, so he was forced to bounce between friends’ homes all throughout high school. Out of desperation one night, he walked into a neighborhood with a home for sale and broke in to sleep on the carpet. That was the first night Damian cried out to God for help.
Though Damian didn’t realize it, God answered his prayer soon after. A family who knew Damian’s story felt compelled to invite him into their home and give him his own bedroom. They showed him grace for the first time in his life, but still that wasn’t enough. Through landing a job, starting to make money, and meeting and moving in with a girl, Damian continued to let alcohol and drugs consume him. His time with this girl didn’t last long; after a big fight she moved out and left Damian behind like most people in his life had.
Depression hit Damian hard as he worked two part-time jobs, was drinking every night, using heavy drugs, and sleeping in between. One night he came to his breaking point and decided to give up. After consuming a fifth of vodka he hung himself in his closet, but right before he slipped away he fell onto the floor and cried himself to sleep. The next morning he somehow found the determination to change his life, so he started saving money until he was able to get himself to college. At this point in his life, no one in his family had ever even graduated from high school.
By the fall of 2013 Damian had made it to Washington State University at age 22, ready to study English with the hopes of becoming a teacher. In the month that we were spending every day together that fall, we went to big parties, people’s homes, and open mic nights; we were with people almost every evening. One day I invited Damian to come to Resonate Church. He said he didn’t really like churches and was really unsure about Christianity, but he liked hanging out with me so he gave it a shot. He got to church on Sunday morning and realized that all of the people that he had been seeing and meeting at these parties were here at church with him.
Damian said to me soon after, “Brian, I’ve always been the guy that no one likes. People have always treated me as the weird kid, but for the first time in my life I feel like you guys actually dig me. People are genuinely interested in me.” I explained to Damian that the connecting piece in all of those relationships was a man named Jesus. These people all love others in same way He has loved them.
These people, these relationships, and a taste of this love left Damian searching to know about Jesus, about what kind of truth could compel people to live in such a way, offering immediate acceptance and faithfulness. So we started meeting up each week to read the bible. We read the beginning of Luke to learn about the birth of Jesus, followed by the entire book of John. For weeks we would sit down and read for three hours at a time. Damian always asked endless questions, most of which I had never heard before. We were both learning so much about the Word of God. Many times I would look up to see his eyes light up with excitement, amazed with the stories of Jesus.
One day, while we were reading about how Jesus called His disciples, I explained to Damian that in that time it was common for most Rabbis to pick the best of the best to follow them, but that Jesus was different. We read the stories of Jesus calling fishermen and tax collectors. Damian stopped me, and with a confused look he said, “Wait, so Jesus picked normal people to follow him? Broken people? So you think maybe he could use me?” My heart jumped in my chest, “Yes Damian, I absolutely believe that Jesus could use you.”
At this point we had spent nearly two months together and he had confessed to me that he was an alcoholic. We spent many of those nights in front of his dorm talking about life, and what it could look like if he gave everything to Jesus. He told me, “I’m so scared that if I give everything to him he will leave me just like everyone else in my life.” We talked about Romans 8 for a bit after that. “Damian, God promises that he will never leave us or forsake us.”
The next morning at Resonate Josh Martin preached about the Misdirection of Religion. At the end he did something out of the ordinary – he asked if anyone was ready to make a decision to follow Jesus for the first time. Damian immediately got out of his chair and found me in the back. “Brian I’m so scared, but I’m ready.” We sat on the ground and cried as he mumbled out a prayer asking God to forgive him of his sins confessing that Jesus is Lord.” We celebrated really hard that day!
It wasn’t long before Damian was baptized along with 24 other students at WSU. If you talk to anyone at Resonate Church, in his dorm, or in most places on campus, they know Damian Clark. He has truly been transformed by the gospel and possesses a joy that can only be evidence of Jesus living inside him and breathing through him.
A week after his baptism, Damian had to serve eleven days in jail for an aggressive behavior charge that he had received several months before. He walked into the jail as a missionary, anxiously shared his testimony with every person he encountered, taught the book of John to a group of guys, and prayed with one young man to make a decision to follow Jesus.
One month later he felt called to be part of a Resonate mission team over winter break, sacrificing his Christmas celebration with family for the sake of God’s kingdom. With no home support, God provided $3,700 to send him to East Asia for two and a half weeks to share the Good News with college students.
Damian has now been following Jesus for four months – the last two, sober – as he continues to learn to walk in holiness and purpose. If you bumped into him in any of the cafeterias on campus or saw him in his dorm, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see him sharing his story or explaining the gospel to a stranger. Damian’s story isn’t special because he had a really hard childhood. It’s special because it’s the story of what God does to people – He gives them new hearts and new lives.
“I’ve lived my whole life with out a father; now I know that I’ve had a father all along. I used to walk around looking down at my feet, but now I walk with my head up looking for broken people like me.”