When I was 15, I met a group of friends whom I wanted to reach out to. However, to my surprise, I ended up being influenced by them.
It started off with simply hanging out with them. Then I realised that I became agitated easily and was unable to control my temperament. The way I spoke to others had also changed — profanities were in every sentence that came out of my lips.
I smoked cigarettes, disrespected my family members and friends as well as became someone whom I never thought I would become. I projected an image of myself that would cause people to fear me; an image that was considered “strong” in the eyes of society.
But if I were to be honest with you, those internal battles that I had to fight were tearing me apart every second I was breathing.
For instance, I concealed the insecurity that I was desperately struggling with — the need to be loved and accepted by people — by putting on a mask, so that those around me would think of me as someone who does not care about the opinions of others.
Because I was walking through life alone in a dark valley for an extensive period of time, I constantly felt that all hope was lost.
I felt that I was in a deep well that was inescapable and hence, I gave up on trying to turn over a new leaf.
This went on for one and a half years until a friend spoke to me and challenged me to go for a youth camp that was approaching.
Despite feeling so broken at that time, I decided to go for it. That was when my entire life had a massive turnaround.
At that camp, I gave to God the shame and guilt that I had harboured for so long.
I remember being the first person to run out of my seat and fall on my knees when the pastor invited those who wanted a fresh start to come forward to be prayed for.
After the prayer time ended, I immediately called my parents to apologise for the hurt that I had caused them.
It was also during this period that I recalled my encounter with God as a 14-year-old boy.
I was brought up in a Christian household, but my faith only became important to me when I experienced God’s tangible presence at a similar youth camp.
At the age of 14, my encounter with God showed me that God is real, while at the age of 16, my encounter with God showed me that God is the only person who will love me despite the number of times I walk away from Him.
I see myself in the Bible story of The Prodigal Son. I left the Father and indulged in the many things that this world has to offer and came up totally empty and broken.
Because of the things I had done, I felt that I was not worthy to go back to God.
But when I returned to the Father, He welcomed me with open arms and a large warm hug that I had not felt in such a long time.
Looking back, I was truly living in a continuous downward spiral. I had lost sight of my identity, my mission in this world, as well as my true love.
But in all the things that I had tried and/or seen in this world, nothing compared to the love and transformation that God freely offers.
He gave me a love I did not deserve, hope in a dark place and never-ending second chances.
The Daniel whom everyone once knew was gone.
The Daniel who bullies and mocks others is now someone who confidently stands up for those who are being oppressed.
The Daniel who did not give a single ounce of respect to family and friends is now someone who holds them close to his heart.
The Daniel who totally did not have a heart for others is now someone who wants to specialise in the area of social work, so that he can be a pillar of hope to those in need.
Frankly, transiting out from that dark place felt extremely uncomfortable, painful and uncertain. It was definitely neither an easy nor quick transition.
I had to leave a group of friends whom I felt were extremely loyal. I had to humble myself and take steps to reconcile with each of my family members. I had to find new and healthy coping mechanisms (including taking photos and intentionally catching up with my friends) to manage the stresses of life.
However, God blessed me with new friends in church whom until this very day are still closely walking through life with me.
God is indeed our provider, and will definitely meet our needs in His appointed time, just as He met mine when I felt that I had no community to turn to.
God enabled me to step forth from that boat, from a place of comfort, into the wild waters. Through the pain and stretching, I experienced God’s presence, peace and power.
Today I have found everything I could not find back then – purpose, meaning, an unceasing source of hope, a love for people and so much more!
The changes that I experienced because of my relationship with God drastically transformed the way I approached situations and people as well as my attitudes!
As a student from the Normal (Academic) stream who was consistently at the bottom of my cohort throughout my secondary school years, I used to have extremely low self-esteem.
I subconsciously believed that Normal (Academic) students can only do so much in their studies or go so far in life.
But after knowing God personally and walking with Him every day, my hope was based on the fact that God has a brilliant future for me (Jeremiah 29:11)!
I worked hard not to prove myself nor to get to the top, but to do my part while trusting that God will accomplish His purpose for my life.
I have seen God’s hand over my life since that day I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.
He has been faithful in providing me so much unmerited favour in school — with my lecturers and even peers.
I recently graduated from Republic Polytechnic with a Diploma in Social Enterprise Management with Merit.
He has even blessed me with the achievement of being the Most Outstanding Graduate of the Year and the valedictorian in the School Of Management & Communication.
I also obtained a place in university to study social work — my dream course. Through social work, I want to extend God’s healing hands to those who are in desperate need. I also plan to use all of these experiences to make His name great.
I am genuinely excited for what is ahead of me as I serve National Service for the next two years. Just as God has been with me then, I know He will be with me now.