Meet Anthony! Those who know him are well acquainted with both his smile and his overflowing joy and positivity! Wherever Anthony goes, gospel music is never far behind! He is a man full of gratitude and thanksgiving and he is quick to point to God as his source of inner peace and hope. Anthony came to Damascus Way Golden Valley as a voluntary resident in a season where he was in need of healing and transformation. After traveling down the wrong path in life following various setbacks and poor choices, Anthony found himself in need of a place to live, a place that would provide him with stability, accountability, responsibility and a Godly environment. And that is precisely what Anthony encountered when he came to Damascus Way this summer. Since he has arrived, Anthony has been blessed by the comradery and brotherhood he has built particularly with our staff. He has had opportunities to share his story with many of us and has highlighted how this place (our Golden Valley campus), has given him space to reconnect with the Lord on a daily basis, to keep busy with his personal responsibilities and tasks and to grow in some of the areas where God has gifted him with unique talents.

One of Anthony’s passions and gifting’s is to cook and to prepare meals for others. Almost two months ago Anthony was able to put this passion into practice here at Damascus Way Golden Valley by being hired into the role of Food Services Assistant alongside our Food Services Coordinator, Rosalyn. In October, during an All-Team site meeting, Anthony prepared a wonderful breakfast for more than 15 staff! In order to enter into this position, Anthony had to prepare to become certified through ServSafe which provides food safety training and certification. After studying and preparing with the help of our Associate Director of Reentry & Operations, Craig Fruen, Anthony was able to successfully pass and complete the online course and examination! This was an incredible achievement for Anthony, a moment that was so profound that it brought him to tears. Having been a high school drop out in his youth, Anthony had never earned a diploma or any similar certificate at any point in his life. So you can imagine how touched Anthony was to receive a recognition of his hard work and talent. Our Associate Director Craig Fruen came near to tears himself when detailing this memorable experience to other staff after he’d shared in a time of celebration with Anthony following the completed test.

Just this past week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Anthony to hear a bit more of his story. And I think you’ll want to take the time to read about this man who has had quite a life already in the four or so decades he has been in this world.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Anthony grew up in a small country town nearby named Gramercy. When asked about his childhood, Anthony fondly recalled what life was like in this farm town. It was a life of simplicity and nearness to God’s creation. The animals were always nearby. Chickens, hogs, cows. It was a slowly paced living. An honest life, even when hard times came. It was the kind of lifestyle that taught someone how to deal with a storm when it came. Living off the land gives you a different perspective on life. Even so, there were many difficulties and hardships. Anthony grew up in a family with 12 siblings! Imagine that! Furthermore, his family had to fit all those children into a small, three bedroom house. In fact, Anthony was unable to complete his GED because in junior high school he dropped out so he could work to help support the rest of his family. The value of hard work was ingrained in Anthony from a young age.

Even amidst the trials of youth, Anthony found joy and passion. At the age of 10 he began to explore his love for music and percussion in particular. While attending a music festival with his mother in the city of New Orleans, Anthony had the chance to begin hammering away at a bucket. This initiated and began his lifelong journey of playing the congas, which he has played for over 35 years!! At various points in his life, Anthony has been able to use his musical talents in church settings including a ministry he was part of in San Antonio, Texas and at a local congregation more recently here in Minnesota. His love for music was always paired with his love of God. From a young age, the Church was always a part of his life. His family home was just down the street, a short walk away, from the local Baptist church which he grew up attending. It was at that very church that he first learned to cook and to finesse his culinary expertise.

Anthony’s faith carried him through tough times and the troubled waters he found himself in as he grew older. After working successfully at a meat plant for many years and even being promoted to a managerial position through God’s providence, Anthony came to a point in life where he was struggling with substance abuse. Always a kind-hearted man, Anthony looks back upon this time and realizes how drugs influenced him and pushed him in directions his true self would’ve never desired. Speaking of this time in his life Anthony said, “I didn’t know what I was doing, or who I was.”

After getting involved in a small-time robbery at 25 years old, Anthony was incarcerated for two years. Reflecting on the situation that led to his time in prison, Anthony thanks God that things turned out the way they did, as it certainly could’ve been worse. In fact, with a bit of humor, Anthony described how in his attempt to steal someone’s wallet while under the influence, he picked up a rotten cane stick. As he attempted to strike the victim with the flimsy wooden stick it broke in half before making any physical contact. This prevented Anthony from being charged with armed robbery. Thus, Anthony considers this as God’s gracious intervention on his behalf. Anthony looks at his time in prison as a season that, “Really helped him.” In fact, he had very few difficulties in prison and felt that God truly granted him favor and provided him with the opportunity to reflect on his life and his decisions.

Change did not occur immediately and after his time in prison Anthony found himself stuck in continued patterns of sin. However, he emphasizes how his incarceration was a turning point in that he never allowed himself to pursue an act of near-violence again. In 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, Anthony was in the midst of addiction and found himself looking out the window of a drug house in New Orleans as the ferocious storm hit. Looking out the window, Anthony watched as building after building nearby was shredded and ripped apart by the power of the hurricane’s wind and rain. Once again, Anthony felt the protection of God’s hand upon his life as only a single window in the house was broken. In the middle of the storm Anthony encountered God and as it subsided he went out side and began to dance in the rain as he gave praise to God for protecting him.

Anthony first came to Minnesota in 2016 and worked in the restaurant industry as a cook. While working at a particular venue, Anthony reminisced on his relationship with a co-worker who was prejudiced towards him. The co-worked looked down on Anthony for the way he spoke and for the color of his skin. For a period of time Anthony endured this mistreatment, choosing to respond to the prejudice of his co-worker with love, forgiveness and compassion. Realizing that there was something deeper going on with his co-worker, Anthony slowly transformed the heart of his co-worker with time through acts of love and service and eventually his co-worker stated one day, “Why are you so nice?” It was in this moment that Anthony was able to share about Jesus and a new friendship was built with his co-worker who finally began to come to terms with his mistreatment of Anthony.

After spending some time in Texas with a Christian ministry, Anthony returned to Minnesota this past year after the passing of his son. He has had a life filled with ups and downs, but nothing seems to defeat the smile upon his face and it comes from that inner confidence in God’s love and grace. We have been so blessed at Damascus Way by Anthony’s presence and contribution to our team. We pray that God continues to work in and through him here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this testimony.

-Josiah Callaghan, Administrative Assistant