How Mississippian Daniel Awabdy went from inmate to ministry leader

By on September 1, 2020
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By SARAH MCLAUGHLIN

Daniel with his kids, from left, Tatiana, Abraham and Kaniela.

How Mississippian Daniel Awabdy
went from inmate to ministry leader

 

     Some Christians may not remember the exact moment they came to Christ. Maybe they grew up in a Christian household or accepted Christ at a young age — yet all they know is that they’re walking with Christ now. For others, the moment Christ changed their life was defining — and they can remember it clearly and distinctly.

 

     That’s how it was for Daniel Awabdy, founder of CareCenter Ministries Jackson, who clearly remembers the moment Christ reached into his life and began working in him.

 

     Daniel grew up in Madison. At 16, his life took a dramatic turn when he started using drugs. Over the next few years, Daniel found himself in broken relationships with his family and friends, and his addiction led to criminal activity and a life of difficulty. Before Daniel was saved, he had been in jail in Nebraska, Texas and Mississippi — and at every turn, Daniel found himself with nothing.

 

     “I tried everything a logical man would — I tried to relocate and change my life, but it never happened until I gave my life to Christ. That’s where the whole transformation took place.”

 

     The story of his transformation began at Overcomers, a Christ-centered 12-step meeting, at CareCenter Ministries in Dallas. CareCenter seeks to rescue the least, the lost and the lonely through Christ-centered programming.

 

     At the meeting, one of the leaders approached Daniel. The leader said that God had spoken to him, and that God had a special plan and purpose for Daniel’s life. As the leader prayed for him, Daniel felt hopeful for the first time in a long time. Even though he was in prison, he held on to the leader’s words — waiting and believing them to be true.

 

     Over a year later, Daniel was sent from a prison in Texas to one in Hinds County, Mississippi. As Daniel was sent back to Mississippi, he was given 11 new charges and a habitual offender order, which meant he was likely going to be sentenced for life. His days became dark, lonely and void. He had no one — his family gave up any hope for his situation, his friends abandoned him — there was no one left for him to reach out to. In many ways, Daniel could have said with the psalmist, “You have caused my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness” (Psalm 88:18, ESV).

 

Daniel grew up in Madison, started doing drugs at 16, and served time in Nebraska, Texas and Mississippi (mugshot screenshots at left and center) before God changed his heart.

 

     Alone in his cell, Daniel came to the end of himself. He had nothing left. He was broken and crying, wondering how his choices led him here. It was in that moment, as he thought about his life and the uncertainty ahead, that he saw a Bible in his cell. Daniel vividly remembers this moment: “I reached for the Bible, and the Lord said to me, ‘Daniel, I love you.’ It wasn’t about any of my mistakes, or any of the sin that I’d committed.”

 

     In that moment, alone with the Lord, Daniel’s life changed forever.

 

     By God’s providence, Daniel ended up back in Dallas and became involved in CareCenter Ministry’s Race Program. “Race” stands for “run as Christ endured” and is a one-year program which helps free men of addiction on the basis of Christian discipleship. The first six months focus on life skills, biblical principles, and having a real relationship with Christ. After that, participants can either go into the workforce or enroll in a two-year program with CareCenter’s Academy for Inner-City Missions.

 

     It was in the Race Program that Daniel learned about Christ’s faithfulness, the importance of submitting to authority, and his true identity in Christ. The program was so impactful for him because, as he remembers, “Not only are you getting taught all these things, you’re walking them out. That was the biggest thing for me — I was getting taught and shown all these things, and there were people walking them out alongside me.”

 

     Daniel also points to Pastor Eldred Sawyer and his wife, Jeanmarie, who started CareCenter Ministries in Dallas over 34 years ago. “They walked through the same things I did,” Daniel says. “They were my examples, and I’m extremely grateful for the path they laid out for my life.”

 

     Daniel was surrounded and taught by people who’d suffered from addictions like he had, and he remembers how powerful it was to be with people who not only loved Christ but who were fighting to live by Christian principles. With the power of the gospel and the impact of the program, Daniel was freed from his addictions.

 

     In the second month of the Race Program, Daniel remembers being in worship one morning and hearing God say, “CareCenter Ministries Mississippi.” At the time, Daniel was unsure: What did God mean? How would he get back to Mississippi? In the midst of his questions, the Lord spoke to him again: “CareCenter Ministries Mississippi — stop asking Me about it, start thanking Me for it.” And that became the vision and calling over Daniel’s life: to start a ministry in his home state. Even though he had months left in the Race Program in Dallas, Daniel believed God would fulfill the word He’d given him.

 

A prayer circle forms at a Soul Snatchers outreach in Dallas — the city where Daniel was told, God has a special plan for your life.

 

     Daniel decided to pursue a degree through CareCenter’s Academy for Inner-City Missions after his first six months in the Race Program. After working with the Academy for two years, he graduated with a degree in international studies of ministry and a certificate in inner-city missions.

 

     In 2019, Daniel began a branch of CareCenter Ministries in metro Jackson. Although the Mississippi branch currently has fewer outreach programs than others, Daniel is hopeful and expectant for the future. Today, though, the Jackson branch offers the Race Program and food pantry services to residents in south-central Mississippi. The ministry’s currently looking for a building to purchase so they can start a church, and Daniel is hopeful about providing more opportunities to people in inner-city Jackson.

 

     Currently, Daniel loves being involved in and pioneering the ministry in Jackson, and seeing the hope of the gospel change lives. The basis of Daniel’s ministry in Jackson is Romans 1:16-17, which says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes … for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (ESV).

 

     Daniel truly believes that it’s only by God’s power and God’s righteousness that anyone can change; it’s the power of the gospel that changes and transforms lives, nothing else. It’s also the only way that CareCenter Ministries has been successful and impactful.

 

     It’s through preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ — His death, burial and resurrection — that Daniel helps free men of addiction. Daniel says that “seeing a person who never knew Christ and who was bound by addiction, seeing them gain life by receiving the gospel gives me hope.”

 

     Yet Daniel doesn’t simply preach the gospel and leave men to walk on their own; he walks alongside them in their addictions, listens to them and helps them. Daniel says he’s always trying to listen and love people, to refrain from judging them. His hope is that he can hear people’s hearts. Once he hears where someone’s coming from, he shares the gospel with them. But he doesn’t simply share the gospel verbally, he shares it by how he lives.

 

     That isn’t always easy.

 

Daniel, bottom right, spent time with Rankin County inmates through CareCenter Ministries at the invitation of chaplains Aubrey and Debbie Pridgen, kneeling.

   Daniel believes the hardest thing in ministry is to continually walk with Christ. Although it’s the greatest gift to serve in ministry, it’s difficult, he says, to be responsible and accountable. It’s difficult, he says, to stay faithful and secure in Christ so he can help grow and strengthen others.

 

     Despite this difficulty, though, Daniel is encouraged by God’s faithfulness and impact in his life. He says the main thing he’s learned in giving his life to missions is that “God’s still changing lives, and miracles are still taking place.” Daniel sees these miracles happen when men hear the gospel and walk free from their addictions, just like he did. He sees the power of Christ change lives when men begin walking with Christ, just like he did.

 

     Being unashamed of the gospel, living it out and pursuing a relationship with the Lord has strengthened and grown Daniel’s faith in ways he never imagined. While he was in prison, Daniel never expected that coming to the end of himself would be the beginning of freedom from addiction; and he never imagined he would soon be ministering to people in the same place he had been sentenced — yet God used all things for his good, and Daniel is hopefully expectant of all the blessings God has in the future.

 

 

Sarah McLaughlin is a junior at Mississippi College, and plans to graduate with a B.A. in English education. She attends Pinehaven Presbyterian Church in Clinton. You’ll often find her reading, listening to vinyl records, and drinking coffee.

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