Growing up in the Philadelphia area with parents who were active in their church, 34-year-old Daniel Givens gave his life to Christ at just seven years old.
He always felt he had a calling to serve the Lord, but went through a what he calls a rebellious time as a teen and young man, eventually spending time behind bars. However, he rededicated his life to the Lord when he was 23, and has been working toward his calling to serve as a pastor one day. And attending Lancaster Bible College’s Philadelphia location is playing a big part in Daniel’s dream, now a married father of a nearly 2-year-old daughter.
Daniel, who hopes to graduate from the college in December 2020, has seen God work in his life and heart in ways large and small as he strives toward graduation. He has an associate’s degree in biblical studies from LBC, but decided to change his bachelor’s major from biblical studies to business administration so he could offer a future congregation a more well-rounded background – along with making him more marketable candidate at work now so he could provide for his family, he says.
“A lot of people struggle with financial literacy, so I want to make sure I can offer people the complete package and try to help them with their whole lives,” financially as well as spiritually, he says. “I believe in making this faith practical, and not just give people a bunch of words and then they go home and don’t know how to apply what they heard.” Along with the practical side, God has been working on Daniel through his LBC studies to flee the impatience and occasional temper of his youth, he says. That way, he can be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires,” he says, quoting as James 1:19-20.
Many times, Daniel says, he has had to re-read those verses after getting upset over something or with someone, and prayed, “OK, God, I really want to walk this walk, help me to apply these Scriptures.” And “God has really done a work with me in that. I used to get easily upset with people, but I feel myself growing in patience. But I can’t credit that to myself – I have to give God all the glory,” Daniel says. “I have learned that His Word is true – so my goal is to live it and apply it, not just quote it. That’s especially true during the tough times, when we don’t know what to say, but we can always turn to God’s Word and find the answers that we’re looking for.”
Education always has been important to his parents, Donald and Vanessa Givens, “and I wanted to go to a Christian school where I’d have the chance to develop that faith and have the foundation to serve as a pastor one day,” Daniel says.
LBC, along with offering an affordable, accredited education with a biblical foundation, “helped me articulate my worldview as well as to better interpret Scripture. The business classes have opened up opportunities which otherwise would not be available,” he says.
He credits the Rev. Zachary Ritvalsky, the Philadelphia site director, as playing an instrumental role in him attending LBC. Daniel, who now lives in Collingswood, N.J., lived in West Philadelphia until around age 10, when his parents moved him to suburban Yeadon, Pa. His father is a minister and a former deacon and his mother a deaconess at Holy Cross Baptist Church in West Philadelphia. Daniel also has an older and a younger brother, Donald Jr., 46, and Dion, 26. His family “has always been there for me, even through trying times,” he notes.
Looking back, Daniel remembers how in high school “it wasn’t the cool thing to be a Christian.” He often took his Bible to school, first earning him the nickname of “Preacher Boy” in middle school: “I guess I kind of got intimidated by the calling (to serve The Lord) and what it represented.”
“At age 20, following the wrong crowd, I found myself in a situation that only the Lord could deliver me from,” he says, and wound up serving time in prison. It was during this time that he re-dedicated his life to Christ and surrendered to God’s Will, he says. His life verse is Romans 11:29: “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”
Daniel attended the University of Pittsburgh for two years, dropped out, then started working at Target, and later worked at H&R Block, where he did taxes (“I got pretty good at that”) and then Home Depot. Around age 30, he decided to go back to school for his undergraduate degree.
Daniel has done his LBC studies, taking courses both in person and online, even as he helps shepherd a nearly 2-year-old daughter, Mayah (which means “close to God,” he says proudly). He also works full-time at Performance Food Group in Swedesboro, N.J., and attends LBC one night a week from 6 to 10 o’clock.
Daniel credits his wife Aja for being his number-one helper and supporter. “She has really been in my corner and had my back, just letting me know that I can do it, and that she believes in me,” Daniel says. They sometimes have to miss out on fun things because he has to study or complete papers, but she understands, he says.
Aja has an associate’s degree in accounting and plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in accounting this spring at either Temple or Rutgers universities, “so she really has a lot on her plate as well,” her husband notes. Daniel has been learning another thing from teachers and mentors as plans to pursue his ministry – to not put even church service ahead of his family.
“Family is really your first ministry,” Daniel says. “I think that oftentimes we get into trouble because we try to put the church ahead of our families, and that’s when problems arise. My wife married me, not the church. She does understand that I have a calling, however, it is my responsibility to not put ministry before her. I’ve had to say no to certain engagements and ministries because they would take too much time away from my family.” He adds, “I do try to make sure I honor my wife at all times, respect her and spend time with her and communicate with her.”
He serves at Philadelphia’s Deliverance Evangelistic Church – the same church where LBC’s Philadelphia location is housed – under Pastor Glenn Spaulding, “who has been a blessing to my family,” Daniel says, and he continually aims to pursue four characteristics in life – faith, love, humility, and holiness.
“I believe these qualities help me live a life pleasing to Christ and also demonstrate the love of God to the world. I have also learned to worship. My wife and I have ‘Thank You, Jesus’ moments, where we respond, ‘Thank You, Jesus,’ to life’s trials and tribulations. This keeps us from complaining and helps us to bless the Lord at all times.” Lord willing, he plans to earn his master’s degree and, ultimately, his Phd, Daniel adds.