How an aerospace engineer struggling with cocaine addiction found Christ and community

Dan Hallock

Dan Hallock 1960 –

“By the time I was sixteen, I doubted God even existed,” Dan Hallock remembers. “I was much more preoccupied with the experiences of a typical teenager growing up in the mid-70s: flinging around the word ‘radical’ while smoking pot and behaving as irresponsibly as possible.” The Catholic faith he had been raised in mystified him, and he saw church as a chore. 

After high school, he attended Cornell University, where by day he studied aerospace engineering and by night attended concerts, took LSD, and drank. On graduating (“I survived, narrowly”), he landed a dream job at Sikorsky, a military contractor. Then his life began to unravel. 

Everyone else seemed perfectly happy working toward a new car or condo, or another vacation in the Caribbean, but I was increasingly desperate. I was drinking almost a case of beer a night, along with whiskey, and I’d become addicted to cocaine.

The final blow came when my girlfriend suddenly left me. We’d been together four years, and had talked about marrying, but now she said, “You had your fun; now let me have mine.” I was filled with rage and despair. 

One night, drugged out of my mind, I got in my car and started driving very fast, with no destination in mind. I still don’t know why I didn’t just run into a tree or an overpass, because I definitely wanted to kill myself. But somehow I found myself back at home in the morning.

Around this time, Dan had a revelatory experience so unexpected and so powerful that he can still remember the date and hour it took place.

I was alone in my apartment. I picked up a Bible my mom had given me and began to read. I pored over Jesus’ words as if I were reading them for the very first time. Suddenly, all the broken, filthy pieces of my life came together, and I could see them all at once. And I knew that he could see them too – the person who had been with me through all those years of darkness and pain and confusion.

I began to feel that the military-industrial complex was incompatible with my newfound faith. Fellow Christians at work didn’t understand, but my agnostic Jewish boss did.

I did not see Jesus with my eyes, but he was unmistakably there in the room with me, as a powerful, living presence. It is impossible to describe the compassion I felt radiating from this presence. Tears streamed down my face – not for minutes, but for days, on and off. Suddenly, that battered body I’d seen hanging from crucifixes as a boy was something I could identify with. I felt as if we were brothers. Jesus knew what I had gone through. I had hope.

I remember walking through the streets afterward, noticing people as if for the first time, and seeing the world in a completely new light. I saw my job differently too: I began to feel that the military-­industrial complex was incompatible with my newfound faith. Fellow Christians at work didn’t understand, but my agnostic Jewish boss did. He said, “Dan, something’s come into your heart. If you don’t follow it, if you aren’t true to it, you’re going to destroy yourself.” So I followed it.

Higher up the ladder, they said I was nuts and offered me $100 an hour to stay. I could pick my hours. I still walked out. I was free. At first I worked in a vineyard alongside day laborers, earning $3 an hour. I began to look for concrete ways to follow Jesus – that is, to live out what I felt the Gospels required. I took care of elderly shut-ins; I tutored disadvantaged children; I worked at homeless shelters, in soup kitchens, and for Habitat for Humanity. But all the while, I was still living a kind of isolated middle-class life. It was still all about me. 

Eventually Dan’s search led him to the Bruderhof, which his mother had visited while on a retreat. After several visits, he joined in 1990. It was there, through baptism, that he finally found the courage to “confront my own depravity” and to “turn toward the light that had broken into my life.” Years later, he met his wife, Emily, with whom he has three children.

Reflecting on his conversion, Dan says:

A lot of Christians seem to believe that all you need to do is accept Jesus as your savior, so that one day you can be taken up into the clouds or whatever. As I see it, Christianity demands the exact opposite: that once God transforms your life, you have an obligation to others. You’re co-responsible for the state of the whole earth and everyone on it. 

I didn’t come here feeling, “Good riddance and goodbye to this terrible life I’ve led and to all the people I’ve known.” On the contrary, I felt I was being given a new chance and a new life for their sakes, too. That might sound grand, but all I’m saying is that if I were living here for myself, I couldn’t justify it. I couldn’t stay here another day. Our purpose, our reason for being, is much greater than that. 

We are called to stand with all people on this planet who suffer in any way, no matter who they are, or where. That’s how the early Christians lived. They served the poor – they served everyone they could – in the cities and towns where they lived. They believed they were, as they put it, God’s hands and feet.

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