Dan O’Deens was living just two hours away from New York City when the World Trade Center towers were attacked on September 11, 2001. Feeling the pull to help, he drove into the city that night and spent the next three weeks serving with the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army was one of dozens of organizations set up inside a massive warehouse providing supplies and meeting needs of people affected by the attack. Specifically, the Salvation Army was tasked with providing three months of utilities. From seven in the morning until eleven at night, Dan worked in this warehouse talking with people, often praying with them, and handing out vouchers for utility bills. Other organizations in the warehouse provided other services such as money for rent, and others provided coping tools like counseling, massage therapy, and animal petting. Dan saw more than one celebrity visit, walking around talking with people. Dan described it as “pre-bureaucracy. It was greater than just one organization could handle.”
After his shift ended, Dan would take the subway as close to Ground Zero as possible and then walk the rest of the distance to a Salvation Army feeding station. There he helped serve food and prayed with people. As clergy, he was often called upon by rescue workers and firefighters when body parts were uncovered to accompany them into the rubble for retrieval. “It was never a whole body found,” Dan said, “only parts. But it was always treated as a whole body, a whole person.”
Dan worked with the Salvation Army in New York City for three weeks before returning home, forever impacted by his experience. Four years later when Hurricane Katrina ripped across the south, Dan was poised and ready to jump back in to help, this time with Red Cross, overseeing relief efforts. The trajectory of Dan’s life changed after these experiences when Terry White, then executive director of the Brethren Missionary Herald Company, said to him, “That’s great Dan, but who from your church are you bringing with you?”
Dan began thinking how he could get people from his church, and ultimately the Fellowship, involved in relief efforts. “I don’t want to do this alone,” Dan realized, “I want to engage the local church to be mobilized to help people affected by crisis and catastrophe.”
Out of that desire, he started CPR-3, which he later rebranded as Breathe Partners. It was born out of crisis and catastrophe work and has “evolved into a coaching platform for healthy churches to mobilize their members toward church health and crisis and catastrophe response,” Dan said.
Breathe Partners is a “resource to help churches accomplish their mission, by mobilizing every member of every church to be living on mission.” Dan works with churches, both locally and globally, through consulting and coaching. Most recently, Breathe Partners is working to mobilize Haitian churches to provide relief efforts in Haiti following the earthquake earlier this month.
Reflecting back on how his desire to serve people through crisis and catastrophe response has led him to where he is now, Dan said, “If God is placing a burden on your heart and you have the capacity to make it happen, God might use that way beyond your wildest dreams.”