Danny and Cyndi decided to sponsor Estella during a trip to Guatemala in 1999.
"I often tell people that God knew I'd starve if I had to have a real job, so he let me do music. So I play guitar and share my faith, and say, 'God, you can take me wherever you want.'"
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Raised in a musical family in Colorado, singer/songwriter Danny Oertli began playing guitar in his early teenage years. As a student at Colorado State University, he became a worship leader for Campus Crusade for Christ. That opportunity began opening other doors for Danny to play and sing and, by the time he graduated in 1996, music had become a full-time career.
Danny married his high school sweetheart, Cyndi, in 1994. Soon after, the couple decided to become Compassion sponsors for Andualem, a little boy in Ethiopia. When Danny began performing full time, they decided they wanted Compassion to become part of his concerts as well. "Cyndi had a real heart for Compassion. She was always pushing me to get more children sponsored. She was even the one who ran the sponsor sign-up table at my shows. She believed in it so much that it was just a natural thing for her to do."
In 1999, Danny and Cyndi traveled to Guatemala to see Compassion's work firsthand. While there, they decided to sponsor a young girl, Estella, and even had the chance to meet her. "I remember all these kids were there," Danny says, "and this little girl walked right up and sat in Cyndi's lap and hugged her and loved her. She wouldn't lose contact with us for all the hours we were there. Estella and Cyndi were constantly holding each other and holding hands. It was a spiritual connection that was just beautiful. You know, smiles and hugs are international. Children understand love being given to them."
Not long after Danny and Cyndi married, Cyndi was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. But with radiation treatments and a lot of prayer and support from family and friends, she overcame the cancer. She and Danny went on to have a daughter, Gracie, and adopt a son, Jack. Then, in February 2002, 30-year-old Cyndi died suddenly from a heart attack. Her cancer treatments, the family learned, had weakened her heart.
Although Danny has struggled with questions and doubts during the past year, he has also found comfort in the truths he is learning from his wife's life and death. "Cyndi had no idea that her life would be so short," he explains. "But the things she invested in are going to make a difference for all eternity. And I'm going to commit the rest of my life to doing the same thing."
Danny says that spending time with five-year-old Gracie and two-year-old Jack since their mom's death has also given him a new understanding of the need to show love and compassion to children. "One of my favorite verses in the Bible is when Jesus says that taking care of widows and orphans is what he sees as religion that is blameless. I remember that first week after Cyndi died, whenever I would see my kids I would think of that verse. And I thought of how that verse connected not only to my children, but to the children of Compassion and kids all over the world that have been orphaned in some way or another. To think that all these children are on the front of God's heart is a big comfort to me."
As Danny began performing again in the months after Cyndi's death, he decided to share what he was discovering with his concert audiences. And he connects it directly back to Compassion, knowing how important the ministry was to Cyndi. "I tell people that our lives are short and we are given so much. It is a blessing to bless those who need help. And when I think of God's heart, I know that he wants me using the gifts he's given me to take care of kids in need. I tell people if they want to start investing in eternity, one of the things they can do is sponsor a Compassion child."
Danny's newest album is called Live for Heaven. The title is a wonderful reminder of how Cyndi Oertli wanted to lead her life. But it is also an excellent challenge to God's people still here on Earth. Whether sponsoring a child in need or showing God's love to individuals in some other manner, these are the things that "make a difference for all eternity."