Contagious Joy

Born in the Bronx in 1952, Santiago Milland didn’t have an easy childhood. After his father left when he was 2, he had several step fathers and step siblings. Some of his “father figures” had alcohol problems and were extremely harsh in punishing the kids.

At 17, Santiago enlisted in the military. At 18, he married a lady he would forever describe as an “angel.” He recalled occasionally giving money to her so that she could buy herself a special dress only to discover that she spent it on nice things for the kids.

After 12 years of service, Santiago returned to the Bronx and bought a club. Repeating patterns he witnessed while growing up, he developed a dependence on drugs and alcohol, but eventually cleaned himself up to be a better father for his 3 children and 2 adopted nephews. He even became a counselor for teenagers and taught tennis to underprivileged youth at a nearby park. He felt great being able to help others.

“Happiness is something that can be taken from you, but joy that comes from God stays with you. You own it and it’s yours forever.”

However, life would take another steep downturn for Santiago as his wife passed away after 38 years of marriage and he became depressed, moved to Lancaster City, and once again fell into drugs and alcohol, even dealing in order to support his habit. This resulted in his arrest and a 6 month jail term, as well as a big wake up call for Santiago. In his words, “I thought I wanted to die and then realized that I didn’t.”

When he was released Santiago came directly to Water Street Mission where he said he experienced a different kind of love … love from strangers who he said, “took their time, their words and their feelings and passed them on to me even though I thought I was worthless.” Santiago surrendered himself fully to God and became actively involved in all he could, to grow, to learn and to serve others. He became closer to his children and grandchildren and he graduated from what was, at that time, the Life Recovery Program.

It was an incredibly happy day when Santiago moved out. He chose a place nearby so he could be near family and return every day to Water Street to volunteer, and he made sure it had enough space so that he could offer rooms to others who were ready to move out. Eventually, health issues would cause Santiago to return to Water Street, but even as his health was failing, he continued to volunteer and kept sharing with others about his deep joy in Christ.

Santiago said, “I’ve never felt more joy in my life than I’ve had in my time at The Mission – other than when my children were born and when I got married.” He brought that joy with him everywhere he went. Just as he felt that love from those who took care of him at Water Street, he freely gave love to everyone he met, always sharing the reason for his joy.

Even as disease was destroying his body, the light inside him couldn’t be contained and he remained positive – always looking for ways to bless others. Santiago Milland went home to be with the Lord and be reunited with his “angel” on January 11th. While he is greatly missed by family, staff, guests, and volunteers, we’re thankful that he finished strong…truly experiencing God’s love and restoration…and helping others experience God’s love as well!