Born in 1937, Denver Moore grows up in Red River Parish, Louisiana. He and his brother live with various family members throughout their childhood and experience much hardship, including racist violence and the deaths of numerous people, including their grandmother, father, and uncle. As a young child, Denver becomes a sharecropper—meaning that he picks cotton for a wealthy landowner—“the Man”—who holds him in debt-bondage, making him effectively a slave. Denver works as a sharecropper until he is nearly thirty years old, at which point he hops a train out of Louisiana.
Ron Hall grows up in a lower-middle-class family in Texas. As children, Ron and his brother spend their summers working on their granddaddy’s cotton farm. Ron spends his first few years of college partying and chasing girls, where he meets Deborah. Sharp and bookish, Deborah is unlike any girls that Ron has previously gone after. They date intermittently until Ron is drafted for a weapons support position in the Vietnam War. Due to his education, the army stations Ron in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for two years, rather than sending him to fight as an infantryman. Ron and Deborah keep in touch throughout his deployment and date when he is released from duty, marrying not long after. Ron works first as a Campbell Soup salesmen and then as an investment banker, beginning to sell paintings as an art dealer on the side. In a very short time, Ron’s reputation as an art dealer grows, and he climbs the ranks of the wealthy, prompting him to quit his banking job. Although Ron and Deborah become Christians during the “Jesus wave” of the 1960s, Ron becomes obsessed with his new wealth and everything it can buy. Meanwhile, Deborah and their two children engage more deeply with God. Ron and Deborah grow apart until Ron has an affair with an artist in Beverly Hills. When Deborah finds out, their marriage nearly falls apart, but she commits to forgiving Ron if he will commit to marriage counseling. He does so, spending less time traveling for work and more time with his wife and kids.
Denver rides the train first to Dallas and then to Fort Worth. As a cotton-picker, Denver never learned to read or write and so cannot find a job. Before long, he is homeless. Denver stays in Fort Worth for a few years before heading to Los Angeles for a time, where he lives until he has trouble with the law and returns to Fort Worth. During his second stint in Fort Worth, Denver starts to isolate himself more and more and becomes violent. On the run from the law in Fort Worth, Denver travels to Louisiana, where he unsuccessfully attempts an armed robbery. Denver turns himself into the police and is sentenced to twenty years in Angola prison, the most violent prison in America. During his time there, Denver is forced to work in cotton fields like a slave. The prison also contributes to his violent demeanor—many inmates are murdered each year in Angola and hundreds are wounded. After ten years, Denver is released and he returns to Fort Worth, sleeping on the streets. After several more years, Denver meets Don Shisler, the manager of the Union Gospel Mission shelter, who gives Denver an occasional bed to sleep in in exchange for cleaning up around the place.
Ron and Deborah move from Dallas to Fort Worth, and within the first week Deborah sees an article about the Union Gospel Mission and wants to visit. She convinces Ron to go with her, even though Ron secretly despises homeless people. The night before they go, Deborah has a dream that the Union Gospel Mission would someday be a place of transformation and healing. Ron and Deborah visit, meeting Don Shisler and Chef Jim, a man who had gone from a prestigious catering career to homelessness, and now works as the mission’s cook. Deborah loves the place, to Ron’s secret chagrin, and promises they will be there to serve every Tuesday. Deborah has another dream, this time about a man who will change the city. Deborah begins memorizing every name and face and praying for each of the homeless people she meets each week. On their third week, a “huge, angry black man,”—Denver—throws a chair across the dining hall. While Ron watches the commotion, unnerved, Deborah excitedly grips his arm and tells him that this is the man from her dream, and that Ron needs to become friends with him. Although Ron and Deborah try to ply Denver’s name from him every time they see him, he is unwilling to interact. Meanwhile, Ron and Deborah’s relationship with the rest of the homeless people begins to grow as they host movie nights, beauty nights, organize an outing to a jazz club, and treat them as regular people they want to spend time with.
Seeing how much Ron and Deborah love the homeless people, Denver begins to soften towards them and finally lets Ron take him out for breakfast to get to know one another. Ron and Deborah are thrilled by this opportunity and pray to God to help them reach Denver. Ron and Denver have breakfast and talk, but when Ron asks if he can be Denver’s friend, Denver tells him he needs time to think it over. A week later, Denver tells Ron very seriously that he will only be friends with Ron if it means they will be friends for life. Ron agrees to this. Ron and Denver continue to meet and spend time together, and both his and Deborah’s commitment to the mission grows, each spending several days a week there. Through Denver, Ron begins to learn about modern-day slavery and the world of the poor and the homeless, realizing that they face far more struggle than he ever imagined. Denver too, learns from Ron about the world of the wealthy. He is interested, but mostly unimpressed by it. Even so, his heart is warmed by Ron and Deborah’s love and his increasing involvement in both the mission and church activities. Denver recognizes that God is doing powerful things through Deborah, and warns Ron that the devil may cause something bad to happen to her soon.
During a yearly physical, a doctor finds a growth in Deborah’s abdomen, which turns out to be an aggressive form of liver cancer. After the biopsy, a doctor informs Ron and Deborah that it looks hopeless and she should live out the rest of her days with her family, predicting that she has less than a year. When Denver finds out, he spends his nights praying for Deborah so that she will be covered with prayer at night as well as during the day. Many of the homeless pray together for her constantly. In spite of the doctor’s recommendation to let the cancer run its course, Deborah chooses to fight, starting with chemotherapy. After several months of chemotherapy, Deborah’s cancer recedes enough to be successfully removed by surgery, and for a brief time she is cancer free. However, within a month, the cancer returns. They do more chemotherapy, more surgery, and once again seem to be victorious over cancer before it rears its head once again. Ron begs God for a miraculous healing, but nothing comes, though Deborah has already lived well past the one year that the first doctor had predicted. After a final run of an experimental chemotherapy, Deborah’s health deteriorates so sharply that the family begins to plan for her death.
Denver is as heartbroken as any over Deborah’s illness, but he counsels Ron that she will not pass away until she has fulfilled God’s purpose for her on Earth. Ron is grieved, but also angry with God. After some weeks, Deborah loses her ability to speak or move. After a doctor tells Ron that she will not live out another day, Deborah suddenly begins speaking and flapping her arms, saying that she sees Jesus and angels. The next morning, though he was not at the house, Denver arrives and tells Ron that he saw a vision from God of angels trying to take Deborah’s spirit, but they couldn’t because her work still wasn’t done. Denver’s vision occurred within the same hour as Deborah’s. Three more weeks pass, and Denver has another vision that correlates perfectly with Deborah’s moment-to-moment health. This time, he hears God telling Denver to pray with Ron to release Deborah and let God take her away. The next day, Deborah dies.
They bury Deborah at the family ranch and hold a large memorial service, where Denver shares his story and the way that Deborah’s love impacted him, receiving a standing ovation and prompting many to donate over a total of $350,000 to the mission. Although Denver fears that Ron will abandon him, he receives what he believes is a visitation from Deborah’s spirit in the night to comfort him. Ron and his children see Denver as family, and Ron and Denver end up living together for the rest of their lives. Denver begins to preach and speak more, and Ron and Denver decide that they want to write down their story. To help Ron fill in Denver’s life before he knew him, the two of them take a road trip back to Red River Parish and Ron is overwhelmed by the destitution that exists there, that Denver was raised in. After their trip, Ron and Denver continue living together, Denver takes up painting, works for Ron’s art dealership, and continues his work at the mission, as well as making several trips to speak and preach.