“Inner”gizing the Inner-City

by Cheryl Warren Brugel ’90

My dearest, Michelle, I take you to be my wedded wife.
I promise to make Jesus Christ the center of our relationship.
I promise to be a shield around you and a shoulder you can lean on …
For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer … I give myself to you.
Whether in a cardboard box or any other home, I will be here till death do us part!

These aren’t your typical wedding vows, but they are vows from the heart and are written based on a calling. When David ’93 and Michelle Ferrigno Warren ’93 said “I do” on June 19, 1993, just two weeks after graduating from Cedarville University, they did so with a belief that God had called them to minister together in the inner-city. God has proven faithful to this calling, leading them first to Dallas Theological Seminary where David earned his Master of Theology degree and then to Denver, Colorado to serve with Open Door Fellowship, an inner-city church. This spring, David and Michelle completed their 11th year with Open Door, and they continue to see God use them as they follow His lead in inner-city work.

Initially, David was a pastor at Open Door Fellowship, and he and Michelle served as houseparents in a church-supported home for teen girls. However, soon it became apparent that David’s abilities best fit another need, that of beginning and directing Open Door Ministries (ODM). Although Open Door Fellowship was initially begun as a church, needs in the inner-city had caused the church to begin various ministries such as the home for teens where David and Michelle were serving. The church recognized the importance of bringing these various ministries under one organizational title, so staff at the church had begun praying for just the right person to develop and lead this type of organization. David was this person. One year after joining Open Door Fellowship, David and Michelle transitioned away from the Teen House and stepped full-time into launching ODM.

Officially, David is the executive director of Open Door Ministries. Since its inception in 1997, ODM has grown from seven to 14 programs. ODM includes life-impacting ministries such as the Chayah House, a home for women in transition; the Treasure House, a home for single moms; a youth ministry for at-risk kids; a child-care center; and a ministry for persons with disabilities. David’s responsibilities have also grown to include strategic planning, special project development, fund-raising, hiring and recruiting, and working with the board and advisory council.

Although called to inner-city work, both David and Michelle would admit they were not likely candidates for this type of service. David grew up in rural Cedarville, surrounded by cornfields. Michelle grew up in the suburbs, mostly unaware of the great needs just miles from her home. Yet at Cedarville, God began working in their hearts, directing them to leave the comforts of what they were used to for the needs in the inner-city.

David shared that it was his experience with Open Heirs as a freshman that got him hooked on inner-city evangelism and opened his eyes to inner-city needs. He noted that “a lot of people got saved, and the team wanted to get them involved in a church, but it was a struggle to find churches.” He quickly saw the need for Bible-teaching churches in the inner-city. As a sophomore, David became one of the student directors of community ministries at CU, overseeing the teams for Cincinnati Open Heirs, the detention center, the Bible Clubs in the projects, etc. This only served to strengthen his knowledge of urban ministries as well as give him valuable experience in leadership.

After 11 years of living in the inner-city, David and Michelle see God’s blessing in marvelous ways. They can tell about “Lori” (names have been changed), who moved into ODM’s Chayah House after serving a drug-related jail sentence and going through a rehabilitation program. At 20, Lori already had a 7-year-old daughter who was in foster care in Tennessee. But Lori had gotten saved and worked hard to get her life straightened out. Soon Lori was able to get an apartment, and her daughter was able to come live with her. Lori and her daughter have now been a part of ODM for four years. Two years ago, Lori married a man who had recovered at the Providence House, a sister ministry to ODM, and today Lori is the interim assistant director of ODM’s Treasure House.

David and Michelle can also tell of “Steve,” a biker addicted to drugs and alcohol. Steve’s girlfriend’s daughter lived in one of ODM’s homes, but Steve had no real contact with ODM himself. However, when his girlfriend died of alcoholism, Steve was introduced to ODM at the funeral. One of the Open Door Fellowship pastors performed the funeral, and the family had lunch at the church after the service. Steve continued to come back, visiting the evening services at the church. A couple months later, he attended a men’s retreat with the church and soon was working hard to clean up his life. When an apartment opened up at ODM’s Nehemiah House, he moved in. Steve served with ODM as part of their maintenance staff for several years and still continues his relationship with the church.

Building relationships with needy people like Lori and Steve and seeing them come to Christ are highlights for David and Michelle. Although David and Michelle readily admit that inner-city work comes with many challenges, such as finding staff and working with very needy people who require a lot of emotional energy, it is seeing lives changed that encourages them to stay the course. It has also been a blessing for them to be a part of building Open Door Fellowship into a church where hurting people can attend, be real, and know what it is like to be a part of a family, the family of God.

They also are thankful for the opportunity to raise their own children (Sydney, Alec, and William) in an urban environment where the children see the needs of the inner-city culture. Because of where they live, the children attend a dual-language school and are having opportunities to minister in ways that David and Michelle never had growing up.

As ODM has grown and required more staff, David has begun annual trips to Cedarville University to recruit students to join him and Michelle in ministry. David shares that he returns to Cedarville because he “likes the quality of the students. They have a great work ethic and a biblical value system.” In addition to David and Michelle, there are currently four CU grads serving full-time with ODM: Lara McGovern-Allen ’92, Melissa Hunt ’04, Laura Shank ’05, and Lindsay Wirt ’07. In the summer of 2007, four CU students will be in Denver completing internships with ODM.

David shares that there are always needs in an inner-city ministry such as ODM. He encourages others to get involved in the inner-cities near them by volunteering, giving money, and using their talents and abilities to be advocates for inner-city ministries. For more information about Open Door Ministries or to contact David and Michelle, visit www.ODMdenver.org.