of God ministries turn young people away from gang involvement.
By Scott Harrup
They stood in a loose huddle at the sidewalk memorial a mass
of flowers, personal mementos and empty whiskey bottles left by friends
of the fallen young man. About 40 gang members seethed over the recent
loss of their companion. A squadron of police on alert just yards
away prepared themselves for the inevitable violence of retribution
in this Minneapolis war zone.
Then she walked in. A small, blond, energetic woman with her 3-year-old
daughter in tow. This was the last place on earth one would think
a mother would come, much less bring her child.
"These guys were huge and they were not happy," says Monica DeLaurentis,
the woman in question. "You could tell they wondered what I was doing
But others nearby knew DeLaurentis as someone who had been reaching
out to the gang community in Minneapolis for years with her husband,
Chris. "Its all right," the word went around. "Shes cool.
Shes a pastor. She brought these flowers."
DeLaurentis talked with the toughened mourners, then asked them to
get into a circle for prayer. Suddenly, 30 walked off. Ten remained
and joined her in prayer. The situation completely diffused.
"To this day," DeLaurentis says with a laugh, "I know the police
wonder how I broke that mob up."
The DeLaurentises, nationally appointed home missionaries, began
the Inner City Church of Minneapolis in 1993 from their home in the
heart of the Minneapolis ghetto. They invited their neighbors, some
of whom were bootleggers and drug dealers, to come and hear about
the love and healing power of Jesus Christ. The resulting church now
ministers to more than a thousand people every week. Inner City Christian
Ministries has grown to include churches in Minneapolis, St. Paul,
Miami, New York City and Chicago.
Monica pastors the newest work in Chicago. Where ministry to gangs
in Minneapolis takes place primarily on the street, in Chicago the
gangs stake out entire buildings as their own. People in the sprawling
apartment complexes remain indoors in fear of gunfire that can erupt
"We were trying to bring people to the church with a Thanksgiving
outreach that offered free turkeys," Monica says, "but no one wanted
to take the risk of coming to the church at night."
She broke through the fear barrier by taking some groceries to the
apartment of a young woman who was caring for several children. Word
of her compassion spread, and 800 people showed up at the outreach.
Regular attendance at the church has grown from 6 to 80 adults.
Gangs who visit the ICCM centers are drawn by the love of Christ
the DeLaurentises so freely share. While Monica was holding a tent
meeting in Minneapolis, gang representatives came and asked for her.
One of their members had been shot in the head. He was blind and on
"They wanted me to come to the hospital to pray," she says. "I was
the only preacher they knew. So I went to the hospital every day and
got to know these drug dealers by praying for their friend. They realized
they were welcome at our church and began bringing others. Ive
actually heard people testify, My drug dealer brought me to
church and I got saved. "
Gangs were once primarily active in Americas major cities;
today they are spreading across the country. In 1995 nationally appointed
home missionaries David and Kristie Tralongo started the Young Hope
ministry in New Britain, Conn. (population 75,000). The Tralongos
reach out to teen-agers in the low-income regions of New Britain,
which is just south of Hartford, and invite them to a recreation center
at a Lutheran church. Kids that come for the basketball, foosball
and other activities are invited to Calvary Christian Center (Assemblies
of God; Pastor Robert Santeusanio).
"Fourteen kids we had reached just returned from the district youth
convention," David says. "They were so pumped about God it carried
into the whole church service."
The Tralongos work hard to make a difference in the lives of young
teens before they can be lured into the ethnically segregated gangs
that are taking control of the area. When David hears that someone
is being pulled into a gangs circle of influence, he goes the
extra distance to prevent the connection. He often cruises the streets
of New Britain overnight looking for young people on the edge of gang
involvement. It has nearly cost him his life.
"Ive been assaulted and thrown down stairs," he says. "I was
shot in the forehead with a high-powered air pistol. But that was
only because they didnt know I was a minister. When they find
out, even the most hardened kid has apologized to me. Most kids know
What shocks Tralongo is the complete access he has into teen-agers
lives. "Its a good thing, when its someone like me," he
says. "I can pick up a kid on the street and take him home and tell
his parents Im going to take him to an overnight activity."
But many parents show no interest when Tralongo announces his plans.
They dont even ask for a phone number or where their child will
be. If someone had decided to pick up their son or daughter for a
less noble purpose, no one would have been the wiser.
Gangs often thrive in a prison environment, with young men and women
completing their initiation by getting arrested.
"The current leader of one of the biggest gangs in the Hartford area
became a member, was promoted and now leads the entire gang, and he
was never out of jail during the entire process," Tralongo says. "In
response, prison officials are keeping suspected gang members in solitary
According to Tralongo, a young man of only 15 or 16 will be kept
alone in a tiny cell for 23 hours every day. Even a small sentence
of six months can be enough to do permanent psychological damage.
"One of the hardest things in my ministry," Tralongo says, "is to
reach out to a boy whos been in solitary for weeks. The anger,
the confusion, the mental breakdown. When I come out from a visit
like that, it takes me hours to recover."
Assemblies of God outreaches to gangs have a long history. Teen Challenge
International is a Home Missions ministry that has redirected countless
lives from drug addiction and gang involvement. Phil Cookes administrates
Los Angeles County Teen Challenge.
"We claimed by faith the property we now use and we believed God
would give it to us," Cookes says. In 1987, they approached the city
council with their plan to create a resident mens ministry center
and a daytime youth center in a building overrun by gangs.
Cookes still remembers the hostility he faced. "One council member
just hollered at me, What makes you think you can control these
people on this property if the police and their own families cant?
" The meetings tone, however, completely turned around as people
from the community took the mike at the public hearing and told how
Teen Challenge had helped them. But Cookes couldnt shake the
original question. " God, I prayed, just how are
we going to control these kids when we open? "
Gods answer was a sign, the literal kind painted on a large
board. "It still hangs outside our entrance," Cookes says.
"These are neutral grounds," the sign begins, with a phrase well-known
in the prisons and on the streets, "guarded by angels through direct
command of the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, there will be no drugs, no alcohol, no cursing, fighting,
gambling or tobacco allowed."
The sign has hung in plain view while thousands of young people over
the years have come to enjoy the games, rallies, homework assistance
and other outreaches Cookes and his staff and volunteers oversee.
The landlord of 400 apartments at the back of the property requested
another entrance on that side of the lot so kids could safely enter
without walking around the block. L.A. County Teen Challenge became
a magnet to troubled kids and teens. Even the 1992 riots couldnt
keep them away.
"This neighborhood had buildings burning and looters with truckloads
of stolen goods," Cookes says. "It was total chaos, and we had the
parents of our Teen Challenge residents calling us. I let most of
the men leave. And still, in the middle of all that madness, the kids
were lining up at the gates wanting to know why we werent open."
Frank Jimenez opened a center for youth outreach at Orange County
Teen Challenge in Santa Ana, Calif. His reputation has spread among
local law enforcement so that he and his teams are invited to talk
to young people on parole and under house arrest.
"One of our biggest successes is our annual winter camp," Jimenez
says. "This year was our sixth one and we took about 85 young people
into the mountains for a three-day retreat. A number of them were
hard-core kids the local police asked us to include. About a vanload
of this years attendees are now going to church with us each
Gabriel Carranza is an alumnus of the 1998 camp. He accepted Christ,
but struggled when the retreat was over and he had to go home to his
"Two of my uncles are long-time members," Carranza says. "I kept
getting drawn in."
When he was arrested again in 2000 on methamphetamine charges, his
future looked grim.
"I called Frank Jimenez and told him I needed help," he says. "Ive
been with Teen Challenge since September 21. Christ now helps me deal
with my problems. I realize there is more in me than gang and drug
issues. Im dealing with my anger and unforgiveness, my lack
There is a common denominator among Monica DeLaurentis, David Tralongo,
Phil Cookes and Frank Jimenez: their own darkened past living on the
streets of America. Monica was an 85-pound junkie who was nearly run
over by an enraged drug dealer. David oversaw a local drug ring for
organized crime. Phil and Frank both came out of deep involvement
in gangs. But each of them firmly believes that anyone can reach out
to a gang member.
"It only takes minimal effort," Monica says. "These people are trapped
and lost. They think life holds nothing for them. I can promise them
that life will make sense."
"The relationships you establish are so precious," David says.
"There are no throwaway kids," Frank says. "I never give up. Somebody
didnt give up on me. Someday, somehow, someway, God will get
hold of these kids."
"I tell the young volunteers who come here," Phil says, "that they
dont need a Teen Challenge testimony. If you grew up in the
church and you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you have
a testimony. You have what the world is looking for. You have the
peace of the Lord. The way to reach a gang member is the way you reach
anybody else one on one."
Scott Harrup is general editor of the Pentecostal