Monica DeLaurentis’s life flipped upside down when, at the age of 12, her father died of cancer. With her family’s foundation gone, she turned to drugs, and for the next 15 years she lived on the streets of Chicago, a cocaine and heroin addict, spending upward of $500 a day to feed her habit.
By 1986, at the age of 27, DeLaurentis ran from drug dealers who wanted to kill her because they mistakenly believed she’d set up an FBI raid that took place at their hangout. Fearful and out of options, she tried to take her own life. That’s when her mother, Terry Ancev, visited her and declared, “You need God.”
Hospitalized after her suicide attempt, a chaplain gave DeLaurentis a Bible.
“I knew I needed God,” DeLaurentis says. “I had a Bible; now what was I supposed to do?” Inside the cover she saw that the chaplain had written the name and phone number of a Christian program, similar to Teen Challenge. She immediately enrolled, but constantly felt the pressure of her former life. Although she found it difficult to stay, she had nowhere else to go.
She stuck it out, though she still felt controlled by her desire to do drugs. Nine months later, she broke before God, falling on the floor, weeping. She says she heard a small voice inside her saying, You’re right; you can’t do this; but I can. When DeLaurentis got off the floor, everything changed. Her craving for drugs disappeared, she got clean, and felt God’s call on her life. She knew she would become a pastor.
In 1988, she entered North Central University in Minneapolis. To support herself while a student, she worked in the city’s shelters. She met her husband, Chris, at North Central, and together, after their 1991 wedding, they worked at the Teen Challenge in Minneapolis. Though she found her work there productive, she felt God leading her to do more.
“We needed to go where the people are,” she says. So in 1993, by then both ordained, the couple opened their apartment to minister to drug-addicted homeless people.
“I didn’t care who came — prostitutes, drug addicts, gang members,” she says. “If we didn’t go to them, how else were they going to hear about Jesus?” Initially, 35 people showed up. But as the DeLaurentises ministered, more and more arrived, until more than 100 people crammed into their apartment.
For the next two years, they held their services in a rented rundown former porn movie theater, until they bought an abandoned building and founded Inner City Christian Ministries Life Center.
DeLaurentis wanted the church to be a real community ministry, so in addition to weekly church services, ICCM also offers street, prison, and shelter ministries, support and addiction recovery groups, food assistance, life skills training, and discipleship programs. Today, DeLaurentis preaches to 400 to 500 people in ICCM’s weekly worship services and the center serves almost 1,000 every week. Doing life together is the best way to reach the unreached, she believes.
Cynthia Poitra agrees. Today a shift manager at a local food store, Poitra, 37, a former alcohol, methamphetamine, and heroin addict, is clean and on fire for Christ — thanks to the ministry of ICCM and DeLaurentis, who has been mentoring her.
“I found a close family in this church,” Poitra says. She appreciates that DeLaurentis can relate to her onetime lifestyle.
“She gets who I am, where I’ve been,” Poitra says. “She’s like a mother figure to me. At her core, she wants to grow people to love Jesus.”
DeLaurentis and her husband also serve as U.S. missionaries with Missionary Church Planters & Developers, and have launched AG inner-city churches in various locations, including her hometown of Chicago. “I was raised up from the city for the city,” she says.
Still, DeLaurentis admits after all these years she continues to learn. With a majority of the church and community being ethnic minorities, she strives to understand their perspective so she can better minister to them. That sometimes means going into the roughest parts of the city and facing the most dangerous people.
“I work on the streets and I work with gangs, but I’m called to it,” she says. “What do I have to fear? To live is Christ, to die is gain.”