By Fred Comella
What does it mean? Well if we use modern political speak as a reference point, we can always note the slick application of such phrases as a means to rally a particular voter bloc, and we all know how that worked out. But what do the words really mean? What does it mean to have hope in your heart, and to change for your own good? Frankly, I think true “hope and change” have much more to do with God than most politicians would ever concede.
Political digs aside, life is truly a maze of sharp twists and turns, navigated by human beings created in His image, but granted the mixed blessings of free will and conscience. And whether it’s lack of a loving home, abuse or neglect, addiction or mental illness, many find themselves swirling in the winds of turmoil and abandon, searching for a way back to the life they knew or that they desire for the future. So how does one get to hope and change when all seems lost, when the situation is at its worst and the answers to our prayers appear so obscure that giving up seems easier than going on? What catalyst can turn such desperation and despair into hope and then change? What star shall illuminate those answers and the seemingly elusive way forward? What gift is the greatest of gifts and came in the form of a little baby boy so long ago? He is Jesus Christ. He is the answer which has been, and always shall be. He is “hope and change, and He is for ALL people.
Acts 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
Pastor Gina Russo of “Broken Chains Ministries” knows that from which she speaks. The 43 year-old mother of two knows life is not always easy. In fact, it can get pretty darn ugly. She’s the youngest of three children, and was born saying “Jesus is Lord” as she explained chuckling when we met last week. The joyful little girl mingled with patrons in her Christian family’s successful North Providence restaurant. She would regularly interact with a predominantly faith-based clientele with endless enthusiasm, and spent a great deal of time conducting “Bible studies” with her young friends at play and at school. Gina was the poster child of a Christian kid if there ever was one. Ironically, through all she would ultimately experience in her life, Gina Russo always knew the Lord without exception.
Growing up a Christian isn’t always easy though, and as we get older and begin to connect with the less faithful, and even secular among us in high school and college, we begin to see how the other side lives, and “the enemy” as Pastor Gina calls him, tempts us unmercifully. This was no different for the attractive young Christian girl who would eventually succumb to peer pressure and temptation. And so began a period of experimentation and rebellion not uncommon among those who’ve known only steadfast prayer and faith. Endless partying and a relationship with a man 10 years her senior, would become a pivot point in Gina’s life, and would put her in jeopardy in ways she could never have imagined.
An avid horse lover and rider, the 17 year-old with the grandiose plans of every high school student, was abruptly thrown from her saddle when she learned she’d be the mother of her oldest daughter, and that her parents expected what most would in that she marry the father. Confused and distraught at the direction of her life, Gina angered her parents and called off the wedding just weeks before it was to take place. Though they never stopped loving her, all they could do now was pray as Gina responded by abruptly leaving home. A subsequent marriage to a “laid back” man that would bring her second child, and the challenges of life with someone whom she was simply not compatible, would only aggravate the extreme mental abuse she had suffered at the hands of her oldest daughters father as a teenager, and drive her to the infidelity that would ultimately end her marriage. Gina was clearly foundering at this point, and she compared her experiences to open and undressed wounds that were ignored, and which had now become infected. She knew they were slowly killing her, and sadly the worst was yet to come.
At 31, Gina’s life was out of control and she was oblivious to the train coming directly at her. With her two daughters in tow, she would find comfort in the arms of a man who most everyone she knew told her, was the absolute worst choice she could make. By now however, Gina was glaringly obstinate and defiant, alienating anyone and everyone who challenged her judgment. The subsequent marriage would become an exercise in extreme mental anguish culminating in violence. By now her oldest had gone to live with her dad as she didn’t get along with Gina’s husband, and her youngest was spending her time intermittently between households.
As it so often goes, her “businessman” husband loved his drugs more than he loved Gina, thus the expensive cars and houses he used her credit to buy would be lost, and their torturous relationship would only augment Gina’s growing depression. Their fights eventually became physical to the point where Gina explained that the hand of God held back her husband’s arm as he stood over her with a knife one night. In what seemed the lowest point in her life, Gina was even jailed briefly for what she described as life saving self-defense that she was simply to exhausted to articulate to the police. The marriage did end and Gina began a merry-go-round of visits to psychiatric hospitals and institutions before finally returning to her family home. Broken and bewildered, Gina rocked herself back forth endlessly, stopping only to party with “friends” and smoke cigarettes. She told me her only thoughts back then were, (Dear Lord, what is to become of me?).
At 39, all seemed lost for Gina Russo but for two special women in her life who never gave up on her. You see her mothers and fathers ministry continued and so did all of the prayers for Gina’s recovery. Her angels came in the forms of “Jean and Kirza” whom she’d met through her mom’s church. They hounded her, albeit in the nicest ways, calling constantly and reminding her she was a “women for God” and that they would not let her falter. Jean and Kirza asked that she come to visit them in their native Virginia but she refused. Then “The audible voice of God” spoke to her as she rocked one evening in May of 2011. “Go to Virginia” He said. Gina was floored, and despite some scheduling issues and another two months of “the enemy” pulling at her, she would eventually be sitting in Jean’s car traveling south. It was at that time that Gina told me, I was truly delivered!
In July 2011, Gina found herself smack dab in the middle of an intense 30-day revival in Virginia where she met Christian Evangelist Todd Bentley. Amidst a torrent of savings and healings, and awash in the holy spirit like never before, Gina listened as Bentley and other “pastors and prophets” described her life, past, present and future. The future is what most ripped at Gina’s heart, hearing them describe how she would help those who suffer from the pains of abuse, addiction and the associated conflict and sadness she knew so well. And that she would do it by way of “equine assisted therapy” and horse ranches, of which these folks had no knowledge of Gina’s background, tore through her soul like a hot knife through butter.
Returning home in August confused but convicted, Gina prayed with her family and began the journey that would ultimately become “Broken Chains Ministries”. The visions and dreams were as if she were receiving detailed instructions from God on what to do and how to do it. “But Dear Lord, where to start…?” Gina knew where those who needed her could be found, and she immediately set about the task of melding a traveling ministry with its home at her mom and dad’s church, “Oasis of Grace” on Silver Spring Street in Providence, Rhode Island. She also responded to an ad for a free horse and found herself in Scituate Rhode Island with no place to put her. To Gina’s dismay, the women explained that the horse had actually already been given away but that she had another for $500.00. Gina was heartbroken when she saw that beautiful “Babe” was the bloodline granddaughter to “Secretariat”, the famed horse highlighted in a movie Jean and Kirza had made her watch, and which had left such a lasting impression on her. To her joyful surprise however, she began a saving relationship with the horses owner who offered free stable and care for Babe until Gina had the money to pay for her. Small miracles seemed all around as God made the way forward. A check for overpayment, the father of her oldest giving her $100.00 dollars toward her goal, and Babes owner eventually forgiving the remainder of the debt owed as she had literally been a day from taking her own life when Gina came and ministered to her, left Gina gasping and grateful. Thus “Broken Chains Ministries” (BCM) was officially born…
Gina would eventually meet and become close friends with Chad Taylor, a local missionary whom she praises as a true “street prophet” of the highest and holiest sort. Later in 2011, Taylor would surprise Gina for her 40th birthday with a night out where she met members of a California worship team known as “Believers Ministry International” or (BMI). Through them, Gina would foster many other close working relationships with folks like Pastor Joey Melendrez, whose sister Brenda-Lee was lost in the same vicious cycle Gina had been saved from, but who Gina “stated” with certainty would eventually come home and lead “Broken Chains West Coast”, and she did.
Miracle after miracle continue to find their way into Gina’s life and it would all merge when she was ordained a pastor in 2013. She’s been working diligently ever since, directly and indirectly with those in crisis from here to the Pacific Ocean. She is “compelled to rescue” those in crisis as she puts it, and troubled only when she must leave them. And while it’s simply not possible to list her accomplishments and on-going efforts within the confines of my editors directives, Pastor Gina wanted me to make mention of upcoming events and initiatives which continue to enrich her life and all she touches. The mission of BCM continues to be counseling, resources, spiritual guidance, advocacy, mentoring, biblical studies, and equine assisted therapy clinics. These services are designed to encourage and empower women and families to lead healthy, happy and independent lives, grounded in faith in Jesus Christ.
So as you can imagine the task is great and Pastor Gina is in need of help for her growing mission. That help can be in the form of old schools or vacant property that can be transformed into half-way houses and transformational “ranches”, as well as money, food, clothing, and toiletries etc… Pastor Gina also told me of two new initiatives, the first being her “Freedom Live Fund”, designed to provide transitional monies to help pre-qualified women in difficult positions into paid transformational facilities, or to maintain their stays in those homes as they’re recovering. The second is one near and dear to my heart, and she calls it the “Wheels of Freedom Fund”. It provides vehicles for women and families trapped in cycles of abuse simply because they lack the means to escape. For anyone who has “wheels” to donate, there simply could not be a more suitable charity. Pastor Gina is also continuing her very successful effort called “Freedom Fridays” on December 12th and January 23rd. These meetings at the Oasis of Grace Church represent an opportunity to hear God’s word and to listen to Pastor Gina minister to those who are truly struggling. They begin at 7:00 PM.
I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface here, though I feel His hand on my shoulder as I write of this tangible “Hope and Change”. I was inspired by this Pastors story of failure and faith, trial and triumph, and it moved me during this very special time of year. Of Pastor Gina Russo, I would only leave you with what she left me, and to all who may be in crisis and hurting this day, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“. Of this there is no doubt in my mind…
God Bless you and a Merry Christmas to all…
See more of “BCM” and Pastor Gina’s powerful testimony on the web at www.brokenchainsmin.com. BCM is located at the Russo Family Ministry, “Oasis of Grace Church”, 464 Silver Spring Street in Providence, Rhode Island 02904, 401-359-4444.