The Great Commission at street level

James Warmack

James Warmack

When James Warmack was 17, a staff member from Greater Cleveland Youth For Christ took him to the new Metro Alliance Church and introduced him to Pastor Juri Ammari.

That began a relationship that has endured some dark days, and that illustrates the hard work of carrying out the Great Commission – making disciples – in the inner city.

“Me and Juri have been through a lot,” says James, now 25. “From cussing him out to wanting to beat him up to now where I look at him as a father figure.”

James grew up in an addictive family on Cleveland’s Northwest Side. At 15, he had become a Christian through the influence of Youth For Christ. When he came to Metro Alliance, he was living with his girlfriend – a fact not lost on Juri, who recommended they either break up or get married. As soon as they both turned 18, they got married. They had two sons together, but the marriage didn’t last long.

Soon James was living with another girlfriend. He stopped coming to Metro Alliance and Juri lost track of him for several years.

“I felt judged at the church,” James says today. “But it was my fault completely.”

After a bitter parting with Juri – who had confronted him about his choices – James wound up homeless, dealing drugs and using the money to partially support his estranged wife, their two boys, his girlfriend and their new daughter.

“I didn’t want to accept the responsibilities of any of that,” he says. “I wanted to be out in the street doing whatever – to do my drugs, to sleep all day. Each time I got into what I thought was a good situation, I would just destroy it.”

Desperate and out of hope, James turned again to Juri about two years ago.

“I sent him a Facebook message asking him to pray for me, told him what was going on,” he says. “He asked if I could meet him somewhere the next day.”

“I was preaching from Genesis at the time,” Juri remembers. “I said, look at that man in the Bible (Jacob). He had four wives and 12 kids. And from one of his descendants, God would bring the Savior of the world. If God can use a man like that, don’t you think he can use you? If you’re ready to take God seriously, let me know.”

Three weeks later, James called him. “I’m all about Jesus,” he told Juri. “No more drugs, no more drinking.”

Juri put him on a “lifestyle contract” and gave him a place to live – a second-floor apartment in a rental house he owns. James’ rent payment for the first month was that he apply for jobs every day and complete some renovations on the house. He wasn’t allowed to have anyone else in the apartment. And, he had to meet with Juri twice a week.

Before long, James’ girlfriend moved back in.

“That was a difficult time for me, to decide whether to kick him to the curb or not,” Juri says. He decided to wait.

Then James got the job he still holds today, at Campbell’s Sweets Factory. The owner is an elder at another urban church, and sees his work as a ministry in providing people with a quality work experience.

“That was the linchpin,” Juri says. From then on, James grew rapidly. He married his girlfriend, Stephanie, and embraced his life as a husband, father and Christian.

James’ situation isn’t the only time Juri has purchased property and then used it as a means of discipling people. But it’s been the biggest success story.

“I haven’t taken responsibility for anything,” James says. “I had to relearn how to live. How to love. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to build credit. I just didn’t know those things.”

Today, married to Stephanie and caring for four kids (they just had a second daughter), James also is pursuing a degree in graphic design. At Juri’s urging, he’s also ministering at Metro Alliance. He runs the soundboard during worship services and even has started leading a men’s Bible study.

“I still get the shakes sometimes,” he says of the unfamiliar leadership role. “It’s a whole lot of praying : ‘OK, you put me here. Help me out.’”


See main story: Cleveland Prays

Video: Urban ministry in Cleveland

One Comment

  1. Nancy Naughton says:

    I am originally from the Cleveland area, I now work with Wycliffe Associates – and International Sending agency for Bible Translation. I loved the above stories about where I came from, not too long ago. Please keep me posted with email updates.

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