LORAIN — In the mid 1990s, Diana Bruno was realizing her childhood dream — her own boutique, filled with elegant clothing that she designed and made. Her store, New Beginning by Diana, was a success in its first five years in Lorain and when she moved the shop to Elyria.
But there was something unusual happening in her dream — women, strangers, kept showing up for prayer.
“I’d have to lock the door, and I’d be in there praying with these women — some of them would just tell me, ‘I was walking by and I felt something telling me to come in here.’ Here I am running a business, but I’d have to stop and pray with them,” she said.
“The mailman got so used to coming in there with all these women crying, and he’d just lay my mail down on the counter and walk out with his head down,” she said, laughing. “That was always my heart’s desire but God had another plan. That part of my life was a training ground for this.”
“This” is her new calling, to lead a tiny church in a desolate corner of a downtrodden town, shepherding the faithful not just to greener pastures but out of some hellish nightmares.
In a rented storefront that used to house a karate school, Elder Diana Bruno — as she is known to her handful of regulars — hugs the unlovable. She speaks with the outcast, she seeks the lost. She nurtures children. She talks a lot about hope, and words like “deliverance” and “being set free” to people chained by addiction.
“My heart was always for hurting people, for people who have felt that they weren’t accepted by the church,” she said. “A lot of times, that’s the way it is. We go to church and someone comes in, and they’re kind of cast aside. The people I reach out to are the ones that others don’t necessarily want to reach for.”
Bruno had served in churches for years, teaching Sunday school by 16. She moved to various congregations, learning under some area pastors, growing in leadership, getting her ministerial license and eventually becoming an elder. She led women’s groups and gravitated to the idea of providing a haven for alcohol and drug abusers, a place to lead them out of addiction and pain.
New Day New Vision Healing and Delivering Ministries opened in 2007 in Lorain. Bruno serves as pastor and works alongside her husband, Elder Jimmy Bruno. Its purpose is to serve those who often don’t feel they can come to church, people whose hurts turned into substance abuse and hopelessness.
When asked why, she offered personal reasons.
“I traveled that journey in my marriage. It was always my desire for us to walk together, and it didn’t start off like that. We’ve been married almost 40 years. Lots of times I wanted to run from it, but lots of times I wanted to see him saved and set free,” she said. “Now we are walking it together, loving on God’s people.”
People like Sherry Perkins. Bruno first met her at a “dry house” for women. Perkins, who was struggling with alcoholism, became a member, attended a few months, then disappeared, dragged back under the wave of addiction.
When she showed up again she was ready — and Bruno told her she had been waiting for her return.
“It was her outrageous love that touched me,” Perkins said. “Just to watch her hug and kiss these people who smell bad, who look bad, who are frail and shaking from where they’ve just come from. She wants to help people like me.”
“I’ve been sober four months now, and I know without a doubt if it wasn’t for her love and support, I wouldn’t be here. By that time, my family saw me as a problem. My community saw me as a police docket. She just embraced me like I was part of the family.”
The church is tiny — maybe 20, 25 show up for services — and they’re not exactly in a position to give a lot of money in tithes or offerings.
“Sometimes I feel like my back is up against the wall, but every time, God meets that need,” Bruno said. “As long as we are taking care of his business, he makes sure we are taken care of.”
The church is leasing to own the old karate school where it moved in 2010. It is a stone’s throw from the Leavitt Road projects, home to so many of the children who come for small celebrations at the church where their grades are admired, where they’re told they are somebody, that they are God’s masterpiece. Sometimes they’re given cake or a meal.
It’s not too far from the homeless shelter, where they went on Christmas morning to provide a hot meal, hats and gloves to the people being turned back out in the cold for the day. One of the volunteer helpers that day was a woman who had lost her son to drug abuse, and this was her way of giving back.
These are the neighborhoods where they give away the shoes for back-to-school kids, where Bruno and her daughter often have to make three or four trips to pick up their parishioners before they can start Sunday services because they don’t have a van and their members don’t have cars.
There is still so much to do.
“This is a relevant, practical ministry, not just ‘here’s a pamphlet, say a prayer and see ya,’ ” Perkins said. “I’m an alcoholic and I’m a Christian, and they are both fully my identity. Without her spiritual support, AA would never have worked for me.”
“I just wish that I had stepped into it at a younger age so I’d have more energy,” Bruno said. “But it ain’t over until God says it’s over, and until then, we’re going to be his hands, his feet and his voice. We all have our own journeys. Yours is different than mine. But we all want to see the face of God.”
New Day New Vision Healing and Deliverance Ministries
The ministry will host Christian Family Bowling Night 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Rebman Recreation Center, 5300 Oberlin Ave., Lorain.
Bowlers will get three games and shoe rentals for $15. Each lane can accommodate five people, four at minimum. Music and other activities are planned and area businesses have donated gift certificates and gift baskets to be auctioned.
For information, contact Sherry Perkins, ministry secretary, at (440) 752-2014.
A portion of the proceeds will fund ministry outreach programs to feed the homeless and provide educational tutors for at-risk children.
Services include Sunday school at 9:30 a.m., with worship at 11 a.m.; Bible study is at 7 p.m. Wednesdays. Contact the church at (440) 752-2014 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. New Day New Vision is at 2515 W. 21st St. in Lorain.
Contact Rini Jeffers at 329-7155 or email@example.com.