When Jenny McCaffrey walked into Teen Challenge Rhode Island in 2009, she had no thoughts of future ministry. She just knew she needed help overcoming her 10-year battle with addiction. God had a plan, though. Now, Jenny McCaffrey Sersen and her husband, Ryan, pastor Church in the Park, which meets at Rodeo Park in Fort Worth, Texas.
Raised in New Jersey, Sersen says she and her older brothers frequently got into trouble. Her parents tried to shelter her from making wrong choices, but Sersen struggled with insecurity issues. She smoked marijuana by age 13 and at 16 bought alcohol with a fake identification card.
Sersen managed to lead a double life and graduate high school. However, realizing she had a problem, she tried Alcoholics Anonymous, methadone clinics, and psychological counseling — all without success.
Sersen’s hopelessness peaked at 23, when a 19-year-old family member fatally overdosed. Jenny even used drugs before attending the funeral. Her family, including a brother trying to turn his own life around, conducted an intervention of sorts, and a pastor familiar with the situation recommended Teen Challenge Rhode Island.
Sersen, 35, wondered if the U.S. Missions program might be too extreme, but by this time she desperately sought anything that would help her stop using drugs.
Arriving at Teen Challenge, Sersen received immediate encouragement from the Holy Spirit as she walked inside. After smoking cigarettes for years, she never craved tobacco again after entering the front door.
“I felt loved,” she says. “I knew it was what I had been searching for.” The testimony of Jacqueline Strothoff, founder of the Providence Women’s Center, particularly impacted her.
Thirty days into the stay, during a worship experience at Northpoint Bible College, Sersen felt deeply moved by vignettes of human trafficking victims. Confronted with the selfishness of her lifestyle, she accepted Christ and sensed a call to ministry.
“Even though Jenny had been battered by addiction, there was a tenderness in her that shone through,” says Strothoff, whom Sersen considers a valuable mentor and friend. “From the beginning, I could see she had a heart that was compassionate for others. The thing that stood out most, though, was her passion for Jesus and for souls.”
After completing the residential program, Sersen stayed on as an intern and then staff member at Teen Challenge Rhode Island. Immersed in Christian culture for three years, she says the experience helped her find identity in Christ. Back in New Jersey, she became involved in mission trips through a Pentecostal church. She went to Iris Global for training and served on mission teams in Africa, ministering in unreached villages and serving people infected with HIV.
In 2017, Jenny married Ryan, whose mother, Merridy Sersen, volunteered at Teen Challenge. Ryan, 41, also had battled addiction before turning his life over to Christ and studying for ministry.
Both Ryan and Jenny wanted to reach the homeless and the addicted, but also to be involved in foreign missions. They found a good fit with Kaleo International. After serving as young adult pastors, they planted the church in Rodeo Park in 2018.
Church in the Park meets on Sundays for worship, the Word, and lunch with the homeless. Each Friday night is “wanderers’ night.” The leadership team walks through the neighborhood, talking with the homeless and those trapped in addiction, prostitution or other criminal activity. They pass out bags of essentials and ask recipients to share their story. Regular special outreach events feature games, groceries, and free haircuts.
Discipleship is an important component as well. On Wednesday nights, the church meets at the Edge Coffeehouse for Bible study and relationship building. Church in the Park emphasizes connections with several supportive congregations as well as with local law enforcement. Crime rates have dropped in the area.
The ministry soon will include a women’s home, Beauty for Ashes, in Reno, Texas, with a goal of opening in spring 2021. The Sersens will live on site.
Sersen is grateful for her Teen Challenge experience and its impact on not only her, but her entire family. Her parents, brothers, and several other family members now serve the Lord, and her brother Shawn helps men caught in addiction.