An invitation to a Bible study led Dawn Pulgine ’13 to give her life to Christ and eventually start a women’s Bible study ministry to the ‘de-churched’
Written by Jeff Smith | ~ 7-minute read
Related Story: Click here to read about Dawn Pulgine’s four years as a self-described middle-aged student at Moody Bible Institute and how Moody helped train her to lead Getting Real Ministries.
Dawn Pulgine was living the American dream. She was married to a successful businessman, parenting three young children she adored, and managing her family’s beautiful home in an affluent neighborhood in Chicago’s western suburbs. If her house had a white picket fence, her story would have looked like a Norman Rockwell painting.
So when Cindy, Dawn’s best friend from elementary school, invited her to join a weekly women’s Bible study at a nearby church, to say Dawn wasn’t interested would be an understatement.
“I went kicking and screaming the whole way. No way was this Catholic-raised girl going to be influenced by a bunch of ‘Bible-beating crazies,’” Dawn says now with a laugh.
Yet, after repeated prodding (and private prayers) by her friend, Dawn relented. That small group study would change her in ways she never thought possible.
Attending the study opened her eyes to a truth she wasn’t aware of before: She desperately needed Jesus Christ. After a few months in the small group, Dawn put her hope and trust in Christ as her Savior. Her decision set in motion a chain of events that led Dawn to found and run a unique neighborhood Bible study ministry. Getting Real Ministries is geared for women like her who grew up in church and know about Jesus but don’t realize that they need to know Him personally to experience true soul satisfaction.
“I never would’ve ever guessed back then that my life would turn out how it has,” says Dawn. “God’s funny that way, isn’t He?”
‘Melting pot of people in search of God’
Looking back, Dawn is still amazed that she ever agreed to participate in the women’s Bible study at First Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Illinois. In 1992 two of her children were in diapers, and a spate of scandals had just erupted involving evangelical leaders.
“I kept telling Cindy no. Those people [evangelical Christians] are crazy. They’re like a cult,” Dawn recalls. “But she was very persistent and she asked, ‘Are you saved?’ I didn’t know what that meant. She then asked, ‘Do you believe in Jesus?’ I said, ‘Yes, I believe He is the Son of God and that He died and rose again.’ Finally, she kept asking me to the study, and I decided to go just so she’d stop pestering me.”
Dawn’s first day at the Bible study was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Wishing she was anywhere but there, Dawn walked into the room without acknowledging anyone, sat down at a table, and immediately crossed her arms in a defensive posture.
“Jane, our leader, had us introduce ourselves,” Dawn says. “Everyone went around and said what church and denomination they were from. When it was my turn, I quickly said I was Catholic. Jane just reached over kindly and touched my hand and said, ‘It’s OK. We’re all trying to get to the same place.’ That let me know they weren’t going to bother me for being a Catholic.”
As the weeks passed, Dawn began letting her guard down. She grew increasingly impressed with a ministry that drew nearly 200 women from 35 different churches and roughly a dozen denominations.
“I wasn’t the only Catholic at the study,” she says. “I didn’t feel like an outsider that way. It was a melting pot of people all in search of God. I think that’s what made it so effective. This was the first time many of us studied the Bible. After a few months I gave my life to Christ. I learned in detail who Jesus really was, how deeply He loved me, and how much I needed Him.”
Leading the ministry she once feared
After coming to faith in Christ, Dawn resisted the impulse to pressure her husband, Tony, to do the same. Instead she and the other women in her small group prayed for him while Dawn continued attending the family’s Catholic church on weekends and her Bible study during the week. Dawn and her friends’ prayers were answered a few years later when Tony trusted Christ, and the couple soon joined First Presbyterian Church.
God’s plans for Dawn were just beginning. When the women’s ministry director of the church left, the senior pastor invited Dawn to fill the position. Dawn had demonstrated leadership skills serving in other capacities but found it ironic to be asked to lead “the ministry I had literally griped my way into,” she laughs. “Surely God was mistaken!”
But Dawn accepted the offer and oversaw the women’s ministry for seven years, gaining valuable training and experience as a ministry leader in the process. While Dawn was in this role, in 2005 one of her neighbors reached out to her about starting a women’s Bible study in the gated golf course community where their two families lived. Dawn knew the risks of evangelizing women who in the world’s eyes had it all: wealth, family, prestige, and every luxury at their fingertips.
“I had to pray about this first,” Dawn says. “I prayed, ‘Lord, if You’re going to use me in this neighborhood, use me to be a witness to somebody.’”
Dawn Pulgine with members of the Getting Real Ministries leadership team and at a fundraising gala for the organization.
A new ministry is born
Dawn agreed to take a step of faith and lead the study. She found curriculum for a study that was palatable for a non-Christian audience, distributed a letter inviting women in the neighborhood to join, and then started praying that God would work on their hearts. To her astonishment, 23 women arrived at her home for the first meeting. The study continued expanding in subsequent months, even attracting women from surrounding communities.
“My target demographic for the study was de-churched women,” Dawn says. “Everyone would come in and identify with a specific denomination, such as Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, or Lutheran; but other than that they didn’t have a deep faith or relationship with Jesus Christ, and a lot of the women had had bad experiences growing up in church and had stopped going as adults. That’s why I called them de-churched. These were women I could connect and identify with because I used to be one of them.”
Dawn’s approach to leading these evangelistic women’s Bible studies was simple and direct.
“For me it was about not pulling any punches,” she says. “When I taught, I’d talk about my bad parenting moments or when my husband and I weren’t getting along. It was about being open and honest and real with one another and sharing how even though we love the Lord we still have moments when we don’t behave right. That’s probably what the appeal was.”
By 2007, with Dawn’s small group now ministering to upwards of 50 women at a time, God encouraged Dawn to establish a full-fledged Bible study ministry built on this same de-churched concept. “One of my friends asked, ‘What could we name this?’” Dawn says. “It was suggested, ‘How about Getting Real Ministries because you do a good job of getting real with women?’”
Bible studies meeting in homes are at the core of Getting Real Ministries' mission to reach and disciple de-churched women.
Off to Moody at age 41
Founding Getting Real Ministries (GRM) as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and undertaking the responsibilities of directing a full-time ministry convinced Dawn that she needed more formal Bible and ministry training. At 41 years old, married, raising three children, and running a brand-new ministry, Dawn enrolled at Moody Bible Institute in 2008.
Dawn chose Moody over other Christian colleges in the Chicago area for its reputation as one of the foremost Bible colleges in the country, and she wasn’t disappointed.
“I had been studying the Bible on my own, but Moody gave me a theological perspective, how to dig in and pick apart the text and understand passages and verses and the context and meaning,” she says. “Learning how to do all of that was wonderful. You thought you knew something and would take a class and realize you didn’t know that passage at all.”
“Dawn already had a passion for helping the women in her neighborhood get to know Jesus. She had the drive, the calling, and the giftedness, but at Moody she refined those skills to expand her ministry,” says Jamie Janosz, one of Dawn’s professors at Moody. “She sees the Bible not as a philosophy or a historical book but as the living, breathing Word of God that transforms our lives. She was also a great mentor for the other students. She was such an encourager to them and to me as a professor, which I think is one of her gifts.”
Dawn Pulgine with her husband, Tony, at her graduation from Moody Bible Institute and in her hometown of Aurora, Illinois.
Leading women to Christ through Bible studies
Applying the insights and principles Dawn gained at Moody, Getting Real Ministries flourished. At the height of its growth, the ministry reached more than 100 women in four countries. They expanded their services by offering Bible study resources for teens and young adults to lead studies of their own and operating service projects to help the poor and disadvantaged.
Dawn crafted a leadership team of six women volunteers to take the ministry forward and rented office space in downtown Aurora. In 15 years, GRM has helped hundreds of women begin a personal relationship with Christ and lay a firm biblical foundation for their faith.
“Most of the women in our studies have given their lives to Christ,” Dawn says. “We’re pretty vocal about their need to come to faith in Christ. We are nice about it but also direct about their need for Christ and how to put their trust in Christ. They start to see it during a study and it’s really fun to watch God work and lead them to this decision.”
In addition to home Bible studies, Getting Real Ministries runs a range of service projects for the poor.
Battling through a pandemic
As with numerous other ministries, the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on GRM. Bible study enrollment dropped, and GRM could no longer afford to lease an office. But the Bible study groups that remained met online in three suburban communities as well as in Arkansas, Tennessee, Arizona, and Massachusetts. Dawn and her team have continued to pray and lean on God for wisdom and strength. Dawn has written a Lenten Bible study curriculum that GRM small groups used during Lent, and she hopes to have it published in print soon.
“Once you have witnessed the hand of God moving and shaping your life, you won’t look for anything else to satisfy you,” Dawn says. “I believe with my whole heart that if you want to walk in life freely, you must know God deeply through His Son. I’m devoted to helping women know God and understand His Word accurately. I want to help them cultivate an unwavering faith that is grounded in Scripture and active in their daily life.”
Even though her position as GRM founder and CEO keeps Dawn perpetually busy, she still carves out time to lead some of Getting Real’s studies. Dawn’s passion for teaching God’s Word to women who haven’t yet encountered Jesus is contagious.
“Dawn encourages women to get to know Jesus personally through studying His Word,” says Mary Faye Vasen, who agreed to lead GRM’s prayer team at Dawn’s urging. “Her love for Jesus overflows into her teaching. God has blessed her with the gift of speaking His truth in a way that’s inviting and motivates women to search for His truth themselves. She also helps women lead by encouraging them to develop their gifts. She’s even gently nudged me to step out of my comfort zone and join her ministry team by using my gift of prayer to bless others.”
Dawn Pulgine, here with some of the members of her ministry's leadership team, loves helping women develop authentic relationships with Jesus Christ.