Lord, give us Austin’

Forsaking a prosperous business and a home to make followers of Jesus, Fred and Melissa Campbell of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin are working hard to multiply the gospel in the liberal mecca of the Southwest.

The Barna Group, the well-known Christian researchers, asked professing Christians in 2013 if they believed they had a personal responsibility to share their faith with others. Seventy-three percent of born-again Christians said yes. But only 52 percent of Christians polled reported sharing the gospel even once the previous year.

Fred and Melissa Campbell of Austin would have been the outliers in that polling.

Fred’s former career was in underwater video, sonar technology and acoustic positioning systems. In 1999, he founded a company that produces force measurement systems for numerous industries while Melissa was a nurse in an intensive care unit. The Campbells were already involved in evangelism ministry at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, now pastored by Danny Forshee.

Despite Texas being firmly Bible Belt country, 92 percent of the nearly 2 million people in the Austin area are unchurched.

As rapidly as their business grew, so did their burden for the people of that city proud of its weirdness. Despite Texas being firmly Bible Belt country, the Campbells learned that 92 percent of the nearly 2 million people in the Austin area were unchurched. In 2007, they began to pray the words of Caleb in Numbers 13: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” While Caleb was talking about claiming the Promised Land through battle, the Campbells yearned to win Austin for Christ.

Soon they were spending so much of their time out in the city evangelizing, God moved to free up even more of their time.

“When God opened the door for the business to sell, we did not hesitate to believe it was him,” Fred said. “We were not focusing on selling the business. We were focusing on praying that God would forgive us, transform us, and make us more like Jesus. The company was already debt free, and business growth was strong, but he had transformed our hearts to be broken for those far from him.”
Surrendering to the ministry brought about more changes. Not only did God give them more time to minister, he moved to increase their financial resources by selling their home.

“We were already all over the city and through prayer over a period of months we sought God as to where he wanted us to live,” Fred said. “He led us to the largest apartment complex in the city where there are more than 4,200 adults from over 50 countries. So we sold the house and moved intentionally into this community. The location is also just a few minutes from our church.”

Fred tapped into his business acumen and designed a leadership structure that would be scalable to any size as the ministry grew. Rather than just doing the typical door-to-door method of passing out tracts and asking if they could talk about Jesus, they chose to exhibit God’s grace by offering people two things: Prayer for any needs they had, and free breakfast burritos.

After getting the prospect’s first name, they would ask, “Joe, if God could do a miracle to meet a need you have right now, what would that be, and could we pray about that for you right now?”

A majority accepted the offer, Fred said, and after the prayer they left. A couple of weeks later they returned to those who responded positively, reminding them of who they were and then sharing the gospel.

“With this approach we found that 80 percent would either accept Christ or accept our offer to return again a week later for another story,” Fred said.

In February 2013, a pastor invited the Campbells to something called T4T training (Training for Trainers) offered by Jeff Sundell. An Asian American missionary named Ying Kai developed T4T (t4tusa.com). The program is an evangelism and church planting tool to train a growing number of church planter trainers. The Campbells have been using this organization’s method ever since. It is also being used by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

To give an idea of how rapidly the ministry has grown, Fred reported that  “in April 2013, after mapping the greater Austin area into regions, we sent out the first 40 teams of two to search for potential houses of peace in 12 areas. They found 400. We formed more than 60 new groups within 60 days of this first search, and additional searches in August and November identified 150 more potential houses of peace. As of December 2013 we had more than 100 groups.”

Given all this growth, evangelism still didn’t come easy for Fred’s wife Melissa.

“Growing up, I was extremely shy and introverted. Over time and through the nursing profession I learned to at least be able to talk to people, but I continued to keep to myself and work behind the scenes,” she said.

When their church adopted the FAITH evangelism strategy, she agreed to go along with Fred provided he would do all the talking.

“But then I began to understand that the Great Commission was for me to obey just like everyone else. I rationalized for many years that I wasn’t gifted in evangelism,” Melissa said. “But once I started sharing the gospel, I felt like I had been ripped off for so many years. What I had thought would be too scary and impossible to do actually turns out to be the abundant life God talks about in the Bible.”

The couple emphasized that things changed rapidly once they agreed to surrender all to Christ and his work. More time in obedient witnessing led to less time at work, so God arranged for more time by orchestrating the sale of Fred’s business. They prayed to be intimately involved in the community, and God moved them into the community.

“I just think it is remarkable that they would sell their business and even their beautiful home and move into an apartment so they could be near those far from God,” Forshee, their pastor, said. “They lowered their standard of living so they could raise their standard of giving for the salvation of the lost. I wish every church had a Fred and Melissa Campbell.”

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