The hair on the back of Chris Brown’s neck rose as he nervously fumbled with the pump handle and slid the nozzle into the fuel tank, keeping his head down to avoid attention.
He tried to calm himself.
It was just another day, with customers filling up on gas before driving into the collective white noise of traffic. Nothing was out of the ordinary, Chris reassured himself as he shifted uneasily on his feet and glued his eyes to the pump screen.
The numbers ticked upward at a painfully slow rate.
He heard the commotion before he saw it. A car screeched to a halt, stopping just before his fender. Although Chris had the uncanny feeling of an approaching disaster, he was now paralyzed by its arrival.
This is it, he thought. This is the end of me.
Chris Brown, third from left, rides in the back of the car with his three older brothers.
With their parents working as truck drivers, Chris Brown and his three brothers often fended for themselves at their home in Ocala, Fla. Unsupervised, the four young boys lived in a state of disfunction—roughhousing, fighting, and surviving on barely eatable microwave dinners.
One day, there was a knock on the door. It was a youth pastor from a local church stopping by to follow up about a previous youth event. Appalled by the boys’ living situation, he immediately went to Walmart and bought them groceries. Chris was encouraged by his kindness and started attending the church. But he began to question his place there when the church youth group went door-knocking in his own poor neighborhood.
Eventually, he left the church, and with no adult figure to mentor him, Chris turned to gang life for a sense of belonging and brotherhood.
That’s when everything started to spiral. After high school, Chris left his parentless home to live with drug dealers. Soon enough, the bonds between housemates broke under money pressures, and an angry friend set Chris up to be robbed.
When Chris heard the intruder clanging around inside the house, he fled for his life while gunshots rang out behind him. He immediately called the police. They arrested the robber, but he was bailed out the next day for a hefty sum of $100,000.
Chris roamed the streets as a marked man, with his head on a swivel and one eye constantly peering over his shoulder. If there is a golden rule in gangs, it’s that “snitches get stitches.” The threatening measure is an effective tactic to ensure that gang members don’t give information to the police. By telling the cops who the robber was, Chris had violated the code.
What was the consequence for breaking it? Chris was about to find out.
The hitman who had pulled up behind Chris’ car was coming toward him. At the same moment, Christ heard it: the sound of sirens.
The police had been trailing the hitman’s vehicle. As Chris crouched for cover, the officers shouted orders from behind the doors of the squad cars, their guns trained on the man.
“It was one of the scariest moments of my life,” Chris said. “And so I just gave God one of those ‘Hail Mary prayers’ to get me out of this mess, and then I’d serve him.”
The standoff didn’t last long before the man was in handcuffs. Chris left shaken, struggling to wrap his mind around what had just transpired.
Having made the prayer from a state of despair, Chris was unsure of his next steps when reality set back in. But God intervened in his life when Chris was let go from his job and dismissed from community college because of an unforeseen paperwork issue. Old relationships also began to crumble, and while it seemed like his world was collapsing, Chris viewed it as a fresh start.
The Lord was closing doors and guiding him down a new path.
After his parents’ divorce, Chris moved back into his old house to be with his lonely mother. He resolved to read the Bible diligently, wanting to understand the Lord that he had pledged to serve. Oddly enough, Chris remembers it as an extremely difficult period in his life. The more he learned about the holy and perfect character of God, the more aware he became of his own sinful nature. It was a crushing revelation.
Eventually, God impressed upon his heart to contact the same youth pastor who had knocked on his door all those years ago. Chris met with him and opened up about his life-altering experience and new-found calling in Christ.
The pastor sensed that his attitude and fervor were genuine. He sent Chris to a church-planting conference in California that confirmed his yearning to devote his life to ministry.
Chris returned home intent on going to Bible college to receive professional ministry training. He got a landscaping job and began to save money for tuition. A few months later, he found himself on a plane to California.
“I had no idea what to expect,” Chris said. “I didn’t know where I was going to live or how I was going to keep affording college. I felt like Abraham when he just followed the Lord’s direction.”
The atmosphere at West Coast Baptist College was unlike anything Chris had experienced before. There was a freedom and independence associated with gang life that made the rules and regulations of university feel like a straitjacket at first. But as Chris became more accustomed with college, he realized that he was rubbing shoulders with classmates who also shared a passion to pursue the spiritually lost.
God used a guest speaker to instill within Chris a desire to reach cities—environments where injustice, religious skepticism, and racism abound. Places where, as the misguided saying goes, “churches go to die.” Chris aspired to be a city church planter, and he began praying that God would show him which metropolis to minister in.
Chris and Kaitlin posing for a picture with their newborn daughter.
Chris met Kaitlin in a freshman class on the book of Romans. She initially rejected his pursuit of her, but they began dating by their senior year. Kaitlin had grown up in a nominally Christian home and trusted in Christ during middle school. By the time she arrived at West Coast Baptist College, her eyes were fixed on overseas missions through education.
Chris’ passion to do church-planting work stateside challenged her heart, as Kaitlin had never considered North America to be a mission field. However, as Chris explained his vision, Kaitlin couldn’t ignore the devastating need for healthy churches in the U.S.
Senior year culminated for the Browns in the successive events of graduating, marrying, and moving to Missouri to establish a church in the racially divided city of Ferguson, Mo.
The summer before, Chris had visited the race-torn city during an internship at a nearby church. Even two years after a controversial altercation where a police officer fatally shot an 18-year-old black male named Michael Brown in 2014, it was evident that Ferguson had barely recovered.
The roads were repaved and boasted new sidewalks to hide any traces of the damaging aftermath, but the repairs didn’t conceal the heavy feeling of oppression and heartache hanging over the streets. While driving through the city, Chris noticed the resentful stares aimed at his white passenger.
Although he didn’t personally know the people of Ferguson, Chris related to their stories. His own background of racial tension and family turmoil offered him an intimate level of insight into their lives.
When he saw an irritated woman brandishing a shoe and chasing a girl down the street, Chris was reminded of his own dysfunctional family life.
“I couldn’t sleep that night,” Chris said. “I knew the Lord wanted me to do something in Ferguson. So, I submitted to his will and told him that if he opened the doors, I would follow.”
With an eased conscious, he was soon sleeping soundly.
A flower and plaque mark the spot where Michael Brown was killed. His death in 2014 was followed by rioting and violence.
After settling down just west of Ferguson, Chris and Kaitlin hit the road to raise financial support.
At one conference in Las Vegas called Idea Day (IdeaNetwork.church), the Browns were invited to pitch their ministry to an audience of potential church donors and religious organizations. It was there that they caught the attention of the ABWE’s EveryEthne team. After seeing the Browns’ presentation, Executive Director for North America, Doug Martin, and other team members approached Chris and Kaitlin about the possibility of partnering together.
“Our team instantly knew that the Browns were a quality couple with vision and great passion,” Doug recalled.
The Browns accepted EveryEthne’s invitation of partnership and became missionaries with ABWE. The prospect of receiving counseling, financial coaching, and networking opportunities was an attractive offer for the young church planters.
They returned to Missouri with raised spirits, their sails flowing confidently in the tailwinds of a supporting mission agency. Now it was time to roll up their sleeves and get to work. After months of assembling a pastoral team, organizing outreach events, and making small talk in coffee shops, the Browns held their first preview service for The House of the Lord church in February of last year.
Chris knew the core problem that drove the majority of his congregants to church: broken households.
Indeed, when the Browns first surveyed Ferguson as a church-plant location, they struck up a conversation with four young African American boys on the street who all had disengaged fathers. Chris understood the pangs of fatherly absence from his own childhood, and he used this commonality as an entry point to share about the loving father of Scripture with them. All four trusted in Christ right there in the middle of the road.
“Our vision is to unify homes through the gospel,” Chris said. “That’s why we are focusing on reaching lost teens and restoring families.”
Chris preaching at his church plant, which currently meets at a Hilton Garden Inn.
One Sunday a desperate woman attended the church and asked the Browns to pray for her husband. He had left the house months prior and showed no signs of ever returning. The very next day he came back. A skeptic may call it coincidence, but the Browns see it as another trace of the Lord’s faithfulness.
A churchgoing couple also sought out the Browns for help. They had been attending church for most of their lives but still hadn’t come to a saving faith. Through the Browns’ wisdom and God’s grace, this couple is now saved and are active members of the church, bent on making more disciples.
It’s these small divine markings that keep Chris and Kaitlin planting seeds in the spiritually dry and barren city of Ferguson.
“We are preparing and trusting God to provide rain so that Ferguson can have a revival,” Chris said.
The Browns are confident the showers are closing in.