It isn’t often that Dracula plays a key role in the calling of a Christian ministry couple, but for Randy and Anda Brown, some clarity came in Transylvania.
The Browns, newly married, had taken a summer missions trip to Romania in 1994, working with orphans in the Eastern European nation.
Randy Brown, who had graduated that May with a pre-medical degree from ACU, was ready to drop his plans for medical school and commit his life to missions in Romania, so he backed out of a planned day trip to Dracula’s castle to seek God’s will on the side of a mountain.
Foregoing a date with Vlad the Impaler, Randy instead spent time in prayer.
“I felt I needed to lay it before God,” he said, “and see what he had planned for my life.”
The word he received, he said, was clear: Go to medical school, become a doctor, and see what happens.
What happened is that Randy and Anda Brown have become a missionary couple in the low-income Como neighborhood of western Fort Worth, teaching and mentoring neighbor children alongside their own – work for which ACU has awarded them as the 2014 Young Alumni of the Year.
“We had been married six months,” Anda Brown recalled of her husband’s willingness to give up medical school, “so that was unsettling.”
It has certainly not been a settled life for the Browns, high school sweethearts from Midland who rekindled their romance on the ACU campus. He was working toward becoming a doctor; she was an English education major.
Randy Brown was 5 years old when his mother said they needed a doctor in their family. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll be a doctor,’” he recalled. It was a dream that stuck.
They were married in December 1993, a semester before his graduation in May 1994 and hers that August. As students they had participated in Spring Break Campaigns to New Haven, Conn., New York City, and St. Louis, but nothing prepared them for the summer in Romania.
“When he talked about missions, I thought he was crazy,” Anda Brown said. “I really wanted the typical doctor lifestyle. Thankfully, God had other plans.”
During family practice residency, Randy Brown took a month-long missions trip to the West African nation of Togo in 2000. Upon his return, he felt pulled to a life of medical missions in Africa. The couple wasn’t on the same page, however, and during that time, they received a letter from some ACU friends who felt called to plant churches overseas, and asked for a group of them to meet and discuss how best to serve God.
Some ultimately became domestic church planters; others moved overseas. Several, including the Browns, joined Christ Fellowship Church in Grapevine. Meanwhile, Randy joined a medical practice in Grand Prairie. The couple moved into a nice neighborhood and began settling down with their three children. But Randy didn’t feel settled.
“Anda and I were on a little weekend getaway to Dallas,” he recalled. “I was reading a book and praying, and as clearly as I’ve ever felt the voice and presence of God, I felt clearly the Lord said stay in Fort Worth for the next 15-20 years to build a ministry to the poor at Christ Fellowship.”
After asking a friend what the worst area in Fort Worth was, Randy began visiting the Como neighborhood once a week; he began by asking a group of men smoking in the shade what he could do to help the area.
After an awkward conversation, Brown turned to leave when one of the men said: “You could do something with the kids.”
“I thought, ‘No, that would take too much time,’” he said. “‘I want to change the world now, working with adults.’”
Anda likewise had her qualms. By 2005, she was pregnant with their fifth child and did not want to leave the safety of their settled life. But more than a year later, during her quiet time, she clearly felt a prodding to move to Como. Five days later, it became more of a shove: “I just really heard the Lord say, ‘It’s time to go now,’” she said.
Thirty days later, the couple had sold their house in the midst of the national mortgage crisis, and moved in to a new home.
“There are so many things that happened where it was so clear it was God,” Anda Brown said. “I’ve never regretted it because of the way the Lord brought us. It was still scary, but we both knew it was God.”
Earlier that summer, in July, Randy Brown and a friend, Van Gravitt, had conducted the first Opportunity Camp for neighborhood kids in Como – an idea imported from a similar camp Randy and Anda had attended in high school. Fifty-two children attended, of which he picked 10 boys he identified as leaders to meet with him weekly for Bible study, football and community service. He called them Dr. Brown’s Mighty Men.
The ministry, now known as B.U.R.N. (Building, Uniting and Restoring Neighborhoods) Ministries, has grown into six groups for children ranging from third to 12th grade, each mentored by different groups of adults from local churches. It also runs Opportunity Camp each summer in Merkel for third- to fifth-graders from Como Elementary School and recently started a summer tutoring program in reading and math.
When he first began the Mighty Men, Brown told them, “I’m going to stick with you guys until you graduate from high school and go to college.”
For her part, Anda began the first girls group before transferring it to others from various churches. She keeps their house open to the neighborhood and raises their seven children, ranging in age from 4 to 16. Several ministry colleagues have called their home “the happiest house in the world.”
“She’s balanced me out and kept me grounded,” Randy said. “She’s kept us focused on what’s important. … If neither of you has a sense of rhythm, you both end up running really fast and burning out.”
Their ministry has certainly not been easy. Dr. Brown and his Mighty Men have shared the Gospel along African trails, learned about the business world around boardroom tables, and talked to each other through the visitation glass of the local jail.
“There have been some pretty heart-breaking stories in all of that,” he said. “It’s been very tough. I really love these guys. They’re like sons. I still have faith that all 10 of them are going to make it.”
As part of their wedding vows in 1994, Anda Adams told Randy Brown, “I’ll follow you across town or across the world.”
In the end, God’s call was more local than it seemed that summer in Romania.
“I’m not really impressed with that we’re doing,” he said. “We’re just trying to listen to Jesus and obey. Whatever good comes out of all this
will be from God, and we’re just thankful to be a part of it. We’re in the right place.”