Brandon Owen was already late as he opened his suitcase, threw on a crisp white dress shirt and tie and hurried out the door. He was off to convince a group of strangers in southern Georgia to buy into what he believed God was doing almost 1,000 miles away in Central New York.
This last-second pitch was similar to one he had given to more than 100 local churchgoers a couple of days earlier, and similar to the dozens of calls he’d made over the past several weeks. Each time the message was the same: God is moving in Syracuse.
Owen’s goal, through all the speaking, calling and praying is to raise enough money to pay for his salary so he can officially start as an assistant of Baptist Campus Ministries serving in a pastoral function at University Church in Syracuse. The sooner he raises the money, the sooner he can start his new role, and that means he’ll talk to anyone who is willing to listen, including a boardroom full of nearly a dozen people he’d never met.
“It’s definitely tough. You’re connecting with people that potentially you haven’t talked to in a long period of time, you’re also connecting with people who maybe you’ve never talked to,” Owen said. “After I run out of names it becomes cold calling. Really what it is is a form of vision casting, sitting down and telling them what God is doing here.”
University Church is a congregation in the Syracuse University area which has roots that date back to the late 1970s, said Bernie Elliot, an elder and pastor at Missio Church in downtown Syracuse. This past year, Missio partnered with BCM at Syracuse University to help lead the predominantly student congregation. UC met every Sunday during the school year in Gifford Auditorium on campus with Elliot pastoring the congregation and Owen helping behind the scenes. However, Owen will take on a more permanent pastoral role as an assistant chaplain at BCM as soon as he can raise 100 percent of his salary through another partner organization, Great Commission Ministries.
“We all believed God had ministry in [Brandon’s] future,” said Elliot. “It just became apparent that we needed to somehow make that happen and it seemed like University Church would be an ideal place to unleash him and his gifts.”
Owen has worked in a number of different capacities since joining Missio in June 2008, including his time helping with UC, starting Missio’s children’s ministry and helping with both organizations' connections and hospitality ministries.
“No one is indispensible in the church; it's Christ’s church, so God can use anyone he desires … but if there was an indispensible person it would be Brandon,” said Elliot, who has become Owen’s formal mentor. “He’s just so incredibly hardworking and he gets things done. That’s Brandon, he’s relentless.”
Owen’s journey to UC has been nothing short of remarkable, however. After growing up in Seattle, Wash., Owen attended Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., earning a B.S. in Marine Science, while majoring in the party scene, he said. Not quite the background you’d expect from someone pastoring a church in Central New York. It was in Florida where a woman named Alaina – his future wife – helped lead him to faith, or at least pointed him in the right direction, when she told him that she would never date him – not with his lifestyle.
“Brandon jokes around that he made this bet with God that if he could date me he’d get his life together,” Alaina said, laughing. Owen began attending church and small group Bible studies, and it wasn’t long before he felt a significant change in his life — aside from his budding new relationship, of course.
“God began to move and draw me closer to him. It was a process and it continues to be a process. I don’t believe that just because I’m here that I’ve arrived by any means. I still have plenty more work to do in my life,” he said.
Jim Murphy, a good friend of Brandon and Alaina and an elder at Missio Church, has had a chance to witness Owen’s growth both as a friend, mentor and even has a premarital counselor.
“To watch him grow has really been evidence to me that God exists,” said Murphy. “Not because he was a wreck when I met him … but just to see how God has really gripped his heart in bigger and bigger ways and just to see him continue to grow in faithfulness has been really encouraging to see.”
What impresses Murphy the most, though, is why Owen and his family came to Syracuse in the first place. “You have a couple, one is from Seattle the other from Georgia, but they’re willing to move to Syracuse, N.Y., for no other reason than God’s call and no other reason than a love for this place,” he said. “He didn’t have to move here. He has no family here, his wife has no family here, they had zero connections to Syracuse other than the friendship he had to my wife and I.”
“We never pictured ourselves coming to Syracuse but what God is doing here in Central New York is not a flash in the pan,” said Owen, who relocated his family, including his wife and three foster children, two of whom they are currently in the process of adopting.
Little did Owen know that four years later he’d be speeding down Interstate 95 in Savannah, Ga., arriving to a fundraising meeting late and admittedly disheveled, explaining to a boardroom full of complete strangers that God is, indeed, moving in Syracuse. For him, what’s more surprising is that not only was he asking them to partner with a church he would be helping to pastor but that he would return home that day with a check worth $12,000 in his pocket.
“I think I went flush, I may have even blacked out a little bit,” he half-joked. “I just started weeping. I can only attribute it and say thanks be to God for his faithfulness and his graciousness. There’s no way that [coming to Syracuse] was not something that God had for us. I left that meeting humbled that I get the opportunity to participate in his activity, all the thanks be to him for that. It blows my mind.”
The $12,000 check, along with his other fundraising efforts, currently account for 30 percent of Owen’s total goal.