Former Anderson County, Campbellsville U. star finds his ministry through sports
(Editor’s note: Bridget Wells is a retired high school administrator. This is the first of a series of articles and reflections about some of her former student-athletes who are now in ministry.)
By Bridget Chilton Wells, 110forChrist.com contributor
As a faculty member at Anderson County High School, I met hundreds of student-athletes. While I loved watching their athletic prowess, observing them as servant-leaders, as compassionate human beings, and as good people, demonstrated that God was utilizing their talents and skills to prepare them for their future– whether it was the path they planned for themselves or not. Brayden Russell surely has discovered that his mission is piloted by God.
Less than a decade ago, Russell was a popular three-star athlete and Advanced Chorus singer at ACHS. Known for snagging tough passes on the football field from his quarterback Zachary Carmichael and helping lead the 2013 ACHS Football team to a regional championship, Brayden recently recalled his time as a Bearcat and what it was like to be a Christian athlete.
“My first experience in the football locker room as a freshman, along with Zach, who had strong faith, was that everybody was girl-crazy, and there was a lot of bad music.” Russell continued, “By the time we were seniors, the locker room had transformed. There was no more hazing; the music changed; the atmosphere changed.”
Russell noted that he never heard Head Coach Mark Peach cuss at the team one time during his tenure and praised his leadership of using prayer as a spiritual instrument for the team. But he echoed that for teenagers, Christian witness is most powerful between each other. One of his high school regrets is not using his connections with so many peers to share the gospel.
“I never had an evangelistic mindset. I was focused on living for the Lord myself, and I regret not witnessing to kids around me who were troubled,” said Russell.
Of course, he asked his friends to attend church and served on more than one occasion as a designated driver to ensure the safety of his teammates and others, but he wished that he focused on ‘being the church’ to his peers instead of ‘bringing the church’ to his peers.
To today’s Bearcat students, Russell would say, “There’s no better time to connect to peers than during high school. Don’t be scared to be strong in your faith because they (friends) will look back and thank you for it later.”
After graduating in 2015, Russell was contemplating going into the military even though he amassed 1,240 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns his senior year. Matter of fact, he initially turned down his scholarship to Campbellsville University to play football and run track. His family was experiencing a tumultuous time, and his mother’s health was in decline. After Campbellsville initiated a follow-up call and visit, Russell said he found peace through prayer to go to CU and stay close to his family.
It was at CU during his freshman year that his faith grew exponentially.
Russell’s mom had received a difficult diagnosis regarding neurological damage to her legs and the doctors expected she was not going to be able to walk.
“I was in chapel. There was an altar call. I was praying in my seat. I was complaining really…questioning God why all this was happening. When I heard this thunderous voice…to me it was audible…saying, ‘Do you not trust me?’” shared Russell. Then Russell stood up, went to the altar and prayed.
His mother, who he credits as his greatest Christian influence, has since been healed of her illness. “That was a turning point in my faith. I trust God more,” said Russell. “I used to read the Bible for study, but now I read the Bible to live.”
Also during his freshman year at CU, Russell went with his teammates, including quarterback and Lawrenceburg resident, Jacob Russell, on a prison ministry trip during spring break to 13 maximum security prisons in Florida. They would play softball with the inmates and then break into small groups and witness afterwards. Russell recalled how they presumed the inmates might laugh at their testimonies or not take it seriously.
“I was so nervous the first time that my hands were shaking, and I was just reading scripture out of Romans.” Russell conveyed during his first experience one inmate threw away his dip and asked to be saved. While Russell said he felt a lot ‘like Moses in terms of public speaking’, he found his voice with God’s assistance.
Now, when asked to be a witness, Russell said, “There is no excuse for me not to share my faith.”
And sharing his faith–Russell has.
Throughout his tenure at CU, Russell was involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Baptist Campus Ministries, and Church Outreach. He had both preaching and music ministry roles at local churches via the church outreach program, and he facilitated Bible studies for the football and soccer teams, all while making a name for himself as a Tiger football player, track and field star, and multi-gold medalist high jumper. He was named Mid-South Conference Athlete of the Year in 2017 for track.
As graduation loomed, Russell still knew there was more work he needed to do. “I was a Business major and still wanted to do business, but I was growing hungry for ministry,” said Russell.
After graduating in the spring of 2021, Russell worked for Domino’s with his business degree while dipping his toe into ministry part-time at Evangel World Prayer Center in Louisville, where he coordinated social media activities. Eventually, those duties grew into full-time work and included some marketing and young adult ministry responsibilities.
But Russell felt an even greater call.
So, in the fall of 2021, he left Louisville and moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Currently, he is less than a year from obtaining his Master’s in Theology from Oral Roberts University, and he is working as an Academic Advisor. He is also completing an internship, where he travels with a team to establish Christian churches in restricted areas and supports pastors in five of those countries.
“My plan is to continue to serve the Christian church in restricted nations,” said Russell when elaborating on his call after finishing his education.
While Brayden Russell might not have been Moses parting the Bearcat Red Seas back in 2015, I certainly saw the beginning of something spiritually special being cultivated by God’s design as only he can. And through his extraordinary athletic gifts, Russell has been able to share his faith with countless others and uncover God’s path for him not only to “be the church” but to “build the church” for those who would never have known him without the love of this faithful witness.
One thought on “‘There is no excuse for me not to share my faith.’”
Loved that boy and am so very very proud of him . He was my granddaughter best friend while they were classmates at Anderson County High School. Praying that the Lord’s hand will be ion this young man in anything he sets his mind to do! Love you Braydon