By Jerry Harris
What is faithfulness? Where does it come from? What builds and strengthens it? What sustains it over time? While all church leaders would like to be described as faithful, for many it’s an elusive target. That’s why it’s important to know the story of Thomas Campbell Huxford—or just Cam—and his wife, Sarah. Their life and ministry together have been an incredible living illustration of faithfulness.
Faithfulness Begets Faithfulness
Cam grew up in a small Christian church in a town of less than 500 in coastal South Carolina. His father, also named Thomas Campbell Huxford as was his father before him, was an elder there. Cam’s grandfather was named for the great Restoration Movement father who lit a spiritual fire in the region years before, and the Huxford family has bled Restoration red ever since. His mother played piano in that small church for 60 years.
Cam’s father felt compelled to resist the liberal influence that was permeating the Disciples church, as it was inconsistent with a sound understanding of Scripture. Under the leadership of Cam’s father, the little church navigated the troubled waters to independence. To this day, Russellville Christian Church in St. Stephen, South Carolina, continues to be dedicated to her mission, having produced preachers, Bible college professors, and international missionaries without ever averaging more than 100 people.
Cam’s father earned an agricultural engineering degree from Clemson University; he ran a tractor and implement business and farmed. Young Cam grew up on the farm and in a typical small country church.
Wendell Baggett of Atlanta Christian College (now Point University) spoke at a church revival when Cam was 9, and it stirred the young man’s heart. Cam reflected, “I became morally aware that my sin was an affront to the Lord and I had to surrender my life to Christ in order for that sin to be forgiven.”
Faithfulness of a Single Mother
Two years later, tragedy struck the Huxford family; Cam’s father died of a sudden heart attack at age 43. It happened just a few days before Christmas, and although traumatic, Mrs. Huxford and her two young sons took comfort in their faith.
Widowed at 36, it would have been easy to follow the lead of other singles in the area, but she focused on providing for her family by teaching music at the local school. Her faithfulness in being a mother first and trusting in the Lord for companionship left an indelible impression on Cam and his brother. His mother’s commitment to the Lord shaped a similar commitment in both her sons.
Faithfulness of Camp and College
When Cam was 11, a new Christian camp started in South Carolina. Even though Cam had asthma, his mother let him go. Four years later, some students from Atlanta Christian College helped lead the camp; they made a deep impression on Cam as he witnessed their depth of commitment as Christ followers. He called it a “Lordship experience” and said he desired to have the same no-compromise faith. He dismissed thoughts of West Point or law school and decided to go all-in for Jesus.
During high school, Cam devoted a year to prayer to discern his future direction and found peace in the thought of full-time ministry. When he shared the calling with his mother, she replied, “I’ve known you would be a minister from the day you were born.”
During his senior year in high school, Cam and his best friend organized a four-night youth revival at their local high school gym. The revival grew from about 70 the first night to more than 800 on the fourth! A particularly rough young man who played on the basketball team came up to Cam and asked how to give his life to Christ. The event stood as a confirmation of Cam’s choice to follow the call.
He entered Atlanta Christian College in the fall. The school offered a deeply grounded biblical education, great ministry opportunities and experiences, and the fun of playing on the basketball team. He served on summer camp teams; it was an opportunity to display the same commitment to others that he had witnessed and experienced only a few years before.
Midway through college, Cam endured a severe car accident that shattered his face and broke his back, but the school helped in his recovery and it served only to deepen his trust in the Lord. He next entered graduate school at Emmanuel School of Religion in Tennessee—that was a pivotal step, mostly because he met a third-year student named Sarah at nearby Milligan College.
Faithfulness of a Ministry Partner
Sarah had an adventurer’s heart. She had traveled from California to go to Milligan after being involved in international camp ministries. Her roommate had dated Cam and considered him a “creep,” but a car trip to Atlanta with a small group of students gave Cam and Sarah lots of time to talk, and that would begin a love affair that has existed ever since.
Their first ministry together was in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The ministry wasn’t full time, but their passion for its success was. The church had been in turmoil and was averaging only about 20 people on Sundays. The round-trip weekend commute between Emmanuel and Rock Hill was about 300 miles. It wasn’t long before the couple had two sons; a third son arrived when they moved to Savannah, Georgia, to minister with Savannah Christian Church (now Compassion Christian Church). Today, all three serve in ministry and the Huxfords have 10 grandchildren.
For the first 17 years of their ministry together, Sarah was the ultimate volunteer. Being something of an outsider (a native Californian), she had a special sense for those who weren’t part of the established culture.
She was particularly effective at reaching out to those in Savannah who served in the military; she connected with them and helped involve them in ministry. She became aware of needs among middle and high school volunteers, so she sorted out the situation and then handed off leadership to others.
The kitchen ministry was seen as one of the worst, but Sarah made it the best ministry for the newest members at the church; when it was running smoothly, she handed it off. Sarah introduced drama into the worship services, writing musical programs for Christmas, Easter, and Journey to Bethlehem, an interactive event attended by thousands. She hosted the church’s first young adult/college ministry in their home.
She was continually serving until a cancer diagnosis turned the tables when she was 36. Of that difficult time, Cam remarked, “I don’t think we believed the church really loved us until then. We loved them, but we didn’t know they loved us.” The church brought meals to the Huxfords for 70 straight days. The Lord brought them through that hard time, and now Sarah runs the women’s ministry for all six campuses of Compassion Christian Church.
Cam and Sarah have been faithful to Compassion Christian Church for 34 years. For many today, accepting the call to a church of 250 wouldn’t be big news, but it’s a different story when you’re coming from a church of 40 to 50. Cam fondly remembers an elder telling him, “You’re in the big leagues now!” He counseled Cam to keep a balance in ministry, equally dividing preaching, pastoring, and family time . . . Cam still cherishes and follows that advice.
In 1984, the reinvention of worship from hymns to more contemporary music was in full swing, and Savannah was in need of a major change. A group within the church felt threatened by such a change, however, and it caused polarization. And within a year of the Huxfords starting in the church, it felt more like a war.
While the congregation was growing and happy, the elders meetings were a vastly different story. For the first 10 years of the Huxfords’ ministry in Savannah, consistent growth and change also created conflict with people who were convinced these were not a good thing.
The strife in leadership reached a boiling point in 1994 when the church reached 500 in attendance. The church needed to add services to continue growing, but some leaders were opposed to that because the church wouldn’t be able to take Communion together. Cam responded, “We’ll take the Lord’s Supper all together in Heaven . . . right now, we’re just trying to get them to Heaven!”
The discontent culminated in a walkout by several leaders, who fully expected many would follow . . . but that didn’t happen. The elders who remained believed the church belonged to Jesus, not a special-interest group. With no one left to pump the brakes on growth, the church took off!
A new vision began forming in Cam’s heart, and he believed the church could double in size in five years. Leadership began envisioning what the church’s various ministries would look like—and what the staffing, space, and financial needs would be—if it doubled in size. As it turned out, instead of taking five years to double in size after breaking from a single-service format, it took only three years!
The church continued growing, and in the midst of this growth, at about the time the church started a sixth service, leadership realized they had outgrown their small property. In an incredible step of faith, the 1,600-member church purchased 52 acres in a central Savannah area and built a $14 million facility.
Today, Compassion Christian Church ministers to 8,000 each weekend in six locations, but that never would have happened unless a young preacher and his wife were willing to push through the difficulty of change in those first 10 years.
In Leadership Pain, Sam Chand writes, “There is no growth without change, no change without loss, and no loss without pain.” Cam and Sarah could tell you that growth is directly related to an ability to endure pain.
Compassion Christian Church is known for its dedication to global and local missions. Last year alone, the church deployed more than $2 million in the effort. Cam said he developed a passion for missions early on in ministry. In those days, he said, the world seemed like a much bigger place.
That first little church he ministered with found itself in financial difficulty and informed Cam they weren’t able to pay him. Something snapped into focus for Cam when he realized the church didn’t give anything to missions but used their offerings only on themselves. The next week, Cam challenged the church to give 10 percent of whatever was received to missions, and that was the last day the church had financial problems.
In Savannah, what started with supporting two missionaries (Kazik and Dorotha Barczuk) in Poland 34 years ago has grown exponentially. Today, that support has reached three generations in that family alone! Hundreds of people from Compassion annually go on short-term mission trips to support global partners on five continents. Last year, the church and its mission partners combined to baptize 81,000 people!
Faithfulness to Point University
The college that invested in Cam is now being invested into. Point University President Dean Collins was a classmate of Cam’s back in the day. Christian colleges are in a difficult “adapt or die” season, but Point is managing it well. An extension campus of Point University is located at CCC and there is a dual enrollment program for high school students. (Under that program, the state of Georgia covers all tuition costs for qualified high school students to earn college credit.) Additional education is offered via the Internet. Cam is a trustee of the university.
Faithfulness to the Next Generation
Cam is optimistic about the rising generation and the future of the church.
“The local church is the greatest work in the world. Nothing else has the capacity to change the world more than the church,” Cam said. “God continues to call the brightest and the best to forsake the world and give up millions [in earnings] for ministry, and I believe the next generation is going to be better than the last. There will be plenty of temptations, but everybody we admire in the Bible bled for the truth . . . and if we’re not bleeding, we have to wonder if we’re doing it right. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, and the proclamation of it is worth whatever it costs to get it done.”
Thank you, Cam and Sarah, for your testimony of faithfulness!