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ORLANDO, Fla .– A married couple involved in training leaders of the Chi Alpha campus ministries for three decades received the Young Influencer Award on August 3 at the General Council Influence Conference.

Since 2018, Eli and Mary Gautreaux have served as Chi Alpha Directors for Assemblies of God Ministries in South Texas and the New Mexico Ministry Network. For a quarter of a century, they held the same role for the North Texas District.

But before that, the couple built the Sam Houston State University chapter in Huntsville, Texas, into the nation’s largest Chi Alpha group. The group continued to grow due to a principle of multiplication: the more leaders the couple formed, the more they left to establish student ministries, finally on 30 other campuses.

While a strategy of nurturing, training, and sending leaders to start new Chi Alpha ministries elsewhere may seem counterproductive, it has led to unprecedented growth at SHSU, where Eli and Mary have served for 27 years old. Finally, 1,200 students came regularly to the weekly meetings. Still more – 1,300 – actively engaged in small groups where discipleship has occurred.

“We didn’t think we were the best speakers or musicians,” says Gautreaux, an ordained GA minister and American missionary. “The children came because they experienced the Lord in a small group.

SHSU Chi Alpha has grown to be the largest group of students, religious or not, on campus of 21,900 students. The participants outnumbered the sisterhood and brotherhood combined.

Eli and Mary met as athletes at college in Stockton, Calif., The statuesque Mary on the swim team, and the muscular Eli on a water polo scholarship. When Eli dedicated his life to Christ in 1990, he experienced a dramatic shift in priorities. Eli, from Houston, gave up his scholarship and returned to Texas to enroll in SHSU in his freshman year.

Around the same time that Eli converted to Christianity, Mary recommitted her life to Jesus and was transferred to SHSU as well. The couple got married in their senior year, Eli earned a business degree, Mary earned an elementary education degree, which later proved useful for home schooling for the couple’s two daughters.

After Gautreaux graduated, Joe B. Barnes, then pastor of the Huntsville First Assembly of God, asked him to revitalize the dormant Chi Alpha group on campus. Despite his perceived lack of spiritual training, Gautreaux accepted the challenge.

Over time, Eli and Mary, supported by half a dozen full-time staff, shaped the team-team ministry designed to invest in relationships. The 200 small group leaders, who met weekly for the training, had to recruit their own participants. Mary, a soft voice, served in small groups and as a discipleship leader for women. She has taught interns, organized leadership training and also provided crisis counseling.

For years, Chi Alpha corporate meetings were held at the first assembly in Huntsville, as no building on campus could accommodate such a large group. In 2018, the Chi Alpha group split into five separate worship gatherings to enable further leadership development.

At first glance, the imposing physique Gautreaux with the red beard may not seem like a guy who connects with so many young college kids. But he appeals to many men with his strong personality, his intense vision and his transparency.

“We don’t see students as sheep so much as as potential shepherds,” says Gautreaux. “Christ’s plan was to give responsibility to his disciples. “

The Gautreaux trained leaders who not only left to become pioneers of Chi Alpha groups, but also to become pastors and missionaries across the United States and even around the world. Almost all of the interns who graduated under their direction are now in the ministry full time. One of the ways the young people grasped the vision of the ministry was by taking overseas trips to two dozen countries in conjunction with the Assemblies of God global missions. Over 1,000 students participated in intercultural awareness activities.

Photo: (left to right) Jeffery Portmann, Doug Clay, Eli & Mary Gautreaux, Crystal & Scott Martin

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