Macau, South China 1978
Shad and Sheila
beginning of life and ministry
In the fall of 1966, twenty-year-old Shad Williams was in desperate search of a meaningful life through his involvement in the music business in Memphis, Tennessee. Eighteen-year-old Sheila Lane was in her freshman year at Rhodes University. Growing up, Shad had very little exposure to church, the Bible, and the things of God. Sheila grew up in a Christian, church-going family, but like Shad, was not truly born again. Little did they know what God had in store for them.
Their life, and ultimately ministry, together began on Friday night, October 7, 1966. Shad`s band was playing for a Rhodes fraternity dance and it was there that Shad and Sheila met. It was literally “love at first sight” and six months later they were married. The young couple had no interest in Christianity and no intention of ever having any other life apart from the entertainment business. But, thanks to the faithful and persistent witness of Rev. Don J. Milam (Pastor – Park Avenue Baptist Church, Memphis) all that changed in July, 1968. He came to their home repeatedly, simply sharing how to know Jesus. As a result, Shad and Sheila received Christ and were radically changed by the power of God. Immediately upon receiving Christ, Shad quit the music business and surrendered himself to God for the ministry of evangelism – and Sheila joined him in that commitment.
They joined Park Avenue Church and began Bible College in Memphis in January 1969. There they teamed up with a young evangelist to begin a city-wide youth evangelism ministry. They formed one of the first “Jesus bands” in the country and for the next five years they proclaimed the Gospel everywhere they could through testimony, music and preaching. They presented Christ in churches, schools, colleges, prisons, rallies, shopping centers, town squares, public parks, and other open-air venues. Early on they began developing the “we go to them” philosophy and approach to evangelism. Shad believed that most unsaved people (like himself) were not interested in attending “they come to us” Christian events and in order to reach them we must go where they are. So, they did. In the first five years of Shad and Sheila`s ministry (`68 -`73) they saw approximately 25,000 people pray to receive Jesus.
Upon graduation from College in 1973, Shad joined the staff of East Park Baptist Church in Memphis. There, Shad and Sheila trained over 100 high school and college students in how to share the Gospel and then took them to the streets to do it. Through the church they developed a very aggressive evangelistic ministry to Memphis and the surrounding area. Over the next four years, hundreds of people were led to Christ.
international ministry begins
In 1975 the church conducted an evangelistic mission project in east Africa and Shad and Sheila were part of that team. It was there in a small town called Mbeya in the mountains of Tanzania that God spoke to both of them and told them to resign the church and go into the ministry of international evangelism. They committed themselves by faith to obey God`s voice. It took two years to make the transition, but on September 4, 1977, they resigned to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel”.
They began initially by participating in “partnership missions” conducted by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their first project was in Hong Kong in December, 1977. The next was in Brazil in March 1978. In time, however, other doors began to open to Shad and Sheila and God began connecting them to other people in various countries.
The ministry was incorporated as the Shad Williams Evangelistic Association in 1982. In the beginning Shad envisioned the ministry consisting of an association of American evangelists conducting a series of overseas campaigns each year. The idea of a network of indigenous teams doing the work on a daily basis was not in the original plan. But, God changed the plan and gave a different vision.
global field evangelism
It happened in January 1984 during a project in the Philippines. One morning Shad and his associate were loading the vehicle with sound equipment to go out to do school meetings and open-airs, and as they were doing so, God presented a vision to Shad – a vision of national evangelists, equipped with vehicles and equipment, going out to do evangelism every day of the year! Shad says, “I saw it and embraced it, and the name for the network of teams came to me immediately – Global Field Evangelism - GLOBAL (covering the whole world), FIELD (going out to where the people are), and EVANGELISM (preaching the simple Gospel message). Beginning in 1984 the name of the ministry was expanded to SWEA/GFE.
The first GFE team established was right there during that campaign in the Philippines. Then followed Brazil in 1985, Malawi (`86), India (`89), Kenya (`90), Tanzania (`92), Uganda (`02), Congo (`06), and Nigeria in `08. In all, the “we go to them” approach has been implemented directly in 20 countries through SWEA and in numerous others through other ministry organizations that have also (thankfully) adopted the “we go to them” approach. The “we go to them” methodology of evangelism also gained widespread exposure through the Field Evangelism Workshops that Shad led at the Billy Graham Conferences for Itinerant Evangelists held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1986 and 2000.
Shad and Sheila spent the first ten years not only doing evangelistic campaigns across the world, but also learning more about HOW to apply the “we go to them” approach cross-culturally. God also provided them with many experiences to help them learn how to trust Him by faith to meet the needs of a growing ministry.
shift in focus - greater results
In 1989 it became apparent to Shad and Sheila that God was leading them to give more emphasis to training and equipping Nationals rather than building an American team. This shift in focus resulted over the next few years in a 700% increase in the number of people receiving Christ each year. Over the past 25 years the annual increase has continued. As of mid-2022 SWEA/GFE has conducted 193 evangelistic campaigns and has presented the Gospel to 50 million people. 40 million have prayed to receive Jesus. Currently the ministry sees an average of 35,000 people per day pray to receive Christ – proving that God`s plan is always best!
it is far from over - much more to do
Shad and Sheila have been proclaiming the Gospel now for 54 years, and for 45 years have been doing it internationally. Shad says, “It has been a wonderful journey, but it is far from over. We have a long way to go and there is much yet to do” Over the past ten years or so the ministry has become more focused on the African continent – no “reason” behind it, just God`s plan. But, now plans are in the works to not only expand further across Africa, but also into other parts of the world. Again, Shad says, “I am convinced as much now as I was 48 years ago, that the only way to reach the unsaved multitudes is to take the Gospel to where they are and not wait for them to come to us – and, we must do it as fast as we can while we can. NOW is the time!”
"we go to them" has been implimented throughout the world