Written by: Robert L. Mitchell, Sr.
The first invitation, an engraved one, came through the mail in January 1974. They asked Sue and me to attend a party given by three prominent Atlanta families, the Richard Courts, the John Turmans, and the Frank Maiers. Since they represented not only socially prominent families, but successful businessmen as well, we felt flattered to be invited.
“Sounds like a cocktail party,” I told Sue. The cocktail party turned out to be hors d’oeuvres, cokes, and coffee. About a hundred people attended. An even bigger surprise hit us when we discovered we had been invited to a religious meeting.
A man named Cobby Ware spoke to us in a conversational voice, almost as if he wanted to chat with each of us personally. He told us about a prominent man who came to Jesus one night to talk to him. His name was Nicodemus, but the speaker pointed out, that man might just as well have been the president of a local bank or any local businessman living today. Nicodemus started out by saying that he had heard a lot of good things about Jesus. “You must be a great man of God because of the miracles you’ve been doing.”
Jesus didn’t get sidetracked by flattering words, but told the visitor that unless he experienced a spiritual rebirth, he could never enter into the kingdom of heaven.
I listened to every word, even though the message wasn’t new to me. I had been born into a family where both my parents are devout believers in Jesus Christ. They raised me in the church and I had attended all of my life. If anyone had asked me, I would have said ‘I am a Christian.”
As Cobby Ware continued to speak, I heard those words as if they completely new. Never had anything impacted so heavily on me before. He talked to me! I knew all about the church and the Bible and could give all the right answers about God. But something was missing because for the first time in my life I understood.
When Cobby finished, he said, “If anyone wants to make a commitment of your life to God, I will talk to you privately.” Sue and I responded and even though I prayed the same kind of words that I had spoken as a teenager, asking Jesus Christ to come into my life, this time I understood exactly what I asked for. I didn’t hear cannons go off or angels sing, but I knew something had happened to me.
At the time of that first invitation I was selling real estate. I had a set a goal to make a lot of money. But after that evening, things begin to change, slowly but distinctly, and making money no longer became my top priority. I read the Bible every day and realized how far away from God I had been.
In September 1975, I heard about a group of Christian businessmen that met every Friday morning at 6:30 for Bible study. I attended and saw things I had never seen before. Around me sat top executives, men at the top of their businesses and who seemed to have everything in life. Yet they came, week after week, studying and learning like everyone else. The honesty and commitment of those men impressed me and I have been with the Bible study ever since. Attendance has fluctuated from as few as ten, but often as high as fifty. We have helped many men going through hard places in their lives, and as we learn more about the Bible, we also have tried to show each person there that we care about them and their problems. Through the years that group has helped me grow as a man, as a husband, father, and has helped me find a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ.
I want to tell you about the other significant invitation. At the time I didn’t see it as an invitation and it went unanswered for months. The invitation came to me in the form of a Christmas present from my mother in 1975. She gave me a book, In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. For some reason I didn’t read it then and I had no idea the impact that novel would make in my life. The novel tells about a derelict that comes into a church and castigates the pastor and the congregation because of their lack of compassion. The man’s coming caused such a furor in the lives of those people that eventually the pastor and twelve men and women make a mutual covenant: they will make no major decision without first asking themselves one question, “What would Jesus do?’ As they answered their own question, they learned to walk in Jesus’ steps. Most of the book relates how God changed the lives of those twelve people, and because of their example and commitment, eventually they dramatically changed the whole town.
The book intrigued me, and as I read, I kept asking, “What would it be like to commit a business to God, and allow Him to guide my decisions?” I would have to operate a business in a way that every action honored Christ. One of the central characters of In His Steps, Milton Wright, a businessman, struggled with this same dilemma of letting Jesus Christ direct his company. I felt as if he and I were going through the experience together. Milton Wright finally made many changes so that nothing in his practice dishonored God. After finishing that book, I made that same kind of commitment of myself and of my business.
At the time I received the second invitation, I had a single office and shared a secretary. I had made as much of a commitment to Jesus Christ as I knew how. At that time, I felt that if I were involved in a larger business, I could make a greater impact so that people could grasp how a Christian business functioned.
About the time I made that commitment of my business, the real estate market took a downturn. Sue and I prayed for the Lord to guide me to a company where I could operate it as a Christian business. I also prayed for a specific amount of money that I felt we would need.
Within four days the chairman of the board of a small company called me. “Would you be interested in a job evaluating a business?” I listen as he explained that Applied Ceramics had gotten into a bad financial situation. They wanted someone to study the company and to advise them whether they should pump in more funds or let it go bankrupt.
Although that job offer didn’t seem like the answer to our prayer, I took the assignment. I did the work and wrote a report telling them how the could save Applied Ceramics. The company liked the report so much that in September 1976, they hired me on a retainer basis to oversee the implementation of the plan I had developed.
The job provided exactly the amount of money Sue and I told God we needed to make up for the shortfall in finances. Ironically, at almost the same time, I received offers to receive consulting work for three different firms – all of them seemed to have better prospects than Applied Ceramics. I prayed about the other offers, and felt I made the right decision.
After several months, it became evident to me and to the company that I needed to make a decision. Either I had to get more involved or get out and let them bring in someone full time. After much prayer, I decided to stay with them. In March 1977, the chairman of the board offered me a position as president of Applied Ceramics.
“I’m willing to do this on one condition,” I told him. I knew that if God wanted me to remain with Applied Ceramics, he would honor my desire. “If I became president, we would operate Applied Ceramics as a Christian business and also give one tenth of the profits of the company to God.”
Since the company was still not making money, we had little trouble with the agreement. As soon as I took over, I tried to follow the example of Milton Wright and to apply Christian principles to everything. As one of the first changes, I set up a weekly devotional time with Bible study and prayer. I also started to give a tenth of the company’s income.
While I can tell the success story, like most businesses, we had our problems as well. Difficulties arose and we had moments when we wondered how we’d make it. Somehow, we always worked through every roadblock and I believe it is because of God’s faithfulness. During many dark times, I found myself thinking of Romans 8:28 and each time I received the assurance that verse promises that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God. The business has continued to be successful and I want it always to be a vehicle to glorify God.
Those may sound like strange words when I speak of vehicles to glorify God, but I meant them then and I mean them more than ever now. In fact, I became so concerned about operating a company on the principles laid down in the Bible, that I contacted several other Christian businessmen with similar convictions. Together we formed the Fellowship of Companies for Christ International.
As FCCI has continued to grow, we’ve realized that a company committed to these principles is not necessarily better than any other or even more moral. We attempt to operate with a different purpose than a typical company whose first motivation is profit. Through our businesses we have seen lives changed and some people have experienced the spiritual rebirth that Cobby Ware talked about. We believe we can help people walk closer to God and at the same time, be of service to those around us.
Through FCCI, we have centered our activities around the triple purpose of salvation, sanctification (i.e. maturing in our faith), and service. We’re still interested in profits and know that we have to operate on a sound financial basis to continue to stay in business. We believe, however, as Christians who engage in business, we have an added sense of purpose in what we do. We want our main goal in life to be; that in everything we do, our actions honor God.
Despite problems we have, I find it tremendously exciting to join with the businessmen and their companies all over the country who have similar goals. Being a part of FCCI has helped me to walk a step closer to the Lord and it thrills me to see what we can do through people and businesses committed to Him.
I’ve told of the two invitations that I received. Now I’d like to extend an invitation to you. If you have not experienced the peace and the guidance that comes from serving Jesus Christ, I would like to talk to you and help you. Because concerned people gave me an invitation and I accepted it, I know God’s love.
Robert L. Mitchell Sr., now CEO and Chairman of the Board of Applied Ceramics, has been at the company since 1976. He is co-founder of the Fellowship of Companies for Christ International and current chairman At this time he has three sons working at Applied Ceramics with him. Applied Ceramics is a manufacturer of hi–tech ceramic parts for the automotive, electronics, energy, and environmental industries.