As Audrey Butler quietly shuffled through a stack of legal papers after a pre-trial hearing, a man rushed toward her. "You can't tell me what to do," the wild-eyed man raged with clenched fists. "You won't get me to pay my child support!"
The man, whom she was prosecuting, continued to threaten the young attorney, saying he would kill her before the trial. Nearby guards jumped him before he could lay a hand on her.
It wasn't the first time Audrey was threatened. Few could rattle the high-profile attorney, who was used to dealing with the darker side of the law.
Her life resembled something out of L.A. Law -- she busted bad guys and made nearly six figures a year. At the peak of her career, she prosecuted federal cases as an assistant U.S. district attorney. She loved the work.
"I was a born prosecutor," says Audrey, now 37. "I saw everything in black and white."
But the tenacious attorney was interested in more than federal law. She wanted to serve in full-time ministry, a passion she developed back in law school. At that time, she regularly attended Cru meetings, and her faith grew rapidly.
After graduating, she sought a position as a lawyer with Cru. That door closed, though.
"I was struggling with the Lord," she says. "Should I do something besides legal work?"
But soon after, she got a job as a state prosecutor in Georgia. Two years later, she moved to Florida as an assistant district attorney. She enjoyed the intensity of her job and the people she worked with, but couldn't shake her desire for ministry. In August 1996, a friend challenged her to use vacation time to go on a mission trip to Albania. She accepted.
"We thought two weeks in Albania would get [ministry] out of her system," says Lyndia Spears, a close friend and co-worker at the U.S. attorney's office. Instead, it fueled Audrey's passion.
A friend named Brian Owens asked Audrey to help lead a one-year trip to Romania, working on a college campus. Remarkably, because of a push by then-Attorney General Janet Reno to get federal attorneys involved in volunteer work, Audrey's boss agreed to let her go. And he promised she would have a job waiting when she came back.
That year in Romania was one of the hardest years of her life. Team conflicts, health problems and a dramatic change in lifestyle took their toll on the lawyer.
"I had to go out and buy all new clothes, because everything I owned had to be dry-cleaned," she says.
Instead of investigations and hearings, Audrey was thrust into a poor urban environment, where homeless children roamed the streets. The Romanian winter chilled the Florida native. She battled a sinus infection almost the entire year. At times she felt isolated because of the age gap between her and the younger people with whom she worked.
"I realized I had to rely on the Lord for everything," she says. "Here I was: no cell phone, no office phone, no agenda for the day."
She jokes about how much she prayed during the trip. Constant setbacks in the foreign country -- even minor struggles like finding food or getting a package -- made her consistently depend on the Lord. She says it was as if the Lord were saying, I can take care of you, I can meet your needs, I can be sufficient for you.
Some thought the intensity of the trip would dissuade Audrey from future service, but halfway through, she e-mailed her supervisor, telling him she wouldn't be taking back her old job.
After returning to the States, Audrey joined Cru full time-this time not as a lawyer, but helping business people get involved with overseas college outreaches like the one in Romania.
Today she works as chief of staff for Cru Canada. She helps run the executive arm of the ministry through communication, delegation and strategic planning.
"She was a federal prosecutor in a world where she had to be able to deliver the goods every week," says Chuck Price, her director. "She has a unique skill set. She builds a good case for why we should have more like her."
Looking back, Audrey realizes that working with the Cru legal department would not have been a good fit for her. What she enjoyed most about prosecution was going to trial, putting her public-speaking skills to the test. Most legal work at Cru is done outside the courtroom.
The lawyer side of Audrey still surfaces at times. While watching news reports about accused criminals, she can't help planning the prosecution strategy. But she's glad she no longer deliberates that chapter of her life.
"I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be," she says. "I love what I do."
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