18 June 2015

Who is Deb Smith, the missionary?

God dramatically interrupted my life in 2001.

I was so riveted during a sermon that I stood up throughout its duration. The very next day I applied for a passport.

Through a series of other rapidly unfolding events, God clearly revealed that he was sending me to Kenya, East Africa to serve him.

I am now in my 14th year there.

Interestingly, when God called me there, I knew absolutely nothing about the country, the culture, or the people of Kenya. I didn't even know what God had in mind for me to do. But like Abraham, I obeyed and went - not knowing where I was going.

Once I was there, God slowly revealed to me the niche to which he had called me as a missionary. He wanted me to simply love my neighbor, the 2nd greatest commandment. The neighbors God has specifically called me to love are a handful of single parents and their children. It wasn’t a new assignment, just a new location. God basically relocated me, as I was already doing this in Omaha, Nebraska.

In many ways, these friends live on the margins of society. They are overlooked and down-trodden. They work hard to feed their children on a daily basis and struggle to send them to school.

Each of these relationships span well over a decade. These friendships are up-close and personal. We share life together - the good, the bad, and the ugly. We laugh together and we cry together. I challenge them to faithfully read God’s Word and encourage them to follow God’s will for their lives. I also help out financially, by paying school fees or providing start-up capital for small businesses.

I, myself, become a single mom after an unwanted divorce in 1986. God’s plan in sending me to Kenya is a perfect example of 2 Corinthians 1:4 -

God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, 
and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else 
who is going through hard times so we can be there for that person 
just as God was there for us. (Message)

In a similar vein, Frederick Buechner says, ‘The place God calls you to, is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’

Can I let you in on a secret?

I am not a super-Christian or a spiritual giant.

“All God’s giants have been weak men and women, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.” 
~ Hudson Taylor, missionary to China for 51 years (1854-1905)

It’s not easy living in a foreign culture. Kenyans have a radically different way of thinking. They process all of life through a different filter, a different lens than I do as a Westerner.

This different world view affects every aspect regarding how they approach life. Even after all these years of interacting with my close friends, I am still learning the various nuances.

It’s also not easy to live in a third-world country. The various systems and infrastructures are often dilapidated or not functioning. I can’t take simple things for granted - like the consistent availability of electricity or running water in my house.

After the Westgate and Garissa terrorist attacks, people sometimes ask if I'm ever afraid in Kenya.

My response to this concern is that, in addition to terrorist attacks, there are many other issues and dangers in Kenya.

In fact, I have weathered many storms and difficulties during my time serving the Lord in Kenya:
  • Two of my houses were broken into several times, including my mud hut in a rural village
  • In 2003, I was very sick in the hospital with malaria
  • Various bouts of typhoid, amoebic dysentery, food poisoning, etc.
  • Pick-pocketed several times on public transportation. Had another attempt last month. Fortunately they failed.
  • In 2007, I was hit by a car and badly injured in a very congested area in downtown Nairobi. It took months to recover
  • In 2008, along with everyone else in Kenya, I was devastated by the post-election violence throughout Kenya. There were almost daily reports of more horrible atrocities!
  • There was a time I suffered for months with burnout – physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.
And in the context of personal relationships, those to whom God has specifically connected me to befriend and love:
  • A close friend stole from me on several occasions
  • Another friend continually lies and manipulates, makes accusations, and shows complete ingratitude

"Moses had his eye on the One no eye can see, and kept right on going."   
~ Hebrews 11:27 (Message)

What I know, without a shadow of a doubt, is that when God called me to Kenya, he literally stood me up on my feet. He told me to love a handful of folks to whom he supernaturally introduced me.

Like Moses, I maintain a steady focus on the One no eye can see. My intention is to continue obeying God's calling on my life.

[NOTE: I prepared this as an introduction when I spoke at a church in the US. Please see the following post for an abbreviated version of my talk and the audio recording.]

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