20 July 2017

My Home-Stay: Seeing friends and supporters, Geo-Caching, debriefing, painting, etc.

This is the little-known "HI" tree in my hometown - Omaha, Nebraska. It's not as nice as it used to be, but I was glad to see that it's still standing. While out doing some Geo-Caching in the area, I just had to get a photo of it... in spite of the fact that I was unsuccessful finding the hidden cache at this spot!

I'm relatively new to Geo-Caching, having started in January of 2016. The majority of my finds have been in Kenya, plus a few in Uganda. But during this recent home-stay, I found my first 18 in the U.S. Fourteen of those were in Nebraska, plus one in Ohio, and three in New York City. In fact, I logged #50 in NYC.

Here is a small sampling of some of the friends with whom I reconnected.

Ethiopian food (called Injera) and sweet tea with Ryan

Lunch with Cheryl, a good friend in Chicago, on a cold and blustery winter day

A 5-hour (!) lunch with Pat, a missionary friend who serves in Guatemala

Catching up with Donna, over a Subway sandwich

What could be better than munching on pickled okra while playing Scrabble?!

Melissa, another missionary friend, introduced me to Greater ice cream in Cincinnati

The Ark Museum in Kentucky was a special treat with Larry

Two wonderful days at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, with Jill

Finally painting the walls, after removing the very stubborn wallpaper

When I'm in the US, I typically spend the longest amount of time at my mom's house. While there, I enjoyed sprucing up her yard by trimming bushes and trees, raking leaves, etc. It was also fun to do some remodeling-type work in the upstairs bathroom.

During my 5.5-month home-stay, I was in a total of 11 states and 14 cities.

You have to slow down a bit to see such simple beauty in nature

For the second time, I went to Baan Sabai (meaning Tranquil House, in the Thai language). Located in rural southeast Indiana, it's a wonderful place to rest, reflect, and renew after another field-stay. Talking over and processing things with veteran missionaries, Dave and Irene is so very beneficial. Additionally, I took many walks which provided more time to process and listen to the Lord... and watch lady-bugs!

My Home-Stay: Enjoying time with family!

During the almost 16 years I've lived in Kenya, I have often traveled to the States to hang out with family. This recent home-stay, at 5.5-months, was really nice.

Meeting a grandchild for the first time, leisurely walks in the woods, playing in the snow, picnic in February, water-balloon fight, fun road-trip, basketball tournament, camping, a ballet recital, throwing Holi colors, remembering loved ones, celebrating lots of birthdays (including my own)... and the list goes on and on!

My immediate family lives in 4 different states, and this time I went to 2 additional ones to see extended family. That makes for a lot of traveling, but it's always so wonderful to reconnect with everyone!

Celebrating my 62nd birthday with Jessica, at a funky new Indian joint

15 July 2017

My sermon, part 4: "Focused on Relationships; doing the will of the One who sent me"

I’ll begin to draw my talk to a close as we look at this concept -
There is provision in purpose! 
Testifying to God’s incredible faithfulness.

God called me to become a missionary in Kenya. In October, I will have been there for 16 years. Throughout that entire time, God has provided for my every need. Not only that, he provides me with enough to also bless my Kenyan friends.

I don’t raise support like most missionaries. Because this was God’s plan, the responsibility for my provision and well-being is his. Not only has he never failed through all these years, but he’s even brought strangers to support me in the work he’s given me to do.

You may know the name, George Müller. He’s was a well-known evangelist, missionary, and director of a large orphanage in the UK.

Even before God called me to Kenya, he had taken care of my children and me. I have trusted God to provide for 31 years. Half of that time was as a single parent and the other half has been on the mission field.

I stand here today simply amazed at his faithfulness and generosity. There is provision in purpose and my future rests very comfortably in God’s hands.

Last October, for my 15th anniversary in Kenya, I hosted a party for 30 of my friends. We gathered together specifically to celebrate God’s faithfulness.

Concluding my talk, let’s shift gears -
Enough about me. What about you?

Readiness for God means we have no choice in what we want to do. 
Have you received a ministry from the Lord? 
If so, be loyal to it; count your life precious for only fulfilling that ministry.
~ Oswald Chambers

The second greatest commandment – loving our neighbor – is all about loving people where you are!

What relationship is God nudging you about right now? Is there a friendship you need to revive?

Perhaps God is calling you to begin a friendship with someone?

What has God called you to do? What special and unique niche has he carved out for you?

I challenge you to develop your skill-set and hone in on your strengths. Ask him for direction and guidance.

Remain faithful to God’s plan as he unfolds it before you. Remain steadfast in your calling and see that you give God all the glory.

Repeating my opening Scripture,

Jesus said, “I came not to do my will, 
but to do the will of him who sent me.” 
~ John 6:38

In closing, let’s look at this final quote.
It’s from another missionary name you may be familiar with, Jim Elliot -

Thank you.

[The end]

My sermon, part 3: "Focused on Relationships; doing the will of the One who sent me"

[continued from part two]
Now I’d like to show you some photos of a few of the friends God has called me to love in Kenya. The various settings somewhat represent the type of activities we all enjoy together.

Picnic at Uhuru Park, with Rose and Jim

Celebrating being in Kenya 15 years, with Jeremiah and Carol's family

Celebrating birthdays and another picnic in the park,
with Frederick and Blessing, plus Joy and Jasmine

Lunch on Christmas Day with Derrick, Chol, Mawien, Jeremy, Linet and Robai,
plus lunch and a Bible study with Linet

Hanging out and enjoying one another's company, with Deb and her brothers,
plus going to the Railway Museum with Jim, Jeremy, and Derrick

Paying school fees and visiting the students at school,
with Deb and her parents, Nathan and Alice, plus Adu and his mom, Agnes

Paying school fees and visiting the students at school,
with Pope and Robai, plus Jeremy and his mom, Linet

I believe you now feel somewhat acquainted with a few of my friends in Kenya.

[Note: In my sermon, I actually used many more photos.]

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End of part three. Click here to see part four.

Click here to listen to the audio of my sermon.
Just scroll down to the title, Focused on Relationships | Deb Smith

13 July 2017

My sermon, part 2: "Focused on Relationships; doing the will of the One who sent me"

God removed me to reveal his plan: 
Love single moms and their children

Upon arriving back in the US after that month, I got my things in order so I could return to Kenya, but I flew out on my 47th birthday, in June 2002. I still didn’t know what exactly God had in mind but waited for his continued guidance. On the other hand, everyone I met in Kenya assumed they knew what I should be doing.

Without exception, every Kenyan pastor I met invited me to preach in his church. I always declined, knowing I must remain focused on God’s plan.

Justus and Margaret, the wonderful couple who hosted me in Nairobi (Kenya’s capitol), also had expectations, but I waited patiently for God’s clear direction. I had obeyed his calling, and I knew the timing of his next step was in his hands.

Eventually, God removed me from their home for a short time. He got me away from theirs and everyone else’s expectations so he could make HIS plans clear to me. There isn’t time for all the details of how God set that up, but suffice it to say, he sent me to a remote village on the coast of Kenya, far from Nairobi, for a full week.

While there, at Shimba Hills, God introduced me to two young boys – Masudi and Masha. These are recent photos, but when I met them they were about 10 years old.

When I met their mothers, I discovered they were both single moms raising their children on their own. It was not a coincidence.

God’s plan was for me to love a handful of single moms and their children. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? I could totally relate.

Paul says in 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. 

Now we’re getting to the meat of my topic – 
What exactly does my God-given assignment look like? 

My God-given assignment in Kenya is to be a faithful friend, one on whom people can depend. That might be vastly different than what you may think for a missionary. God has called me to develop and nurture long-lasting, up-close, and personal friendships with a handful of single parents and their children. Some live in the urban slums and others in remote, rural villages.

Paul tells us in Philippians 2:2,   
“Love each other, be deep-spirited friends.”

I bring a smile, joy, and laughter. We share meals, as well as one another’s burdens. We study the Bible and pray together, finding encouragement in God’s love and faithfulness. We drink copious amounts of chai (Kenya’s milky tea), all-the-while deepening our bond of friendship.

Their lives are difficult, and they often don’t know where their next meal might come from. When their pantry runs low, I bring a box of groceries. When there’s no money to send a child to school, I sometimes raise funds to provide a much-needed education.

In order to spend quality time with my friends, I sleep in their homes… even those with homemade straw mattresses and dirt floors. I take outdoor bucket ‘showers’ in dilapidated outdoor structures, sometimes by the light of a flickering candle.

I am intentional in my assignment. I read strategic books, asking God to help me understand Kenya’s culture. I walk alongside these God-ordained friends, as we do life together. I lend a listening ear and wipe tears. I am there for the long-haul, through thick and thin.

Jesus’ example of love and his equipping

Jesus came to where we are and lived among us, didn’t he? As he lived in our realm, he developed a vibrant and intimate relationship with a group of 12 men. Every aspect of Christ’s ministry was within the context of relationship.

John gives us a vivid picture of this in his gospel -
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. 
John 1:14 (Message)

God moved me into the neighborhood of my Kenyan friends and equipped me to function in this capacity. My spiritual gift is serving others. I’m a good listener. I am faithful and reliable. I demonstrate love through the gift of quality time, by being present. I am blessed with patience and not being in a hurry, two traits especially suited for Kenya’s culture… as well as for nurturing friendships.

Another fitting verse from God’s Word, says in 1 John 3:16-18 –

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. 
And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

Even before God called me to Kenya, relationships were very much the focus of my life in the States. I was already engaged in building relationships with single moms and their children.

God didn’t give me something new to do, he simply relocated me.

You see, Christianity is all about relationship. God desires that we have an intimate and vibrant relationship with him. He likewise commands us to love others.

My aim is to stay true to what God has called me and maintain a steady focus on him. In so doing, I bring him glory.

- - - - - -

End of part two. Click here to see part three.

Click here to listen to the audio of my sermon.
Just scroll down to the title, Focused on Relationships | Deb Smith

11 July 2017

My sermon, part 1: "Focused on Relationships; doing the will of the One who sent me"

This was my second time to speak at Crossroads Tabernacle in the Bronx, the church my daughter and son-in-law attend. I always look forward to worshiping there whenever I'm in New York City, as I have come to love the pastors and the congregation.

Below is the full text of my sermon from May 21st. I hope you'll enjoy it and perhaps you'll learn a few things you didn't know about me.

Good morning church.

It’s good to speak to all of you again. Speaking in front of a group of people is certainly not my favorite thing to do. However, I do appreciate the opportunity to intentionally put my thoughts into an organized format. I believe God has given me a message for you this morning and my prayer is that each one of you will take home a nugget of truth for your own life.

When I was here a few months ago, Pastor Joe asked me to speak about what my ‘relationship ministry’ looks like in Kenya.

Jesus said,
“I came down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me.”
~ John 6:38

My ministry originates with God’s divine purpose and I serve for an audience of one. I live in Kenya, not to follow my own whim, but to accomplish the will of the one who sent me.

Living outside the box and my unwavering trust in God

I grew up in a Christian family, with a sister and a brother. We did a fair amount of camping in all corners of the US. Perhaps that’s where my love of traveling was birthed.

We attended a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. The denomination often says their middle name is ‘missionary’. I was riveted with the stories and slide shows of various missionaries who spoke at our church.

Sometimes they brought samples of strange food from foreign lands.

Despite all that, becoming a missionary and living in a foreign country on the other side of the world was never on my radar.

I married a black man in the mid-70’s… and to top it off, it was in middle-America. Needless to say, it was quite out of the ordinary! God blessed us with four children.

Living on 20 acres in rural Nebraska, we had chickens, ducks, geese, dogs, cats, and a rabbit… plus a big vegetable garden. There was a lot of space for the kids to play, plus a treehouse for adventurous imagination.

My husband was a railroad engineer, and I was a stay-at-home mom. We were on the forefront of the modern-day homeschooling movement. In fact, it was illegal in Nebraska the first three years we did it.

Just short of 12 years into the marriage, it sadly ended. My husband moved out of our home and later filed for divorce. The kids and I moved to Omaha in 1988, where I had grown up and where my family lived.

Meanwhile, I continued homeschooling. With no time to pursue a career, we lived on a dime, but we were happy and content.

Shortly after we found a church to attend, the five of us were hired to clean their rather large church building. Along with a couple paper routes, anonymous money orders in the mail, and complete faith in the Lord, we never lacked a thing.

In fact, we have many amazing stories of how God repeatedly provided for us through his people.

My life has been characterized by a steady walk with the Lord and obedience to his Word. I long ago placed my absolute and complete trust in his watch-care and provision for my children and me. I dare to believe what God says and I’m not afraid to live outside the box, to do something out of the ordinary.

A mixed-race marriage long before it was commonplace and homeschooling before it was legal, AND as a single mom are just two examples.

To be sure, God has proved himself faithful and I never cease to be amazed at his love for me.

A season of spiritual growth with an intentional posture of obedience

Oswald Chambers has had a huge influence on my life. This is one of my many favorite quotes of his, from My Utmost for His Highest

Let’s fast-forward to the approximate time frame of 1998-2000. My four children had grown up and were out on their own. My years of single-parenting after an unwanted divorce had basically come to an end.

During this time, I did remodeling and worked part-time at a new church. I also mentored two children in the public schools and led a few small groups for single parents.

It was a season of significant spiritual growth for me. I intensified my private and public worship and did a fair amount of fasting. I put myself in a receptive posture to hear from God.

It was within that atmosphere that I stood up one Sunday morning, riveted for the entire sermon. I knew God was speaking to me.

Even though I didn’t fully understand what he had in mind, I took the first step in faith by applying for a passport the very next day. It was May 2001.

Genesis 12: 1, 4 tells us -
“God told Abram, ‘Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home
for a land that I will show you. So, Abram left just as God said.” 

Eventually, and rather dramatically, God revealed that he wanted me to live in Kenya, East Africa. Like Abram, when I got the summons I did what God said. I went to Kenya not knowing at all what he had in mind.

God literally interrupted my life and set me on a new course.

Amos had a similar experience, found in Amos 7:14-15
“I never set out to be a preacher, never had plans for that. 
I raised cattle and I pruned trees. 
Then God took me off the farm and said, ‘Go preach to my people.’” 

You see… God has had me on this trajectory my whole life. It was his plan from the beginning for me to love my neighbor in the foreign land of Kenya… on the other side of the world.

In October 2001, a mere five months after I had applied for my passport, I joined two other ladies from my church for a one-month, short-term missions trip to Kenya. I assumed that after the end of that month, I would return to my ‘normal’ life.

However… God had other plans! In a remote rural village, as the sun set, I not only heard a distant traditional drum, I also heard the Holy Spirit. He very distinctly whispered these few words, “I want you to come back.”

Although quite unexpected, I received what God said.

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End of part one. Click here to see part two.

Click here to listen to the audio of my sermon.
Just scroll down to the title, Focused on Relationships | Deb Smith