A Friend On A Mission                                                                                                                      Tampa area missionary faces challenges in Africa.                                                                                      By Jeff Lukens

Many Americans focus on gaining ever more money, power and status.

Once in a while, you come across one who could have these treasures abundantly but chooses not to seek them. Instead, he or she strives for a higher purpose in life. This is the story of such a person.

About five years ago, I was traveling from Valrico every Monday night to the Seminole Heights area for a Bible study with about 100 other men. I had been doing this for a few years, and over time I became treasurer of the group.

One night I was in front of the class giving the treasurer's report, and I asked for a volunteer to be my assistant. Jim Smith came forward.

After I explained the duties, I asked Jim what he did for a living.

"I'm the finance and administration pastor at a church in Brandon," he said.

This surprised me. I asked, "Why would you want to be here with a group like us? You already know the Bible."

"I just want to be someplace where I can be one of the guys," he said. "That's not always easy for someone in ministry."

"I can understand that," I said, and we quickly became good friends.

Jim always had a smile and a warm greeting. As I got to know him, I could see he had an extremely sharp mind and a very humble spirit.

He volunteered helpful bookkeeping tips without comment or fanfare. His organizational skills were exceptional. Over time, he revamped the treasurer's records far better than they had ever been before.

He confided in me that he had once held a dream job as assistant to the chief executive officer of a well-established company. He traveled first-class around the world overseeing the company's international market and military contracts.

But this line of work was not his calling. He quit to go into the ministry at his church.

One night as we were doing our bookkeeping, the conversation turned to a missionary family that had recently returned to our area from a Muslim country. Members of the family had been injured in an attack. I asked, "Why would anybody even go to such a dangerous place?"

Jim just smiled and said, "They were following where the Lord has led them."

I had trouble understanding or agreeing with that reasoning.

"In fact," he continued, "our family is praying about becoming missionaries. We are hoping to go to Africa."

Like Christ, Like A Servant

For a person of his talents to do such a thing was amazing to me. Such hardships weren't worth it as far as I could tell. But Jim saw it differently.

Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul meant in Romans about offering your body as a "living sacrifice." Paul said we should be transformed by the "renewing of our mind" and to "test and approve" what is God's "good, pleasing and perfect will." The mind of Christ is like that of a servant, of sacrifice and of yielding your life.

Heavy stuff.

Missionary work certainly was a sacrifice. Soon, Jim, his wife, Hope, and their four children began to travel the United States in search of funding sponsorship for their ministry.

Their first of many visits to Africa was in 2003. Their decision on where to settle and the relocation process were big steps in faith.

In September 2005, they moved to the southern province of Zambia. A former British colony, the country is primitive by American standards. Its principal industries are cattle farming and copper mining.

Christianity is one of many religions.

In e-mails, Jim wrote: "The longer we live here and observe the attitudes of the general population of the Tonga people, the more amazed Hope and I grow over the tremendous sense of contentment and personal gratitude most Tongas have. ... In some respects, it's easier to live for and proclaim Christ here without the influences of materialism."

Valleys And Blessings

But life was not easy. Last June he wrote: "Since April, we have endured several more bouts of malaria, two simultaneous computer crashes, further financial challenges due to the weakening dollar, emotional lows from being distanced from loved ones and the everyday strain associated with living in Africa.

"Simultaneous to these valley moments we experienced, we saw God answer countless prayers, save nearly two dozen souls, baptize 14 new converts, expand our family's ministry outreach in ways never anticipated, provide new friends for each of us and supernaturally meet some critically urgent needs."

Each week Jim rides a motorcycle 40 to 60 minutes into the bush villages of Siankope and Chilongo, following paths inaccessible by truck.

"These are the days I most feel most like a missionary, taking the Gospel into an unreached area," he wrote.

On New Year's Day, Jim was motorcycling to Chilongo, loaded with gifts and supplies. He lost control of the bike on a muddy road and wrecked, severely breaking his leg. He lay on the side of the road for 30 minutes before help arrived. A nearby hospital could only set him in a temporary cast and give him morphine.

The next day he was driven five hours to Lusaka, the capital city. He had to wait until the following day for surgery.

"Every move during this time was excruciating," he wrote. X-rays revealed both bones in his lower leg were broken in three places.

His recovery was long and slow. A few weeks after the accident, he wrote, "Today, I've not taken a pain pill for almost 12 hours ... and I'm not crying :)."

He often wondered how the sudden cessation of his motorcycle ministry would better glorify God, he wrote.

He got his answer two weeks ago.

He and his family arrived for church and found their translator, John Halupa, waiting for them. With him was a man named Herbert. Halupa explained it was Herbert who had pulled the motorcycle off Jim after the accident. The Samaritan was curious about the stranger's fate.

"I could hardly sit still during the church services," Jim wrote. He thought, "God, if you allowed my accident so Herbert might accept your son, thank you for allowing it to happen!"

After services, he again thanked Herbert.

"But I was also able to introduce him to the 'kindness' [everlasting love] that Jesus Christ demonstrated toward him. Herbert prayed in faith, confessed his condition before God and invited Christ into his heart.

"Praise God for using a broken leg to lovingly draw another to himself."

Jim Smith can be reached at jsmith@coppernet.zm.

In the Siankope Village, Zambia, Jim Smith presents Samuel Muloongo his first Bible. Also pictured are Samuel's wife Elana and child.

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Copyright 2000-2007, Jeff Lukens