Few of us will get the chance in our lifetimes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Everyone in the Crane family has done it.
The *Smiths, missionaries David and Renee and their children, Thomas, Mary and Zeb, lived in Kenya for 11 years.
Their journey began in Cherryville.
The couple married one year after graduating high school. David attended several colleges and earned his masterâ€™s of divinity from Southeast Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest. Renee graduated from Pitt Community College in Greenville with an RN degree.
They could have settled in Cherryville, working and raising children like an average American family. But David felt they had a higher calling.
â€œI already knew God had called me to be a church planter overseas,â€ David said.
David and Renee had already helped plant â€”â€” or found â€” First Baptist Church in Henderson. David was minister of music, children and youth group at the church. Yet he knew his real purpose was to share the word of God with people far from the familiar territory of western North Carolina.
In August 1989, the couple, who by then had three children, left Henderson to serve at Beulah Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Va. David had already traveled to Trinidad and Tobago as a volunteer. While living in Virginia, he volunteered in Mexico and Tanzania. The latter trip would change the familyâ€™s life forever.
â€œWhile I was in Tanzania, the Lord made it clear to me that we should go as a family to east Africa,â€ said David.
Even the children, who obviously inherited their parentsâ€™ sense of adventure and love for God, readily agreed to move overseas.
â€œI think it was fine because we knew the Lord was moving us in that direction,â€ Renee said. â€œThey were always home-schooled. It wasnâ€™t that hard of an adjustment.â€
In 1993, the family moved to Kenya. The first year was about settling into a new environment. The Smiths lived in an international conference center while the kids went to school and the parents went to language school. David managed to learn Swahili in only three months; Renee says she had a tougher time.
â€œThat was really the hardest thing for me,â€ said Renee.
The Smiths are part of the International Mission Board, the worldâ€™s largest missionary group. Rather than focus on groups with which missionaries are already working, the focus is on working with â€œunreached and unengaged people groups.â€
The idea is to use the mission boardâ€™s limited time, people and resources to reach out to as many unreached peoples as possible.
â€œOne of the things we do is decide on people groups we consider to be two percent or less evangelical believers,â€ David said.
Of the over 12,000 different people groups the International Mission Board has recognized, about 4200 are considered unreached and almost 640 are deemed unreached and unengaged. The Smiths â€“ and the International Mission Board â€“ are trying to change these numbers.
â€œOne third of the people in the world couldnâ€™t hear the gospel if they wanted to,â€ said David.
The Smiths brought the gospel to the Maasai people of Kenya.
One member of the tribe, a man named Silas, was the first man in the area to become a Christian. His wife and older children followed suit. According to the Smiths, others in the group were afraid to convert because of the influence of a strong witch doctor in the area.
Several months after Silas got saved, the Maasai had a ceremony in which all the men were expected to give the witch doctor cattle. Silas decided not to give any cattle, breaking tradition and taking a stand in his new faith. The witch doctor put a curse on him.
Yet over the next few months, Silasâ€™ livestock gave birth to more twins than he had ever seen, and his garden thrived.
â€œIt became clear he was actually prospering,â€ David said.
The incident caused the witch doctor to lose respect within the tribe. Silas became the pastor of a Baptist church. David says that together, they planted 27 churches.
Renee had her own experiences with the Maasai. She started a small clinic where she could put her nursing skills to work.
She remembers the first time she helped a Maasai woman deliver her baby. Renee had worked in a birthing center before, but this was a very different situation. She had to deal with the Maasai womenâ€™s traditional methods, including a belief that they had to tie a shirt tightly around the womanâ€™s waist to keep the baby from going back up into her stomach and staying there permanently.
For Renee, it was a lesson in patience.
â€œI knew God was giving me this experience to learn from,â€ said Renee.
Overall, the Smiths agreed that their experience in Kenya was a positive one. They say the whole family made lifelong friends from all over the world.
More importantly, they made an impact on a group of people who needed them.
But the story does not end there. Renee has already planned to go back to Africa for a few weeks. It is also possible the couple may return to live for several years.
â€œWeâ€™re praying about it,â€ David said. â€œWe hope to both go back and live for three or four years.â€
Since returning to the states, David has been speaking at churches and seminaries. The Smithsâ€™ oldest son Thomas and his wife are teaching English in South Korea; they plan to go into mission work as well. Son Zeb is a youth worker at a church in Tennessee. Daughter Mary and her husband are both going to college.
The Smiths have done and seen things that most of us would never dream of seeing or doing, from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to teaching an entire group of people about Christianity.
They say it is their being open to whatever God has in store for them that led them to the other side of the world and to the mission work they love.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter whatever small town youâ€™re in, if God calls you to do something, obey him,â€ said David. â€œYou never know where in the world that obedience will take you. I believe there are a lot of people who cheat themselves by putting limitations on themselves. Weâ€™re just two people from Cherryville. If God can do something like this with us, He could do it with anyone.â€
(* â€” The decision has been made to use a pseudonym for the actual last name of the family for reasons or safety and security. For the same reasons, none of the pictures used show the family. â€” Editor)
by Allyson Levine