By S. M. Rae
COLUMBIA, Md.—Grace Smith, a member of a Mid-Maryland Baptist Association (MMBA) church, recently addressed MMBA pastors to share about International Mission Board (IMB) international ministry opportunities available for students, unknown to many church leaders. She recently traveled to the Middle East to combine learning Arabic with sharing the Gospel.
Smith, a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park, loves studying languages. Her mother was a Spanish teacher, so she learned Spanish early, then went on to study Farsi, and later Arabic.
“I fell in love with the Arabic, she said. It’s poetic. When you speak the language it’s beautiful. It’s musical. But it’s also extremely difficult.”
During high school, Smith, in her desire to improve her language skills, applied for and received a six-week government grant to participate in Startalk, an intensive language study program and later she received a State Department scholarship to study Arabic in Morocco during a summer break.
While taking classes at Howard Community College she continued to seek outlets to grow in learning Arabic. Her mother suggested looking at the IMB website where she found “Hands On,” offering a variety of openings to minster in various areas around the world. She was amazed at the opportunities to study, work and minister in Africa, Asia, China, and other locations for short and longer terms. There are openings for teachers, musicians, storytelling, gaming, and more. “Some were two week-long trips, some a month and some were five to six months, which is what I did,” she said.
For Smith, the opportunity to study Arabic and do ministry was a great combination.
“We worked in teams and met at a house church. I helped teach English and met and talked with people,” Smith said. She and her group used a variety of methods to reach the local people, showing them love, hearing their stories, sharing their lives.
It wasn’t easy though, Smith said. Folks tended to block out any Christian discussion. “They assume everyone who is white or light is a Christian and they have their stereotypes of us, just like we have of them. We mention God or Jesus and it goes over their head. They’re used to it,” she said.
At one point, Smith was discouraged. She felt doors just weren’t opening for her to share the Gospel. She called her family and they all prayed together. Encouraged, the next day Smith took a cab into the city and decided she’d strategically talk to the first person she met. That’s when God threw open a door, a café door. Smith entered a coffee shop where she met a friendly young woman, and the two bonded almost immediately. Smith offered to help her new friend with English, if the young woman would perhaps help Smith with Arabic.
“She was very sweet. She was from Algeria and spoke the dialect I had learned in Morocco,” Smith said.
Smith saw God move in a variety of ways, but the most phenomenal came the night before she had to leave.
“I planned to get coffee with my friend at the coffee shop the next day. She called me while I was packing. She does translation services and had a question on translation she needed my help with. She said, ‘What is the meaning of the ministry of Jesus?’
“I was so amazed. I gave her a brief version, that God sent Jesus to earth and that He came to save us, that He loves us, and that all we must do is accept that. I told her we could talk more over coffee.”
The next day, Smith offered her friend an Arabic Bible.
“I said, ‘You don’t have to take this but this little book tells about the ministry of Jesus.’ She got emotional and teary-eyed and said, ‘I’ve always wanted to read and learn about Christianity.’”
Smith said she keeps in touch with her friend. “She’s reading, researching, and looking at videos…I can’t wait to see what happens, how God will move.”
There were many blessings and challenges on the trip. Smith and her group had to move several times, and there were instances where they had to stay put and not enter a city due to terrorist activity, but Smith said never felt in real danger.
She was happy to be back in America, but she said the trip challenged her, and changed her. “God opened my eyes and my heart,” she said.
“It’s so evident that these people are longing for this relationship with God. They’re dedicated to prayer and living a lifestyle in a way they think is pleasing to God, but they don’t know the full story.
“The call to prayer would ring out and one day, while I was prayer walking, it moved me to tears. Every day they think they’re doing this good thing.”
Back home she became more sensitive to comments people make about internationals, not meaning to be mean, but just not understanding.
“Sometimes we can be ethnocentric…we think we are the best. Our perceptions come from the media and movies, and their perceptions about us are also from the media.
“I want to raise awareness that there are people over there in these situations that you never know about.”
Smith said she’s thankful for churches that support local, state and international missions. So many people, she said, are just unaware.
That’s why she addressed the MMBA pastors. “I want to make them aware of the needs, and aware of the opportunities, especially through the IMB programs,” she said.
A “pastor’s kid,” Smith said she learned to pray when she got up in the morning, when she ate and when she went to bed. She laughed and said she was the typical “PK,” thinking she owned the church.
She committed her life to Christ early in childhood.
“But I began owning my personal faith in high school,” she said. And, the recent international trip stretched that faith.
“I grew so much spiritually on this trip,” she said. And she wants other students to experience that opportunity.