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Interview with a Missionary Series
I’m very excited to announce that during the month of May we will be sharing stories and interviews from Missionaries around the world. My hope is that through their stories, new missionaries will find hope and insight into what life as a missionary might be and how they can find God’s strength in completing the task he has set before them. Our first interview is with Hayley Jean Smith.
Name: Hayley Jean Smith (nee McMillan)
D.O.B: 31st October 1964, New Zealand.
I was born and raised in a small town in the North Island of New Zealand. I have two older sisters who still currently reside in New Zealand along with my Mother. My father died in 1989 after a short illness. We were raised Catholic but certainly didn’t grow up knowing the personal relationship you can have with the living Christ. So hence, when I got to the age when I didn’t have to go to church, I stopped. Marriage difficulties between my parents caused their separation in 1979 so we moved location and my father remained. This was a very difficult period in our lives but as a consequence, my mother became a Christian as did one of my sisters. I could see the difference in their lives but leave me alone, I didn’t need Jesus. Or so I thought.
Travelling was always a passion and the first step was to move to Australia which is where I joined with my “to be” husband of now 29 years. He was a sheep shearer, so we then travelled around Australia, America, Wales, and New Zealand. On our travels we met a lot of wonderful people and experienced seeing the world first hand.
Engaged to be married we ventured back to N.Z. on a journey we thought we had planned out for our future. July 2nd 1986 was to change our lives forever. We both accepted Jesus Christ as our Saviour via a video in a local hotel and have been on an adventure ever since.
We were married on the 31st of Jan 1987 under the blessing of the Lord. We went on to have 3 wonderful sons, pastor a church, and eventually heeded the call to Missions in 2001. We currently reside in Romania where we have spent 10 years as missionaries.
How long have you been a missionary?
We have been on the mission field since 2001. We spent 7 years in Romania with our 3 children and returned to N.Z in 2008 for one year before embarking on almost 4 years in Kitgum, Uganda. We have been back in Romania since the end of 2012 and continue to serve in this nation.
What factors led to you becoming a missionary?
On becoming Christians in 1986, we were very passionate about putting God first in our lives. We had achieved a lot of personal goals but there is always the “God gap” that only He can fill, so we were hungry for that. The church we were involved with at the time was very strong in teaching the word of God and we participated in a Missions course called “Perspectives”. We were already well travelled but we suddenly realised there was the commission to go in the name of the Lord. We knew then and there that we would be ones to eventually “go”.
How did you know this was the path God wanted you to take?
God builds on what has already been in your life and one of those things for us was the ability to adapt to various situations because of our previous travelling experiences. We were used to moving around and settling into new environments relatively easy. There was always the sense of “more” in our hearts. We didn’t want to just settle down with a nice house, modern car and lovely family and think we had made it in life.
What were some of the hardships you faced during the first year on the mission field?
Our first year in Romania was difficult in many ways. Communication was a big one as we didn’t have the language and being able to relate to people you could trust. Simple things like shopping, paying bills became challenges. I also home-schooled the children, which was a big change for all of us. To be able to trust God with Expectations that don’t come to pass and allowing Him to work out the bigger plan.
How did you overcome those hardships?
Process is very important to me and I knew the Lord had been in the process of getting us to Romania so that kept me grounded. I knew God had called us as it was not something we took lightly as a family so I knew he would provide for us.
Was it what you expected?
Not much ever ends up looking like what we expect. It ends up bigger and better than what we can imagine. Our first mission in Romania was to work with a small church that needed a Pastor. After one year that didn’t work out but it led us to work with a much wider network of churches whom we still have connection with to this day. It is easier to steer a moving ship than one that is tied to the dock. God got us moving and changed course as He saw fit.
What surprised you most?
That not much works out as you think it will. God has a bigger picture in mind. A lot of us venture out with the idea that we have something to offer the people we are going to, which is true, but they also offer us a lot more in return. We can learn a lot from the natives and the hardships they have overcome. Romania with the communist regime and Kitgum, Uganda with the rebel wars. We have never personally experienced hardships like that and the devastation that these situations produce. We learn a lot about ourselves in the process.
Will you share a memorable experience?
When God called us, He called us as a family. It wasn’t just about ministry, it was about the whole family and our relationship with Him and those around us. I saw God provide for my children in ways I never would have expected and our years as a family in Romania would have to account for the most memorable. What He built into our lives and the lives of our children will last a lifetime. Yes, we sacrificed some things to move but we gained a whole lot more in the process.
What scripture verse keeps you going during hardships?
Psalm 118:5 “Out of my distress I called on the Lord, the Lord answered me and set me free.” In another translation it says “the Lord set me in a spacious place.” In my personal struggles I looked to the Lord and he did a work in my heart that set me free. We initially lived in Romania for 7 years and returned to New Zealand for only 6 weeks during that whole period. God didn’t take me out of my struggles, He worked Grace in me to be able to live in my new environment and then to love my new environment. Don’t always pray for easier circumstances, pray for God to change you and as a result, the circumstance will become easier.
How has your relationship with God changed during your mission work?
My relationship has become a lot more real. We can have a lot of theories and thoughts about scripture and who we think Jesus is to us but when we have to walk through the reality of those verses or certain situations, we really get challenged on what we truly believe. My need for Him is much greater and I can trust Him with my life.
What would you tell someone thinking about becoming a missionary?
If God is saying Go then Go. Obedience is the biggest blessing and He will never let you down. What you give up in certain areas, you will gain far more in other areas. We can have a safe life but that is not living. I love my life, I love the adventures we have had and the opportunities that have come our way. We are not rich in material things but I am rich towards God.
Did you have a team supporting you in prayer when you first were on the ground?
How has this impacted you personally and your missionary work? We have been on the mission field for 15 years now and have always had mature people praying for us and supporting us throughout that time. It can be a very lonely journey at times so it is wonderful to know we are not on our own. We made a decision to never ask for support unless we were asked and God has always provided over and above. We first left our home 22 years ago to venture to Bible School and God has been totally faithful in every area of our lives.
Where have you served?
We have served for 11 years in Romania and almost 4 years in Kitgum, Uganda.
Did you “work up” to your current location with smaller mission trips?
My husband did a number of short term mission trips as the leader of the missions department during our Bible School days. Our move to Romania came out of long term relationships with people as did our call to Uganda. God tends to build on the foundations that we have in our lives and He builds from there. We spent 4 years pastoring a church in New Zealand and that church became a very giving church. We were unable to go to the mission field ourselves but we were able to still be involved with our giving and focus of prayer. Then came the day when God opened a way for us to move out and that same church still supports us to this day.
Have you mentored new missionaries yourself before they went out on their own? How has this changed the way you view missions and your work?
I would have to say No to this question although my husband was the leader of the missions department at the Bible School we were involved with and he took teams on short term missions. I also know people looked at us and our example which enabled them to move out in their calling. We have supported missionaries, visited them and have had them in our home always with the idea to encourage and empower with what we can share from our personal experiences.
How has your family supported your desire to be a missionary? Did their view of your work make it easier or harder for you to serve God in the way He has called you?
Our families have always been supportive which has enabled us to continue for many years. Our two adult children who are now living independent lives are also very supportive of us and encourage us in what we do.
What culture shocks have you experienced?
Romania is a developing country so I have never experienced culture shock like I did when I lived in Kitgum, Uganda. I felt like I had been in a Vortex of time and couldn’t match up the extremity of so little to the extremity of so much. It is easy to become angry and judgmental over what seemingly is prosperity when you have seen so much lack. I just needed to give myself the time and space to process those sentiments properly.
How have the local people welcomed you into their communities?
We have integrated well into local communities. A big part of that is having the determination to learn the local language and adapt into the culture you are living in rather than trying to make everyone like us. The locals are more open when they see you make the effort and accept them for who they are.
What was your scariest moment and how did God use this in your life?
I am not sure it was the scariest or the most tragic. On July 12th 2010 our youngest son died in Kitgum, Uganda whilst we were on the mission field. His death was very unexpected and at 15 years old, a life cut short. It is only by God’s amazing grace that I can say I have passed through the storm. When I got stuck in the journey, there were definite times when I knew God spoke personally to me, encouraging me to move forward. My experiences enabled me to move through my grief and choose life. God spoke at pivotal times in that journey. God taught me early on after Jeremy’s death that my reference to Him has to be Heaven, not a grave site, and that has enabled me to focus on the life Jesus has given us now and for eternity rather than loss and despair. The calling does not exempt us from the hardships of life. The Jesus in us has to come to the fore and help us get through them. I was able to have a greater revelation of Phil1:21-22: "to be with Christ is gain but to remain means fruitful labour". Jeremy has gained because he is now with Jesus but I still have things to do here on Earth.
What advice would you give someone who is praying through God’s call to the mission field?
To make sure you have the blessing and support of trusted people around you. To make sure that God is in the process and it is not just youthfulness or zeal driving you forward. Going on the mission field will always take a step of faith but without making conscious decisions to change your lifestyle, you will never move. And those decisions will cost but what you gain is much more. It can never be measured in dollars and cents and as you lose your life, you will find it.
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Hi, my name is Erica and I am a God-called missionary for Northern Uganda. It is my passion and life-calling to bring God’s word to the people of the world. Each and every one of us can do our part in spreading God’s word to people in need of Jesus’ healing touch and hope. Trying to figure out if God has called you to the mission field? Do you want to learn more about what it’s like to be a missionary? Check out my book, For the Joy Set Before Us – Insights Into the Missionary Journey today.