Emilio’s Surprise, Leaving & Going Home

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As I left Peru in 2014, one of the last things I promised my good friend, Emilio, “I will be back for your wedding.” At the time, Emilio was not dating anyone. And I made my promise in faith, not knowing exactly how I would make it back to Peru. Months go by. Emilio meets Alejandra. They get engaged. We meet via skype. Then Emilio asked me the big question: “Are you coming to my wedding?

I wanted to say yes with all my heart, however, our financial situation has had zero margin to save for plane tickets. So I had to break my promise to Emilio and declined. Then along came Patrick.

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Middle: Patrick Woodyard along with Seth Covington & myself in the Nisolo Shop in Peru

 

If you don’t know Patrick, he is quite the friend. While living in Peru in 2011, Patrick co-founded Nisolo, a social impact fashion label that has come alongside many Peruvians offering them friendship and honest work. Emilio and I have been with him from the beginning of Nisolo and watched it grow into a successful international business that today employees over 80 Peruvians. Patrick also has a huge heart for people. So when he caught wind that I could not afford to go to Emilio wedding in Peru, he emailed me with an idea. This is what he said,

Emilio mentioned that you may not be able to come to his wedding… I know it would make his year if you could come, and Sally Ward (Patrick’s wife) and I, if it would help your ability to come, would love to pay for most or potentially all of your plane ticket.”

I wept after reading these words. I could not believe what I was reading. Truly this was an answer to my prayers. God enabled me to keep a promise to Emilio that I could not keep myself! Later, Patrick suggested a twist – “Let’s make it a surprise! Let’s not tell Emilio your coming.” Sounds fun to me. And that’s how we rolled.

So for the next few months, I had to find creative ways to not let Emilio know that I was coming. Thankfully, he didn’t get tipped off. On Thursday morning, October 13 this happened….

It was a dream come true only by the grace of God working through my friend Patrick! His wedding was so much fun, an actual foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.


My trip to Emilio’s wedding afforded me my first trip back to Peru since our family left more than two years ago. It honestly felt like I had never left. Of course the adults were grayer (as I am) and the children were taller (as ours are); but other than that, everyone and everything felt the same. It fed my soul to reconnect with some of our closest friends in the world.

I have to admit, it was odd: going to Peru felt like leaving home and going home all at the same time. As I left my family, I was greeted by family. I was home but not yet home. What a great picture of living in the middle of Christ’s kingdom already but not yet here on earth!

img_6414It was very sad to leave my family behind, but I was glad to hear that Sandi and the girls vicariously lived through my experience. We all feel a greater sense of closure, remembering all of our wonderful friends and experiences our many years in Peru. As I boarded the plane back home, I had this sense that all that God had taught us, all the memories and experiences He gave us, we are now carrying those with us to Miami.

Peru is chapter 5 of our story. Our transition and training in Atlanta is chapter 6. So I guess that makes Miami Chapter 7. Here we come!

Which lead me to one final thought….


1937104_140383289675_3148357_nOur first introduction to Miami was through Emilio and his brother, Jose. We met Emilio and Jose in Peru back in 2009 after they were deported from Miami (that is a whole other fascinating God story that we don’t have space for here). As we became friends, we heard many of their stories growing up in Miami and on “the Key” (Key Biscayne).

Our friendship awoken within Sandi and me a fascination for Miami. In private, Sandi and I would say things to each other like, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to live and do ministry in Miami? I can see our family doing life with people like Emilio and Jose.” It is safe to say that if we had not become friends with Emilio and Jose, we probably would have never considered Miami as a place to plant a church. God works in mysterious and crazy ways!

Here are some pics from the trip…

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Patti, our friend and empleada along with her family

 

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So encouraging to see these men leading Cristo Rey Church so well, along with the other hermanos.

 

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Had to get in one game of futbol verdadero.

 

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Huanchaco Beach one of our favorite spots in Trujillo.

 

A Hurricane that Changed Miami Forever

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Photo Credit: Craig Rubadoux/Florida Today via AP

Miami used to be a sleepy Southern retirement community. In this tropical paradise, life was peaceful and Anglo churches flourished. Everything changed in the year 1980 when President Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro had a show down. The US Government gladly
received many professional Cubans who had fled Cuba to escape the corruptions of communism. Carter puffed up his chest and said, “See how much better America is than Cuba!” Castro called Carter’s bluff and retorted, “If you want to receive my people, let me give you some more.” So, on April 15, 1980, Castro emptied his prisons and insane asylums, put 125,000 Cubans on boats and shipped them to Miami.
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Miami suddenly awoke from her slumber with hungry Latinos looking for work. Most found honest jobs while others found their way into shady business of drug trafficking. At that time cocaine was king and Miami was the pathway into North America. Colombians and Cubans began to fight for control of the drug market and Miami was their battleground. Almost overnight, Miami became the most violent city in the United States – not the ideal place to raise a family. Meanwhile a new Miami was raised up from the laundering of drug money in skyscrapers and high-rises.

Tensions continued to rise until the tempest clouds could be seen from Biscayne Bay. This was no a metaphorical storm; this was the infamous Hurricane Andrew of 1992 that decimated much of Miami. The Anglos that lost their homes had had enough with all the Español and violence. So thousands packed their bags and moved North, telling the last American to bring the flag with him on the way out. And again the city changed overnight.

Since Hurricane Andrew, Miami has become the Capitol of Latin America. It is the only city in North America that is controlled from top to bottom by Latinos. It is a young city with an undetermined future. There is no question that it is the most strategic city for reaching the future generations of Latinos in all the Americas. And this young city is ripe for the gospel of Jesus Christ!

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Big News!

We are excited to announce that we have formally accepted an invitation from Crossbridge Church (PCA) and Redeemer City-To-City to plant a church in Miami.

I apologize that our communications have gone “dark” since April. The process of figuring out Miami has taken longer than expected. The past few months City-To-City has been making the transition of decentralizing from NYC, and Miami is now their hub for Latin America. We praise God that we now have clarity!

In the past few years when people asked us, “Where would you like to plant a church?” and many times we said: “Miami.” However, we didn’t have the connections from Peru to make a direct move to South Florida. So it took God moving us to Perimeter Church in Atlanta to get connected. About a year ago, my boss, Bob Cargo, convoked a meeting of key Latino leaders in the United States. It was there that I was connected to the Crossbridge team. The rest is now history.

We will stay in ATL one more year as I continue to be equipped by some of the best in church planting. Miami is a very hard city to plant a church and we will need many partners to survive. I’ll be in touch soon with more details.

We appreciate your past support amidst the many twists and turns from Peru until now. We could not have made it this far without you! 

If you’d like to keep up with us, subscribe to our newsletter.

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Making a Big Mid-Life Decision

Next week Sandi & I will travel to Miami for a one-week assessment to see if we are a good fit to plant in South Florida. If you remember from our last update, we were suppose to go in early March, but they moved the assessment to April. We are very thankful for Sandi’s parents driving all the way from Louisiana to take care of our girls in ATL.

The need for gospel centered, missional churches in Miami is huge. The challenge is also immense. I’ve been told by many that South FL is a graveyard of failed church plants. That’s why we are interested in partnering with Redeemer City-To-City as well as with Perimeter Church in ATL to form a solid support network. Next week is all about whether or not our family is up for the challenge to plant in the rocky soil of Miami.

This month I (Allen) turn 40. Reaching midlife has made me reflective. I can honestly say that in the next few weeks, Sandi and I will be making one of the biggest decisions of our adult lives. Just this week, I read an article by David Brooks in the NY Times on Middle-Aged turning points. Brooks quotes the theologian Karl Barth about reaching midlife:

“The sowing is behind, now it is time to reap. The run has been taken, now it is time to leap. Preparation has been made; now it is time for the venture of the work itself.”  

We truly feel that our entire life up to this point has been preparing our family for something like Miami. From all the short-term mission trips I took as a child, to living in Guatemala post-college, to raising bi-lingual daughters in a Peruvian urban city for nearly a decade – we are ready to make the leap.

So please pray for us! There are 3 requests that I’m asking God:

  1. For clarity about the Redeemer City-To-City partnership in Miami. Are we a good fit?
  2. For confirmation in our hearts. Is God opening or closing the door for us in Miami?
  3. For conviction. Is God calling us to Miami in a way that if we don’t go, we will be disobedient to his will?

We covet your prayers next week as we go through assessment. And we so appreciate your friendship and interest in our family as we make this life decision!

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Multiculturalism

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It’s no secret that the social topography of America is rapidly changing. According to the Census Bureau, the United States will be a majority-minority nation by 2044. That means that Hispanics, African-Americans, & Asians will out number White Americans. And all to often, the church lags behind the cultural trend. Our denomination (PCA) is a prime example; we are 80% white with only 14% Korean pastors, 1.2% African-American pastors, and very few Hispanic pastors.

In Atlanta we have a great opportunity to get ahead of the curve. Perimeter has created a great laboratory to learn how to do multicultural ministry. For one, I’m part of a church planting cohort that represents every major ethnic group in America. Sam (left above) is a 2nd Gen. American Korean worship leader, Dereko is an African-American fire fighter, and Jorge is a Columbian pastor. I am so honored to develop friendships with these great guys so that I can learn from their stories, perspectives, and struggles. My stereotypes will only be broken down by forming meaningful relationships with people different than me.

Perimeter Church is also leveraging it’s resources to learn more about multicultural ministry. Recently, my boss, Bob Cargo, invited key Hispanic leaders from all across the country & abroad to discuss key issues. Leaders came from Miami, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Tijuana Mexico, Cuba, Atlanta and Birmingham. It was very enlightening as I heard about the complexity of doing Hispanic ministry among first and second generation families.

Finally, where we live helps us envision what’s to come. Our county (Gwinnett) has just recently become a majority-minority county. Over 50 languages are spoken here – one of the most diverse counties in the country. Where we are, America will become in several decades. We are truly living in the future! My hope is that God will use our cohort and context to helps us better grasp how to do ministry in a multicultural world.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that God would guide our family to the right place to plant a church. We are learning to trust God as we wait for Him to lead us. For those who know us, this does not come naturally for us! In the next few months, we will be exploring some potential places to plant.
  • Pray for Sandi as she recovers from shingles. People of her age & good health normally don’t get shingles, but her doctor said the inevitable stress of all our transition and uncertainty has probably lowered Sandi’s immune system. We are thankful she is on the upswing and has the support from an amazing discipleship group at Perimeter who daily reminds her to rest in God’s truth. 
  • Pray for Rob. I met Rob at one of our daughter’s volleyball games. After he found out that I was a pastor, he opened up and shared that he and his wife had recently separated. He believed that God had sent me to him. After sharing the gospel with him over lunch later that month, he became a born again Christian and wants to join the church. Please pray that Rob would be able to reconcile with his wife. He says she is not a believer, so please pray for her as well.

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Living in Suburbia

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We’ve been in Atlanta for a little over two months. This is our first time to live in the suburbia. I thought that the suburbs were mainly a white-flight area, with repetitive model homes, and strip malls everywhere. Why much of that is true, what I didn’t expect to see is so much ethnic diversity.

My suburbia-stereotype was blown apart when I visited our bank last week. As I stood at the ATM, I noticed that I was the only white person among a Pakistan teller, an Afro-Caribbean family chatting in some creole dialect, a Latina señora making a deposit, and two Middle-Eastern women in hijab head-coverings. Wikipedia says that our county “is the most racially diverse county in the state of Georgia, and one of the most racially diverse counties in the country.” I thought of the suburbs as primarily white, but according to a recent study, almost 60 % of Pan-Asians, half of all Hispanics, and 40 % of African Americans live in suburbia. The cliché is half-true: “the nations have moved to the cities of America” – its probably more correct to say “to the American suburbs.”

I don’t know what all this means for our family’s future in church planting, but I’m praying that God would lead us to take advantage of this unique opportunity in American history. The need is tremendous! We’ll see where God leads.

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Family Update 

  • Our biggest news this month is that we officially have our first teenager in the house. Abbie turned 13 on 9/2. I’m so grateful that God has entrusted us with such a caring, generous, missionary-minded daughter who truly loves Jesus and others. I wish I could be more like her in so many ways.
  • Sandi & I celebrated our 16th anniversary last month. We took the Marta Train to Decatur to enjoy a night out on the city as we reflected over our many adventures. I appreciate more every year what a special woman God has given me who continues to follow me no matter how difficult the change.
  • School is in full swing. The older girls love Perimeter Christian School. I’ve been impressed that they are learning much of what I learned in seminary. Their teachers truly view their job to equip our kids to enter pubic high school as gospel missionaries. Abbie & Adeline have also joined their school’s volleyball team and love it. Mary Allen is in an elementary school right down the street and has become an avid reader. And little Eva is still at home as Mom’s daily sidekick and turns five at the end of this month.

 Prayer Points 

  • Future Church Plant. As I introduce myself at Perimeter as a Church Planting Intern, the next question is always: “So where are you going to plant?” To which I reply, “We don’t know yet.” Some follow with a question, “Where would you like to plant a church?” And I usually say, “Somewhere hot. Somewhere urban. And somewhere multicultural.” I’ve begun networking with key leaders to investigate where God might be leading us. We are anxious to find out our next steps, so please ask God to help us be patient for His timing.
  • Wisdom Developing Relationships. We have opportunities all around us. Many of our neighbors are unbelievers. Also, we are helping launch a new worship service at Perimeter, and we will be hosting a small group in our house. Also, our girls are in discipleship groups. Please pray that we’ll have wisdom in deepening relationships that will result in friendship that last longer than our internship.

Thank you for being our friends as we prepare for church planting.

 Grace and peace,

Allen & Sandi Smith

Smith Family Update: Moving to Atlanta!

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I’m excited to announce that I have accepted a call from Perimeter Church (PCA) to be a Church Planting Intern for the next two-years!! We are now in full gear to move to Atlanta in early July. 

Though we are no longer in Peru, we are still missionaries. We believe that God has called us to plant a church in the third largest mission field in the world – the good ole US of A. Our denomination fully recommended us to pursue church planting last fall, but we feel that we need more time to adjust back to the States as well as receive more training. We’ve been gone for nearly a decade and America is definitely not the same! We are missionaries transitioning between two cultures.

Perimeter Church has one of the best church planting training programs in America. They have over two decades of experience, having successfully planted 26 churches around the Metro-Atlanta as well as helped plant over 40 churches internationally. Although we are taking two more years to prepare, we’ll be light years ahead when we begin a church. After the two years, I’ll be free to plant anywhere in America. So one of the first items on the agenda this next year is to identify a target area in which to plant. Who knows, maybe we will plant a church near you!

KEEP UP WITH US!

We’d love for you to join us on our new church planting adventure. I cannot ethically add your email address to our new database without your permission. So if you’d like to continue to follow us, please go to the following link below and sign up:

http://eepurl.com/bllbtL

Grace and peace,

Allen & Sandi Smith

7 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself Before Returning to America

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We all know that hindsight is 20/20. God doesn’t give us a script for each stage of life. John Flavel famously quoted: The providence of God is like Hebrew words—it can be read only backwards.” We had traveled back and forth between countries for nearly 10 years, and even experienced reverse culture shock, but
I knew moving back to America was going to be unlike anything I had ever experienced. I read many books and articles about re-entry and re-acclimation, but my future was foggy.
So if I could get into a DeLorean with Michael J. Fox, flip the flux capacitor, and travel back one year, here are 7 things I would tell myself:
  1. The first several months is survival mode. Allen, moving your family back to the States will be chaotic (see previous post). From the time you purchase your one-way plane ticket until several months after you land, you will be in for a ride. So don’t have high expectations for your wife and kids. Your only goal is not to kill anybody. If you do that, you’ll be doing great! So don’t make any long term plans. Don’t make a lot a new rules for your kids. Just breathe in. Now, breath out.
  2. Transition back to the States takes much longer than you’ll expected. Allen, you are not going to want to hear this, but you will not be settled for two to three years. Finding a new job and a new home takes time. And even after that, it takes several cycles of going through re-occuring calendar events for it to feel normal again.
  3. Waiting is the name of the game. This is similar to #2, but a bit more spiritual. While you wait, God will reveal many of your idols that you presently cannot see. You will be in a holding pattern until you repent of your idols. Be encouraged for you will literally learn Psalm 23:2 – God will make you rest and lie down in green pastures.
  4. Give lots of grace. Allen, give grace to your extended family and friends, for they have no idea what you are going through. Give grace to your immediate family, for none of them have ever gone through anything like this, and they will struggle just like you. And give grace to yourself, for you will walk through a dark valley and hit many walls. What I’m about to tell you is completely un-American: it’s OK to be down and even depressed for a season. It’s a normal part of the transition process.
  5. It’s OK to feel invisible and out of place. When you left for Peru, you were a square. When you lived in Peru, you became a circle. When you move back, you will changed again; you will become a triangle. Because you’ve changed so many times, you’ll face two identity problems: (1) All your American family and friends still think you are a square, and treat you like a square. That’s why they will say things like, “Are you glad to be home?!” You will struggle to answer that question. (2) There is another problem: when you move back, you will still think of yourself  as a circle. You will still see yourself as a Peru missionary, but that too will change. You will no longer be a square or a circle; you will become a triangle! In short, everyone will be confused. And that’s completely OK. More than anything, you will rediscover that your true identity is in Christ. This will stabilize you in the midst of your identity crisis.
  6. You will not pick right back up with your former colleagues. This will throw you for a loop. You are tempted to falsely think you can jump right back into relationships that you once had. They will be nice to you, but they honestly will not know what to do with you. You’re no longer working overseas somewhere, but now you’ll be on their turf. Some might even see you as a threat. So slow down, re-learn the terrain, re-build your networks, and don’t over assume good graces with your former peers & colleagues. 
  7. Pray for advocates. This is a direct overflow of #5 & 6: because you feel invisible and cannot jump right back into the game, what you need more than ever are advocates. This will become essential for your job search. Most hire people with whom they have a relational connection. So begin to pray that God will rise up advocates who connect you to the right people and the right job.
If you have lived in another country, what would you say to yourself if you could travel back in time? I’d love to know your thoughts!
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