Here is a little bit of the story of how I came to SBS in Montana: I went to college at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL as a Biblical Studies major. When I was a junior in college, God clearly directed me to change my major to English, and a few months later called me to do a ‘study abroad’ semester in Mexico. Neither of these things were on my radar screen as things I should do with only one year left in college! When I signed up to go to Mexico, I had no idea that this ‘study abroad’ program was actually a missions training program. We had no electricity, no hot water, and we lived in the middle of the Sierra Mountains on a Mexican cattle ranch. We took classes on spiritual formation, community development, cross cultural communication, and other foundational missions-related subjects. God taught me many things about Himself, and it was in Mexico that I knew in my heart for the first time that I was forgiven and saved.
When I got back from Mexico, I attended a large missions conference called Urbana where I learned about InterVarsity’s Global Urban Trek. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to put the things I had learned in Mexico into practice, so I signed up. I went to Kolkata (Calcutta) India that summer (2007) and experienced the shocking reality of life in the third-world slums. While I was there, I also became very sick with amoebic dysentery and was hospitalized for over a week. When I came back to the US my faith was greatly shaken. I went back to college in Illinois for my Sr. year, but by November I had talked to my professors about dropping out because for a month I could not sleep. I was wrestling constantly with the realities of suffering and death that I’d seen in India. At the end of that month, my grandmother was killed in a car accident by a young man addicted to cocaine who was driving on the wrong side of the road. My grandmother was a Christian, and had always encouraged me in my faith. Ever since India, I had stopped having faith in God. On the night of her funeral, I deliberately decided to put my trust in God again even though I felt and saw nothing, because that night I realized that the hope that God gives is eternal and not just meant for this world. Three months after my grandmother died, my mom told me that my parents were getting a divorce. Everything that I’d built my identity on- my health, my home, and my family- was crumbling around me. A month later I graduated from college, and moved to Maine to work at Acadia National Park for the summer. While I was there, my mentors from the Mexico study abroad program told me that they were moving back to the U.S. to direct a Discipleship and Leadership Training Program for college graduates called L.I.F.T. in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. I decided to go there for 6 months, and this was an amazing time of healing after the tragedies of the previous year.
After finishing the L.I.F.T. program, I moved back to Boston, Massachusetts to reconnect with my family. I spent the next four years working with troubled teenaged girls. I worked at a government funded group home for one year and at a Christian drug rehab called Teen Challenge for three years after that. During this time I was able to reconnect with my family and form new friendships in the New England community. At a regional prayer group I met Pastor Park from South Korea who was working at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in my hometown of South Hamilton, MA. He took me under his wing and mentored me to help me understand some of my theological questions about the Holy Spirit. He also graciously invited me to a retreat for the Korean Seminary students where I met a very good friend and mentor, a woman named Jinsook Kim. Jinsook had worked with YWAM for over twenty years, teaching SBS and making disciples all around the world. She was taking classes at Gordon Conwell and invited me to an inductive Bible Study with a few other seminary students. These Bible Studies quickly became the highlight of my week! Jinsook told me about the YWAM SBS during this time and encouraged me to apply. When I first heard about SBS, I was unsure of whether or not I should go. After reading a book about the underground church in China called “The Heavenly Man,” I suddenly had a burning desire in my heart to help these believers who so desperately wanted to know God’s Word. I immediately thought of SBS, and prayed that God would make a way for me to go. In 2013 I applied and was accepted to SBS at YWAM Montana, but I had to defer my acceptance for a year for financial reasons. In December of 2013 God provided me with a good amount of money from the insurance company when I totaled my car. A month after that, I got a large raise at my job and this gave me almost everything that I’d need for SBS.
Coming to SBS was a difficult decision for me because I was leaving a secure job near my family, selling my car, and taking a big step of faith with my finances. I have also had to let go of the fear of doing missions in light of my time in India, and feelings of inadequacy because of how my faith was shaken after that experience. But God has graciously confirmed that this was His plan for me through many different circumstances along the way. When I told my mom that I was going to do SBS, I found that I have several 2nd cousins who live in Montana only 20 minutes away from the YWAM base! This past June I told my boss and co-workers that I would be leaving to do SBS in the fall, and only week later we found out that our Teen Challenge center was being shut down due to financial problems. My pastor (who I loved) also announced that he and his wife were retiring and moving to Florida, and his last Sunday as Pastor was also my last Sunday at that church before leaving for YWAM! Due to this interesting series of circumstances, I felt encouraged that this was indeed God’s time for me to move on. These are only a few of the many stories of how God has encouraged and provided for me in this season.
Since I’ve been here at SBS, I am constantly amazed at the things that I’m learning and the ways that God has been encouraging me and confirming that I am in the right place. This past week I clearly sensed God calling me to do the Titus Project in Taiwan, and I’m so excited to put the things that I’m learning into practice there. God is able to do so much more than I could ever imagine, and I would like to encourage those who read this blog post to trust Him in each step because even in the darkest valley He is very faithful. If we trust Him completely, He will redeem our pain for His glory among the nations. I will end my story with a quote from a Chinese Christian woman who I met at a Voice of the Martyrs conference this summer. She is my age, and she gave her testimony of being tortured and imprisoned for six years in China because of her faith. At the end of her story she said, “I could never deny Jesus. There is nothing more beautiful than Jesus.”
Katie Lynn Smith