When I shared the idea for this series with Alex, he immediately asked if I would be able to ask this girl to write for me. Her name was already heading my list. We’ve known this couple since our college days. Until the year we applied for Oxford, our lives moved along parallel tracks. That year they moved to Southeast Asia, where, from afar, we’ve watched them serve Jesus with faithfulness and joy. I’m calling them “Jimmy and Julia Smart.”
An Interview With “Julia”
Could you tell us about your family?
“Jimmy” and “Julia” have three children: a boy (age 7), a girl (age 6), and a boy (age 3).
Where are you living? Why are you there?
We are serving on a remote island of Southeast Asia. Our desire is to see the gospel spread among an unreached people in this area. I also disciple several young women and spend a large portion of my ministry interceding for God’s work among the nations.
What does it look like being mommy where you are? What are some of the challenges you face? What are some of the particular joys you experience where you are?
Our island hosts limited schooling options. So I have found myself homeschooling our two older kids, despite the fact that I solemnly vowed that I would never be a homeschool Mom. Homeschool has become one of the greatest joys in our family, but it also presents many challenges such as obtaining resources in a remote location and keeping my cool when the temperatures feel suffocating.
Another challenge I face is keeping our kitchen stocked with healthy and affordable foods. Over the past 4 years living on this remote island, I’ve learned to make yogurt, bread, peanut butter, vanilla extract, sour cream and greek yogurt. I even grind my own flour while thinking to myself “What has become of me?” Grocery shopping is one of the most stressful aspects of my life here. I need to visit 5 or 6 stores to find everything on our list and the stores stink of fish, poop and B.O. There are no grocery carts that you can wheel right out to your car. In fact, these stores are often extremely non-kid-friendly. My son fell off of a 5-foot tall ramp onto a concrete parking lot because there was simply no railing along the edge of the ramp. Also, our water is not drinkable. Though the water supply was given the stamp of approval by WHO, we like to say WHO stands for “Who Hilangkan (stole) the Osmosis filter?” It’s a challenge to teach our kids not to open their mouths during daily showers and at the pool.
Can you tell us a bit about a hard time (recent or past) and what encouraged or helped you (from God’s word) during that season?
I could probably list about 100 things I’ve learned about God from living overseas, but the one I’m meditating on these days is His ever-present faithfulness. His faithfulness lives in us as we abide in Him. His faithfulness allows me to be faithful and keep persevering in the midst of every trial and temptation that comes my way. Living over here, there are so many trials due to leaving our culture, language, familiarity, family, friends and home. It’s easy to become fearful, anxious or even mystical in our faith (out of a desire for more connection and protection from the Father). I’ve seen a lot of people bail out in our 4 short years here from personal sin, loneliness, marital problems, physical maladies and the like. The enemy hates what we are doing and he doesn’t make it easy. We’ve had a baby viper in our house (which are more poisonous than adult vipers), a python loose in our neighborhood that was reportedly 16 feet long and all of its babies also on the loose, though those are too small to be any danger. We’ve had sickness from local infections, I had shingles 6 times, my daughter Lydia got a third degree burn and permanent scars on her arm, theft of bank cards and another theft of my wallet, riots in our town, kidnappings in our town (but not us of course)…the list goes on. But, God has never failed to protect us. He has not shielded us from every calamity, but he has used them to teach us to lean on Him and learn that He is the only one who will never, ever fail. He has empowered me to keep going over the countless times I’ve wanted to give up. God is wild, but he is not out of control.
I’ve been thinking about this verse, Psalm 125:1-2, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people from this time forth and forevermore.” As we trust in God, making little, tiny, faith-filled, tremulous steps forward, He makes us like Mount Zion which cannot be moved. He surrounds us, because He himself is the true mountain.
It connects with Hebrews 12:18-29, “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
This beautiful mountain inside of us, Mount Zion, it’s God’s immovable presence inside of us. It empowers us to walk forward in faith, knowing that it’s his sure, unshakeable faithfulness that enables us to endure.
What have you learned about sharing your faith with your children? What ideas do you have for helping children to embrace the family’s situation and calling?
Our faith is woven into the fabric of our family life. We hope it is conveyed in our conversations, actions and choices of our daily lives. We have also sought to incorporate daily Bible readings and regular church attendance. We feel that cultivating an active church life is essential for our kids reintegrating into American culture one day. We have sought to normalize our family life so the kids have a sense of stability– we are more careful to keep our home stable and our routine predictable. We try to eat most dinners at the same time in the evening, including our ritual of reading the Bible and talking about our best and worst parts of the day. Though our kids are young, this way of talking opens them up to talk more easily about their hearts than an unguided discussion around the table.
What words of wisdom or challenge might you have for mothers in different contexts?
Though the challenges we face overseas are unique and, perhaps, more shocking…the root issues and concerns of a mother overseas are the same as in the States: will my child learn to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength? How can I be a Mom who is “safe”– with whom my child feels free to talk about anything? Will my child expect to receive grace when we talk? How do I balance the tension between grace-based parenting and teaching my child to follow God’s clear path?
In some ways, the challenges we face make it easier to recognize the enemy’s attacks, whereas in the States we found the spiritual warfare to be quite numbing. Here we feel alive and on-edge, which makes it easier to realize when the enemy is trying to work. However, when we are in the States, we often feel numb. We want to just watch tv or relax when things feel overwhelming, rather than see that the enemy is actually at work.
God’s kingdom is huge and his ways mysterious. There is nothing less valuable in his eyes– no work more important or gift more impressive. God wants us all to have surrendered hearts– ready and willing to do whatever he asks, whenever he asks it of us. We couldn’t serve overseas if there weren’t 100 partners in the States, working and earning money to give to this work. Don’t underestimate the importance of the work you are doing. I’m confident that one day, we will look together on the magnificent masterpiece of His perfect plan as it unfolds before us. Then, we will understand that God is sovereignly able to make every contribution and work a critical piece of His redemptive plan for the nations.
How can we pray for you?
Pray that God would strengthen and sustain our family. Pray that our children would know and experience the love of their heavenly Father, even as they are often lonely and isolated. Pray that God would continue to make us pliable and willing to do whatever He asks of us. That we would have no idols, whether of people or ministry goals. That He alone would be glorified in and through our lives.