Laura McKillip Wood
Terry pounded the steering wheel and cried. It took her last ounce of restraint not to throw open the car door and march right back into the boarding school to collect her son’s things and take him home. Who cared if the mission organization she and her husband, Kevin, worked with required them to send their child to boarding school? Was it even worth it? “Please, God, just give me my son back!” she cried.
In the stillness that followed, the assurance that God was working through them in their ministry settled her heart. “I loved Jesus, and I wanted to obey him, so I did what he asked me to do,” Terry says. In this case, it meant leaving their oldest son at a boarding school when he was only 8 years old.
This decision occurred many years ago, when sending agencies often thought it best that missionary children attend boarding schools. Their philosophy was that the children would receive a Western education in a safe environment, and parents would be freed to work. By the time Kevin and Terry Smith* had a second child, their sending agency had relaxed those rules. Their younger boy stayed on the field with them.
On the Field
While their oldest son was away at boarding school, God worked in wonderful ways through the Smiths’ ministry. They originally planned to go to Lebanon as cross-cultural workers (since Kevin’s grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Lebanon decades before) but changed directions when war broke out in that country. Instead, they ended up in Africa working with Arabs. They had a long and successful ministry in several African countries.
In 2009, after many years on the field, Kevin was pastoring a church in North Africa and decided to make use of Facebook—then still a relatively new social media platform—to reach out to people who were interested in Christianity. At the time, most pastors in North Africa did not post pictures of themselves on their church’s Facebook pages because they feared retribution by those opposed to Christianity. People are drawn more to people and personalities than to logos, Kevin reasoned, so he took a step of faith and posted his image as the church’s Facebook profile picture.
This proved effective and drew new members to the church. People were impressed that he was courageous enough to say he’s a Christian and post his photo. It generated interest and led people to check out the church.
Back in the U.S.
Unfortunately, Kevin’s church activity eventually drew the attention of ISIS, which put a hit out on him about five years ago. As a result, Kevin and Terry returned to the United States to continue their work from here. They have since started a Media to Movement ministry with a different sending agency, Team Expansion, in which they use Facebook to reach people and form relationships.
Kevin and Terry create material for posting on Facebook that targets people in specific areas of North Africa. Through these posts, they make contacts with people who are interested in spiritual things and put them in touch with others working on the field. These contacts eventually progress to Bible studies and discipleship groups. The people they reach are trained to go back to their own people and reach out to their contacts, and this spreads the gospel naturally.
Kevin and Terry’s current work focuses on unreached people groups and unengaged people. Kevin says 3 billion of the 7.7 billion people in the world are unengaged or unreached. That means they have no Scripture in their languages, no churches, no Christian presence.
Scrolling through Facebook and posting once in a while might sound like an easy job, but there is a science and an art to it. “I’m a professional social media church leader,” Kevin says. He studies two hours a day and meets regularly with a Facebook adviser to improve his advertisements and learn how to be more effective in his ministry.
About 1,000 people see his text posts each day, and about 100 to 200 see his videos. Using their $600 monthly budget, Kevin and Terry reach many people with the gospel message, and then direct them to people in their own towns who want to establish relationships and disciple them. The Smiths also send out daily devotions to about 100 people, messaging them directly with devotional thoughts in Arabic, French, and English.
Advice to Others
The Smiths’ social media ministry has helped them reach many people they never would have connected with otherwise, and they say this approach can be effective in most ministries. They advise people who want to use social media in their ministries to be flexible. “Accept change,” they say. When things do not turn out as expected, accept it and adjust to it.
They advise people to cultivate their social media contacts and to remember how important these can be. They suggest carefully writing and creating content, rather than just randomly posting without thought.
Many years after packing up her oldest son and sending him to boarding school at the tender age of 8, Terry asked him if he thought boarding school was a mistake. She wondered if their decision to obey their sending agency and God had taken a toll on him. Their son told her he wouldn’t have had it any other way. He loved his friends, got to play sports, and had a completely different life than he’d have had on the mission field.
Terry can rest assured that her willingness to submit paid off for her son and for the many people their family influenced over the years. “There are thousands of people in Heaven because I obeyed God,” Terry says. That’s enough confirmation for her!
*Names have been changed to protect those in sensitive political situations.
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now serves as the registrar at Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska, and works as an on-call chaplain at a nearby hospital. She and her husband, Andrew, have three teenagers.