One added precaution is an insurance policy with Lloyds of London that enables Overland teams to be evacuated by helicopter within two hours of any emergency. In addition, the teams utilize water purifiers and long-range fuel tanks for the overland vehicles, backup trucks, a sophisticated satellite phone and VHF high-frequency radios for short-distance communication.
Smethurst says the wild animals of Africa pose the biggest danger for his groups, though Overland has never had a wildlife attack or incident.
"We've had lions, buffaloes and elephants go near our campsites," he says. "We've had a herd of stampeding elephants run out in front of our truck."
The expeditions, though, are not all ministry work and no play. Smethurst says every trip allows ample leisure time for white-water rafting, bungee jumping, going on a safari or spending a day on the beach.
"It is amazing to see a rhino run through a soccer game, as we experienced in Zimbabwe, or to catch a glimpse of the mighty power of God through Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world," says Scott Aronson, 21, who has been on several Overland campaigns.
The biblical-studies major at Taylor University, a Christian college in Indiana, describes the trips as "physically exhausting experiences, but well worth it."
"You work from the crack of dawn to late in the night, and you aren't simply caring for yourself, but for the well-being of the entire team," he says. "There were times when no villagers would respond to the gospel. It was not all success, but we just trusted the Lord. Only God can change hearts."
Smethurst says in many ways Overland's pioneering work is a continuation of the efforts started by his hero, David Livingstone, the legendary Scottish missionary and African explorer who lived in the 19th century.
"We search out areas that have never heard the gospel," he says. "The roads outside the major cities of Africa and other parts of the Third World are untraveled by the church.
"The task is mammoth. We could use a thousand overland trucks for what we want to do. It's not glamorous. It may take all day to go to a village of 20, but to me that is awesome."
Bridging the Gap
Despite applying no major advertising and having limited publicity, Smethurst hopes to attract more young adults and church youth groups by offering 20 shorter expeditions, each of which cost about $1,100. Starting in December, Overland will embark on two-week African trips in addition to its longer journeys to the Amazon Basin and Africa.
In two years, he envisions Overland venturing into other areas, including Western Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and other parts of South America.
He is researching the prospects for a Sahara Desert expedition that would cross seven West African Islamic countries. Another trip would travel from Ecuador to Tierra del Fuego, the island on the southernmost tip of South America.
Starting next year, Smethurst also will start a formal Overland internship program, which would offer hands-on missionary and Bible training.
"The young adults would work six months with a local church, then six months on an Overland Missions expedition," he says. "We want to bridge the gap of the missionary syndrome, where people come back from the field and don't fit in the local church. The program is going to make Survivor look like a childish game."
Jim Hoyle, who moved his family from Texas to Florida in June to run the program, says his family was excited about working with Overland because it's "relevant and full of global opportunities." Hoyle, his daughter, two sons and a daughter-in-law went on Overland's Amazon summer expedition.
"This is the ideal place for the MTV generation," says Hoyle, 52, who served on staff at Eagle's Nest Christian Fellowship in San Antonio before joining Overland. "There is also room for a few para-generational Joshuas and Calebs to help mentor and direct these young visionaries."
Like the Smethursts, Hoyle, who is originally from New Zealand, won't have a salary but will raise his own support.
"God is speeding up the process of world evangelism, and it's going to take new methods and youthful zeal to accomplish the goal," Hoyle told Charisma. "I see the Lord using Overland Missions to advance the kingdom in a rapid, strategic way."
He believes many young people will find their sense of calling and purpose as they "climb higher into the world of faith and supernatural provision associated with extreme missions."
Says Hoyle: "The heart of Overland Missions is highly relational both within the expedition teams and the way they reach out to tribal groups. They're always taking the time to understand that the kingdom of God is all about people."
Eric Tiansay is news editor of Christian Retailing, published by Charisma Media.
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