Evangelism in Action
He doesn’t wear a fedora or carry a bullwhip, but like Indiana Jones, evangelist Phil Smethurst (top photo) embarks on plenty of global adventures. Combining high-tech gear, faith and sweat, he and his Overland Missions teams pioneer the gospel in unreached areas and have begun works in 40 countries. (OVERLAND MISSIONS | © ISTOCKPHOTO/TEEKID; WRAGG)

Two of Overland’s most experienced missionaries—David Killough, director of recruiting, and Dan Hoyme, training director—went on a short-term expedition to Angola in 2007.

“The country was in such a state of decay from 40 or 50 years of war,” Killough says. Between the ravages of war, the rainy seasons and residual land mines, the road conditions were onerous. Killough observed that the potholes were “big enough to swallow a truck.” Land mines known to be deactivated are marked, however.

Despite what he describes as an extremely difficult and dangerous trip, Killough plans to return to Angola in August with his wife, Fiona, to accompany the Smethursts on their monthlong scouting expedition.

“I do really well in a challenging situation when the odds are against me,” Killough says. “I see it as a desperate need. The Word says God wants none to perish. In my mind I saw a vision of what could be: the gospel being the key to restoring the nation, and not letting the circumstances dictate the vision.”

Although Howard-Browne has not been to Angola, he’s traveled extensively in Africa, including remote areas that lack basic facilities and infrastructure. “You’re dealing with wild animals, [unreached] villages. ... You don’t know what you’re going to face,” he says. “It’s like going back 50 or 100 years.”

Preparing the Way

It may sound like Indiana Jones-style evangelism, but there’s more to this Overland Missions than adventure. Without proper training and support, well-meaning Christians aren’t prepared for the hardships of foreign missions, Smethurst says. With 70 long-term missionaries on the field, the Pentecostal, team-oriented ministry welcomes any believer who has a love for God and the church—but a lack of discipline isn’t tolerated.

“You cannot be dysfunctional in the Third World,” Smethurst explains.

Long-term applicants must complete an intensive three-month Advanced Mission Training (AMT) program that takes place in Zambia, near Victoria Falls, where Overland is headquartered. “It’s not pseudo,” Smethurst stresses. “It’s a real environment, real people, real needs, real technology and engineering we have to use. After three months [of AMT], the fantasy is gone and you’ll know if you can handle it or not.”

In 2014, the Killoughs are planning to relocate to Angola, along with Hoyme and his wife, Rachel, who are expecting their first baby. They will serve as the forerunner team in southern Angola where there are four known unreached tribes.

They’ll determine which areas have been safely demined, establish relationships and begin networking with pastors in outlying cities who speak the local dialects. Rachel currently is studying to be a physician’s assistant, and eventually the team will partner with a missionary hospital in Lubango.

Although visitors to Angola need an official invitation to travel there, the general African response to outsiders is welcoming, Hoyme says. “If there’s resistance, it’s probably more to the gospel and how that could change their lifestyle in some way,” he adds. “There may be churches in the area, but the truth of the gospel is mixed in with tribal traditions.”

Overland’s strategy is not to Westernize the world but to establish thriving communities of Christians led by indigenous pastors. To do that, Overland builds relationships for several years, training and discipling leaders within 100-square-kilometer regions they call “sectors.”

The next stage is the development of locally led humanitarian aid such as health care, education, well drilling and microenterprise. Finally, a Rural Pastors’ Network is established to help local leaders take on the work long term. “You have to be careful not to create a dependency on humanitarian aid,” says Hoyme, who has a degree in civil engineering.

Marrying the preaching of the gospel with acts of service requires a delicate balance. Ministries worldwide differ on how to approach what’s known as the “social gospel,” or the “rice gospel.”

“What you get [people] with is what you keep them with,” Killough says. “We believe 100 percent of the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Everything else rides on the coattails of people’s lives being transformed.”

Howard-Browne emphatically agrees. “The Great Commission was, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel,’” he says. “That must be the focus of missions; otherwise they are all humanitarian efforts.”

Having traveled extensively together, Howard-Browne and Smethurst have a full-gospel approach to missions—to see people “saved, healed and set free,” Howard-Browne says.

The Human Touch

With infrastructure, training operations and aid programs in place, Overland is ready to expand its long-term missions. Believing the church should leave no stone unturned when utilizing modern technology, the ministry invites supporters to use apps such as Timbuctu.me to link up with workers on the field and become fully engaged extensions of Overland teams. “Ultimately, on the mission field, it’s all about your family and your team and what you accomplish together,” Smethurst says.

Yet he is adamant that technology should never replace face-to-face discipleship. “We cannot infuse the culture of the kingdom of God by email or books,” Smethurst says. “The Bible says we are God’s epistle. Sooner or later, someone must arrive in flesh and blood to impart culture.”

Overland Missions is positioned for challenges, but Smethurst says the ministry’s greatest obstacles are funding and human resources. What was true in Jesus’ day is still true today: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37, NIV). With a vision to reach every person in each of its sectors, Overland is recruiting career missionaries.

“The call to the nations means traveling outside your comfort zone where your voice has an accent,” Smethurst says in his distinct South African English dialect. “Christians need to know there is a call and a ministry that will recruit them.”

Anahid Schweikert is a freelance writer, home educator and a long-time contributor to Charisma. A first-generation American and internationally adoptive parent, she has a strong dedication to world cultures and missions. She lives near Memphis, Tenn., with her husband and their two daughters.

To digitally follow Smethurst to a remote African village click here.

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