Sixteen months ago Dale and Natalie Smyth and their two young boys Jack (3) and Jamie (1) set out for the sort of journey that legends are made of. Their plan was to sail their small yacht, the Shining Star, from the southern tip of Africa right up the west coast and around the horn of Africa to their ultimate destination, Greece. They had committed themselves to serve there as missionaries with Hellenic Ministries (HM).
Dale, who is a professional yachtsman, had spent 5 years building the boat and preparing it to be their home. It was to be their vehicle for sharing the good news of the gospel as they reached out to the many islands surrounding Greece and the Mediterranean area.
The journey has had its ups and down as they slowly made their way up the west coast of Africa and then to the friendlier climes of the Mediterranean. They have met with some wonderful people on their journey and also had a number of setbacks which have significantly delayed their journey. Shortly after reaching the port of Cagliari, Italy and setting sail for their final destination in Greece they encountered a major roadblock.
Dale began to suffer an anxiety attack brought about by extreme physical exhaustion, with a lot of chest pain and difficulty breathing. They had no credit left on their sat phone so they had no option but to call the coast guard for help. When Dale described his symptoms they brought a medic with them. However by the time the coastguard arrived at the yacht the medic was too seasick to examine Dale with an ECG. They took the family on board just in their nightclothes and traveled back to port. They were assured their vessel would be safely looked after, but she was abandoned by the coast guard and ended up gutted on a beach in Tunisia.
They had lost their beloved home. They were devastated. They had landed in a foreign country with absolutely nothing – no documents, no money and none of their clothing. All of which had been left on the boat. They felt desolate but not abandoned. God was with them in their darkest moment.
They had taken a giant leap of faith giving up all their security in career, finance, home, family, friends and church, to step out and sail 9000 very tough miles. But they had a clear call which they could not ignore.
So what does the future hold? Dale and Natalie have sensed God gently saying, ” Can you lose everything you own, and still be clear about where I have called you?” “You have lost everything but I can replace it if you still choose to go.”
The choice they face is, do they want to settle back into the security of “normal” life or are they willing to get up off the canvas and get on with the fight?
Dale says he is tired and needs a rest. Everything they have worked on for seven years is gone. But he keeps having pictures of the loneliness and desperation of the believers in the spiritually remote areas of the Greek Islands. “I keep having pictures of the people that are ripe to hear the gospel but don’t because our boat never arrives. I keep having pictures of the evenings of coffee and worship in our boat on an island where a couple have come to know our God. But this won’t happen if we don’t get there. I am forced to ask, if I don’t get back on the bus, who will take my place? Is my security worth these losses? “
The next step
Despite this massive setback they are determined to press ahead. They believe that Greece is ripe for the harvest, and they want to be reapers in the process. They are trusting the Lord to provide HM with another boat. This may mean buying another boat in or around Greece. Or, it might also be that God moves in the heart of somebody to provide the mission with another boat.
This tragic situation has not dented their desire or their sense of urgency for Dale there is, “no time to be lost in the process because the harvest is ready.” They are anxious to get to Greece as soon as possible. But at the same time they do not want to rush into a situation for which they are not fully prepared.
The insurance company has paid out Dale and Natalie for the loss of their yacht. But of course there is no way they can compensate him for the 5 years spent building the yacht. They are currently back in Cape Town recuperating from their ordeal and gathering strength and hopefully raising sufficient support to enable them to return to Greece without the extra pressure of anxiety over their financial stability.
We are reminded that Adoniram Judson faced enormous obstacles in his missionary work in Burma. It was suggested to him that he had no future there. He replied, “the future is as bright as the promises of God.”
The Island Reach ministry
Hellenic Ministries has a vision of reaching the 80 inhabited islands surrounding Greece as well as other Mediterranean areas. HM’s Island Reach Director, Alex Macris, envisions a fleet of seven yachts to cover this area. “We are trusting God to provide our needs and not only replace the Shining Star but to multiply our fleet. The ideal would be for us to build a team of yachting missionaries who could engage in this wonderful ministry and create a tidal wave of blessing throughout the Mediterranean.”
Greece has nearly as many miles of coastline as the USA. Most of these coastal regions are in Greece’s 80 inhabited islands. Many islands have only one believer, or less. Reaching their inhabitants with the gospel presents a special challenge to traditional mission strategies. And just beyond the Greek horizon, across the water lie, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and the North African countries… This area offers unique opportunities for effective outreach using boats.
The Hellenic Ministries Island Reach, exists to reach out to the islands and coastline of Greece, as well as the surrounding nations. With so few believers on the islands, Island Reach seeks to support the local churches, encourage lone believers, and lend a helping hand wherever needed by visiting Greece’s many ports. Sailing experience is not essential in order to join the crew, although professional help is needed. All that is needed is a sense of adventure and a servant-heart to equip the saints, establish churches, and disciple others.