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‘I am encouraged when I see strong faith in the face of rampant evil and great distress’

Jenny Smyth is Mission Director of the Church Mission Society Ireland

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Jenny Smyth is Mission Director of the Church Mission Society Ireland

Jenny Smyth is Mission Director of the Church Mission Society Ireland

Jenny Smyth is Mission Director of the Church Mission Society Ireland

Tell me about your background

I call Moira home, because I married my husband Billy who is from Northern Ireland. We met in Uganda through the CMS Ireland. He was a Mission Partner there, working as a hospital maintenance engineer. We have two children, Abigail and Caleb, an oceanic eco-warrior and a budding engineer.

Being born in Uganda before the trauma of 20 years of despotic leadership there, afforded me a happy outdoor childhood. My parents Bryan and Joy were both English and were teachers in Uganda at the time. They were loving, and nurtured us all in the Christian faith, for which I am very thankful.

How and when did you come to faith?

I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in God, but as a child I sought His forgiveness, believing that Jesus’ death was to bring new life for all who choose to follow Him.

Does this faith play a real part in your life, or is it only for Sundays?

Moving to South Sudan, a country shattered by civil war and ongoing strife, with two very young children, was a leap of faith. We are thankful for all who prayed for us when things were tense and challenging. If faith was only for Sundays, I would have walked away a long time ago. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit to refine and impart wisdom, a prayer hot- line, and redemption for our mistakes and the ills of the world.

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Have you ever had a crisis of faith or a gnawing doubt about your faith?

God has been faithful, answering prayer, protecting, healing and providing- miraculous signs of His work. Doubt has not plagued me. It is hard to unsee something once seen to unknow something once known – expressed far more poetically by C.S. Lewis who stated: ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.’

Have you ever been angry with God, and if so, why?

I often feel frustrated at global injustice, and the depths of human violence and cruelty that leads to so much pain and suffering. I wonder why He does not step in and sort things out. I am encouraged when I see strong faith in the face of rampant evil and great distress, such as the looming famine in the horn of Africa and the rebel attacks on rural homes in eastern DR Congo. Here people are turning to God, and the church is growing.

Do you ever get criticised for your faith?

People respect integrity. We need to learn to approach one another with openness and an endeavour to understand different perspectives.

Are you afraid to die, or can you look beyond death?

Losing many friends to a painful and traumatic death was hard in the early years of the AIDS epidemic in Uganda, when there was no access to health care, pain relief or hope of a cure. The process of death can be terrible, but I have seen Christian friends holding on to a sure hope of heaven through all their suffering and looking forward to coming into the presence of the risen Christ in glory. This gives me sure hope.

Are you afraid of ‘hellfire?’

Eternal separation from all that is of God, all that is good, all human creativity and humour, kindness, grace, humility, beauty, and the wonders of creation…that would be a terrible end for anyone.

Do you believe in a resurrection?

Yes, and it will be wonderful and wholly good.

What about people of other denominations and other faiths?

All people bear something of God’s image, just as an artwork displays something of the artist. We are created with a desire to be in relationship with our creator, so humans instinctively search for meaning. A person who is committed to discovering God will find Him, and we need to encourage people in exploring faith.

Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn something from other people?

Living in Uganda, South Sudan and dare I say, even in Northern Ireland, has helped me to appreciate that I have so much to learn from other ways of thinking, living and being. However, I will stand firm on the bedrock of Jesus as truth personified.

Are the churches here fulfilling their mission?

The mission of the church is to demonstrate the love of God for his creation, to point people to the person of Christ and explain the purpose of His earthly life, death and resurrection. Some churches are brilliant at this, others look inward and have lost purpose, perhaps frightened of a world of increasing secularisation.

Why are so many people turning their backs on organised religion?

When the church becomes internally focused, failing to engage with and speak into the big issues facing humanity, failing to follow the radical way of Jesus, it becomes irrelevant. Jesus engaged with the ordinary people He came across each day, offering life- giving help. Each person was precious. He was outspoken, and He challenged injustice. When the church does these things, it is very attractive.

Has religion helped or hindered the people of Northern Ireland?

The church at its best has spoken life-giving peace and reconciliation; at its worst it has strengthened walls of division.

Some personal preferences: favourite film, book, and music?

Song: Don’t fence me in; Film: One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Book: The 1662 Book of Common Prayer. These beautifully crafted liturgies are used by Anglicans worldwide.

Where do you feel closest to God?

In a busy overgrown garden, astonished at the inventiveness and artistry of God.

The inscription on your gravestone?

‘She tried; God did the rest’

Any major regrets?

The times when I was not brave enough to speak out on issues of injustice, and not quicker to take opportunities to draw alongside those in need.


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