THOMASVILLE, N.C. (BP) — Kim and Jay Smith spent 26 years sharing the Gospel as missionaries in West Africa. Today, they continue to share Christ’s love as cottage parents with the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina where they care for as many as 12 girls at BCH’s Mills Home in Thomasville.
“It’s still a mission field but a different mission field,” Kim says.
Her husband agrees. “We love these girls with the love of God just as we loved the people in West Africa.”
Before the couple met, God impressed on each of them a desire to be involved with overseas missions. Not long after they married, they contacted the Southern Baptist Convention’s Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) to discuss their desire to serve as missionaries.
In October 1990, with their second child on the way, the couple received the mission board assignment for which they had been waiting. They arrived in West Africa three months later.
On the mission field, the Smiths worked with established churches to minister at a Bible school and home craft center for girls. At the same time, the Smiths were parenting their children.
“We were learning a new language and raising little ones while doing our work,” Jay says. “We spent quite a bit of time in the village building friendships. They were getting to know our kids and we were getting to know theirs.”
After 16 years of ministering in hospitable conditions, the Smiths accepted an assignment to a different area in the region where the Gospel was unwelcome and Christians were persecuted. It forced them to use extreme caution.
“By this time, there were groups of believers native to the area who would come to us for discipleship and training. They would then go out and evangelize,” Jay recounts. “We were more in the background.”
With conditions becoming increasingly dangerous, the Smiths returned to the U.S. in 2015 for what they envisioned as a temporary respite.
But while stateside, the IMB announced it was in the middle of a financial crisis and laid off hundreds of missionaries and staff members. The Smiths were given the option of retiring early.
“We weren’t ready to retire but we prayed through it and God made it clear to us that our time with the IMB was ending,” Kim says.
The couple once again prayed seeking direction for their future.
As they searched for new ministry opportunities, they came across information about Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina.
“We didn’t know anything about BCH. We had no background. We had no training,” Kim says.
“But God kept bringing us back to it,” Jay picks up. “Just as He called us to international missions, it was the same way with BCH.”
The couple joined BCH in February 2016.
BCH trains all cottage parents, equipping them to provide the highest-quality care for children. The Smiths underwent training in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention, the CARE (Children and Residential Experiences) practice model and a three-part internal staff member orientation. In addition, they receive continuous training throughout their time as cottage parents.
The Smiths joined Robert and Diane Earley as the cottage parent team at Blackwell Cottage on the Mills Home campus.
One couple lives with the girls 24 hours a day, seven days a week for two weeks and then rotate off and the other couple serves two weeks.
By April 2016, the Smiths had transitioned to their new mission field.
“The girls need God. They are up against things man can’t fix,” Kim says.
As with the majority of children served by BCH, the girls cannot remain with their families for a variety of reasons. Most have experienced some form of physical and emotional trauma.
“We aren’t here to replace their parents, but we want to take care of them and be there for them physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Kim says. “We want to help them feel safe.”
Through devotions, prayer and personal conversations, the Smiths introduce the girls to Jesus.
“It’s the same as on the international mission field — having Jesus in people’s lives helps them with what they are going through,” Jay says. “Here, the mission field is to help the girls understand who God is and for them to come to faith in Christ. There’s nothing like seeing a life change before your eyes.”
During their first year at BCH, the Smiths have witnessed several accept Jesus as Savior.
“We’re a family here. We had that on the mission field, and it’s one of the things that drew us here,” Jay says.
BCH, like other state Baptist conventions’ children’s homes, is always seeking servant-minded people like Jay and Kim Smith to serve children, families and special needs adults through its locations across North Carolina. For more information, visit bchcareers.org.