Serving others in the name of Jesus Christ was etched into the heart of Alexandria Smith at a young age. In fact, little Alex was just 6 years old when she first felt called by God to serve Him through missions.
Although she is only 18 years old now, her calling has already led Alex to southern Mexico four times and helped establish a medical missionary team that continues to look for more ways to serve God, both in her home state of Texas and beyond.
Her story is a great testament of God’s faithfulness to those who answer His call – no matter their age, background, or skills, He provides a path to willing hearts.
Brandon and Stephanie Smith have two daughters, Alex, and her younger sister, 15-year-old Trinity. The couple has reared their children in the church, making sure they were exposed to Christian teachings from a young age.
Alex’s calling began to blossom with messages presented in the pulpit by the family’s former pastor, Randy Piatt, a minister with a passion for missions.
As the young child expressed the calling that was upon her heart, Brandon said his daughter began asking her parents to take her on a mission trip.
“Obviously we were trying to train her in the way of the Lord,” he said, recalling his early conversations with Alex. “I was like, ‘That’s awesome; I would love to go on a mission trip. I’ve always wanted to go on one, too. I’ve never gotten the opportunity; at some point, I’ll take you.’”
So, with those words, Brandon said he made a commitment to his young daughter, and as she grew, Alex became more insistent about going.
“By the time she was in the fifth and sixth grade, she would ask, and I would say the opportunity will present itself. She kind of started getting a little bit indignant about it, saying, ‘Dad you told me you were going to do this’.”
So, with a persistent daughter knocking at his heart, Brandon, who is a physician assistant with his own medical practice, began to explore ways to fulfill his daughter’s request and meet his commitment.
“I think I was waiting on something, some opportunity to come up, and since she was insistent, I started thinking, ‘How do you get involved in medical missions’.”
A pathway forward
That is when Brandon began exploring the concept with his home church’s pastor, Dick Lintelman, and a pathway to service soon became evident. Dick put Brandon in contact with Craig Kendrick, an associate director for global outreach with World Hope Ministries International. World Hope helped plant Christ Community Church in Chilon, Mexico, and the organization had been working with its pastor, Jose Alfredo Gutierrez Estrada (affectionately called Pastor Pepe), to send paramedics and nurses to the area. These teams would provide basic medical care to people in Chilon as well as the rural areas of Chiapas, the southern Mexican state that borders Guatemala.
As Brandon was making plans through World Hope to go as part of a medical missionary team, he began discussing the possibility at his practice – Firm Foundations Healthcare Clinic in Liberty, Texas. It’s important to note that Christ is a focal point of the clinic. In fact, the clinic’s scriptural reference is Psalm 40:2b, “He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” The logo is a cross and stethoscope; the facility’s walls are adorned with scripture verses, and Brandon often prays with his patients when providing care.
“I was talking about it in the lounge, here at the office,” Brandon said, “My staff started saying, ‘I want to go’, and so, before I knew it, I had five of six of my staff saying they wanted to go.”
Another group from his church, North Main Baptist, added their names to the mix, and as preparations were made, a total of 14 people were set to participate in the mission outreach. The medical missionary team also included another PA from the clinic, Heather Reed.
Brandon began to make logistical preparations, which included paying the way for his staff members and securing pharmaceutical products to take along. Through prayer, the financial portion quickly fell into place, and he began to work with a pharmacist, Gradee Davis, at Liberty’s Brookshire Brothers. Through that connection, the team was able to buy the needed pharmaceuticals at wholesale prices.
“It has been such a blessing that she does that for us,” Brandon said, pointing out that it is just one of the many ways that God provided a means and pathway to make the original trip – and three subsequent ones – possible.
So, in the summer of 2014, the team flew to Mexico City and then to Villahermosa for the five hour drive through the Chiapas Mountains to Chilon.
“They picked us up during the night, and I’ll never forget it was a very eerie feeling because, first of all, I don’t speak Spanish,” Brandon said, adding that they couldn’t find the seatbelts for the nighttime drive. “They were using emergency brakes on hills to slow the vehicles – it was nerve-racking.”
Reflecting on the events of that night, Brandon freely admits he was a bit frightened to be in a foreign country, unable to speak the language, and driving in the dark to destinations unknown while also feeling intensely responsible for the crew he had brought along to serve beside him.
“We were all a little panicked,” he said.
However, their fears were soon relieved when they arrived at their destination to find a big portion of the church eagerly waiting on the team. The church’s members immediately began serving those who had come to serve, carrying all of their belongings into rooms, and before long, the group of Americans found themselves attending church with their new friends.
“When you worship with someone, it changes things,” Brandon said. “So, God really set us at ease at that point. When you start worshiping with people, it breaks down barriers. It is instantaneous, almost.”
The week included daily clinics where Brandon and Heather treated patients and prescribed medicines. While the volunteers got the drugs ready for the patients to take with them, someone else would share the Gospel message.
“From an ethical stand point, that first year, it was a little bit difficult for me,” Brandon said about having someone present the gospel while the patients waited. “I didn’t want them to feel I was holding care hostage for them. I’m going to treat you whether you are rich, poor, black, white, heavy, thin – it’s my ethical responsibility to provide you care. I’m a PA; that’s what I do.”
However, those fears were quickly allayed.
“No one refuses to be talked to – they are so excited to get care, they want to hear what you have to say. For them, it’s like why would these people spend their time and efforts to come minister to me, and because they have, I want to hear what they have to say.”
Brandon points out that they have never had anyone say no to hearing the Gospel message, but if someone did, he said the team would provide the care and give them medicine anyway, no strings attached.
While the medical team provides care and some of the volunteers hand out medicine, Alex and others entertain and minister to the children. Other team members serve as translators. Still others conduct eye exams and provide appropriate glasses to those in need. On the most recent trip, one of the crew cut hair. No matter what your skills or background, there is a way to serve.
“That is the beauty of it – yes we go on a medical mission trip, but you don’t have to know medicine, you’ve just got to be willing,” Brandon says with emphasis. “God just does all kinds of things. What do you do? Because God can use it. Being on the mission field changes one’s mindset. I am here. What do you need me to do, God?”
He also points out that serving God does not come without road bumps and fears, from missed flights to seeing armed officers with machine guns, from the sounds of gunfire in the night to traveling through areas controlled by drug cartels.
“One of the things Omar (Cantu – youth pastor at North Main) says about missions, and I have found this true on every trip we have been on, is don’t anticipate – participate. Every mission trip I have ever gone on, there is something that changes, and there are frequently things that go wrong. Every one, every time, and you just have to roll with it.”
Of course, Brandon says, rolling with it entails placing your trust in the God you are there to serve.
“There is no safer place to be than in God’s will, but there are some nerve-racking places – there just are. It is a step of faith.”
All too quickly, that first mission trip in 2014 came to an end, but as the crew headed home, Brandon said, “Some of us were already talking about when we were going back.”
The Smith family and their team have returned to Chilon three more times, serving in 2015, 2017, and 2019, and they have plans to head back in the summer of 2020. While the initial trip was arranged through World Hope, Brandon said the subsequent ones have been scheduled directly with Pastor Pepe.
Through the years, the team has streamlined the process, creating a formulary of drugs to take along and greatly cutting expenses each year. For example, the 2014 trip cost $1,800 a person with expenses for the 2019 excursion whittled down to $1,100 each. As part of the outreach, the team also takes 1,000 pounds of medical and ministry supplies to leave with the host church.
During the four trips, the medical team has provided care to more than 2,300 people. While that care is important to the team, it is the 486 professions of faith that will have an everlasting impact, and that message of salvation and hope found in Jesus Christ is the ultimate purpose of the group’s mission trips.
The bigger team
Brandon Smith says their efforts are made possible, in part, by community members who donate to the cause. The health care provider points out that he often has patients at his clinic who make a contribution. The PA says he is deeply touched by patients – barely able to afford their own medications – who make a donation of $10 or $25 to the efforts.
Through those kind gifts, the team raised $24,000 to help construct a mission house beside Christ Community Church. That two-story building allows missionary teams to stay at no cost. It also provides a place where Pastor Pepe can host training conferences for other ministers in the region.
“The Lord did that,” Brandon said about the construction of the missionary house. “I don’t want to take any credit.”
During a summer youth trip Alex took to Mt. Lebanon southwest of Dallas, one of the camp’s pastors spoke about missions. Brandon said, as part of that presentation, Shane Pruitt emphasized that “the mission field is between your two feet – wherever that finds you.”
With that in mind, Brandon Smith said he is exploring his own calling to missions. The non-profit group Firm Foundations Healthcare Clinic Missions continues to look for ways to serve God, both in Chilon and here in Texas. As part of those efforts, he is considering the purchase of a bus to set up mobile medical clinics to serve the homeless and other needy groups right in the Lone Star State.
As for Alex, she finished high school back in May as the valedictorian of her class. The 18-year-old servant of God is now a first-year student at Dallas Baptist University.
“She wants to become a doctor, and the reason is she wants to spend her life doing medical missions,” Brandon said. “She has always had a heart for missions. … She has taken that quote from Shane, your mission field is between your two feet, and I see God transforming her and showing her whether it’s at Liberty or DBU or Mexico or she has said she would like to go to other places like Africa, I have slowly seen Him convince her that you need to be sharing Christ wherever you are. It is so exciting as a dad to see that. I am so proud of her determination.”
Reflecting on their trips to Mexico, Brandon points out that he and Heather often felt inadequate as medical providers, working with such limited resources while still providing quality care, knowing it was only for a short period of time.
Concerning one patient there, Brandon said, “I have this mental image of her feet – her little calloused feet. It’s forever burned into my brain. I ask myself as a provider, what am I really doing compared to here (his clinic) with all the equipment and resources. … Heather also felt the same.”
With that in mind, Brandon said he told Pastor Pepe that they didn’t feel like the team was doing enough.
“Pastor Pepe’s words – he said to me, what you think is a little means the world to these people.”
As for his challenge to other Christians, Brandon said to ask yourself if you are willing to serve God.
“Everyone is expendable, but everyone is needed. The question you have to ask yourself is, ‘Am I willing, do I have the faith to go?’. Because God will achieve His purposes with or without you, but when you take the step of faith to be obedient, it is so awesome that He allows us to be a part of the process. I am really excited to see what God does next.”
Photos (top to bottom): 1 – Alex Smith with kids from Mexico; 2 – Brandon Smith with one of the clients; 3 – Stephanie Smith with local girl; 4 – Trinity Smith; 5 – Smith family with Pastor Pepe; 6 – Heather Reed with client; 7, 8, 9, 10, & 11 – volunteers providing eye exams and glasses, dispensing prescriptions, cutting hair, and serving in other capacities; 12, 13, 14 & 15 – new friends from Chilon, Mexico; 16 – one of the roads; and 17 – the mission house.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall of 2019.
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