Today is the first day of 2012. I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels this way, but 2011 felt like the fastest year of my life. As I'm contemplating my activity in the mission of God this year (including goals and dreams), I want to first take stock of 2011 and count some blessings.
My personal highlights of 2011 included (in rather random order with no conscious prioritizing):
1. Going on some trips with my people (Shawn, Brennan, Emma, and Evie). We found that 2-4 day jaunts especially around a weekend worked best for us. We went to Myrtle Beach (twice in fact), our favorite Hatteras, Atlanta, Loraine, OH (family reunion), and Williamsburg the last week of the year. It was fun to change the scenery a bit, have fun together, and always look forward to returning home.
2. Going to two rock concerts with Shawn--U2 in Philly in July; Switchfoot in Charlottesville, VA in December. In both cases, we took in some very high quality rock n roll. In case you're worried that the Smithers are moving into a VW bus and are becoming groupies, we also bought season tickets to Liberty's Tower Theatre and saw Oklahoma and Romeo and Juliet.
3. Traveling to Bosnia and Brazil to minister the Gospel to lost, hurting, and broken people. In Brazil, I was blessed to encourage the church through preaching and to teach at a theological seminary for a couple of days. The real Brazil highlight was that Brennan and I got to do it together.
4. I did pretty good with exercise. I ran for four months of the year (Jan, Oct-Dec) and ran in two 5ks--something I didn't do in my 20s or 30s (yes, I turned 40 this year). The rest of the year I road biked around Forest. I weighed in at my lightest Thanksgiving and Christmas since before I was married. While the physical and cardio workouts were good, half the value for me is the mental refreshment. I loved encountering the smell of Fall leaves in runs around our community--a context that inspired many new ideas for research and ministry.
5. It was a fun year for research and writing. I officially finished PhD work in intercultural studies at Pretoria. I celebrated my successful thesis defense on Jan. 27 with the peeps at Lynchburg's Kings Island restaurant. I skipped the graduation in South Africa in April because I was in Chicago at the Wheaton global theology conference. But a buddy had an extra ticket to the Chicago White Sox game and we celebrated there over oversized (and priced) Comiskey dogs. I learned recently that thesis (Brazilian Evangelical Missions in the Arab World) will be published in May-June of this year. A few other articles and book reviews were published and I got to give papers at the regional and annual Evangelical Missiologial Society meetings and at the Evangelical Theological Society. I love to read, do research, and write and approach such study as a missional academic laboring to serve the church and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
6. I had a fulfilling year walking alongside students at Liberty University and Seminary as they find their place in the mission of God. I taught mostly Masters level students but also some undergrads and got to lead two PhD seminars. My courses included: current issues in missions, intro to global studies, Islam, theology of mission, history of missions, Augustine, historical theology, and church history survey (AD 30-1517). While the subject matter was inspiring (to me anyway), I'm so excited to walk with students who want to love God with all their heart, mind, and soul. It was neat to connect with former students serving the Lord in Africa and among Somali refugees in Phoenix, AZ and also to participate some in the ministries of Liberty students serving in downtown Lynchburg.
7. We had a great year serving with Bedrock Community Church. We love praying, studying the Word, serving, and fellowshipping with our life group. I have been blessed to serve our church some through teaching, helping to develop our global ministries strategy, and serving in 3-4 year old Sunday school.
Amid these highlights, it's been renewing to encounter the Lord through His Word, prayer, the community of believers, and through service. The best of 2011 was knowing God, growing together with my peeps, and enjoying the work and ministry God has allowed us to have. I hope for more in 2012--rock on.