For the past two years, Kevin Smigielski has been youth leader at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church in Sherrills Ford.
Young and enthusiastic, he has energized the youth program. A few months ago the youth formed a contemporary praise band. The kids also have focused more on outreach and will send mission teams to Florida and Oklahoma this summer.
Smigielski is embarking on a missions adventure of his own. In June he'll leave for an 11-month trip to Ireland, Ukraine, Egypt, Uganda and more, 11 countries in all. He'll take only what he can carry. Along with his group of 40 to 50 young adults, Smigielski will work with AIDS patients, help poverty relief efforts and share his Christian faith.
His group will be part of The World Race, an effort of Adventures in Missions (AIM), a global missions organization founded in 1989.
Smigielski has always wanted to do overseas mission work, especially in Africa. Through AIM, he volunteered for relief efforts on the Gulf Coast. A few months ago, he learned about The World Race. Since then, he's been raising money for the trip and posting thoughts on his World Race web page, www.kevinsmigielski.theworldrace.org.
The posts reflect challenges Smigielski has faced since joining The World Race. On one challenge - how to approach people about one's faith - Smigielski offers down-to-earth advice: Understand that God is doing the work, that you must show them what God's love looks like. Approach people in terms of their spiritual maturity, and share the "good news."
Also - and Smigielski's experience as a youth leader makes this look easy - "Get excited about God," he said. "Remember that infomercial guy on television? He sold OxyClean - 'Bam!' - and some other stuff. Why can't we be more like him when we talk about God?"
Although he is excited about the trip, Smigielski has faced detractors, too.
"When I talk ... about helping people around the world, I get a common response: 'Do you have to go around the world to help? Stay here and help our own,'" he said.
But Smigielski doesn't see it that way. "The realization that we could have been born over here or over there without anything stopping God from choosing which side of the line to put us on should free us to help everyone."
By the end of April, Smigielski should have a good idea whether he's ready, financially and spiritually, to join the team in June.
He said, "I expect to be stereotyped a stubborn American, get persecuted for my beliefs, get sick, feel lost and love every minute of it.... I'm taking the plunge with only my faith to guide me."