Gary & Debbie Smith Farewell
A very special GraceGen eldership couple is moving to Montagu in the Cape at the end of June 2011. Gary and Debbie will be missed in Pietermaritzburg, and their new community will be blessed. Below is a letter to all their GraceGen friends.
TO ALL OUR DEAR FRIENDS AT GRACE GENERATION CHURCH
The time has finally come for us to say goodbye to all our friends – who have also become our family – at Grace Generation Church (G2C).
We have been an integral part of this church for 25 years – in all its various guises – and part of the eldership team for the past 10 years. During this time, we have made some wonderful friends, many of whom, we hope, will continue to remain friends – and that we will maintain contact with in the years ahead.
Some folk have asked us whether we believed God was calling us to leave Pietermaritzburg, especially as my business is still here (and will continue to be here), and given the fact that we’ve lived here for 38 years. Well, to answer that question: we haven’t heard God say go. But we also haven’t heard God say, don’t go! There have also been prophetic words spoken over us, both within our church, and from folk who don’t really know us at all, that seem to confirm that we would leave at some stage. Debs and I have prayed through this over many years, because we have always felt – as far back as I can remember – that we would not see out our days in this city.
Up until about two years ago, we were still not clear when we would go, or where we would be going to, but we did feel a real affinity for the Western Cape hinterland. Over the years, we have made a number of trips – our “going nowhere slowly” (GNS) trips as we called them – and every time we did, we asked the Lord to quicken something to our hearts, if it was in His will for us. Nothing happened – over many years, and after covering much territory – until two years ago.
We decided to take one more GNS trip, involving the Eastern Cape and the West Cape Coast. Just before setting off, we prayed for God’s presence and His protection, and I had a very strong sense that this trip was to be a defining one. I shared those words with Debs, and we set out. It was a great trip. We spent some time on the Wild coast, and finally drove through to Montagu to visit my parents.
One evening while there, we decided to go for a walk, and strolled past a vacant property which had a ‘for sale’ sign on it – in an area we’d always felt drawn to. We chatted about it and decided to call the agent and just see....! Well, the next day, she met us and took us onto the site which had been newly developed. There were seven sites available and we had a look at each one, but when we walked on to number 3, Debs and I stopped, turned and looked at each other, and we both nodded, - “Yes!” The sense of it being right was so strong, and the peace of God so evident, that we told the agent, “we’ll take it”. Please understand at this point – neither Debs nor I are what one would call impulsive buyers – especially something like land. I also had no idea when we would build, how I would run my business, or for that matter, how anything would work out. But one thing I did know was this – that our God was for us, and that He would use all things for our good.
Both my parents are in their 80’s. Dad can barely walk, even with a Zimmer frame; and my Mom is now almost completely blind. They have lived in Montagu for 16 years; are part of a vibrant little church which started in their home, and they have made many friends there. They are not a financial burden on their sons, and do amazingly well with what they have. But, Debs and I have realised that a time will come when they may not physically be able to care for themselves – and will need professional care. This is even more of a reality if something happens to one of them. They would not have enough money to go into some private frail-care facility, and we would not be able to care for them at a distance. We prayed about this because we needed to hear what God was saying to us about all this.
I realised very quickly that it would be much easier for us to move down there, than it would be for them to move up to us. In addition, a move like that would probably kill them and if it didn’t, it would certainly take them away from their friends and their church, which has become a significant part of their lives.
Once committed to God in prayer, things began to work out fairly quickly. In short, our home in Hilton was sold within two weeks of going on the market, at the price we wanted. We have been blessed to be able to build a house without having to resort to borrowed funds, and we will be able to provide frail-care to my parents in a separate cottage (designed for that purpose), as and when the time comes. My team at Finserv have been amazingly supportive, and I have every confidence that they will continue the great job they’ve always done. It can only be God!
At this stage, I intend to fly back to ‘Maritzburg about once a quarter – to visit staff and clients (and hopefully G2C too!), and then we’re trusting God to enable me to develop a new business operation down there in the Breede River Valley.
The business of arranging and organising and packing has been a lot more hectic than either Debs or I figured. I’ve heard it said that a move is one of the most traumatic times in anyone’s life, but because we’re both normally so organised, I just assumed it would be ‘business as usual’. I was wrong! Things have gone well, with very few hiccups, but the subliminal stress has been much greater than either of us anticipated. We’ve got two weeks left in Maritzburg, but right now, we’re run down and tired – and I guess its all caught up to us. And - suddenly the reality of what it means to be leaving family and friends has started to impact on us. The 19th of June is our official G2C ‘swansong’. I don’t think either Debs or I are going to be able to talk too much on that day – the emotion of it is already almost too great to bear. So, - that’s the main reason for this letter; so we can say thank you to all of you without going through boxes of tissues!
In a church like ours, it’s not possible to know everyone well. As I write this, my mind flicks through the faces that pop up in my memory; faces I will not forget in a hurry. As I see them, the Lord reminds me of one or other instance, which brought us into contact – it might have been in a cell, or on a Money Matters course, or just chatting about rugby in the sun before the meeting. Every one has had a huge impact on both Debs and I – even if we never formally met. G2C is one amazing church – multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-racial – a little bit what Heaven is going to be like – a smattering of every nation under God! What a privilege to have served and been part of this wonderful work in the city. We are so blessed to have been part of your lives.
There are some special thank-you’s too.
Craig and Shannon have had a huge impact on our lives. For me personally, Craig – thank you buddy, for your persistence with me (I can be stubborn sometimes!), and also for the time together in the trenches at Project Gateway. This was prophetic trail-blazing work – no matter what anyone may say – at a time in our new nation when everyone was trying to find their feet. Man, did we learn some lessons? About ourselves, both as individuals and as leaders, - and about other Christians too. Thank you too for inspiring the love for the preached Word of God in me. I’ve also learned so much theologically and doctrinally over the past ten years or so, as a result of your input. Keep fanning that gift into flame. If the rest of the churches in Maritzburg knew what they had in their midst, they’d be tripping over one another to give up their pulpits to you. And I don’t say this lightly!
Rob and Claire – the way in which you have served this church so selflessly and willingly, under enormous pressure at times; so rock-like, yet with a special passion for Jesus – has been an inspiration. We have both admired you and learned so much from you. Rob, you’re nothing like that young, single, red-headed accountant I met in the early days of Project Gateway – you’re one of the fathers of the faith now. Claire – your exuberance for the deeper things of God is infectious; long may you continue to fire us all up!
Benson and Beatrice – your boundless energy and commitment to the cause of Christ has been a great challenge to Debs and I. Debs, I know, will miss you terribly Bea, as you’ve connected in a way that is quite unique. Benno, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who can take so many ‘hits’ spiritually, and still keep coming back. The inimitable action-man! We’re looking forward to having you come and stay with us, and turn Montagu upside-down. Your faith and hard work has also been inspirational.
Dave and Rosanne – I’ve known you not just as fellow elders and friends, but also as clients in business. I’ve seen you guys work incredibly hard, under incredible pressure, and yet maintain your connection to Jesus, through thick and thin. Dave, your passion for the vision of Africa Media Online will see that vision come to fruition – don’t worry about that! I have been doubly blessed by your teaching gift, and your genuine love for people – if I’d had a son, I would have liked him to be like you!
Brent and Cheryl (and our little adopted grandchildren) – you have filled the hole that was left when our two daughters decided to emigrate to the UK. You have gone out of your way to include us in your family, even when times have been tough for you. Brent, the times we have spent together too have been amazing. I have valued them immensely, and I have learned a great deal through our relationship. I also regard you as the son I never had. Debs and I are already looking forward to the time when you come and stay with us.
Nkosinathi and Natalie – you’re about the only other couple left from our original Hilton cell group. What a special family you are, and it has been a real privilege to have known you and spend time with you. I hope we don’t lose touch, and there will always be a bed for you if ever you’re down our way.
Avril and Annelien – we never did get to have that social meal together; just the four of us! Something always seemed to come up. Perhaps it’ll have to wait for a visit to Montagu at some stage? Avril, you have challenged me hugely. Your passion for the things of God has almost been ferocious at times, and I could imagine that this must have been what Peter must have been like. I have no problem seeing you lop off some idiot’s ear in the heat of the moment. Yet, everyone knows what a soft heart you have, and the way in which you and Annelien have modelled cell-group life has been an amazing example to us. I’m hoping you are going to become more involved in the day-to-day leadership at G2C in the days ahead.
Wernher and Louise – if anyone ever wanted to know what it’s like to really serve wholeheartedly in a church, without thought of reward and even of affirmation – then you guys have written the book on it. I guess someone has to sweat the small stuff, behind the scenes – the church is really blessed to have you there.
Then, - and I really don’t want anyone to feel left out – I would like to mention those folk who have been part of our lives in the church for such a long time. Patsy (Mrs G), Bertha (one of the most gracious ladies I know), Meryl (sometimes quirky, but always there), David Dliwayo (with words of knowledge), Webs (the smiler), Phiwe (Mr Seri-aas), Malusi (still the best dancer), Melinda (the voice), Roger & Colleen; Nigel (Mr Dependable and then some!) – and so many more (and let’s not forget all the children)..... we are really going to miss you a great deal.
I like to think that over the years, a little bit of all of you has rubbed off on us, and as result, we are now who we are. Yes, God has done a work in us, but in many ways, He has used you to do it. We are very grateful to have been allowed this time in our lives, and we are richer for having known you. We do look forward to seeing many of you pop in and visit on your way down to the Cape. We’re going to be right there on Route 62 – a most pleasant alternative way to Cape Town.
With much love