Greatness defined in a simple life

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have “rubbed shoulders” with several influential men and women – from general officers to their civilian counterparts and department secretaries, from local and national politicians to captains of industry.  Most of these I admired for their people skills as well as the ingenuity, the energy, the courage, the perseverance and the sheer determination that it took for them to reach the pinnacle of their careers.  Yet, as I look back at the interaction I had with each, few could I firmly point to and say that he or she was without doubt a follower of Christ.

The worldly of course would take comfort in this and proclaim a victory in their effort to secularize every American institution, in the name of “freedom from religion,” which incidentally has no place in the U.S. Constitution.  But God says:  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  So it comes down to the weak and lowly among us (in the eyes of the world – not of God), and the faithful, to put our lamps on the lampstand and proclaim the love of our Lord through our good works and our voices.

This was the life of our dear brother, Ronnie Smith, who was gunned down December 5th in Benghazi, Libya at the same age as Jesus, when He went to the cross.  Ronnie and my youngest son were class mates for a short time and my wife and I were privileged to minister together with Ronnie’s parents at that time in our local church.  As Ronnie’s dad explained at this past Friday’s memorial, Ronnie didn’t die on December 5th; for he gave up his life completely to Christ his last years of high school.  He also shared that Ronnie’s iPad was retrieved after the shooting, and he was listening to a message given by Rev John Piper at the instant of his death.

Ronnie prepared for his future by attending Wayne State University, graduating with honors in Chemistry.  He married his lovely wife Anita, and they moved to Austin, Texas so he could work on his post-graduate degree at UT.  Throughout this period he kept feeling the pull of God toward the ministry – and he finally announced to his graduate director that he was leaving to work for God.  His director’s response: “What a waste!”  It took several years and his eventual martyrdom for the university to recognize and announce that his life was valuable and honorable.

Ronnie and his family moved to Benghazi a year and a half ago to teach high school chemistry at the International School and to be a blessing to the Libyan people.  Ronnie and Anita turned down a safe job to pastor a church in Texas, to enter the dangerous realm of the Middle East, with their new-born son, Hosea.  But Ronnie loved Libya and was dedicated to his students to help them aspire to their dreams.  Ronnie’s greatest desire was for peace and prosperity in Libya and for the people of Libya to have the joy of knowing God through Christ.  Every one of his students wrote letters to Ronnie’s family acknowledging his care for them and how much he had inspired them.

Before moving to Benghazi, Ronnie and Anita were members of the Austin Stone Community Church and on their staff.  They were planning to spend time before Christmas in Austin.  Anita and their son Hosea had returned to the U.S. and are safe with family in Michigan.  Ronnie, out of a sense of dedication, had stayed in Libya to be with his students through their midterm exams.

Ronnie was a brother in Christ and a faithful servant for many years.  Although we grieve because we have lost a friend, a husband, and a father, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has a greater purpose than we can imagine right now.  Though we don’t fully understand right now, we place our full trust in the one who does until we see our friend again.

It was truly an honor to attend our brother’s memorial – for it was a celebration of a true soldier of God’s Army.  Ronnie’s former youth pastor and his parent’s current pastor used Ronnie’s personal journal to frame their messages; and it was like listening to an Epistle written by a close friend who had walked with Jesus – which, in fact, was the case.  Like the apostle Paul, Ronnie had dealt with his own shortcomings, talked with the Holy Spirit about them, and resolved them to the glory of the Father.  The following scriptures are two of Ronnie’s favorites:

There are many who say, “Who will show us any good?”  Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.  You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased.  I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.  Psalm 4:6-8

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,…   Colossians 1:24

I am honored to join with the Austin Stone community in praying for Anita, their son Hosea, and the rest of Anita and Ronnie’s family and invite other Christians to do the same.  We grieve for the loss of our brother with the hope of Christ and we trust that God’s will is perfect and His purposes are good.  His memory will live on and be an inspiration for many others.  As long as the Church is on earth, there will be faithful brothers and sisters willing to fill the shoes of great saints such as Ronnie Smith.

The Austin Stone Church will be assisting Ronnie’s wife, Anita, financially.  If you would like to make a gift in memory of Ronnie Smith, please follow this link to the Austin Stone site.

Proceeds from the sale of The History of Redemption, an illustrated collection of scriptures edited by Ronnie Smith, will support the Smith family. You can purchase a copy of the book here.

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