The Smoots: Adventurers of Africa

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When you think of Africa, what do you think of? Perhaps you think of a desert containing a slithering snake and a local riding a camel under the hot sun? Or maybe you think of villagers carrying water on their heads to their grass huts? Or even tribal warriors gearing up for a skirmish, complete with war paint, spears and a loincloth?

Beautiful. That is how Heidi Smoot sees Kenya, where she lived for ten years. Eric, her twin, enjoyed the consistent weather. Haley, her older sister, loved the stillness and peacefulness of the desert while they lived in Mauritania for almost a year in-between their period in Kenya. Although it was beautiful, their stay was littered with periodic violence and riots.

On a day-to-day basis, life was pretty normal though. The Smoots would get up, go to school, go to basketball practice or other extra-circular activities, go home, do their homework, and go to sleep.

Haley played forward on the varsity basketball team for her local public school. “I never played for tournaments on Sabbath, it was hard because it felt like I was letting the other team members down, but usually they were good about it.” She admirably kept her convictions even when her friends pressured her and it wasn’t the easy to do. Haley continues talking about her faith and how it was easier in Africa to be a Christian compared to the States. “I went to school with a lot of missionary kids, and those who claimed to be Christians were legit. Here [USA] there are a lot more fakers.”

Heidi had a different take on things.  She believes living a Christian life and keeping a close relationship with God was harder in Kenya, “It was difficult because not all the kids were Christians, but our church community was helpful and all the beauty around you showed God.” She continued to say it is easier in the States going to an SDA school where you don’t have to explain yourself.

Although it is a beautiful continent, there were more than a few terrifying moments in Africa. Haley and Heidi’s father, Chris Smoot is a humanitarian aid worker. He worked in Bangladesh for 3 years with ADRA, Somalia (stationed in Kenya) with World Vision for 10 years, and many other countries. Haley described his trips as the “usual,” complete with caravans of pickups full of machine guns mounted on the back, and Kevlar vests.

While living in Mauritania there was an unsuccessful coup d’état (an overthrow of the government usually by the military), which was highly dangerous. “It was scary, there was no way for us to evacuate, if you left you would get shot!” Haley relates. This military rule lasted for a little while, but it was the most intense the first three days, after that [you] could at least leave the compound for necessities. Haley continues to describe the situation, “it would be completely silent, then in the middle of the night gunshots would erupt. Tanks patrolled the streets and guards with AK-47’s were present.”

Heidi describes how her parents set up a bunker to keep them safe through this ordeal.  “The gardener and my parents dug a hole and covered it with boards and put a blow up pool on top of the boards to disguise it.” Heidi describes the coup as “scary and interesting.”  The family hunkered down and waited till the worst of the fighting was over.

The family moved back to Kenya 11 months after moving to Mauritania, and was stationed there during the violent 2007 elections.  They were told to bring an overnight pack to school in case they had to stay overnight due to violence. “Instead of snow days we had riot days,” said Haley, “At home they were supposed to stay down and keep all windows shut.” Eric liked the riots because he got to stay home from school. Heidi told a story of how they had been walking down a main road and not even fifteen minutes later a riot began there and many were killed. Haley tells of the destruction, “it was horrible! People would buy machetes in bulk, many churches were burned, towns were desolated, and many politicians paid young people to protest.” Everyone was evacuated, but Mr. Smoot refused to leave; he didn’t think it would turn out to be so severe. The Smoots weren’t targeted, but if the US government had taken sides Haley has no doubt their lives would be a lot more dramatic.

Throughout all these hardships and trials, the whole family held to their faith, and was able to find beauty in everything. Heidi’s favorite part of her whole experience was simply camping. She enjoyed the peace and tranquility. Haley found beauty in the “premium” weather, “it began cold, then hot, then back to cold.”

The Smoots are an inspiration; their adventuresome experience excites one. As illustrated in the Smoot’s testimony, God can work through a willing person, and He never fails to care for His children.  Haley’s favorite bible verse is 2 Cor. 12:9-10, “ Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Noel Harris

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