I received the sad news today that a man I’m deeply privileged to have called ‘friend’ and ‘brother’ was promoted to glory last night. He has been affectionately called “Bullfrog”, “John Wesley on a motorcycle” and even “Intelligence on fire!” I am, of course, talking about Rev. Dr. John Smith – founder of God’s Squad Melbourne, Concern Australia, mission-troubadour and ordained-pioneer way before it was cool.
The following is an extract from a piece I wrote on him for my BA a few years ago. There’s a bit of extra pain in sharing this today, as after a lot of prayer and discernment, me and the family decided in January it was time for me to resign my membership of God’s Squad. The colours given to me personally by John Smith have gone back to the club, but the radical Jesus Movement culture we learned from him and others will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Every time I find myself in some shady bar or risky situation – I’ll be raising a glass of good scotch to you Smithy. Rest In Peace good and faithful servant.
The reason I want to share this paltry piece (alongside recommending that you read some of his own work), is that I believe Smithy had a pretty unique gift – in that he was the real-deal. A deeply faulted person, like all of us, but the real-deal nonetheless. I see a lot of Christians virtue-signalling on social media about the latest fad cause, but I don’t tend to see them in the soup-line sharing a meal with people. Smithy was different. He lived it. And he started living it in a time when it cost him his job at a Christian ‘mission’ agency, surely cost him some friends, and certainly cost him his reputation as a ‘clean-cut’ Christian minister. He was a man of his time, and some of his views might seem a little out-dated to the younger generation, but I hope you can see past this.
So if there’s one thing I’ll be taking from Smithy’s legacy, it’s this – I’m not going to try to gain kudos by talking about issues which affect people I don’t have proximity with. Smithy showed us a type of pioneering-incarnational-mission that came with blood, sweat, and tears. Literally. I hope this is an encouragement to people who’ve never heard of this great man, and comes with some comfort for those of us that are grieving. I’m glad to have been part of a culture where it’s ok for men to show their grief, tears, and affection for one another.
I might not be ok for a few days.