InterVarsity Alumni - Charles Smith, Indiana

July 29, 2005

His daily Quiet Time of prayer and Bible reading was important to Charles Smith when he was a pre-med student at Indiana University in Bloomington Indiana during the 1940’s. But he doesn’t remember meeting another Christian during that time. Four years of isolation took its toll on his spiritual life. “I really struggled,” he remembers. “I didn’t grow.”

After graduation he moved to the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. Almost immediately his roommate invited him to the Campus Christian Fellowship.

His daily Quiet Time of prayer and Bible reading was important to Charles Smith when he was a pre-med student at Indiana University in Bloomington Indiana during the 1940’s. But he doesn’t remember meeting another Christian during that time. Four years of isolation took its toll on his spiritual life. “I really struggled,” he remembers. “I didn’t grow.”

After graduation he moved to the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. Almost immediately his roommate invited him to the Campus Christian Fellowship. “The first night I thought, ‘This is what I’ve needed all these years.’”

A year or so later Stacy Woods came to Indianapolis and invited the medical school’s Christian Fellowship to become one of Indiana’s first InterVarsity chapters. That community of Christian believers shaped Charles Smith for the ministry that has been his passion ever since, even though his career turned out differently than he expected. It’s also where he met his wife Letha, a nursing student who had been one of the co-founders of Campus Christian Fellowship.

Once he received his medical degree they planned to go into missionary medicine, as had many of their friends from Campus Christian Fellowship. He attended the Urbana Student Mission Convention in 1951 with the goal of finding a mission agency and connecting with an overseas assignment.

Instead he was struck by the words of a young philosophy professor who spoke at Urbana that year. “Obligating yourself to support someone overseas is the best way I know to maintain your vision for missions and to keep from becoming materialistic as you settle into a job in this country.” He discovered those words from Dr. W. Robert Smith challenged and encouraged him as he faced rejection from one mission board after another for a variety of reasons that were hard to understand at the time.

Charles and Letha finally concluded that God wanted them to focus on helping others do what they had wanted to do. Words written by David Adeney, a former missionary to Asia, provided additional clarification and encouragement: “God’s estimate of the value of life’s service is not determined by the geographical position in which that service is rendered; rather it is determined by the extent to which it is according to his will.”

Approximately 80 missionaries and InterVarsity staff have been supported by the Smiths over the last half century. Seven of the missionaries’ children lived in the Smith home while they attended college. For many years the Smiths also hosted weekly evangelistic meetings for college students that often drew several hundred at a time to their home.

He told students at Urbana ’81 that it was “an exciting life being involved in the support of other missionaries whom God had given overseas assignments. Now I can not only be a Christian physician in Kokomo, Indiana, where I practice, but I can be involved in the medical ministry of Dr. Phyllis Irwin in Pakistan, Dr. Steve Dillinger in the Ivory Coast, Dr. Tom Cairns in Zaire, Dr. Steve Foster in Angola.”

He expanded on his philosophy of ministry in a booklet that was published by InterVarsity Press in 1981, “What If I Don’t Go Overseas?” The booklet concluded, “Whether God leads you to go or to stay and help others go, all believers have a responsibility to actively participate in the proclamation of the gospel to the entire world.”

Charles says he always emphasized the partnership between the sender and the goer. “It’s hard to fall in love with a missions budget (to inspire your giving) but not hard at all with missionaries,” he says. Relationships with missionaries enriched not only his own life but “had a tremendous impact on our kids.”

When he reached the traditional retirement age of 65, Charles found himself only halfway to the financial giving goal he had set for himself. So he continued his medical practice. “Some of the most productive years of my life were after (age) 65,” he says. And he met his goal by the time he retired at age 76.

Today, at the age of 82, Charles Smith is retired but still has a supporting relationship with 25 missionaries. Relationships that began out of the Bible studies and prayer meetings at medical school almost 60 years ago, are still strong. “I got my vision for the world through that group,” he says. “I immediately saw the value of community, meeting with other Christians and stimulating each other to grow.”

Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” [Matt. 18:20, NIV]

Photo courtesy of Beth Tebbe