By MADOLINE MARKHAM
On her Highway 280 commute from Chelsea into Irondale each day in the late 1990s, Kimberly L. Smith contemplated her life in middle age, parenting the last of her children still in the house, working as a vice president of marketing, staying involved at church—all good things, she said, but something was missing. It was what she describes as a “restless growl in my soul.”
One morning while driving on County Road 43, a vivid vision played out of what would happen if she died in a car wreck there and then.
Smith’s vision became the beginning of the story of Make Way Partners, a Birmingham-based organization that fights human trafficking internationally, and of Smith’s dream to tell the stories of the oppressed.
“God has a unique dream for each of us,” Smith said. “So many of us are caught up in the American Dream—I was— until we find what that unique dream is.”
In her book, Passport Through Darkness, released the first of this year, Smith chronicles her journey from living on acreage in Chelsea to serving as “comfortable” missionaries in Spain and then from stumbling across human trafficking victims on a trip to Portugal to spending years ministering to the victims of human trafficking in Sudan and elsewhere in the world.
The compelling book is very real and very raw, as Smith honestly speaks of her own personal struggles in giving of herself and sharing in the suffering of so many.
“It’s worth it to me (to be so honest in order) to help some people and encourage others to step outside and live an authentic life,” she said.
With her words, Smith paints the faces of the women and children she meets. Through her own story, she tells their individual stories of rape, of abduction, of fear, of torture, of murder, of abandonment and of hope.
The stories aren’t comfortable and they aren’t pretty. When she initially proposed her book as a collection of women’s stories, but not her own, her agent told her people wouldn’t want to read it. People had compassion fatigue, the agent said, but they might want to read Smith’s own story.
Smith was bitter over this news, just as she was when churches told her not to come back after she and her husband, Milton, presented truth about human trafficking that was uncomfortable for people to hear.
“It seemed so unjust that people won’t read a story of the oppressed,” she said.
But in the end she fought past the bitterness and used her own story as an avenue to tell others’ stories.
“The Lord used a lot of people in my life to encourage me to tell our story,” she said, “and telling it has been authentic and healing for me. It’s a way to weave us all together; we are all in this together.”
Now in its seventh year, Make Way Partners, which started as a small family project, employs more than 200 in four countries and is supported in 50 states and 15 countries.
They have focused their efforts on areas where trafficking is growing the fastest in Eastern Europe and Africa, seeking to protect whatever people are being targeted for trafficking. In Sudan and the Congo, it’s orphans; they are in the process of building a third orphanage in the Sudan. In Romania, it’s all young girls; they have built a shelter for them. In Peru, it’s children along the Amazon basin vulnerable to former drug lords who have found human trafficking more profitable. And Smith is the visionary leader for it all. She is resolute to end human trafficking.
Make Way Partners sends missionaries and short term mission teams to equip their indigenous staff. The teams on their trips, often made of people from several state and countries, undergo extensive training to prepare to cope with brokenness they will face in ministering to the oppressed.
Today when she’s not traveling internationally or speaking around the country, Smith commutes on Highway 280 into Birmingham from her home in Sylacauga. Her husband, Milton, and daughter Bethany work for Make Way Partners; daughter Whitney and her husband, David Milton, are preparing to serve as missionaries abroad.
As she writes her weekly newsletters, travels to minister abroad and organizes efforts from Birmingham, Smith’s goal remains to save more women and children.
Her book has mobilized many and received glowing reviews from Jimmy Carter, Greg Garrison of The Birmingham News, Dr. Gary Fenton of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Phillip Yancey, Randy Alcorn and other well known authors and humanitarians. But more than any praise, Smith hopes that her book will call people to respond.
“Today there is so much pressure to fit in society and church,” she said, “I want to help people to understand that there is a bigger story out there and that we each have our own unique role in the world. Until we find what we are created to do, we don’t feel whole.”
Support Make Way Partners
Learn more about the organization. Visit makewaypartners.org.
Request reading materials to learn more about human trafficking and efforts to fight it. Contact Make Way Partners at firstname.lastname@example.org or 240-8597.
Read Passport Through Darkness. The book is available major book retailers, including Amazon, Books a Million, Barnes and Noble, Family Christian Stores and local Christian bookstores.
Keep up with Make Way Partners’ efforts. Visit Kimberly’s blog on kimberlylsmith.com and/or sign up for the Make Way partners email newsletters on makewaypartners.org.
Participate in Freedom Ride. Family bike ride hosted by Dawson Memorial Baptist Church on October 23. For more information, visit makewaypartners.org/ride.html.
Sign up for Our Father’s Dream Retreat. Smith will host the retreat at Grace Life Baptist Church in Bessemer on November 18 and 19.