Life has been a journey of ups and downs for Craig and LaDonna Smith who call Arizona home.
The Smiths, whose history together began in northern Minnesota, were in Redwood Falls recently to talk about a life changing incident that God has used to enhance an already existing ministry.
Craig, whose grandfather was the first Ojibwe to come to a saving faith in his tribe, and over the years the Smith family has ministered to their people and other American Indians across the United States.
“My dad is in his 80s, and he has faithfully been in ministry for almost 70 of those years,” said Craig, who talked about the family ministry during his stay in Redwood Falls. “What a heritage and example he has been to me.”
Of course, Craig has been an example for others, too, as he and LaDonna share their story – a story that they really should not be telling, because they should not have survived the crash they were in June 9, 2009.
“We were on our way to do some ministry work in Canada, and on the way rolled our vehicle in New Mexico,” said Craig.
LaDonna experienced a neck fracture she was told 90-95 percent of those who have that same fracture do not survive.
Craig, who was a passenger in the rear of the vehicle they were riding in actually did die.
“I died in the Santa Fe ER,” said Craig. "They revived me and then put me on a helicopter to the only Level 1 trauma center in New Mexico. I was in a coma for two months.”
While Craig survived, he said the journey back was long and hard, and the therapy continues today.
While still in a coma, Craig had 15 different surgeries to repair various problems, and after regaining consciousness he had to have six more. Most of that surgery was spent reconstructing Craig.
Craig was told he would never walk again, and even though he spends much of his time in a wheelchair, he said he can use crutches to get around – another way he has beaten the odds.
Craig is currently working on a book he has entitled “Mile Marker 313” which tells the story of the accident and the faithfulness of God he experienced during recovery.
“I was in New Mexico for five months after the accident,” he said. “My experience is a miracle from God, and today he has used the entire experience to help us tell the story of his faithfulness.”
One of the things the Smiths emphasize during their ministry stops is the importance of taking the time to thank those who serve in emergency roles.
Page 2 of 2 - He said after he had recovered the Smiths went on a Tour de Thanks, speaking with so many of the people who saved them.
Time after time they were told no one had ever done that before, and as a result he makes sure when he stops in a community he spends time encouraging people to get out and express their appreciation for those from law enforcement to ambulance drivers.
“I encourage churches to have a community appreciation day where they honor them,” he said, “because it’s the right thing to do.”
As Craig and LaDonna are both American Indian, they like to spend time sharing their story on reservations when they are able to do that.
During their stop in the area, the couple shared their story at the Upper Sioux and Lower Sioux communities.
Smith, who also wrote a book called “Whiteman’s Gospel,” said the message he shares with the American Indian community is one where they can identify with the Jesus of his faith.
“I want them to understand who he is,” said Craig, adding in many ways the American Indian can identify with Jesus a lot more than whites can.
Jesus was born to a people group who were dominated by another culture, adding like the people of Israel the American Indian has not been given a “good shake.” Yet, he added, the Jesus of the Bible did not fight back. He demonstrated love – the kind of love everyone can experience regardless of race.
Craig and LaDonna met in northern Minnesota and have been in ministry together as a couple for decades. They both share with audiences and sing. Craig said they probably spend more time on the road than they do at home.
That, he said, is OK with them, because it offers them the chance to meet lots of new people and to share with them something they believe in strongly.
“I consider myself to be God’s mouthpiece,” said Craig. “I don’t make the changes in people. God does that.”
Craig has seen the power of the changed life, adding not everyone accepts the message. He knows they are not rejecting him.
Having experienced all he has in his life, one would not be surprised to see a melancholy man in Craig, but those who have met him encounter one with just the opposite kind of life attitude.
Craig and LaDonna both exude joy as they talk about their faith and share their story of God’s grace.
It is demonstrating that joy which allows people to see through them the heart of the God they trust.