It's us, Branden & Lauren!
We're missionaries with Overland Missions in Southern Africa. This is a little about us, about Overland, about the ministry God has entrusted to us, and about how you can be part of it all!
Lauren: I first went to Zambia with Overland Missions in 2015 for a two-week expedition, and quickly realized that the plans God had for my life were not the same as plans I had made for my life. I had never shared my faith with anyone, even though I grew up going to church, and I was challenged that my "Christian lifestyle" was not the same as openly sharing the Word of God with people who needed to hear it. Within three days I knew that this was the life God was calling me to. As soon as I got home, I signed up for Overland's next 3-month Advanced Mission Training (AMT). I quit my job and decided I would just go and listen, to see if this was really what God wanted for me.
A good while before the three months was up, I was convinced. Not only was God calling me to a life of missions, He was actually calling every believer to a life of following Him radically. I knew the call to go and make disciples of all nations was intended for me-that Jesus meant me when He said to go, and even better, that He had equipped me with His Holy Spirit to do the work He was calling me to. I excitedly joined the Expeditions and Sustain departments.
Branden: The first time I left the country (other than Canada which doesn't really count when you live in Pennsylvania) was when I went to Zambia for AMT. I signed up for the program when I was finishing college and decided to jump in head first, without really having a good understanding of what I was getting into. My mindset about missions was that it revolved heavily around "projects." So, freshly graduated with an agriculture degree, I decided I'd run over there, help some people farm, and once I'd finished doing some good deeds I could come back to America and get a "real" job. My preconceived ideas about what missions was definitely barred me from understanding what we would actually be doing, and needless to say I was rather surprised when i found out we were going to preach the Gospel house-to-house the first week we arrived in Zambia.
My priorities shifted drastically from that experience. God had a purpose for my life that was so much greater than my own and it needed to replace what I thought was important and go against the normal course of the world. Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, growing the Kingdom of God, is the only thing. How can my focus be on anything else when we have been given so great a calling, to be in communion with God and partner with Him as He works through your life? I am so grateful that God opened my eyes to what He wanted to do through me. There are so many things that we can do with our limited time here and I want all of the work of my life to be spent on things that are eternal and that give glory to God. Joining Overland was one of the easiest decisions ever. They are going to the places no one else is going and their objective is clear: preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and see lives transformed. I'm blessed to be a part of this team and to have the opportunity to carry the word to the ends of the earth.
We met in January 2017 at Overland's annual One Tribe Conference in Florida. We were both support raising at the time, and had both joined the Sustain department. So, after sitting in a team meeting together, playing some boardgames together, and realizing we were going to be seeing a lot of each other anyway, we decided to go ahead and get married (maybe it was a little more thought out than that...)! We spent our first six months in Zambia doing ministry separately, Branden with Sustain and Lauren in Expeditions and with Sustain in between trips. We returned to the states to get married at the end of that year!
Overland Missions was founded in 1999 by Phil and Sharon Smethurst
with the purpose of reaching unreached and neglected people groups with the simple and
beautiful message of Jesus Christ.
Since then, Overland has grown to almost 200 full time missionaries in 14 countries across South America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Our motto is "Any Road, Any Load, Any Time" meaning that no matter what it takes, we're willing to do it to get the very good news of the Gospel to people who may not have ever had the chance to hear it. We know that the Word of God has the power to overcome circumstances, to renew communities, to overthrow mindsets that stand against the knowledge of Him, and to change lives for eternity. No other project or propaganda has that kind of power. No government or man-made scheme can change people in the same way. The simple truth of Jesus Christ is everything we need. It's everything everyone needs. Every missionary with Overland does their job with that direct end goal: telling the whole world what God has done for us.
Overland is made up of a few departments that work together to reach people effectively.
Expeditions is the short-term missions department. Expedition leaders are full-time missionaries that spend half their year in their home country (mostly America) recruiting people to come on two-week trips, and the other half overseas leading those trips. Expeditions focus on evangelism, reaching as many people as possible in the span of about ten days. Often times, expeditions go to areas where our Sector missionaries are planning to start Bible studies and discipleship groups. Every year between May and August, Overland runs back to back expeditions in several countries simultaneously, and thousands of people hear the Gospel and begin a relationship with Jesus.
Sector is the department consisting of missionaries living in one location for many years. Sector missionaries make their home in the nation they're ministering to, usually returning to their native country once every other year for a few months. Their job is focused on discipleship of local believers, with the end goal of equipping local men and women of God to take over the role of ministry in their own communities. Sector missionaries may live and work in one place for 5-7 (or more) years, evangelizing, building relationships with local churches, starting bible studies, and training up believers to minister the word. As people take hold of the calling to teach and spread the word of God, sector missionaries can hand off more and more responsibilities to their disciples until they are no longer needed there! Then they pick up their lives, and move to a new place to start again.
Sustain. If you've spent any time with us, you've heard us talk about Sustain a lot! The Sustain department exists because we believe that the Gospel meets every need in our lives, whether spiritual, emotional, or physical. Jesus said that the life He bought for us is abundant life, not a meager life! We know He didn't mean that theoretically, or metaphorically, or that we have to wait until heaven to see it, but that the life we have in Jesus is a better life than we could ever hope for without Him! Check out our "Zambia" tab for more info about Sustain and Farming God's Way.
Water is essential to health and life! In Zambia, our water projects department repairs hand-pumped water wells that have often been unusable for years, providing fresh water to communities. In addition to repairing these wells, our team teaches the people who gather to help how to repair the well, what parts and equipment they would need to fix it again, and how they can save money as a community so that in the future, they can quickly repair the well themselves! In the time of celebration over a well that is working again, our team teaches about the Living Water that is far more essential to our lives than the water from that well.
The Life Project focuses on caring for the vulnerable through health care and kids ministry training. Our kids ministry team provides awesome training for believers to start their own clubs where kids can encounter the Gospel every week. Many of the kids who started coming to these awesome clubs years ago are now leading their own groups! Another amazing team within this department teaches a program called Helping Babies Breathe, which trains nurses to resuscitate babies who are born not breathing. It's a simple process, but since many medical workers are unaware that there is something that can be done, babies who are not breathing when they are born are considered stillborn, and no efforts are made to resuscitate. With this training and very simple equipment, nurses are able to revive these newborns with astonishing rates of success.
Chaplaincy Program. In Zambia and many other African countries, tribal leadership is a powerful and important part of the nation's culture and government, whether directly or indirectly tied to the political system. There are about 200 chiefdoms in Zambia, each lead by a chief or chieftainess who represents the culture, language, and specific traditions of that area. Oftentimes, the traditions that these leaders represent are steeped in witchcraft and ancestor worship. Overland started the Chief Chaplaincy Program to train godly men and women to provide direct support, help, and counsel to the chiefs. These people are selected by chiefs when they decide they want to be part of this program, so they are people that they trust. Our team has trained chaplains for more than half of the chiefs of Zambia, who are now fulfilling their roles to provide Biblical wisdom to their leaders. Many chiefs have openly declared that the culture they want to represent is the culture of the Kingdom of God! Annual chief ceremonies that previously revolved around the demonic are now celebrations of who Jesus is!