Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Living life as Thoreau might

Bethany Smedley was a little girl when she turned the cover of “Chasing the Dragon,” by Jackie Pullinger. It's the story of Pullinger's travels to Hong Kong to become a missionary. Inside Hong Kong was the infamous walled city, Kowloon. Strangers were not welcome there. Police hesitated to enter. Prostitution, pornography and drug addiction flourished.

Pullinger had grown up believing that if she put her trust in God, he would lead her. When she was 20, God called her to Kowloon. As she spoke of Jesus Christ there, brutal hoodlums were converted, prostitutes reformed, and heroin junkies found power that freed them from the bondage of drugs.

Pullinger prayed, “Lord, it would be worth my whole life to save just one of them.”

When she read those words, Bethany Smedley paused, put her book down, and experienced an epiphany. “I'm going to be that girl,” she said to herself. She answered what philosopher Joseph Campbell called the hero's journey. Smedley became the heroine of her own story, traveling to Taiwan, Burma, Thailand, Mexico and Costa Rica. She embraced the challenge that John F. Kennedy proposed, that here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own.

After traveling throughout Asia ministering to the drug-ridden, the politically and socially oppressed and the sexually abused, Smedley is back home working and raising the funds necessary to support another mission. She works at Starbucks in La Cañada. She's the girl with the big eyes and the beautiful smile. She'll pour your coffee and make you feel like family.

“Working at Starbucks is fascinating; everyone has a story,” she says.

You ought to hear her story.

As a little girl, Smedley began proselytizing under the guidance of her parents Jim and Karen, seduced by the Jesus movement of the '60s. Standing on the corner of a Hollywood intersection passing tickets out for God, she would remark to the pedestrians, “Jesus loves you!”

Her message is not trite. I have to tell you, during my darkest moments in Vietnam I found hope in the love of Christ.

Smedley became involved with Youth with a Mission, studying discipleship, leadership, liturgy, evangelism and ministry development, earning credits for a degree at the University of Nations. There she met the Free Burma Rangers, who risk their lives traveling into the interior of Burma, passing out Bibles, medicines and supplies. “I wanted to do something bigger. I want to be a superhero to save others,” she said. Her passion to serve was solidified.

She learned what we should learn. We are larger than we thought we could be. Following a quest gives us experiences that enlarge our humanity. We are all called to a life larger than the one we are in and when we answer it, we follow the hero's journey.

Smedley spoke of people eating out of trash dumps and living in squalor, girls being raped and families being persecuted.

“Life is short; there is so much need in this word; I want to leave my mark. I never felt more alive than when I was ministering in a refugee camp or digging a hole for a latrine,” she said.

Her break was over; she had to resume her duties as a barista. As she left she said, “I love living on the edge; riding on the back of a truck and staring at the endless rice paddies.”

I got it. Thoreau said, “I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” That's what Smedley was doing.

JOE PUGLIA can be reached at Visit his website at

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