Engineering Twin Enthusiasms
As a student at Montana State University in Bozeman, Jason A. Smith struggled with depression and anxiety. His excessive drinking resulted in a forced semester off school, during which time he returned to his native Alaska.
While back home, Smith’s newly born-again aunt Elizabeth Lauder told him about Jesus. Her joy impacted Smith profoundly.
“I had never seen anyone who loved Jesus before,” recalls Smith, now 45. “I had never seen life in the Bible.”
Invigorated, Smith returned to Montana State University with a newfound desire to serve the Lord. He joined the University Christian Fellowship, the local Chi Alpha Campus Ministries chapter then under longtime leader Dick Schroeder.
“I was discipled in that life-giving group,” Smith remembers. “I walked through a lot of healing from depression and anxiety.”
Although he sensed a call to ministry, Smith had managed to accumulate a sizable debt en route to an electrical engineering degree in 2002. So he found good-paying work to reduce his financial obligations.
“God then gave me a tremendous job that I didn’t deserve,” Smith says. For the next 12 years, he worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He became part of the nuclear emergency response team; worked on quick response projects for the military, the FBI, and the CIA; and ended up working as lead engineer for an instrument on nuclear detention satellites. Along the way, Smith earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
With his career flourishing and while being groomed to be a national expert in the field of high voltage and space, Smith says his involvement with Chi Alpha at Mizzou rekindled the notion that the Lord had other plans.
“It’s appropriate that a call to ministry should cost something,” says Smith, a U.S. missionary.
Smith left his rewarding vocation to serve as a Campus Missionary-in-Training intern at Sam Houston State University in 2014. He served as Chi Alpha international outreach director at the school for an additional three years.
Then came an opportunity for Smith to combine his twin passions of electrical engineering and ministry.
In 2018, he restarted the Chi Alpha group at Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla, where future engineers and scientists are trained. Garrett and Emily Smith who also are U.S. missionaries, but not related to Jason, helped in the effort.
“I had thought about being a missionary overseas, but the Lord provided an avenue to go to an engineering school and see multiplication work,” says Smith. “I want to push these students who have been dreaming about being an engineer their whole lives into seeking the Lord and how they could use their education on the mission field rather than just accepting the highest-paying job.”
Smith opened a coffeeshop in Rolla in early 2022 to further his ministry goals of reaching people groups where it is difficult to preach the gospel.
“A coffeeshop can be opened about anywhere in the world,” Smith says.
His long-term vision is to give engineers avenues to use their degree in the mission field.
“I want engineering students to have a place to do business as missions, and the coffeeshop is the first step toward starting business as missions entities,” Smith says. “Is there a way these engineering graduates can go into the workforce with a bent toward missions to impact unreached people groups?”
With a team of students, Smith has launched an initial technical project to support an international partner, Water for All, a nonprofit company with a goal of provide clean, safe drinking water.
Smith and his wife of seven years, Abigail, along with Garrett and Emily Smith, have opened Coffeesmiths, a business in Rolla. Travellers House, a Springfield company owned by former national Chi Alpha administrative coordinator Cherie Venturella and her husband Greg, helped train the staff and provide expert advice about operating such a venture. The Venturellas are former AG world missionaries in Eastern Europe. Coffeesmiths, located in a renovated 130-year-old brick building, recently started serving breakfast and lunch.
Smith hopes the spot for coffee and tea is a blessing to the entire community, not just students.
“Coffeesmiths gives us unique opportunities to talk about Jesus with people we wouldn’t have known otherwise,” he says.
One of those impacted by Smith is Nigerian native Philip Olubodun, who graduated in the spring from Missouri S&T with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Olubodun met Smith at Rolla First Assembly of God just before Olubodun started classes at the school in 2018.
Olubodun joined a Chi Alpha small group and says Smith proved to be a good mentor and teacher. He appreciates that Smith always had time to answer questions, no matter how busy his schedule.
“Chi Alpha taught me the good news is meant to be shared,” says Olubodun, now enrolled in a direct doctorate program at the school. “Developing relationships with Christians and non-Christians is a big mindset in Chi Alpha as way to spread the gospel around the world.”
Abigail Smith, who met Jason at church in New Mexico, stays occupied helping with the ministry and raising the couple’s four children: Clara, 5; Maggie, 4; Benaiah, 3; and Abram, 1.
LOWER PHOTO: Philip Obubodun (left) is grateful for Jason Smith's mentoring and friendship.