Born out of the natural heart of many CS missions for social action, Groundswell Aid is an initiative of Christian Surfers that seeks to to harness the resources of the surfing community to impact the global community with God's love. Zach & Dani Smith were recently hired to head up Groundswell Aid out of the Christian Surfers International head office in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.
So Zach and Dani, you've been hired to run Groundswell Aid. How did you get involved?
We initially inquired about being the house parents for the CSALT program in J-Bay but the start date was going to be challenging to sort out due to Zach's work. Roy Harley reached out to us and asked how we felt about coming to J-Bay to run with Groundswell Aid instead and described it as, "social justice/community development meets Jesus and surfers." We knew it was what we'd been waiting for!
More than just a change in job, the role required you to move from Atlanta, Georgia to South Africa, a less-than-stable country that also includes plenty of less-than-friendly ocean activity. How do you both feel about that?
We're no strangers to South Africa. Zach worked in J-Bay from 2010-2014 and after getting engaged in 2014, we both lived in J-Bay and got married that year on the beach in front of Supertubes. We consider ourselves very lucky that God has called us to such a beautiful and diverse place. And we consider the ocean animals our friends. :)
You're both new to Christian Surfers. What were you doing before Groundswell?
Dani: After graduating from university, I worked in Cambodia for two years teaching at an international school and doing church planting in a village about an our from the city. It was a very difficult decision to leave but felt that God wanted me to learn about helping in a more systematic way. I moved to Denver and spent the next two years working with the homeless population in Colorado and Texas. After realizing that my work there would never take me back to overseas missions, I returned to university to get my Masters in Bilingual Education, hoping it would open up opportunities for long-term work abroad. It was then that Zach and I reconnected and I finished my schooling while living in South Africa. After getting married, we returned to Zach's hometown in Atlanta to pay off my student loan and I worked for two years at our local church.
Zach: Since high school, I've worked on and off for my family's business in training professional and Olympic athletes. It's given me a unique opportunity to build relationships with an insider community, many of whom are seen as role models in our culture. It's also opened up doors for me to live in China and work at their national training center in Beijing. I've worked in the townships of South Africa running an after school program and more recently a soccer league.
What are you most looking forward to about working with Groundswell and what do you foresee the role entailing?
We both really want to spend this year serving people in whatever way is most helpful, knowing it will look different for each project and each country. Roy has inspired us with a vision of what Groundswell could be so we want to spend our first months on the ground connecting with the amazing leaders who are already engaged with social justice projects in their area and discuss how we can help them go further, faster. We've also already connected with one "Corporate Partner" and are excited about the possibility of partnering with more organizations around the world who are equally stoked about reaching surfers and making much of Jesus's name.
Out of your years of service in ministry, what do you feel has been the most impactful moment or story for your own faith?
Dani: I remember walking down the street where I lived in Cambodia and praying that God wouldn't change anything in my life. I felt like my cup was completely full of blessings; I had amazing friends, was loving being undivided in my devotion to the Lord as a single person, thought I had the best job on the planet and loved discipling my students, was living very simply but had every need met. Later that year, God flipped everything upside down and stripped all of that away to take me somewhere new. He didn't have less for me, but more. I learned to never think that my idea of blessings are the same as the Lord's. He gives us perfect gifts just when we need them and the richest blessing of them all is always deeper intimacy with the Father.
Zach: After finishing my Masters degree, I took a year and a half to see what God was up to around the world, specifically to live out James 1:27. It was a crazy year. I met some great people, experienced God's beauty through His creation, saw God come through time and time again, and yet I witnessed abject poverty of the likes I had never seen. From the biggest slum in Africa to earthquake-torn Haiti, from AIDS infected special needs children in Kenya, to street kids in Brazil, from severely sexually abused girls in Honduras, to orphans in Mexico, and many more. God continuously broke my heart and taught me through and among these people. Along the way, I was climbing some of the world's highest mountains, and ministering to backpackers too! Get someone in a tent on the side of the mountain and they'll let you talk about anything to fend off boredom.
How did you both initially get in to surfing?
Zach: My dad grew up a surfer and we had a family beach house in the Outer Banks. While I was landlocked growing up in Atlanta, we spent our summers and every other chance we got in OBX.
Dani: Zach started giving me lessons a couple of years ago and gave me a fuchsia single fin long board as my wedding gift. He always says that the best surfer is the one having the most fun so if that's true, I'm getting pretty good. ;)
Thanks guys, we'll be praying for you throughout the move and as you continue in the role!