A Christmas story from my book, A Life Lived Outdoors

christening josh and kellyMy book, A Life Lived Outdoors, published last year by Islandport Press in Yarmouth, includes two Christmas stories. But that’s not the only reason the book would be a great Christmas present! Here’s how Islandport describes the book:

In A Life Lived Outdoors, published by Islandport Press, popular Maine columnist and outdoor enthusiast George Smith reflects on the way life should be, could be, and sometimes is in the great state of Maine. From finding newborn mice in a drawer the first day back at camp, to saying goodbye to a beloved son after graduation, to searching for the right words to honor a friend, Smith transforms everyday encounters and outdoor adventures into an entertaining narrative that is both funny and heartfelt. In this collection of new and favorite columns, the former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and now regular contributor to the Bangor Daily News, the Kennebec Journal and the Waterville Morning Sentinel, finds the perfect hook to land your attention and keep you reading until the very last line.

“This book is a long valentine to the hills, small towns, back roads, woods, ponds, and streams (especially the streams) of Smith’s native state.” – from the foreward by Angus King, U.S. Senator (Maine).

You can purchase the book from any book store, online from Islandport Press or Amazon, or directly from me by mailing a check for $20 (includes shipping) to George Smith, 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352.

And now, here is one of those Christmas stories, from the book.

Josh brings the world home at Christmas

Today he begins a long journey home, flying from South Africa to New York, bringing a message that seems most appropriate for Christmas: the best thing in life is serving others.

Our 24-year-old son’s East African mission is over for now, but the spirit of service that has already taken him around the world may be his life’s work.

Josh took to mission work at Stonehill College and spent his first postgraduate year serving the homeless in Portland, Oregon. But his story actually starts sooner than that. He had an amazing experience during a “Semester at Sea” when he took college courses while sailing completely around the world visiting many countries. That experience created in Josh a hankering to explore the world and serve those afflicted with the most devastating poverty and sickness.

In his short life, he has already seen much, from the Indian orphanage of Mother Teresa to the refugee camps of Tanzania, with stops in Japan, China, Vietnam, Brazil, Cuba, and other countries. He seems particularly taken with Africa.

For the past eight months, the last four with his girlfriend Kelly, he has been traveling in East Africa, seeing the sights and volunteering in various missions. It has been a challenging experience, some of which we’ve been able to share thanks to email.

“I found South Africa to be a very complicated and fascinating country,” he reported in one of his first messages last April. “In my mind, things had clearly changed for the better a decade after apartheid and there is cause for optimism. However, the nation is still divided by race and income; the contrast between gated suburbs and inhumane townships is jarring. The intensity and danger that flows form this reality was somewhat exhausting.”

You can imagine how concerned his mother and I have been about Josh’s safety, even though we are aware that his planning was meticulous.

In June, Josh joined a team from our own Methodist Church in Readfield to work in a church-sponsored mission in Kaoma, Zambia. When our friends brought back a video of their visit, Josh looked so happy and healthy. We felt much better.

You may read Josh’s blog here. (NOTE: given today’s controversy about Muslims, Josh’s blog is particularly relevant).

Kelly’s emails were sometimes heart wrenching. In Uganda, she taught primary school students. “The children seemed to enjoy their time with me as each day I was presented with gifts of potatoes, bananas, sugar cane, and the like. These children weren’t able to eat breakfast and usually lunch as a result of poverty, yet they found it important to share with me the little they had. An incredibly humbling experience,” she wrote.

Classes were crowded (60kids in her two sections) and resources very limited. “Such simple things as rain can prevent the students from reaching school, since many walk for miles in each direction to get to school and back home each day,” Kelly reported. “In many ways good education is a luxury of rich nations.”

While working to address the many problems surrounding them, Josh and Kelly found great peach and beauty in Africa, from Victoria Falls to the island of Lamu where they wrote, “It was nice that it was safe enough to walk at night, but more than that, it was actually peaceful… People seemed even more friendly than normal with calls of “Karibou” or “you are welcome” following us everywhere.”

Josh’s insightful reports on the Muslim communities, the epidemic of AIDS, political situations, the work of U.S. aid groups, beggars in Malawi, and even the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda, are remarkable.

Josh and Kelly were thrilled to finally get a permit to visit Josh’s friend Watema Emmanuel in a Tanzanian refugee camp, where this young man has been languishing for seven years after fleeing his war-ravaged homeland in the Congo. Watema’s story is unbelievable but true.

After watching his family members brutally murdered when the Congo exploded in civil war, Watema escaped, living without food in the woods for days before linking up with an uncle and finding a boat to cross Lake Tanganyika to Tanzania, where he was given a meal and a blue tarp to make his new home with hundreds of thousands of other refugees.

Since then, he has seen his sister and her husband die of AIDS and inherited responsibility for their children. After spending seven years surrounded by the crush of poverty and sickness in his refugee camp, Watema remains amazingly upbeat, hoping to get an education and return to his homeland, something to think about when we review our own wish lists this Christmas.

Central Maine Newspapers, December 20, 2006

Update: Josh and Kelly are now married and live in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, where he works for a wonderful program, My Brother’s Keeper, serving the poor in the greater-Brockton region, and Kelly is an exceptional elementary school teacher. Twenty months ago they gave Linda and I the best gift you could ever hope for – our granddaughter Ada. Merry Christmas to all!

PHOTO: Josh, Kelly, and Ada



George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.