Q&A with Murray and Ash Smith: God is faithful in transition
By Alice Clarke
Murray and Ash Smith are the lead pastors of Catch The Fire Raleigh. They also oversee the connection and mentoring of Catch The Fire pastors around the world.
At Christmas in 2007, Duncan and Kate Smith were visiting Murray and Ash in Sydney, Australia. Duncan and Kate were preparing to plant Catch The Fire Raleigh, and during the vacation the Holy Spirit prompted them to invite Murray and Ash to join them.
Murray and Ash’s heart response was an immediate “yes!” But the move wasn’t an easy or straightforward one.
When I chatted to Murray and Ash in August, we started off talking about their transition from Australia to the USA from 2007 to 2009.
Duncan and Kate invited them to a one week International Leaders School in South Africa in May 2008.
Ash: We went and got absolutely wrecked. We felt like this was God, but we wanted to immerse ourselves a bit more in the values, so Murray took six weeks off from his job, and we took all the kids to Toronto and did the Leaders School in July 2008. That was amazing.
It took us some time to figure out all the visa stuff because initially, [Duncan and Kate] didn’t offer us a paid position. They just said come, and we were like, “yes, we’re in,” but you can’t get in to the US that easily.
Murray: But the Holy Spirit kept highlighting the USA as the place to go to.
Ash: And we felt peace about it. But we were getting to a point where we couldn’t make it happen, and we were like, “God, if this is you, please do something or take the desire away from us.”
That was easter Friday 2009, and we were praying, “God, it feels hard to be in this place of transition for so long.” At the end of that weekend, Kate called us and said, “Actually, we want to offer you a job. There’s a visa for Australians.”
Murray had become an Australian citizen, so they offered him the role of finance manager. We put our application in, went to the US embassy, and at the interview, the guy approved our two-year visa there an then. So we sold our stuff that we needed to sell and then by August, we were here in Raleigh. So the last bit, we kind of got shot out!
Q: That’s pretty fast, and with four girls as well!
Murray: And a dog!
Q: Did you bring your dog over?
Ash: We did! It was good because when we got here, she arrived the day after. And for our girls, and for Murray and I, she was like a constant, faithful companion.
Murray: That worked out really well.
Ash: It was the second continental move that we had all made, except for Sarah who was born in Australia.
Murray: The older three were born in England, and then we moved to Australia in 2002 to plant a church in Melbourne which failed, but that’s another whole story! There’s no such thing as failing, it’s falling forward I suppose (laughs).
Q: So, what was that experience like as a whole family, relocating and following what God was calling you to do?
Ash: Parts of it were absolutely incredible, just to see God opening doors. The favour that came in it and the provision, like selling our house in Sydney and the visa, I feel like that was a real gift.
But then there’s the transition of unplugging from where you’re at. All my family are in Australia and we had a very strong church family that we were part of as well. Our whole family was very knitted in. The kids had quite formative experiences there. Even though God had spoken to some of them about it, so they were involved in the process, you never really know until you get somewhere what it’s going to be like.
Murray: We had a prophetic word from Isabel [Allum] at the school in 2008 that was actually vital for us in that whole transition. Part of the word was, “It’s going to feel like you are stepping on to stepping stones. It’s going to feel wobbly and unsure. But don’t worry, this is God. Don’t look back, keep moving forward.” We thought in Australia that’s what we were on, but we didn’t realize that was actually when we moved to America. It took our kids some time to transition into the school system and actually get used to it.
Ash: And the culture.
Murray: It was actually a little tougher than I was expecting having done it already once before. We knew it was right because the Holy Spirit was right with us. But at the time we really had to hold on to those prophetic words.
Ash: There have been times that have been hard. I remember some nights, it makes me emotional actually to think about it. I remember the girls, and they would just be in tears, and I would be just praying, because you can’t make it happen. You know, you reach out and we’re good at making friends, but there has to be the internal connection. I think what it’s done is just given our girls a real appreciation and compassion for people who feel like they don’t belong or are new.
Murray: It had some good moments, some amazing moments. Raleigh is an amazing place to live. Being with Duncan and Kate and the cousins is so good for our girls. They just loved those things, but there was definitely a cost and definitely some hard challenging moments which I’m sure every church planter feels, right! Because on top of that we were not just moving countries but now in a church planting situation that in and of itself has some pretty highs and some pretty lows.
Ash: So, it’s not the romantic experience. But it’s still been good. I feel like our girls are really doing well. It just took longer than we thought.
Murray: We definitely couldn’t have done it without the Holy Spirit’s help, that's for sure
Q: You said you wanted to get immersed in Catch The Fire values when you went to the Leaders School back in 2008. How would you say your hearts and lives have been transformed by that?
Murray: The church that we had been a part of in England, our pastors had actually been to Toronto in ‘94. I remember the Holy Spirit breaking out, it was incredible.
Ash: So we’d had that experience of joy and the manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
Murray: But we hadn’t really experienced the healing of life’s hurts as much, and the Father's heart. I suffered from that sense of, “I love Jesus, but I’m not sure what the Father thinks of me.”
So learning to live in the Father’s love, knowing that I’m a son, that he loves me, he likes me, and that he’s always happy to be with me, has been a massive revelation for me. The Holy Spirit’s really got deeply into my identity to pull out the gold as he loves to do.
There’s something about the Father’s love and the healing of life’s hurts that has been so rich and deep for us. Especially with me and identity.
Ash: I think the priority of encountering God's presence right now, every day, whether it’s on a Sunday morning, or a Monday morning, and expecting him to come and meet with me and change me, and then I get to do that with someone else, has just been revolutionary. And the acceptance, that he loves me as I am, and he loves me so much that he’s not going to leave me as I am.
For me, some of the key things have been forgiveness. I had a lot of unforgiveness toward my dad, and when I first got saved, that was obvious to me so the Holy Spirit had helped me to work through some of that. But I had a lot of pain still left on the inside of me, from residual issues of abandonment.
Leaving room for the Holy Spirit and receiving for myself, to allow him to come in and do what only he can do, has just been incredible for me. Walking out real forgiveness, where I’ve been able to get to a place where I can look at my dad, and even if my dad doesn’t change, I can love him and honour him and not get dragged back into the past. The real heart forgiveness of letting it go and releasing him and releasing myself has been huge.
Q: Tell me about what you love in your roles at Catch The Fire now
Ash: I love being part of a team. We lead the local team in Raleigh, but I very much enjoy being part of that team and not feeling like I’m alone in it.
We actually get paid to do what we love! It’s such a gift actually. I feel like it’s such an honour and a real privilege. I love to be able to be part of people’s journey and see them become who they were created to be. And not just in the local church, I love that I’m part of something that’s bigger.
Murray: Yeah, it’s much the same for me. To partner with the Holy Spirit to build the church to see people’s lives getting transformed is really good. I love the people that we work with and I love being able to have friends all over the world.
I love the prophetic and the revelation of what God wants to build. I think part of my call in the prophetic is to be a builder. One of the things I feel passionate about here is [finding out] what season are we in: what is Holy Spirit saying to us as a church? What are we doing as a church and where are we going? I love being able to do that and build with the Holy Spirit.
Ash: One of the things that I really love about being part of Catch The Fire is that we love to have fun and we enjoy being together, being with God. And so wherever we go, when we’re on calls, when we’re with the pastors around the world, wherever we are, we have fun!