Alumna's South Africa ministry has traveled well

Editor's note: Reprinted from the April issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version of the magazine, click here

By Mike Kilen
GCU Magazine

Iris Cato-Smith said she rarely goes on a trip just for enjoyment. The law school graduate, who today prepares taxes and is a leader of Grace Temple Church of God in Christ in Denver, always ends up working on something.

So when she went to South Africa in 2008 on a reduced rate from her travel agent friend, it was no surprise that ministry surfaced. She met a man who knew many of the pastors in the rural areas, and she asked to visit with them.

Iris Cato-Smith graduated from GCU in 2014.

“They had never seen people from America,” said Cato-Smith, 75, who earned a master’s degree in Christian Studies with an Emphasis in Pastoral Ministry from Grand Canyon University in 2014. “We went from village to village, or they started coming to us and wanted to know if they could join our organization and if we could help them.”

She was so struck by their need that she went back twice a year for the next 10 years and helped affiliate 15 faith communities with the Church of God in Christ. They had a similar understanding of Scripture, she said, and so valued their new relationship that some pastors have traveled to the U.S. to connect.

“Two of our churches were headed by medical doctors near Limpopo. I set up a church, and about 30 days later we get to the church and can’t get in. It’s full,” she said.

“They were looking to God to serve. They went and got all their families, and these churches filled up. In the villages they didn’t have an outlet and they loved to have a God that is provable by the Bible. They were glad to have us shake their hands and greet them in the name of the Lord.”

One of the doctors set up a church in the back of his house. Some walked nearly three hours to get to churches far outside Pretoria.

“One time I flew into the airport at 8 p.m., and I had no idea it was a four-hour drive to get to the church,” she said. “It was midnight, and they were still waiting. They didn’t care what time it was.

“They had candles and no electric lights. They even laid down leaves. We walked through that and it was beautiful, like Jesus was walking into Sunday service.”

Patrick Demmer, superintendent of a Colorado district of Church of God, said its predominantly African-American denominations were thrilled to have fellowship with the African churches that she facilitated. “It was invaluable because many of us don’t have any connections to our homeland.”

Cato-Smith credits her studies at GCU as instrumental in helping guide her church plantings and hopes to return to South Africa in 2023 as pandemic restrictions wane.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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