Messages of Hope

‘Vale’, John Smith (‘Smithy’)

Published / by Sandy

Motivational Speaker, Doctoral Researcher of Cultural Anthropology, Author, Advocate, Social Commentator, Academic, Human Rights campaigner, Biker, and Unorthodox Evangelist. He addressed the United Nations, nearly faced execution in the Philippines, founded numerous charities and spent much of his life with outlaws and the marginalised. An impressive bio.

Many people will remember John Smith’s contribution to the God Cares campaign in SA schools in the early 80’s. John died on March 6th, 2019, and a memorial services was held on Saturday 23rd March. Rev. Dr John Smith was an international speaker, author, and founder and President of God’s Squad Christian Motorcycle Club International, Concern Australia and St Martin’s Community Church in Melbourne. He was an evangelist and and a leader of great integrity and authenticity. He had a profound impact on the lives of so many, from bikers to school students, business leaders and academics, church leaders and politicians, university students, the poor and marginalised, and outlaw motorcycle club members. John lived faithfully the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. He somehow found time to complete a doctorate on the Jesus movement in Australia.

Eternity News recently published an article on John Smith which captures something of his passion for sharing the gospel. His leadership was less about self-promotion and self-importance, and more about a humility of spirit that pointed people to God and the life of Jesus. He was a straight talker and a ‘counter-cultural warrior’ – fiery, direct, enthusiastic, prophetic, passionate, and compassionate. In his presentations, he held culture in one hand and the Bible in the other, quoting poetry by Henry Lawson alongside lyrics from contemporary musicians, alongside the words of Scripture.

Rev Dr John Smith (‘Smithy’), founder of God’s Squad

An article by God’s Squad Christian Motorcycle Club: “He taught us how the Bible was not a book to pull ‘proof texts’ from, to justify personal gain. Neither should we conveniently skip over the hard to read passages, like loving your enemies and doing good to those who persecute you. He introduced us to new travelling companions in the scriptures such as Jeremiah and his laments, the counter cultural prophetic voices of Amos and Micah, which saw him at his most animated, in full flight preaching on a festival stage. He highlighted the frailty of King David, and introduced us to the blues songs in the Psalms that pointed to the hope of the gospel”.

John’s ministry with the God Squad seemingly came out of nowhere. At the time, he was an “orthodox” Baptist minister, beginning to feel drawn towards people on the fringes of society.
“While driving towards Bendigo, I passed a bunch of menacing-looking outlaw bikers parked by the side of the road. Oddly, I felt a surge of compassion for these guys who no one really wanted to know. Despite their apparent toughness, I found they were often vulnerable and lost but searching for a better life. Also the more I dug into Jesus’s life, the more I was challenged by the way he ministered to the outcasts of his day. I reckoned the bikers had to be the “lepers” of our society. So I began to pray that God would raise up someone able to get alongside such outsiders and show them something of the love of Christ. I sensed a reply, “Why don’t you answer your own prayer?”, but initially doubted the call. I was far too straight for the job. As time went on, John became increasingly convinced of God’s call to be “the answer to my own prayer”.

In the early 80’s, John spent time in Adelaide for the Godcares school campaign, riding his bike into school grounds and addressing the secondary school students. It had a huge impact on everyone. Geoff Boyce had taken a year’s leave of absence from teaching at the time to work alongside John, and to help make inroads into schools ministry. This led to the formation of United Christian Forum (UCF) which Geoff led for 5 years (leave without pay). UCF, with a team of talented youth workers and musicians, conducted Christian Option seminars in schools around the State. The work of UCF eventually led to the formation of Schools Ministry Group which continues to this day.

I remember at that time, I was involved in producing CTA (Christian Television Association) spots, and we did one with John. Miraculously, we were able to edit a 60 second CTA spot from John’s long monologue (which was brilliant, just hard to edit down to 60 seconds!).

John’s ministry had a profound impact for decades in and beyond Australia. For Smithy, the world was very much his parish. ‘Right to the end, John Smith remained a man of rugged hope, born from his radical commitment to and love for Jesus of Nazareth’. (a line from an excellent article here about John by Sheridan Voysey, including links to Youtube videos).

Well done, good and faithful servant.