Neale Donald Walsch thought he was talking to God.



The Boy Who Lived

Christianity Today just posted my review of the Deathly Hallows .


The Kindness of Strangers

There's been some good news since the last time I posted. On December 6, my niece, Connie Marie Smietana, came home from the Philippines. A bittersweet moment, as my brother wasn't with her. But she's home, and I hope he is smiling somewhere.

We ran this essay about my brother in the January issue of the Covenant Companion. There are few things, if any, more powerful than the kindness of strangers.

The Kindness of Strangers
Bob Smietana
The Covenant Companion
January 2007

In the year that King Uzziah died, the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord
high and lifted up, sitting on a throne, surrounded by angels
calling out,Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth
is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).

In the year that my brother died, I also saw the Lord.

Not high and lifted up, but in dozens of small and ordinary ways,
like the platterof chicken salad sandwiches, made by the women of
the church I grew upin, the Evangelical Covenant Church of
Attleboro, Massachusetts, and served after my brother’s
funeral in early November.

The angels from Isaiah tells us that the whole world is filled with
God’s glory. The writer of “Joy to the World” tells us that Jesus
came to make his blessing flow “far as the curse is found.”

This past fall the curse of sorrow struck my family down at what
should have been one of the happiest moments of our lives.

My younger brother, Paul, and his wife, Chit (short for Chitadelia),
were in the Philippines, finalizing the adoption of their
twenty-month-old daughter Connie Marie. The Philippine
government had approved the adoption months earlier, and finally
Paul and Chit had received approval from the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS) to bring Connie Marie home.

All they needed was a visa, which should have been routine with
INS approval in hand. But red tape abounds when dealing with
adoption, and there were more delays.

Early on the morning of October 22, Chit went to the market,
while Paul went for a run. When he didn’t return, Chit and
her family went looking for him, and found his body by the
side of the road. In the flash of a moment my brother was
gone, a couple months shy of his fortieth

In the days and weeks following my brother’s death, my family
has seen the Lord’s glory and blessing time and again.
We often talk about the body of Christ as if it were a quaint
expression, a bit of religious jargon for the church.

But we saw the Lord and felt God’s care through the hands
and voices of other Christians. They became the body of
Christ and surrounded us with God’s love.

I’ve been overwhelmed by how many people have made our
grief their business. Less than an hour after my parents
received the haunting call from Chit, and had finally sifted
through the tears and pain in her voice and realized the
awful truth, their church sprang into action.

That call had come at about four in the morning. By six
their pastor, Kent Palmquist, came to the house and prayed
with them. Dozens of people brought food, or came to the
house just to sit with my parents and talk with them.
They demonstrated the reality of Christ’s love through
concrete means—hugs and prayers; platters of chicken salad
sandwiches, calzones, and cranberry squares; cards and
phone calls and flowers.

At Covenant Offices(my workplace), colleagues prayed for us
and picked up the pieces left behind when I took off for the
East Coast to be with my parents. The pastors of Libertyville
Covenant Church, Dwight Nelson and Brian Zahasky, prayed with me
and shared my tears. Friends brought meals. My friend Chris Becker
walked in and gave me a hug on the morning we found out Paul had
died. No words were necessary to communicate how he felt.
Other friends cashed in their frequent flier miles and sent my
wife, kids, and me out East for the funeral.

If the angels are right, and the whole world is filled with God’s
glory, then all these acts of kindness are holy. They are
sanctified with God’s presence—transformed from the ordinary
and commonplace into expressions of grace. And God’s blessings
are known far as the curse is found. Grace fills every moment.

My brother understood, in the way he lived from day to day,
how God cared about the small things.

Paul had not been one to talk about himself much and we lived a
thousand miles apart, so there was much about each other’s daily
lives that we never shared. But here’s something I learned after
Paul was gone.

When they left for the Philippines in mid-October, Paul and Chit
took one small suitcase to share between them. The rest of their
luggage allowance was taken up with three large boxes of
clothing and shoes for the children of Quinaoayanan, the small
village in the province of Pangasinan where Chit grew up.

Paul told my dad that when he arrived in the Philippines for
the first time, a decade ago, he noticed how poor the children
were. Many of the children in Quinaoayanan had worn or tattered
clothing, and few had shoes. For entertainment, they rolled a
can filled with stones down a dirt road.

So Paul, who never had to be asked to lend a hand, began doing
what he could to make life a little bit better for the children
in Quinaoayanan. He rented a truck and took many of the
village’s children to the beach. He organized a pig roast and
an impromptu picnic for the whole village, complete with
three-legged races and prizes for the kids.

A big kid himself, Paul was in the middle of the races, like the
ringmaster of a circus. Upon his return home, he and Chitadelia sent
care packages filled with clothes and shoes.

When he learned that Chit’s parents’ house didn’t have
running water, he paid to have it installed. When he passed
an elderly woman in the street selling fruit to make a little bit
of money, he bought everything she had so she could go home and
get out of the 100-degree heat. During many of his visits, parents
in the village would ask him to be a godparent to their child,
and he never said no.

If Paul saw that something needed to be done, he did it. He didn’t
have to be asked. One of Paul’s friends said that if you met him once,
you had a friend for life. And the children of Quinaoayanan had a
friend for life in Paul. None of us could have imagined how short
that life would be.

My brother was not a saint.

He wasn’t Mother Teresa with a tool belt.

He was an ordinary guy, who was more often found on his bass boat
on Sunday mornings than in the pew. He didn’t spend his entire
life alleviating poverty or feeding the hungry or clothing the naked.
He didn’t set out to save the world.

But most of the time, he got the small things right.

When he saw something that needed to be done, he got busy.
Not all the time; not perfectly; but he did not wait to be
asked. He didn’t pass by on the other side and pretend the problem
was somebody else’s business. He made it his business.

More than 400 people came to Paul’s wake, and the church was full
at his funeral, filled with people whose lives he had touched.
Every one of them had a story to tell. One of his fishing buddies
told me that this past fall Paul had learned about a national
guardsman coming home from Iraq who had a love for fishing.
Paul went out and bought a small trolling motor for the soldier.
They had never met, but Paul wanted in some small way to say
thank you to that soldier for his service in Iraq.

“That’s the kind of guy your brother was,” his friend told me.

Toward the end of her book, "Righteous: Dispatches from the
EvangelicalYouth Movement," author Lauren Sandler experiences
a revelation during a visit to a megachurch in Colorado.

Though she vehemently disagrees with the politics and social
positions of church members, she allows members of a small Bible
study to pray for her. The group asks God to bless Sandler’s book
and her travels. That small act transforms the way Sandler sees
evangelical Christians.

Afterwards, she writes that the small group convinced her “that
they are capable of translating Jesus’s legacy of agape into
their everyday lives.”

“Tonight,” she adds, “they have demonstrated the simple concept
that powers and sustains this movement: they have shown me
the kindness of strangers.”

Thirty years ago my family came to the Covenant church as
strangers; curious to find out more about God but suspicious
of church people. My dad, in particular, wanted nothing to
do with what he called “a bunch of holy rollers.”

Still we came to church, not because of a revival or outreach,
but because of a simple invitation. My brother’s friend Joey Clark
asked Paul to go to a Sunday-school picnic with him, and before
long, the friendship and kindness shown to our family had won us
over. More than programs or music or preaching, the kindness shown
to us when we were strangers made us part of the body of Christ.

Paul carried the lessons he learned at the Covenant church
wherever he went. He was generous by nature, and his experience
at church transformed his natural kindness into a lifetime of
giving. He took those lesson with him to Egypt, where he worked
for several years; across the United States, where he traveled
for a time, setting up cellular networks; and eventually he took
them to the Philippines.

Not long after my brother’s funeral, my dad received a letter
from one of Paul’s former tenants. In his late twenties,
my brother bought a triple decker apartment building that
was a handyman’s special. He fixed it up then sold it
a few years later.

The former tenant was an older man who had several physical
disabilities. The man told about how Paul had befriended
him—how he had installed an additional railing to make it
easier for him to get up the stairs; how, knowing he was on
a fixed income, Paul never raised his rent; and how Paul would
visit with him, listen to his stories, and leave him smiling
with a joke.

No fuss, no fanfare. Just a joke and a smile and a helping hand.
And the whole earth is filled with the glory of God.

(Copyright Covenant Communications, 2007. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)


God in the Ordinary Parts of Life

This review of GP Taylor: Sin, Salvation, and Shadowmancer, ran in the recent issue of the Covenant Companion, by Daniel deRoulet, a fine writer who teaches at Vanguard University.

The section, I think, really gets to the heart of the book:

In our fifteen-minutes-of-fame society, we put people on pedestals. But
who can’t be perfect for fifteen minutes? And then we find ourselves
disappointed and disillusioned when the sports star, politician, or
even Christian celebrity is only made of dust.

Sin, Salvation and Shadowmancer reminds us of how the whole journey

Here's the whole thing:

What in the world could be considered “ordinary” about the life of G.P.
Taylor, priest and fantasy writer, policeman and rock-and-roll groupie,
who almost drowned as a child and as an adult was nearly beaten to
death by a mob? The answer is in the way that Taylor and Bob Smietana
collaborate to tell the story, and in the surprising effect on the

One of the difficulties of reading about the lives of people of faith
is that we tend to encounter a series of highlights—a saint’s “greatest
hits” if you will. We see a condensed life of Jacob, Joseph, or Paul’s
encounters with God, but we don’t see the vast majority of ordinary
time that makes up any human life. Oftentimes when I read Christian
biographies, I am left with the thought that I live too ordinary a
life. This can spur me on to good works, but it can also leave me
feeling a little inadequate.

The beauty of Taylor and Smietana’s presentation of an exemplary
Christian life is that the truly extraordinary moments are always
grounded in the ordinary. At the end of the book, Taylor assesses his
life this way:

“Am I perfect? No. Better than you? No. More valued in God’s sight? No.
I am just a child of Adam in need of God’s love....I still lie, cheat,
murder and fall—every day. I am still bad-tempered, moody and
depressed. But God’s grace picks me up and helps me try to be the man
he created. There is still a long way to go.

“Even in the darkest night of the soul, I am enjoying the journey.”
In our fifteen-minutes-of-fame society, we put people on pedestals. But
who can’t be perfect for fifteen minutes? And then we find ourselves
disappointed and disillusioned when the sports star, politician, or
even Christian celebrity is only made of dust.

Sin, Salvation and Shadowmancer reminds us of how the whole journey
goes. And despite the extraordinary moments of Taylor’s life, I relate
to him as an ordinary brother—someone I understand and am drawn to pray


Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dush

We laid my brother Paul to rest this past weekend, on a bright and clear Saturday morning. More than 400 people had come to his wake the night before, and the church was packed for his funeral.

That morning, the Boston Globe ran a long obituary that gives a glimpse of Paul's life, and the grace we experienced by having him in our lives.

Every small act of faithfulness can open up space for God in the world, our pastor once said. Paul specialized in those kind of small acts. He did not have to be asked to lend a hand--he did it naturally. More than anyone I know, Paul knew how to live--no regrets, no equivocating. He knew what he wanted and he got busy doing it.


Saying Goodbye

My brother Paul's funeral will be held November 11, (a week from today) at the Evangelical Covenant Church in Attleboro, Massachusetts, with visitation on Friday night at the Dyer-Lake Funeral Home

A memorial fund has been set up to benefit the children of Quinaonayanan, Philippines, where Paul's wife Chitadelia's family lives. Memorial donations may be made to the Paul T. Smietana Memorial Fund, c/o Evangelical Covenant Church, 841 North Main Street – PO Box 208, Attleboro, MA 02703.

An obituary ran today in several newspapers.

Here's what I wrote for our magazine:

Paul Smietana, a longtime member of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Attleboro, Massachusetts and brother of Companion features editor Bob Smietana, died October 22. He was 39.

He was born Christmas Day, 1966, the fourth of five children born to Ted and Barbara Smietana of Attleboro. As a junior high student, he visited the Attleboro Covenant church at the invitation of schoolmate, and before long, the whole family was part of the congregation.

After graduating from Attleboro High School and New Hampshire Vocational Technical College, he began a career as an electrician. Then in the early 1990s, he accepted a job offer that changed his life—as a technician for GTE, installing telecommunications equipment in Egypt. He spent several years living near Cairo and traveling with the Egyptian military, helping set up a cell phone network, and learning Arabic. While there, he met Chitadelia Badoin, a young woman from the Philippines who worked for the US Embassy. They returned to the United States and were married in February 1994.

After leaving GTE, he set up his own successful communications business in New England. An avid fisherman, he competed in bass tournaments across the Eastern US and dreamt of becoming a professional bass fisherman. During a 2003 tournament to qualify for a national competition, he and his partner saved a stranded windsurfer that was suffering from hypothermia—an act that earned him a sportsman of the year award.

He and his wife traveled often to the Philippines, where Paul became godfather to many children among his wife’s family and friends. He was in Quinaonayanan, Philippines, at the time of his death.

A man of quiet and steady faith, he was known as a tireless volunteer and worker, always willing to lend a hand. By his bed, he kept a copy of the Bible, tattered by constant reading.

He was preceded in death by a brother, John Edward, who died in infancy. He is survived by his wife, Chitadelia; daughter Connie Marie; brothers Ted (Kathleen), Bob (Kathy), sister Kristen (Glenn) Rounseville; his wife’s parents: Efraim and Concepcion Badoin of the Philippines; sister-in-law: Charito (Edgar) Leaal of the Philippines; and many nieces and nephews.

A funeral will be held November 11 at the Evangelical Covenant Church of Attleboro, with Kent Palmquist officiating. Interment will be at North Purchase Cemetery.

Peace to his memory.


A nightmare I can't wake up from

My dad call this morning with the news that my brother Paul is dead.

Just a few days ago, my brother Paul and his wife Chi left for the Philippines, in hopes they'd be home with their adopted daughter Connie Marie.

Yesterday, Paul was out jogging and collapsed. The details are sketchy --all we know is that he was found and taken to a hospital and died there. He would have been 40 on his next birthday, this coming Christmas.

Pray for us, if you can.

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39)


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