How often does God open doors, but we are hesitant to step through? Pastor McKenzie Smith took months to step through the door God opened for her and her family, but as God continues to prove, “He knows the plans He has for us.”
McKenzie grew up in the church, but when her brother was murdered in a home invasion, she doubted God’s goodness. For the next few years, she did a lot of rebelling in an attempt to hurt God. At 14, she had an encounter with God that she could not deny, and from then on, she was all in. She met her future husband, Tommie, just two years later, and they were married when she was 19. They have served in full-time ministry ever since. “The bible says we are one, so we’re one in ministry as well, and we share the load together,” McKenzie declared.
She and Tommie pastored One City Church in Chesapeake, VA, for 12 years. They inherited it for revitalization, and it grew exponentially under their leadership. They were confident in their purpose and position there. Then, out of the blue, Josh Hannah asked if they would be willing to move to Axton, Virginia, to lead Compassion Church (Appalachian Conference). McKenzie’s answer was a resounding “NO.”
For months, McKenzie avoided the request; there was just no way they were meant to move. Anytime it popped up in her spirit, she would tamp it down saying, “No, this isn’t fair.” She and her husband would “hypothetical” conversations: if this were to happen, then they could move, or if they were meant to do this, then X, Y, and Z had to happen too. “Everything we said, the Lord would just do,” McKenzie shares. A big piece of the puzzle was their daughter. Torrance was going to be a senior, and they did not want to take her away from her school and friends; however, she shared with her parents that she had asked God to move them to the country. The final piece came together when God gave them their replacement. They had procrastinated as long as they could, so they finally made the move.
With their move to Axton, the Lord refined McKenzie. As she says, “He weeded out some things” from her revealing that her assignment was not about her but about Him. He wanted the Smiths to go to Axton to heal those who had been destroyed and show them that ministry can be different. “God exposed how we [leaders] make ministry about us and our success,” McKenzie says, but it is vital to surrender everything to God.
Surrendering often requires sacrifice. Their move forced them to trust God on a different level, especially after Tommie’s sister passed away soon after from COVID. “God will personally destroy you to make sure you are His,” McKenzie shares, and at that time, she told God, “I just want what you want.” Within weeks of their loss, McKenzie began receiving calls to speak at churches and conferences. This had been a desire before, but it never happened. McKenzie knows now that original desire came from arrogance and pride, but after surrendering to God, He opened the door for her to share His message with others.
As the new leaders, McKenzie and Tommie had to start from scratch, dig deep, and disciple to build a firm foundation. The people at the Axton church were victims of a nasty situation, and McKenzie’s purpose was revealed to her in a dream in which she stood in the middle of a large sanctuary surrounded by bones. Ezekial 37: 3-5 states,
He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life.”
McKenzie and her husband were meant to lead Axton, to bring God back into the church, and God has prevailed with over 600 salvations in the last two years. Her students are finding their place as well. Last summer, they attended The Ramp Conference in Alabama. At the end, the recap video shared the conference’s theme: Dry Bones Live.
Near the end of Ezekial it says, “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there” (48:35 NIV). God is working in Axton, a city in the middle of nowhere, restoring marriages, healing, and saving many. McKenzie is in awe: “Wow, this is what I get to do.”
McKenzie is grateful for the opportunities God has provided, and she is aware of the importance of being faithful to His Word: “God crushed us unbelievably but also brought us to a place of total surrender. We’re living the answered prayer. I love our life […] It is a gift that came at a high price, but we were obedient, and God’s been so good and so faithful. Sometimes it feels like a dream.”