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The Stranger Returns from A Far-Away Land

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By Ken Begley

The bible will sometimes refer to a “stranger in a far-away land“. It’s a poetic way of referring to a person that has wandered away from our loving God and is now separated from Him. I met an old schoolmate the other day that was both literally and figuratively in a far-away land when what looked like a great tragedy in war brought him back to God.

In 2008, Infantry Sergeant Major Ronald Smalley, one of Mr. and Mrs. Clay Smalley’s seven children, was serving his second combat tour in Iraq with the storied 101st Airborne Division. He was in his 26th year of active duty service. It was there, in such a biblical land, that his carotid artery was torn and he suffered three massive strokes that probably should have killed him. 

Ronnie has been married to Roxann for 29 years and together they have three children named Derek, Micaele and Xaviara. They reside in Elizabethtown. Roxann is an RN with a masters degree and, surprisingly, is also a lawyer with her own office in E-town called the Smalley Law Center. Derek is studying law at Riverview, Florida, Micaele is a business major at U of L, and Xaviara is a third grader. Ronnie owns a small construction firm named after his kids (DMX Construction) and, with his wife, they have bought a building called the Justice Place near the courthouse in E-town where they plan on opening a restaurant called “Roxie’s” in the near future.

It’s a very happy and high-achieving family of which anyone could be proud. Ronnie’s life was spared by God back in Iraq, but he was left paralyzed on his left side. What a terrible thing to happen so near the end of such a successful career with such a wonderful family. Some people would think that would be the end of their lives and drop down into despair. It would make many a person angry and maybe even bitter with God and life. But not Ronnie.  It had the opposite effect. Instead, it was a rebirth of life and a return to his religious roots as a servant of God’s will. He found his way back from a “far-away land.“

God had what he thought was a more important mission for Ronnie than being with the 101st Airborne. Ronnie was medically discharged from the army with this disability. It was then that he met God again. Ronnie began reading the bible after his strokes. He has now read it five times since 2008. He also became a member of the “Sign of the Dove” Church in E-town. It was through this church that he started a regular ministry, visiting inmates of the Hardin Country Detention Center.

Ronnie freely admits that during his time in college, and later the Army, he didn’t think much about God. He told me he had a “thirty year absence” before he returned to the faith. He hopes to expand his ministry to the prisons at Lagrange and Eddyville in the future.

It’s really interesting. Ronnie has used the prestige of being a former Sergeant Major in a top-line combat unit like the 101st Airborne to talk with the most down-and-out of our society. He never asks what crime they have committed but knows that their crimes have included just about everything you can think of. He says he receives a very warm welcome from these inmates that wish to see him when he makes his visits. He generally sees anywhere from two to ten prisoners at a time. What is surprising to me is that Ronnie says most of the “inmates are patriotic and respect both my rank acquired in the military as well as my military occupational skill of being in the infantry.”

He said the “the one thing that has amazed me the most about the inmates is their desire to accept the Lord Jesus as their Christ and Savior as well as being very knowledgeable in the Word of God themselves.”  I know that last couple of statements sound incredible to me but I also know that all those years in combat units did not turn Ronnie into a “rose-colored glasses” sort of fellow. Ronnie tells the inmates that their crimes are between them and the Lord. He doesn’t need or want to know what they have done in the past. He is only concerned with their future and he wants that future to include God.  You see, Ronnie feels like he has received a wondrous gift from God. He has found this gift so amazing and fulfilling that he wants to share it with all that he meets and that includes the most lost in our society today.

Pretty amazing isn’t it? Lose your health and find your way back “home“ and be happier for it. Who would have thought that would have happened? But then again, God does work in mysterious ways. This was one of them. Thanks for the story Ronnie. I needed to hear it.