The Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith stands just 4 ft. 11 inches, but she carries a high profile—and lifts the hearts of many—through her highly unusual ministry of living on the streets.
For that, she’s a Reporter notable United Methodist newsmaker of 2012.
Ms. Smith, 43 and a member of the Rio Grande Conference, lobbied for and finally obtained from Bishop Jim Dorff an appointment to street ministry.
In the summer of 2011, she opened up the parsonage where she’d been living, invited her congregation, family and friends to help themselves to her possessions, sold her car, and began living on the San Antonio streets, with no salary.
She wanted to show solidarity with the poor and, as she is always careful to say, learn from them. But she nearly gave up in that first stretch, when the temperatures were in the triple digits, and she found herself struggling with everything from fatigue to hunger to her own body odor.
“When I felt the lowest, it was the hospitality of the people living on the streets that opened my eyes,” she said. “I clearly saw Jesus in each of my friends. God was indeed with me.”
Ms. Smith’s story made a San Antonio newspaper, leading to coverage in the UM press. That helped prompt speaking engagements, and she has used donated bus passes to travel on Greyhound (“on ‘the Dog’ again” is how she and Bishop Dorff put it) to far-flung churches, seminaries, colleges, United Methodist Women events and other venues.
She said she does not accept honoraria, and tries to stay in a shelter or on the streets when traveling. Indeed, she attended General Conference as a visitor, and slept outside the Tampa Convention Center, while delegates and others occupied high-rise hotels nearby.
Even before her street ministry, Ms. Smith was arrested in a Dream Act demonstration, and last summer she spent a night in jail after being ticketed for sleeping on a park bench. She remains a passionate voice on homelessness and immigration issues.
But she insists her ministry is not focused on advocacy.
“My calling is to do nothing but communicate the love of God,” she said. “Communicating the love of God is, for me, to be present, to listen and to learn. And when I am obedient to my call, I am at peace and empowered.”
Ms. Smith travels, at Bishop Dorff’s insistence, with an iPhone and tablet computer, to stay in close touch. She posts regularly to her more than 2,000 Facebook fans, offering inspiration—and wit.
One feature on her page is a regularly refreshed photo album titled “Tall People and Me.”