Daystar founders move back to campus after 30 years
News | Greta Sowles
Donald and Faye Smith, founders of Daystar University, returned "home" after spending 30 years in the United States. Here they stand by the door to their home that is currently being built. | Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Emma Nichols
The real Mr. and Mrs. Smith are not like the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of Hollywood. They aren't armed with guns, and they weren't given a mission to kill each other. But the Mr. and Mrs. Smith of Kenya were once given a mission: to share the Gospel in Africa. From that point on, these spies for Christ defended the mission and saw it grow into Daystar University, an institute that now boasts 26 different programs and about 4,500 students.
Donald and Faye Smith began their mission in South Africa, where they learned Zulu, an African tribal language, and taught at primary and secondary schools. When the apartheid government of South Africa took over all mission schools, the Smiths were reassigned to Johannesburg to start a publishing house. Their first publication, Our Africa, was a large magazine staffed completely by Africans that the Smiths had trained. It became quite popular and effective in communicating the Christian message, reaching almost the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa.
One of the Africans trained at Our Africa was Motsoko Pheko, and according to Donald, he was one of the reasons that Our Africa was forced to close. Pheko was gifted in writing and moved up the ranks to become the managing editor of the magazine during the height of its success.
"Because he was so effective, we ran into trouble with the South African mentality,” Donald said. “Missions were so afraid of the apartheid regime that they tended to toe the line and be more segregationists than than government itself, and we didn't agree.”
In 1971 this political pressure led the Smiths to Zimbabwe, then known as Southern Rhodesia, where they opened a new publishing house. The publishing house was named Daystar, per suggestion of Pheko. In southern Africa, the daystar is a symbol of hope and guidance, but it is also a biblical name of Jesus from 2 Peter and Revelation 22.
"Implicit in the shape of the star is a cross, and that has a very powerful meaning too,” Donald added. “If you want faith, if you want hope, if you want guidance, it comes through the cross, not through some star in the sky.”
In 1973 Southern Rhodesia declared independence, and many countries placed sanctions on it, permitting no travel, commerce or interaction. Because of this and violent action by guerrillas and other regimes, the Smiths saw no growth in students and moved to Nairobi, Kenya.
In 1990, the Smiths responded to growing numbers by purchasing an area of land near the Athi River, where the main Daystar campus is now located. The land was "dirt cheap" and had virtually nothing—no people, no other schools.
"Just grass and animals," Faye joked.
The first classes at the Athi River Daystar campus were held in 1992, and in 1994 the university earned its accreditation as an independent university. What started as a small publishing house became a well-established university in Africa.
Daystar president Timothy Wachira is encouraged by the leadership that has come from Daystar, including many of those who are taking responsible positions in the current conflict in South Sudan.
Throughout the years, Daystar and Bethel have built a lasting connection through student and faculty exchanges. "It's a mutual relationship that focuses on how we can grow together," Wachira said.
Adding to this, Wachira said that Daystar's commitment is to ensure that faith is integrated into life, rather than the dualistic approach that many Christians take today. "Our commitment first and foremost is to God, and we can go out from there," Wachira said.
And this commitment is what the Smiths intended. After moving back to the States in 1981, the Smiths were invited back "home" in 2011 to be buried there when they die, a deep honor in Kenya.
The Smiths are currently building a house in the center of campus, a physically tiring but exciting task for the couple that vows to never retire. They have been living out of their suitcases in visiting faculty flats, eagerly anticipating the house they are planning to give to the university as a gift when they die.
There have been many setbacks for the Smiths, who plan to begin living in the house in February. The house was supposed to be finished by June 2013.
"To help them see that we were serious, we started moving into our offices here,” Faye said. “So they are sort of embarrassed that they are not finished, and they have to work around us.”
According to Donald, the building is designed to be a retreat center for students when they need to do work. Daystar's school newspaper, The Involvement, also mentioned that there would be two sections of the house: one used for living and one used for ministry, which would include guest housing and an open conference room.
The Smiths admit that the process has been frustrating, but they also trust that God is sovereign, and His timing is correct. More than anything, these spies for Christ want to be present in campus life and help Daystar recover its dream.
"Before we even started, I would come up here and look over the place, praying that God would use this place," Donald said. "I trust He will."