Wanderlust: Expat Life & Style in Thailand The Relationships Issue - Page 8

Cover Story

Mr . & Mrs . Smith : Family Edition

They ’ re tall and they have movie-star good looks , but this Mr . & Mrs . Smith are on a different kind of mission : Traveling around the world with seven children in tow , Mandy and Chad Smith are Christian missionaries who can teach all of us , religious or not , some insightful lessons about relationships .
By SHANNON FRANDSEN

On a tree-lined soi in the heart

of Bangkok sits a home with a pretty wreath hanging on the front door . Flanking the door , on both sides , are racks with at least a dozen pairs of shoes : men ’ s flip-flops , women ’ s sandals , big kids ’ slip-ons and some cute , tiny shoes for cute and tiny feet .
If you arrived at this house and saw such a display , you ’ d think a child ’ s birthday party was at hand — or perhaps that there ’ d been a great sale on footwear recently . But those moccasins , sandals and flip-flops simply belong to the nine members of one American family . They are Chad and Mandy Smith and their seven children : 14-year-old twins Abi and Tristan ; Britain , 12 ; Isabelle , 10 ; Evie , 9 ; Gigi , 5 ; and baby Eden , who is just 10 months old . Let that sink in for a moment . It ’ s hard to grasp that such an expat family exists in the first place . ( The thoughts that race : Imagine the cost of plane tickets . All those suitcases , too . Do they need two minivans to get to the airport ?)
Meet them in person , though , to really have the wind knocked out of you .
Mandy stands at a statuesque 6-foot-1 and Chad at 6-foot-3 . Together , the couple and their children look like a group of models , but these are just the Smiths , an expat family in Bangkok , experiencing the everyday highs and lows of life abroad — but in bulk .
And , as is often the case , it ’ s their relationships that hold everything together .
THE CALLING
There ’ s a twang in Mandy and Chad ’ s voices , one that lends a honeyed texture to Mandy ’ s speech and a touch of softness to Chad ’ s . You ’ ll also notice , in speaking to either of them , that they ’ re both expert listeners and speakers — in part because their professions require them to build and maintain relationships . It ’ s a calling that takes the family around the world .
Downstairs , behind the dining table , there ’ s a world map on the wall that shows all of the places the family has visited , mainly where Chad has gone for work : 50 golden dots for 50 U . S . cities ; more dots for cities like New Delhi , Moscow , Nairobi , Colombo , Doha and almost 100 other locations . Tiny silver orbs show where the family has lived : the United States , the Ukraine and Thailand .
On these international trips , Chad trains pastors and helps them build a vision for their churches . “ I help them develop the values that are foundational for their people , and a strategy for the communities they live in and the cities , states and nations they ’ re a part of .”
Meanwhile , Mandy — between mothering seven kids — has several relationship-based callings of her own : She ’ s a doula , a portrait photographer and the woman behind the PR activities of the family ’ s church work . Mandy writes blogs , newsletters and social media posts to connect with members of the Christian community , detailing Chad ’ s work and the family ’ s travels . She also reaches out for fundraising , which supports the unpaid consulting that Chad does .
Not unlike a family that uproots every few years to follow a corporate job , the Smith kids , too , must follow their parents . It isn ’ t always easy . Some of them like living abroad . But some of them would rather live in the United States — especially their eldest son Tristan , who misses fishing for large-mouth bass with his friend Charles back in the States an awful lot .
“ We may be called somewhere else ,” Chad says , “ and we need to be prepared for wherever that is .”
With such unpredictability , the Smiths find refuge in their family . It ’ s a wonderful thing , then , that theirs is such a big one .
A JOYFUL CHOICE
In the U . S ., the average size of a household in 2015 was 2.54 people , according to the Census Bureau . So naturally , curiosity spikes when we hear of an American family that more than triples the average . Mandy , though , doesn ’ t see it as such a big deal : “ I grew up in a family with seven brothers and four sisters ; that ’ s 11 . To me , having seven kids of my own doesn ’ t necessarily strike me as a large family by comparison .”
And though Chad is just one of four siblings , both were open to the idea of a large family . They discussed family planning ( or lack thereof ) before they married and “ planned not to plan .” By their first wedding anniversary , they were newlyweds with 2-month-old twins .
PHOTO : Keith Theerakulchai
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