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A Denney for Your Thoughts – Ventriloquist speaks for herself

By Connie Denney

“I really believe that life is the journey, not the destination. What a joy to be part of what God is doing. He’s proven to me over and over that He is faithful and has taken care of me all of my days.”

What a confirmation of faith to reflect on during Easter season! The quote is from Judy Smith, who has traveled to five Olympics sites to share the Gospel and is looking forward to Tokyo, Japan in 2020! That will be a benchmark year for her, as she will turn 70 and plans to retire. Hopefully, she will extend that trip to include a visit to Hokkaido, where she lived and worked for 17 years.

But ventures and adventures related to Olympic Games are not all that led her to such a statement of faith. A former missionary, she is a professional ventriloquist with a ministry to kids.  (I, personally, can say that kids are not the only ones who enjoy her inspirational and entertaining performances.)

Judy has traveled as a consultant for a publishing company, taught a course in ventriloquism, taught teenage girls living skills. She was a school teacher or substitute in three states. She was a licensed real estate agent and broker. And, oh yes, she spent time in cotton fields as a boll weevil inspector!

Korner Kids ‘n Company is the children’s ministry Judy began when she returned to the U.S. in 1991, after serving 17 years in Japan as a missionary with Free Will Baptists International Missions. In Sapporo she had taken a ventriloquism course from the head of the Japanese Ventriloquist Association. He was a friend of Edgar Bergman and took an interest in her because she was American. She continued monthly studies with a “vent group.”

Once she knew this was what she wanted to do and could do, she went to a shop near Tokyo that made ventriloquial or vent figures (they are not dummies). She explains that she “picked out the cutest little head and purchased the body shape.” When the box arrived at her house a few weeks later, she stuffed his legs and arms with cotton and outfitted him with clothes. She named him Ken-Chan, K.C. for short, “easier for Americans to remember.”

After a few years back in the U.S., it was the end of her second summer as a boll weevil inspector for the University of North Carolina, “exhausting and extremely hot,” work that “paid well, but was not what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life.” Judy felt the Lord telling her to look at the fields that day. Laughing to herself, she said, “’But Lord, I see these fields every day.’  But that day, as I drove through the fields, I noticed some were harvested, some were cleared and ready to be replanted, some had been halfway harvested, and some had yet to be touched. The Lord used this to remind me that there was still work for me to do as a missionary and that He was releasing me to go back out into ministry for Him.”

She tells of a particular tour through South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and back to North Carolina, where she lived at the time. She left with a tank full of gas and $20. Stops along the way led to other contacts and support. After that trip she began contacting friends and churches, advertising and booking vacation bible schools, church services, and camps from North Carolina to Texas and Oklahoma.

There had also been talk of Action Ministries (now International Sports Chaplains) and the Nagano, Japan Winter Olympics in 1998. Judy went and since then has gone as a part of the team to Beijing, China, 2008; Vancouver, Canada, 2010; London, England, 2012; Rio, Brazil, 2016. This year she watched the Olympics, held in South Korea, every day on television, but says, “it’s just not the same.”   

Judy spoke with me recently from her home area of East Texas, where she moved several years ago and where her two sisters helped her build her “barn house.”  She works as a field supervisor for a home health services company, covering three counties where attendants work for around 200 clients.

Meanwhile, she’s looking into teaching English online to Chinese children when she retires.