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A letter from Nancy Smith-Mather in South Sudan

October 2013

A Thin Place: Youth Connecting the World

While preparing for World Communion Sunday, the following reflection came to mind from our time serving as young adult volunteers (YAVs).  The story serves as a reminder of the power that comes from connecting with the global body of Christ. Enjoy!

Shelvis and Nancy sharing about South Sudanese youth at the Montreat Youth Conference

Someone told me once about a “thin place.”  A “thin place,” he explained, is a place where heaven and earth are so close, they nearly intersect; you feel you have a foot in both places.  Standing in such places changes a person’s life; it “marks” their faith story.  When reflected upon, the memory brings strength and affirmation of God’s presence.  We were privileged to stand in such a “thin place” once, and we were not alone in our presence there.  The thin place was created by the company of those who joined us in that virtual space: youth from the church in South Sudan and the U.S.  Their praising presence and their connection with each other caused heaven and earth to touch; we stood there witnessing it all. 

Once a month four churches in rural Boma, South Sudan, join together for a unity worship service in the open-air market in the center of town.  After the service ends, the youth, who love to sing praises and dance, host what looks like a very hype outdoor dance party, in Jesus name.  “We are praising Jesus our Lord,” they sing in English; “Grace is brought by God in heaven,” they proclaim in the Murle language; “Come Sunday, Come Youth, Come to Church,” they invite in Arabic.  Like a natural strobe light, the sun’s bright beams break through the myriad of leaves covering the youth as they overtake the market space in energetic dance lines—Bibles in hand. 

The colors, the rhythm, the drums, the dancing captivated me as an American Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer.  And I knew the rambunctious, outdoor concert for Christ in a distant land would be a powerful new image of worship for excited young people in the U.S.  When invited to give a presentation at the Montreat Youth Conference, our hearts stirred in anticipation of a technological, cultural, multi-language, Holy-Spirit-filled, youth exchange visit.  Through video, the young Christians from South Sudan would greet the youth conference in North Carolina, and then the conference could send a message back.

Youth Choir in South Sudan at the unity worship service

The South Sudanese youth choir, in their Sunday worship uniforms, beamed from the large screen into the lives of the American Christian youth gathered for the Montreat conference.  “Were you encouraged by the youth in Boma?” I asked, while my husband videotaped the crowd’s response.  The huge auditorium erupted with excitement as a thousand U.S. high schoolers viewed with awe their counterparts praising the Lord with boldness in an open-air market in South Sudan.  Encouraged by their South Sudanese brothers and sisters, the Montreat youth began shouting and waving their hands in the air—determined to send a message back to Africa conveying their gratitude for the inspiring faith of the young choir.

The “thinning” continued as we returned to South Sudan, video clip in hand.  I explained to the Youth Choir in Boma that we shared a video of them with the young people in my country and brought back the Americans’ response.  The South Sudanese youth sat on logs on the dirt floor of their church as we placed my laptop on the table in front.  I hit the play button to reveal a roaring conference of youth shouting from an auditorium in Montreat, North Carolina.  Smiles captured faces, laughter passed through the rows, and one boy elbowed another, pointing to the computer screen in disbelief.  The choir was astounded that their faith could reach and uplift youth on the other side of the world.

God is good.  The youth of the world have the ability to transform churches and communities, and we are privileged to play a small role in introducing some of these powerful change agents to one another … thinning the distance between heaven and earth.

Loving God who accompanies us in every moment, thank you for opportunities to witness youth bringing Your Kingdom to this Earth.  Help us to live lives that inspire others to draw near to You, to dance, to sing, to live for Your glory.  Amen.

Please consider two opportunities for you to connect with the global church:

  1. The youth described in this story are part of a group greatly affected by inter-ethnic violence this past summer. Please consider supplementing the One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) by providing trauma care for these South Sudanese families. The link to give:

  2. Please consider a contribution to support the Smith-Mather family so that we can continue to connect members of Christ’s body working in different lands.  To give:  (Or use the "Give" link below.)

Thank you!


The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 103
Read more about Shelvis and Nancy's ministry

Write to Shelvis Smith-Mather
Write to Nancy Smith-Mather

Individuals:  Give online to E200316 for Shelvis and Nancy's sending and support
Congregations: Give to D507554 for Shelvis and Nancy's sending and support


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