A letter from Shelvis Smith-Mather in South Sudan
Contrary to popular belief, our son was not named after the high-flying, high-scoring, NBA icon. I love MJ as much as anyone, but he was the farthest person from my mind, a year ago, when Nancy and I evacuated from South Sudan. Our son was born two months prematurely and days before Nancy’s flight back to the U.S. He was unable to breathe properly, maintain a healthy body temperature, or nurse sufficiently. The doctors inserted a feeding tube into his belly to provide life-sustaining nutrients, but even the feeding tube began to cause an infection. The child needed Neo-Natal Intensive Care, and we needed to be medically evacuated to a hospital in another country.
When we chose the name Jordan we were thinking about the famed biblical waters where God parted a pathway to the Promise Land. The place where Joshua trusted the Lord and the Israelites renewed their hope. The place where God’s people were delivered and Yahweh became known as the “Living God.” We imagined the Israelites’ reaching the River Jordan as described in the 3rd chapter of the Book of Joshua. A parade of people and oxen rushing from the desert: sandals and hooves pounding her lush green banks. Sweat streaming down their foreheads onto sun-bronzed skin. Dark webs of hair matted against their backs under tattered wool clothes: the weary crowd desperately pressing on toward the Promise Land. Although uncertain of their future, they know the other side of the Jordan is better than the wilderness from which they emerged. The Israelites had suffered for so long they are desperate for their lives to change for the better.
Their entrance into the Promise Land, however, is blocked by the River Jordan: a 150-mile-long obstacle flowing through two countries, two seas, a mountain range, and the Rift Valley. The body of water is too long for the caravan to go around and too deep to swim. So what happens? God opens up a pathway in the waters and the Israelites pass through on dry land! At the Jordan, God transforms a desperate encounter into a testimony of God’s provision. I like to think of it as a Jordan Moment.
Nancy and I had our Jordan Moment when our son was born. Nancy’s health had been gradually declining and she was experiencing intense pain on that day. The medical equipment was not working and the medical team was scrambling around unsure of whether they could care for the fragile life. We were desperate and needed help. In the moments that followed, God opened the waters by providing Nancy and me with:
- Dr. Jeff and Elizabeth Perry: Elizabeth, a mother of nine, met us at the hospital, prayed with us, and coached Nancy through the labor. Jeff remained composed while delivering our son even though his previous patient died just minutes before he rushed to assist us.
- Dr. Doug and Nurse Janet Smith: A couple with more than 50 years of combined medical experience. The majority of Doug’s career has been treating premature babies in Neo-Natal Intensive Care. They were leading a short-term non-medical mission trip at a nearby orphanage and were scheduled to return back to the U.S. in a few days. The couple, however, rushed to assist us when they heard Nancy was in labor. Their presence doubled the staff of nurses and doctors.
- Incubator: Jordan was able to use the only one in at least a 100-mile radius.
- New Medical Equipment that had arrived at the hospital from the U.S. earlier in the week. It was being used for the first time during our labor.
- Homemade C-Pap Machine fashioned together by a nurse with a plastic straw, rubber bands, and a measuring cup. The device aided our son’s breathing for three days.
- · Medical Plane equipped with a nurse, a doctor, and an incubator.
- Approval for Travel: The staff of the South Sudan Immigration Office worked tirelessly to secure our evacuation even though their office was closed on the weekend.
- Clothes and Baby Stuff: We packed two small bags, but remained in Kenya for almost two months receiving medical care. A friend from college brought Shelvis clothes. Nancy’s mother arrived in Kenya with clothes for her and for Jordan. From members of our church family and former colleagues in Nairobi came everything else (car seat, bassinette, diapers, blankets, etc.).
- Food: Rev. Phyllis Byrd and Lilly Piper cooked exquisite mouth-watering meals for our family to eat each night after we returned home from the hospital.
- Aga Khan Hospital: Their Neonatal Care Unit was absolutely phenomenal and their staff was exceptional.
- You: We later learned of friends, families, churches and schools who huddled together in gatherings and assemblies, prayer groups and worship services to pray for our family’s well being and healing. God blessed us with a prayer network around the world! Thank you!
In the weeks that followed, our infant’s infection diminished, lungs grew stronger, and health improved dramatically. God transformed our most desperate moments into a testimony of God’s goodness and provision.
Maybe you have also experienced Jordan Moments this year: moments of desperation from illness, financial difficulties, broken relationships, or the loss of a loved one. Maybe you feel like you are parading around the wilderness in search of your Promise Land. If so, we pray God will meet your hurt, your grief, your pain, your sadness, and your loneliness with an unbelievable, un-imaginable, unmistakable act of love and provision. I pray God will part the waters and make your path clear. My hope is that in the coming days, weeks or year, you will be able to testify of God’s care and love.
I want to end this letter by providing you with an opportunity to participate in South Sudan’s Jordan Moment. The people of this nation are desperately trying to move forward at a time when the majority of her citizens do not have access to electricity, formal education, health care, paved roads, flushing toilets, or clean drinking water. We have the privilege, however, of seeing how the Living God is at work in this nation through RECONCILE International. This year RECONCILE trained grassroots leaders to address community conflict and national leaders to understand systems of accountability. We counseled children impacted by raids and facilitated reconciliation processes between warring communities. We helped pastors better understand the effects of violence against women and provided methods for addressing equality in their communities. I have received countless testimonies from community, faith and government leaders expressing appreciation for RECONCILE International. In fact, CNN News acclaims that our peace-building efforts are “enriching the world”! As peace matures, communities flourish, infrastructure develops, roads are built and access is granted to remote places needing medical care and educational systems. Please prayerfully consider financially contributing to these efforts. We cannot do this work without the continued support of passionate and faithful supporters. God has already begun to part the waters in the world’s newest nation. Through RECONCILE’s efforts, God’s provision, and your support we will continue to move towards the Promise Land.
Shelvis, Nancy & Baby Jordan
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God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by Thy might, lead us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray. — James Weldon Johnson