Read letters from Shelvis and Nancy SMith-Mather
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 139
Rev. Shelvis and Rev. Nancy Smith-Mather
Nancy and Shelvis periodically visit the US and are available to speak as their schedule permits. Email them to extend an invitation to visit your congregation or organization.
About Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather’s ministry
Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather work with RECONCILE, (Resource Centre for Civil Leadership), an indigenous ecumenical Christian organization, which was established in March 2004 by a national church council of the New Sudan Council of Churches. It promotes “peace building” by providing training in trauma recovery, conflict transformation, and civic education. RECONCILE’s activities are in areas of high inter-ethnic conflict, with the churches often being the typical point of entry into these communities. Shelvis and Nancy participate in RECONCILE’s training events that address inter-ethnic conflict. Shelvis serves as the principal of the RECONCILE Peace Institute, which offers three-month courses in community-based trauma healing as well as peace studies and conflict transformation.
In early 2011 the people of South Sudan voted to separate from the rest of Sudan and form an independent country. The referendum was part of a 2005 peace accord that ended decades of civil war between rebels in the South (mainly black Africans) and government forces from the North (mainly Arabs). Most people in the South are Christians or adherents of traditional African religions, while most people in the North are Muslim. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been involved in Sudan for more than a century and has longstanding relationships with two partner churches, the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) and the Presbyterian Church of Sudan (PCOS), which was the primary Presbyterian denomination serving Sudan, and now the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS). The years of civil war left South Sudan’s infrastructure in ruins, but the region is home to abundant natural resources and many faithful people. The PC(USA) is working with Sudanese partners to help South Sudan maximize the promise of independence and improve the plight of the people.
About Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather
Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather serve in South Sudan deeply aware of this pivotal time in its history and firmly committed to helping its churches build a better future for the region.
Americans plead for South Sudan: A CNN interview with the Smith-Mathers
Hope Amid Violence in South Sudan The Smith-Mathers reflect on the Jan. 23 ceasefire in South Sudan
Read a message from Shelvis and Nancy about the early birth of their son, Jordan.
See Shelvis and Nancy’s "Warm Welcome to South Sudan" in a video
“I sense a powerful call on my life to reflect Jesus’ concern for the marginalized, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the sick, the poor, and the broken-hearted,” Nancy says. “In a region where one in seven children do not celebrate their 5th birthday, 92 percent of the women cannot read or write, and many citizens have experienced more years of war than of peace in their lives, there is a great need for Jesus’ ministry of transformation.”
Shelvis notes that people facing extreme conflict turn to the church to find “something greater, a more profound reality than they experience on a day-to-day basis.”
“I am eager to participate in efforts that exemplify the ‘greater call’ of the church in the world,” he says. “The opportunity to serve as a mission co-worker, more specifically as the principal of the RECONCILE Peace Institute, grants me an opportunity to join in the work of my Sudanese sisters and brothers as they labor towards transformation during a difficult time.”
Shelvis and Nancy, both teaching elders from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, took their first ordained calls in Africa. They were assigned to Kenya in 2008 with the PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program and signed up for an additional year after their initial one-year appointments ended. Each of them had an opportunity to experience Africa beyond the borders of Kenya.
While a YAV, Shelvis was named co-editor of the Contextual Bible Study Manual on Peace Building and Reconciliation. He continues to work with theologians from across Africa as well as the United States on this ecumenical endeavor, which includes a foreword by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
“Through this work I was taught forgiveness by survivors of the Rwandan genocide, community empowerment by Kenyan youth, and courage by a Congolese grandmother who demanded better community care for female survivors of military attacks,” Shelvis says. “These individuals witness to the ways God is working within many contexts of conflict in Africa.”
During her YAV years Nancy worked for Across, an interdenominational, international organization that facilitates education, health care, and community development in South Sudan.
“In the areas where I worked in South Sudan, churches are the strongest local institutions present,” she says. “The leadership and membership of congregations possess the greatest ability to organize and bring about peace and holistic development in their communities. The church in South Sudan is laboring to meet the physical and spiritual needs of their people and strengthen a commitment to peace.”
Both Shelvis and Nancy acknowledge that the work of reconciliation will not be easy. “We will encounter times when our hearts drop and our minds cannot fathom the reason for the violence around us,” Shelvis says. “I also believe that in the coming days God will grace us with opportunities to celebrate victories that will only be possible through the Lord’s hand.”
In good times and bad, Shelvis says he will hold fast to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Nancy’s passion for reconciliation is rooted in 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul writes about God’s work of reconciliation in Christ and declares that God has given Christians a ministry of reconciliation. “The work of reconciliation is difficult since divisions are often filled with history and emotion,” she says. “Jesus’ sacrifice through his life and death, however, gives us strength and courage as we live out our calling to be Christ’s ambassadors given the ministry of reconciliation."
Both Shelvis and Nancy grew up in Atlanta and attended high school, college and seminary together. They are graduates of The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.
Nancy – December 27
Shelvis – March 5