A Difficult Season

A letter from Shelvis Smith-Mather in the U.S., on personal leave from South Sudan

January 2017

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

Individuals: Give online to E200316 for Shelvis and Nancy’s sending and support

Individuals: Give online to 052032 for RECONCILE

Congregations: Give to D507554 for Shelvis and Nancy’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

“Come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…”
Matthew 11:28-30








Dear Church Families,

The last few months have been difficult for our family. We returned to the United States to deliver our third child during a time when South Sudan’s security was diminishing and fear was rising. Upon arriving in the U.S. we learned of a military advance on our town and a takeover of two adjacent communities. For the next few weeks we shared with American and Canadian audiences about the crisis in South Sudan. Many evenings were spent on the phone with friends pleading to be rescued or begging for international intervention that might save their families. Their firsthand testimonies at night fanned the flames within us each new daybreak to help.

While our hearts ached for our friends across the sea, our family faced new challenges here in America. Upon our arrival in the U.S. we drove straight from the airport to the doctor’s office as Nancy had experienced early contractions during the flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta. The next day Nancy (six months pregnant at the time) was hospitalized for dehydration, fatigue and a virus. After she was released from the hospital we began our speaking engagements, trying desperately to build awareness about a crisis often not seen in the news.

While we were traveling our temporary apartment in Decatur, Georgia, was ransacked and burglarized. Loving friends filed a police report and helped clean up our apartment, after which we settled into the apartment, started our kids in preschool, and prepared for the birth of our daughter in October. We thank God that Nancy had a healthy delivery, and we were ecstatic to welcome baby Nicole Kristi Smith-Mather into our family.

Just two weeks into our adjustment to life with three children, I had a relapse of malaria that caused me to be hospitalized. This was my sixth and most difficult bout with malaria since starting mission work in South Sudan. I received both inpatient and outpatient care for a month as I suffered at times from fatigue, weakness, fevers, migraines, nausea, chills, and sensitivity to light and sound. We thank God for the many ways that the church, family, and friends surrounded us during this difficult time, including prayers, hospital visits, meals, babysitting and many encouraging messages. We needed and greatly appreciated the help.

Days after finishing my last dose of treatment, our home was ransacked and burglarized again. In addition to violating our sense of privacy and security, the burglar(s) stole two laptops and a hard drive housing most of Nancy’s work documents and many of our family pictures from the last several years. The robbery occurred while we were away for Thanksgiving, and a few days later our newborn daughter, Nicole, was hospitalized for two viruses and a bacterial infection. Her immune system and lungs struggled to function under enormous stress and at one point we were uncertain as to whether she would live. While in Intensive Care she depended on a ventilator and several other machines to breathe and remain stable. Nicole received incredible hospital care and was upheld by prayers from around the world. She recovered much more quickly than the hospital staff expected, and we thank God for this Christmas miracle. In the scary moments of Nicole’s hospital stay we again felt God’s strengthening sustaining presence through the love of those who visited, prayed, shared meals, sat in the family lounge, watched our kids, and made certain we knew we were not alone. Our sweet little girl, Nicole, is currently doing much better, praise the Lord!

Our year ended with a third and the most unsettling burglary. The break-in did not occur at our apartment, but rather at our mother’s home in South Carolina, where our entire family planned to spend Christmas. A young man broke into our mother’s home days before Christmas and, among other items, stole every wrapped gift for the family gathering except one. He was later arrested and confessed to the crime. While the break-in was very concerning, we continued to see God at work in the midst of another difficult situation. My mother shared with a police officer that she was not angry with the young man, and when he heard that news he broke down in tears and wrote her an apology letter, asking for forgiveness. God never ceases to amaze us by turning tragedy into an opportunity for grace and love to claim the day.

As one would imagine, the events of the last few months have taken a toll on our family. We have felt physically drained, emotionally empty, and at times down right distraught. We have tried to give each new challenge to God and to remember the Lord’s promise, “Come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… rest for your souls”—Matthew 11:28-30. The national offices of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Reformed Church in America have thoughtfully granted our family a period of Sabbath to know this promise more intimately. The time will be used to reflect, rest and heal. These two denominations have also generously provided funding to cover the cost of the items stolen.

Many of your congregations have prayed for us and sent notes of encouragement and meals during the last few weeks. Thank you for your outpouring of love. Please continue to remember us in prayer as we enter into a (somewhat unfamiliar) season of intentional self, marriage and family care in hopes of being strong enough to, in turn, provide love and care for our South Sudanese sisters and brothers who are enduring a crisis.

We also ask for your understanding as we step away from emails, phone communications, speaking engagements and church visits for the coming weeks. Our time of personal leave will extend until approximately February 13, 2017. We will then finish our final speaking engagements and church visits. In the middle of March we will travel to Uganda, where many South Sudanese have fled. We will work in refugee camps assisting displaced South Sudanese until our town is safe enough for us to return to our home.

Once again, thank you for your care for us. We hope this letter provides a clear call for your prayers and a transparent glimpse into a difficult season of our lives.

Thank You for Your Partnership in Ministry,

Shelvis & Nancy Smith-Mather

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