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Loss of a Season

A letter from Nancy Smith-Mather, serving in South Sudan

September 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).


“Hi, I am Nancy,” I said, sticking out my hand to greet a new face.

“I’m Melissa. I live in Yumbe,” she replied, giving me a bit of context for her life.

“I just moved to Arua in April,” I offered.

“Where did you move from?” she asked.

“From Yei, South Sudan,” I responded.

“That’s what I would have guessed,” she said, nodding her head.

“Just like everybody else?” I asked with a smile.

When I turned away, moving to take an empty chair at the church gathering, I was caught completely off guard by tears welling up in my eyes.

Our home, where many memories were made in Yei, South Sudan

Something about my response stung. The sadness behind “just like everybody else” hit me. I don’t think I have cried about leaving South Sudan. Perhaps my knee-jerk reaction to keep pushing forward prevented me from feeling the weight of the fact that our family and tens of thousands of other families have been displaced from Yei. Perhaps my natural tendency to compare my own suffering to the suffering of others caused me to stuff my sorrow. There are people living in refugee camps who lost everything. Who am I to cry for myself?

We were adding onto our house in Yei. The roof, which covered two new rooms, was nailed on right before we left last July. Our one-bedroom home was growing, just like our family. We lived in that house for five years, the longest residence of our adult lives. Jordan and Addie learned to walk on those floors, yet our youngest child, 10 months old now, has never spent a night there.

But it is not the physical places: the house, the training center, the dormitory, the staff tea-break spot under the huge mango tree; it is not losing the physical places that causes the sting. Neither is the unexpected exit from our way of life and from our friends and neighbors the reason the pain runs deep. Yes, the unique composition of relationships and spaces that made up our past five years is now gone. Yet, the fact that we will never return to it and find it the same – therein lies the sting.

Shelvis and Jordan enjoy stories under the mango tree with friends at RECONCILE

If we get to go back to Yei, the configuration of people and places will not be the same. A majority of the population has left the town. Some will never return. Some will come back in a few years, or in a decade or two. When they return, they will find the landscape is different, and they themselves will also be different. Homes destroyed, property stolen, grass overgrown, churches burned to the ground, cattle and crops eaten by strangers. And those are the replaceable things. Loved ones lost, years of education interrupted, strides in development reversed – those things are harder to get back, or impossible.

I have not allowed myself to mourn the loss of that season, and the challenges and dreams carved into it. Particular hopes and plans existed in that time and place. We do not know if they will be revived or join the piles of ashes.

A few weeks ago, the following words came to my mind, as if God’s Spirit was comforting me:

Don’t cling to a plan saying, “I will do this and then I will do that for a certain period of time.” Hold your plans loosely and be willing to let them slip through your fingers like fine bits of soil. When they pile up on the ground, you may need to water them with your tears… go ahead. Let the drops soak into the mound of thwarted plans. Then be patient, my child. Take time to be still. While you wait, something is breaking beneath the earth you watered like rain. A seed is pushing through, breaking out of its shell, reaching up towards you. When you see the green sprout brighten the brown dirt, a smile will grab hold of all your confused thoughts, all of your wonderings of “why.” All your feelings of disappointment and hurt will pause …

… because God wants to do a new thing. Can you see it? Do you perceive it? It will not be your plan, but in it you can find God’s divine purpose for you. Just as the broken seed brought forth a living plant, so your brokenness will turn into new life, your tears into rejoicing. For God who created us is faithful and will not leave us alone. God who calls us servants, beloved children and friends does not want us to be idle but to labor for sacred purposes all the days we walk this earth.”

Then the following prayer response flowed forth:

“Use us Lord. We are Yours. We are open to newness and uncertainties, to hardships and trials. Help us with courage, give us Your strength. May Your Spirit dwelling inside us be our leading and may it be all that we have to show this broken world. May we live into our divine purpose, that others may be led to do the same. Amen.”

Thank you for supporting our ministry alongside the people of South Sudan. It transforms us, and we hope and pray it also allows transformation in the lives of others.

Please read this important message from Jose Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission

Dear Friend of Presbyterian Mission,

What a joy to send this letter! As Presbyterian World Mission’s new director, I thank God for your faithful support of our mission co-workers. The enclosed newsletter celebrates the work you made possible by your prayers, engagement, and generous financial gifts. We can’t thank you enough.

After I began in April, I met with mission co-workers and global partners and was blessed to see firsthand the mighty ways God is working through them! Our global partners are asking us to help them move forward with life-changing ministries. Because of your support, we can say “yes” to these creative and exciting initiatives.

I write to invite you to make an even deeper commitment to this work. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? We need your gifts to end the year strong. With your help, we filled two new mission co-worker positions and plan to recruit for others. The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer the call to serve.

Second, would you ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s mission budget for 2018 and beyond? Our mission co-workers serve three-year or four-year terms. Your multi-year commitment will encourage them greatly.

Our mission co-workers are funded entirely from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours. Now more than ever, we need your financial support.

In faith, our mission co-workers accepted a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission sent them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts?

With gratitude,
Jose Luis Casal

P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!

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