A letter from Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather serving in South Sudan
Individuals: Give online to E200316 for Shelvis and Nancy’s sending and support
Individuals: Give online to 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).
MISSION PERSONNEL: Revs. Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather
COUNTRY: South Sudan
MISSION PARTNER(S): RECONCILE International (also added at end of year: Across, YTTC, and PCOSS—see below)
OVERALL GOAL: The goal of this partnership is to walk alongside our sisters and brothers at RECONCILE International as they strive to achieve their vision and mission:
Vision: Harmonious and caring communities in South Sudan and the region realizing their full potentials, living and working together in justice, peace, truth, mercy and hope.
Mission: To contribute to nation building by facilitating processes for equipping communities in South Sudan and the region with knowledge and skills for sustainable peace through trauma healing, accountable governance, and social transformation.
In addition, toward the end of the 2014, Nancy’s role shifted to include work with three more partner organizations engaged in a multifaceted project focused on Education and Peacebuilding. The project’s partners are Across, Yei Teacher Training College (YTTC) and the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS). This collaborative effort seeks to mobilize communities to support local schools, to train teachers, to increase girls’ attendance in school, to equip the education department of PCOSS, and to build peace through reconciliation efforts and trauma healing.
1. Tell us about your mission partner and how they believe your mission work has impacted their ministry and the lives of the people they served this past year.
RECONCILE International, birthed from the Sudan Council of Churches, is an indigenous, ecumenical peacebuilding organization working in South Sudan. This past year has been a very difficult one for the young country. After two and a half years of existence and of relative peace and stability, political and ethnic violence erupted in the nation’s capital in December 2013. The conflict spread to several states, killing thousands and displacing over 1 million people from their homes.
While on their Christmas break in Uganda the staff of RECONCILE requested that the Smith-Mather family return to the United States to use their relationships with American churches to share the story of the people in South Sudan. Our hearts were torn as we left our colleagues during such a difficult time. But God quickly provided opportunities for us to speak on CNN and to a number of other audiences.
We traveled extensively during our 10 months Stateside, pausing briefly for the birth of our second child, Adalyn Ann. In all we participated in over 275 speaking engagements and meetings in churches, schools, conferences and community forums around the East Coast and Midwest of America. The events included opportunities to share with the U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan (Susan Page), Civil Rights icon (Joseph Lowery), and divinity students at Yale University.
We realized that congregations needed to hear what God was doing to work toward peace in the difficult situation in South Sudan. We also realized that we needed the encouragement and affirmation that we received from the churches and families with whom we worshipped and shared meals. The time was uplifting for our family, for the supporting congregations, and also for our colleagues at RECONCILE with whom we remained in contact.
The outbreak and spread of violence in 2014 deeply affected South Sudan, and the great disappointment weighed heavily on our colleagues. During a time of deep sadness, our South Sudanese colleagues appreciated knowing that churches in the U.S. were learning about and praying for South Sudan. We told them that Americans were strengthened in faith by the courage of South Sudanese Christians, including churches, the RECONCILE staff, and our program trainees. The power of the global church’s witness did not cease to amaze us while we were at home. We, the big “C” Church, truly give and receive from one another in ways that build and sustain life in the body of Christ. Thanks be to God!
2. Describe how an engaged congregation’s involvement and prayers enhance this ministry and what some of the other ways are that a church can be effective and supportive.
While on our home assignment, there were many ways individuals, churches and ministries supported our efforts and thus our partner’s efforts:
- Through the ministry of Presbyterian Women we were warmly welcomed into missionary housing, to a home set up just for our needs (a high chair and toys for Jordan, a bassinette for the baby to come, etc.). Thank you!
- We received more invitations to visit churches across the U.S. than we could accept. While grateful for the outpouring of hospitality, we were saddened that we could not see everyone during the given time period. We are grateful to both the RCA and the PC(USA) national offices for their logistical support during our travels. Thank you!
- Rev. Derrick Jones, supervisor of RCA missions in Africa, hosted us in his home for over two weeks, which included Shelvis being hospitalized with malaria in a local hospital. Thank you, Derrick!
- A family from a supporting RCA church hosted a luncheon for us in their home, and then provided funding that was used toward our capacity-building at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center’s Conflict Transformation training. Thank you!
- Several congregations provided Christian education, loving arms, and child care for Jordan, both while we traveled and while we were back “home” in the missionary housing. Thank you!!!
- Many churches took time to think creatively with us about ways that we could connect with them, both while we were in the States (e.g., a skype conversation when a snowstorm prevented travel) as well as once back in South Sudan. Thank you!
- Countless churches, individuals, committees and groups told us, “We have been praying for you!” It is difficult to explain the enormous effect such words have on us. Their prayers gave us strength to keep traveling, even with a 2-year-old and a newborn. Their prayers for us affirmed the calling of both the RCA and the PC(USA) to be engaged in ministry with RECONCILE International. Their prayers remind us that we are never alone in the work that we are doing; we are part of a greater team, and God is our ultimate Guide! Thank you, Lord.
- Many told us they are praying for RECONCILE, for South Sudan, for peace. This was one of the first things we shared with our colleagues upon our return to Yei. “There are many churches in the U.S. praying for you. They care about what is happening here.” It is also difficult to put into words the effect such affirmation has on our South Sudanese sisters and brothers. Thank you for praying.
3. Share a story about a life directly impacted and/or transformed by your ministry with our partner.
While in the U.S. Shelvis visited an 8th grade confirmation class at a church in Pittsburgh. He shared about the conflict in South Sudan and also the ways that God is working through the South Sudanese Church to bring hope, healing and peace. Shelvis explained the privilege we have as mission co-workers, supported by their congregation, to work alongside these faithful believers.
Once these confirmation students complete their series of classes, they are asked to write a statement of faith. One boy, Jack Cameron, included in his statement: “Throughout this year I learned a great deal about what we could do here—not only for our community but also to other communities in the Pittsburgh area and even across the globe. I had no idea that the money we spent each week was sent all over the world to help people.” He then wrote about a man named Shelvis, who “told us how our church here was helping churches in places like Malawi and South Sudan.” His conclusion included: “This year I have learned more about what the church does for the many, above what it does and means to me.”
4. How are new leaders being prepared and nurtured in hopes of empowering our mission partner to grow and become more self-sufficient?
RECONCILE International has three program areas, and all three empower South Sudanese people; whether to do the work of peacebuilding, of trauma healing, or of government leadership, South Sudanese are getting the skills needed to transform others. Those who are trained at RECONCILE are equipped to facilitate trainings, reconciliation, civic education and trauma healing in communities, schools, and their local government. Once trained, the participants become a part of a larger network laboring for peace. “Alumni” are often called upon by RECONCILE staff to help lead and coordinate additional efforts.
Three of the current staff members at RECONCILE were formerly participants in the RECONCILE Peace Institute (RPI). In addition, last year alumni from RPI were selected to be teaching assistants for the various courses. One alumna, now staff member, Lucy Awate, serves as a main instructor of an RPI class.
5. Share how you are directly involved in preparing a leader who might succeed you in the future.
While in the U.S. this year the Smith-Mather family was a part of a team that worked to secure funding for a five-year project called the South Sudan Education and Peacebuilding Project. Praise the Lord, many pledges were secured and implementation started at the end of 2014. The project budget includes the salary for a Vice Principal for the RECONCILE Peace Institute. While RECONCILE asked the RCA and the PC(USA) to send someone to fill that position in 2011, the understanding is that the current principal, Shelvis Smith-Mather, will work himself out of the job, training a South Sudanese sister or brother to take over.
Recruitment of the Vice Principal is planned for 2015, and the hope is that the VP would then become the principal after two years working alongside Shelvis. In addition, Shelvis put strategies in RECONCILE International’s five-year strategic plan to secure future funding for staff salaries and is currently working to implement them. These strategies will help sustain the institute long-term.
6. Help us to understand how we can continue to be in prayer for you, your family, our mission partner, and the people of God.
Please pray for the people of South Sudan. Many are displaced from their homes, living in Internally Displaced camps or in refugee camps. Pray that political leaders find a solution that brings an end to the conflict. Ask God to give wisdom to church leaders as they seek to bring healing for people with horrific memories from this past year.
Ask that God softens hearts and facilitates reconciliation. God, you are the One who can turn us from revenge and hatred to unity and love. Please help us.
Pray that the staff of RECONCILE would feel God’s guidance in their efforts. Ask the Holy Spirit to refresh and sustain them as they walk alongside brokenness and listen to painful stories.
Thank God that we, as the global church, get to participate in the important ministry led by believers in South Sudan. Thank God for the lessons we learn and for the courage and perseverance we gain from the testimonies of Christians in this young nation.
Ask God to give the Smith-Mather family discernment in the ways they relate to friends, colleagues, and neighbors in their host country. God, help our family to show Your love and share Your promises in our relationships. May we be ever mindful that You do not need us to carry out Your desires on earth, yet You allow us to participate in the powerful work of restoration, hope, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace. Thank You, thank You, thank You. Amen.
Shelvis and Nancy
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 139
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