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Jidu is gone but his memory lives on

Even after his death, a longtime South Sudan peacemaker is influencing the next generation

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Canon Clement Janda, also known as Jidu, with Jordan Smith-Mather. (Photo by Shelvis Smith-Mather).

LOUISVILLE — In a recent letter, the Rev. Nancy Smith-Mather, a mission co-worker, said one of the most difficult things about living in another country is the distance from family.

She and fellow mission co-worker and husband Rev. Shelvis Smith-Mather felt the distance deeply when their son Jordan was born in 2012, the first child born in South Sudan to U.S. born parents.

“As new parents, we hoped our son Jordan would regularly be swept up into the loving arms of an adoring grandparent, an aunt or an uncle,” said Nancy Smith-Mather. “We wanted him to benefit from the nearby presence of extended family who would care for him as their own.”

In 2013 their prayers were answered when their son met someone very special at the RECONCILE Peace Institute in Yei. Canon Clement Janda introduced himself as “Jidu ta Jidujeen (Grandfather of Grandfathers),” a nod to both his age and his desire to be in relationship with Jordan.  Shelvis and Nancy knew that Jidu held many other titles including Rev., Senator, Elder, General Secretary Emeritus of the Sudan Council of Churches, and General Secretary Emeritus of the All-Africa Conference of Churches. He was known as a peace negotiator, liberation champion and global ecumenical leader, but to the Smith-Mather children, now four in total (Jordan, Adalyn, Nicole, and Baby Alice) he was Jidu.

“He attended seminary in the U.S., directed Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation in Zambia and worked with the World Council of Churches in Switzerland, yet he related easily to South Sudanese who never stepped across the border of their home state,” said Nancy Smith-Mather. “Canon Janda would converse with the security guard at the gate or women cooking in a mud walled kitchen just as easily as the president of his nation.”

Smith-Mather said “Jidu” welcomed them to South Sudan and helped them navigate the complexities of a new culture. An authoritative historian, he taught them the root causes of the years of conflict. He was a counselor, pastor and friend.

The Smith-Mather family — Addie, Jordan, Shelvis, Nancy, Nicole and Alice. (Contributed photo)

“Extending authentic friendship to us, he visited our front porch in South Sudan while processing and grieving the loss of a close relative,” said Smith-Mather.  “Years later, after both our families fled to Uganda due to the war, I felt comfortable crying on his front porch about the severe illness of someone very important to me.  He and his wife Joyce listened compassionately through to the last tear.”

When Shelvis Smith-Mather applied to Oxford University, Jidu collaborated with two other nationally recognized South Sudanese peacemakers on a letter of recommendation for him.

“In recommending Rev. Shelvis Smith-Mather to Oxford University, we do so, trusting that he will share with us and our communities the lessons he gains from your esteemed institution, and that he will share with you lessons learned working with us. We believe that accepting this experienced peace-builder and thoughtful theologian into your program will be of benefit to you and us alike.” 

Rev. Janda passed away on March 8 in Uganda at the age of 80. Although South Sudan has lost one of its most important peacemakers, his work will live on into the next generation.

Three years ago while in Aura, Uganda, Jordan, Addie and Nicole Smith-Mather give their “Jidu” a chicken to say “thank you.” (Contributed photo)

“I have found myself coaching Jordan (now 8) on ways to speak with humility in order to be a peacebuilder like Jidu” said Nancy Smith-Mather. “The week after he died, photos from friends at the various funeral events popped up on my phone.  I longed to be in East Africa, mourning alongside the many who knew him. The most difficult thing about living overseas is the distance from family.”

Nancy Smith-Mather continues to manage the South Sudan Education and Peace Building Program remotely. The family plans to travel back to Oxford in the fall so Shelvis can resume his studies.

On Tuesday, the Smith-Mathers talked to Jidu’s wife, Joyce. Shelvis mentioned that Baby Alice does not have a Kakwa name like the other Smith-Mather children. (Kakwa is the main language in Yei).  She thought about it, discussed with family, and selected “Beleta,” which means “Praise.”

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