Shelvis Smith-Mather grabs eight volunteers from the audience at the World Mission conference Saturday morning (Aug. 3) plenary at Big Tent. Eight reluctant souls on this sleepy morning come forward, seeming a little apprehensive ― much like Shelvis was when he first entered the mission field in 2008 as a Young Adult Volunteer.

He names them each with an African country, lines them up and has them hold each others’ shoulders in a line. They are stable and secure. He asks each to raise one foot. They wobble. Then he gently pushes one on a shoulder. They wobble more, and as he pokes and prods each one, they weave back and forth.

He does this to illustrate the point that we’re all connected. The instability of one African nation affects all, but the work of the church in one African country also brings promise and hope to all.

Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather serve as mission co-workers in South Sudan. Shelvis told his own personal story of how he came to work for the PC(USA) and his work in the field.

Big Tent, Aug 1-3, is a celebration of PC(USA) mission and ministry organized around the theme "Putting God's First Things First." It's composed of 10 national Presbyterian conferences, more than 160 workshops and special events to mark the 30th anniversary of the formation of the PC(USA) and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center here.

Shannon Beck, reconciliation catalyst for World Mission, also addressed the group, sharing the church’s strategy, “Stop Gender-Based Violence,” with the group.

“Working for reconciliation is ultimately about relationship,” Beck says. “Relationship with God, with ourselves, with our communities, and even our earth. It acknowledges that everything is messy ― broken ― and that we are in dire need of learning how to forgive, and that creating safe places and structures for relationships to heal is holy work that God is calling us into.”

Shelvis, who is African-American, tied his own experiences of growing up in Atlanta and attending a mostly white high school and having to learn the culture there to his work in Africa. His marriage to his wife, Nancy, who is white, has helped him expand his own ideas of race and culture. “The love of God goes beyond boundaries of race,” Shelvis said.

Nancy challenged him to go to Africa for a year to work in the area of reconciliation, which was important to both of them. He went, reluctantly.

“After I year, I asked her, can we stay?” Shelvis says. “You know those old black and white films from the Civil Rights movement? I felt I was living in black and white there, because the work the church was doing such amazing work in Africa.”

For more on the work of Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather, see their profile at: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/missionconnections/smith-mather-shelvis-nancy/