Malish James Morris was only seven when his village in South Sudan was raided. He stood powerless as soldiers lined up all the male members of his family and shot them one by one while his mother and sisters watched. When they turned the gun on him it misfired three times.
Haunted by the experience, Morris became a child soldier at 12, consumed by revenge. As he grew older, with help from the South Sudan Council of Churches, a Presbyterian World Mission partner, he was able to let go of the anger and bitterness. In fact, he saw the people responsible for his family’s deaths in his village and offered his forgiveness.
Today, Morris is the embodiment of the RECONCILE, (Resource Centre for Civil Leadership) Peace Institute in Yei, South Sudan. He is a leader among his peers, voted president of the student body in 2105. At graduation he told the students who were from several ethnic groups, “We have become a family.”
Morris said he was transformed and is now working to offer others the same opportunities.
Alongside Presbyterian mission co-workers, the Revs. Nancy and Shelvis-Smith Mather, and many others committed to building an environment for a healthy, peaceful democratic society, he is working for change through PC(USA) partner RECONCLE.
“After Morris shared his story, I felt convicted and inspired,” said Nancy Smith-Mather. “I came away asking myself, ‘Am I holding onto bitterness in my heart? Who can I not forgive? What obstacles limit me from radical courage and faith?’ The witness of South Sudanese Christians like Morris remind us that with Christ, all things are possible.”
RECONCILE was created in March 2004 by the New Sudan Council of Churches. Its purpose is “peace building” through training in trauma recovery, conflict transformation, and civic education. Activities are in areas of high inter-ethnic conflict, where the churches are often the typical point of entry into these communities.
The Smith-Mathers realized it was a pivotal time in South Sudan’s history and say they answered God’s call to become mission co-workers in 2011. In 2012, their son Jordan, was born prematurely, the first American child ever born in South Sudan, a country International Women’s Day calls “the worst place in the world for a woman to give birth.” After a bumpy start, Jordan is happy and healthy and now has a sibling. Home for a few months in the U.S., the Smith-Mather family will soon return to South Sudan to continue working with their Sudanese brothers and sisters toward peace, stability and a better life for future generations.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been involved in Sudan for more than a century and has longstanding relationships with two partner churches, the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) and the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), which was the primary Presbyterian denomination serving Sudan.
The years of civil war left South Sudan’s infrastructure in ruins and the country deeply in need of healing. One in seven children never reaches their fifth birthday. Less than 25 percent of primary school age children are enrolled in school and less than 12 percent of teachers are trained. A female in South Sudan is more likely to die in childbirth than graduate from eighth grade.
The South Sudan Education and Peace Building Project is a joint effort between World Mission and its partners to provide access to quality education for all children and train leaders to be agents of peace and reconciliation throughout the country.
Funds raised will help develop community support and management of Presbyterian schools in at least 17 communities. World Mission joins communities’ efforts to build and repair schools, and scholarships will be provided for more than 32 of the most promising teachers to attend a teacher training program in Yei in addition to in-service training for 320 teachers and administrators serving in remote locations. Mission co-workers Leisa Wagstaff and Lynn and Sharon Kandel are working with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan Education Department to implement this program. Nancy Smith-Mather serves as the coordinator of the project and Shelvis Smith-Mather serves as principal of the RECONCILE Peace Institute (RPI).
Students at RPI receive three months of training in the Community Based Trauma Healing or the Peace Studies and Conflict Transformationprogram. RPI students live and study in a diverse learning environment, which provides opportunities to spend time dialoguing inside and outside the classroom with students of different genders, ethnic groups, ages, socioeconomic status and life experience. The students also participate in fieldwork that allows them to practice their skills in the community and learn from organizations and churches based in Yei. A team of more than 15 alumni served on the 2015 RPI coordination team, working as peer counselors.
Since December 2013, the civil war in South Sudan has continued to take lives and force thousands from their homes, but there is burgeoning hope for a peace agreement in the near future. In June, the South Sudan Council of Churches, 25 church leaders from different denominations and ethnic groups gathered to make a joint statement that read in part, “Not only will we warn our leaders and our people to renounce wickedness and evil ways, we will take action to bring peace and to begin reconciliation.”
Making those kinds of statements can be very dangerous, but one church leader said, “The church cannot stand by while people are being killed.”
World Mission asks for prayers for the people of South Sudan, including partner churches. Quarterly updates on the progress of the South Sudan Education and Peacebuilding Project are available online at https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/global/south-sudan/.
To financially support the South Sudan Education and Peace Building Project please use the following link - https://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/E052172-1/.