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Sisters share plenty through ministry

April 11, 2007|by DENNIS SHAW

WILLIAMSPORT - Perched on a hill behind Calvary Temple Church in Williamsport stands a house that dates from before the Civil War. Including a more recent addition, it's big enough that it takes up three house numbers, 16-20 E. Church St.

But it's not the size of the house that makes it significant. Rather, it's the work done there by sisters Vivian S. Smith and the Rev. Ruth Naomi Mattheiss.

The women are the founders and operators of a ministry called Koinonia North, a name that comes from a Greek word meaning "spirit of sharing." From their home, they share plenty - food, clothing, encouragement, prayer, counseling - as well as pay visits to people in their homes, in hospitals and in jails.

"We do whatever's needed," Mattheiss says. "There are so many needs in the world today."

"It's our pleasure to be available," Smith said. "God's been extra good to us and we want to pass it on. We're willing to be used. We've seen many miracles."

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Mattheiss, 87, and Smith, 78, were born in Baltimore to loving parents who gave them an example by taking less fortunate people into their home during the years of the Great Depression.

Their brother, the late Rev. Vernon W. Miles, was ordained in Baltimore in the 1940s and came to the Tri-State area to minister to several small churches and eventually head Calvary Temple Church in Williamsport - the head church of an Evangelistic, mostly Pentecostal, association of churches.

Like her brother, Smith has spent a life involved with helping others. She and her husband moved to the Tri-State area in the 1970s and for many years lived in Marlowe, W.Va., where they raised three children and three foster children.

After her husband's death, she moved to Williamsport in 1992, where she helped her brother with details of the congregation of Calvary Temple Church. Faith Chapel, now on South Potomac Street, was started in their home.

Smith also served on the county's Community Action Council and with other organizations.

She worked for food banks in the county and helped found one in Williamsport. She drove a 10-ton Army truck to Baltimore every week to bring food back to the food banks.

Meanwhile, Mattheiss also was involved in a life of service. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University and teaching in private and public schools, she worked with her husband in ministry for the Baltimore Yearly Meeting of Friends. The couple raised two children before her husband's death in 1979. Mattheiss then worked for the Koinonia Foundation in Stevenson, Md.

After that, she moved to Tennessee, where she graduated from the New Life Bible College and was ordained a minister. After heading several ministry houses there, she came to Williamsport in 1991 and helped her brother in the total ministry of the church.

It was not long after that that she and Smith joined forces to start their own ministry house, and Koinonia North was incorporated in 1994.

Working out of their home between 60 and 70 hours a week, the sisters minister not only to people in Williamsport, but all over Washington County and in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. They answer their phone - the number is 301-223-8677 - at all hours.

"No one is turned away," Smith says.

The women don't charge for their services, and they make no solicitations. Their work is funded by their widows' benefits and by private contributions.

"People give us things," Smith said. "We sort through it, take out what can be shared, and then call the Rescue Mission. We support one another. It's a joyful journey. We love being in the mix. We don't get bored."

Thanks to her training, Mattheiss can offer counseling services,

"We depend mostly on prayer counseling," she says. "Since we started, prayer needs have increased."

The sisters also help people find jobs, and even take in people in need for a night, a few days or even longer, on occasion.

Smith's specialty is preparing meals. While still in Baltimore, she learned to cook for large groups, and at Koinonia North she prepares the food for "gatherings," when people come to their home for food and mutual support. They've served as many as 40 people there at a time, and Smith can be found cooking several days in advance. They've also hosted wedding receptions.

"Naomi has all the degrees," Smith said. "She does the hard stuff. I know how to peel potatoes."

The house, which belonged to Calvary Temple Church, is in the name of the corporation now. When the sisters are gone, it will revert to the church, but they aren't concerned about that.

"We're not old," Smith said. "I'm 78 and Naomi's 87, but we're not old and we're not going to get old."

Mattheiss adds confidently, "The Lord is our provider."

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