A letter from Bob and Kristi Rice in Congo
Waiting and Beholding
In June our friend Tatu Henri told us sadly before we left for a trip, “When you return, I won’t be here. I will be working in Mweka [a distant town].” He was a fixture in our lives—someone we enjoyed, trusted, and often turned to for help or advice. We said our goodbyes … but when we returned he was still there, waiting for some documents necessary for the transfer. Each week we saw him, and always it seemed he was on the brink of leaving. At the beginning of the school year he started teaching again, even though he knew that his transfer was imminent. He never knew exactly when, so he had to carry on and provide for his family while he waited for the promised job transfer to materialize.
This season of Advent reminds us of the waiting, the anticipation, the hope. We remember God’s promises and Israel’s long period of anticipating the Savior the prophets spoke of. Our hearts are moved by the joyful declarations of hope realized spoken by Simeon and Anna as they see for themselves the baby that is the long-awaited Savior.
The theme of waiting resonates with our lives in Congo. Learning Tshiluba has been a looonng and challenging process—sometimes we wonder if we will ever be fluent. When we travel within Kasai, each day often feels filled with opportunities for waiting—to arrive at the destination, for food to be cooked, for the right people to be assembled, or for the Land Cruiser to be repaired. We try to exercise our “flexibility muscles” and make the most of those opportunities to connect with people, observe, and learn what God is doing in that place. And we often groan with the waiting and hoping for signs of positive change in Congo. The economic, political, and physical environment of “crisis” does not seem to come to an end; will there ever be decent roads in Congo? We are inspired by the faith, resilience, and perseverance of our colleagues and friends who continue to hope and make do with what they have.
This year the Department of Evangelism (DEV) experienced a long period of waiting for a funds transfer for the subsidy of Bibles. A few times each week our colleague Pastor Mukenge would call and ask hopefully, “Any news? Have the funds come yet?” There were a series of hiccups and delays as the transfer process changed, and the months wore on. We started to get tired of him calling, but we were impressed at his perseverance and expectation. The joyful day DID FINALLY arrive, when we were able to send funds to Pastor Mukenge to get Bibles for East Kasai. It also felt like Christmas, going to the Bible Society and coming home with 150 Bibles for West Kasai! We are working through our list, notifying the people who have expressed an urgent need for Bibles. The Department of Evangelism now has Bibles, songbooks, and other books related to church ministry—significant resources for the church after a “drought” without them.
When Jesus was born, it was an event characterized by poverty, pain, and challenge. It was not a clean, glossy picture with all the "right" people involved. For those anticipating their Savior coming after centuries of waiting, it didn’t seem to fit. God often works in ways that we don’t expect and through challenging, painful circumstances that do not seem to hold promise at the time. A. W. Tozer says in Pursuit of God,
“Faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God. Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to ‘behold the Lamb of God,’ and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives.”
Beholding the Lamb of God, trusting and focusing on Him alone, is what will enable us to persevere in hope in the various ministries of our department. As we work and wait to see improvements and increased resources for the pastoral institutes, we trust that God is at work. As we assess the impact and hope for fruit from the laity seminars the DEV has organized, we know that it takes time and much effort to produce fruit. As we persevere in our Tshiluba lessons, we learn to be encouraged by little milestones—Bob preaching without a manuscript or our social evening of exchanging proverbs with friends. When we get frustrated by the different perceptions about “planning” in this culture, we wonder if the anticipated youth conferences will materialize. But that just serves to remind us to direct our gaze to Jesus and continue to persevere in partnership, respecting each other’s gifts and vision. Tatu Henri, our friend mentioned at the beginning, after waiting patiently and faithfully, did finally get his work transfer and moved to Mweka. We, also, seek to behold the Lamb of God as we wait and trust in the One who is faithful.
Paul exhorts the Colossians: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:1-2). As you meditate on the long-awaited arrival of our Savior and unlikely circumstances surrounding His birth, we hope that your gaze is lifted upward and you are renewed in hope. We persevere in hope for Congo and for God’s work here, strengthened by your prayers, encouragement, and support.
As we look toward 2013, would you prayerfully consider how God might want you to engage with us in ministry through prayer and/or financial support? We have added a new page to our blog: Eight Great Ways to Participate, which describes some specific ways to participate in the ministry here.
May God fill you with joy and hope as you celebrate our Prince of Peace!
Bob and Kristi
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 102
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 110
Read more about Bob and Kristi Rice's ministry
Blog: Adventures of Bob and Kristi