A Letter from Bob and Kristi Rice, serving in South Sudan
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Stephen Lam Dar’s face says a lot. It reflects his culture and his peace and his joy. Tribal markings dot almost every aspect of cheek, chin, and forehead. He belongs to the Nuer tribe, and during his testimony he shares how his people were far away in every way from the Christian message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
But then they came. There was a group of them holding a physical cross that led them. Stephen’s cousin was amongst them, beating a drum, but not to the traditional dance songs that Stephen knew. Stephen, “the fighter,” renowned for his prowess in combat, would not go unchallenged. He did not like this cross they were carrying. He had his weaponry, a stockpile of twelve spears. When they came, Stephen went out to challenge them. When he was told they were going on to the next village, an elder of Stephen’s village told him to let them pass. Stephen, the fighter, the one adamantly opposed to this cross, relented, letting them pass.
That night, Stephen had a powerful dream of this cross. It awakened him, arousing his curiosity. It caused him to stay home all the next day. People thought, “Why does Stephen not come out today? He must be sick.” The following night Stephen had a second dream. Again, it was this cross, but this time the cross was dressed in a white cloth. Again, it caused him to ponder. The group passed again the following day with their cross, this time the cross dressed in a white cloth just as it had appeared to Stephen in his dream. Stephen went out to them again, and again they were fearful of this aggressive man. Stephen, however, humbly asked if he could play their drum. They accepted. Stephen began to play the traditional songs he knew; they, in turn, began teaching him new songs. An evangelist, the leader of the group, quickly began instructing Stephen in the Christian faith as Stephen continued on with them. When the evangelist died only a short time thereafter, Stephen was named their new leader. A pastor would later come and baptize all of them, starting with Stephen, the evangelist.
Stephen is one of the 34 students in the evangelism class I am currently teaching. At the beginning of the semester, I shared my testimony and invited the “Apostle Paul” to share his story as well, the apostle’s story enacted by visiting professor and friend Paul Hensley. In my mind’s eye, I can never forget seeing one student, Ojulu, with his head crooked high in the air, looking down with unadorned amazement as he listened to Paul the professor impersonate Paul the Apostle. Now, each Wednesday, I ask if a student is willing to give his or her testimony and invariably a student raises his or her hand. We have heard testimonies from many students, and almost to a person, God has spoken to them in dreams and visions that have caused them to ponder this mysterious God now made known in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Recounting their stories of conversion and transformation, students shared that they have received physical healing and have even been agents of healing. They have fallen to their knees and have seen penetrating, supernatural light. They have spoken in tongues not their own and had others interpret what they were saying. Many, myself included, “in our former lives” had been accustomed to imbibing large amounts of “marissa” (wine/alcohol), but have now turned from intoxicating spirits to the Spirit of the Living God. One student, Daniel, was host to three demons when he entered a church and fell to the floor. The choir, who had attracted him into the church with their singing, then began praying for Daniel’s liberation from these oppressive spirits. Today, Daniel, a promising young leader, continues his Christian growth even as his community supports him from afar in the midst of war and displacement.
Each week, all of us are encouraged and strengthened as we listen to one another’s stories. While the term “evangelism” is sometimes misunderstood, it comes from the Greek word evangelion, which means “good news.” When I hear the stories of my students, I can only think one thing, “Good news!” One time, when describing the Kingdom of God, Jesus describes this Kingdom as hidden treasure and a pearl of great price, telling his listeners that one will sell everything they have to possess this one thing, the greatest thing! With our newfound treasure, our normalcy is shattered and our future is totally altered. A new world opens itself up to us, full of unexpected possibilities. Wow! Is such treasure something we can turn down? Jesus came to bring fullness of life, life in abundance. Jesus, in the Gospel of John, responds to the religious leader Nicodemus by saying, “”I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again … born of water and the Spirit.’” (John 3:3–5). New birth, spiritual regeneration, abounds in my classroom! Where there was once confusion and uncertainty, there is now confidence and peace. Where there was drunkenness and combativeness, there is now soundness of mind and evenness of temperament. I am humbled by my students, hearing their stories and recognizing that these are the current and future leaders of this land.
Dear reader, supporter, family member and friend, are you born of the Spirit like my students in South Sudan? If not, we pray that it may be so. May we all experience the newness of life that Jesus alone offers, newness of life that Stephen and Daniel and other students of mine testify to week after week. As God’s children, may we reflect the goodness and mercy of our Lord to our broken and hurting world, and may we also find the Lord in the midst of our own brokenness and pain. We thank you, sisters and brothers, for your commitment to us and to the people of South Sudan. Your prayers and financial gifts strengthen us, encourage us, and allow us to live in this blessed land. May your cup overflow as we move into the seasons of Thanksgiving and Advent.
Yours in Christ,
Bob and Kristi
Please read this important message from José Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission
Dear partners in God’s mission,
We near the close of 2018 inspired by the hope of Christ. God is transforming the world, and you are helping to make it happen.
Thank you very much for your support of our mission co-workers. The prayers and financial gifts of people like you enable them to work alongside global partners to address poverty, hopelessness, violence and other pressing problems in the name of Jesus Christ.
Every day, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers are blessed to be able to walk alongside their brothers and sisters across the globe. Listening to each other in faith and in friendship, they learn from each other how to work towards a world in which everyone flourishes. Acting upon what they discover together, PC(USA) mission co-workers and our global partners strengthen the body of Christ.
Because you are an integral part of God’s mission, I invite you to become more deeply committed to Presbyterian World Mission. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer God’s call to serve others.
I also invite you to ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s prayer list and mission budget for 2019 and beyond. Your multi-year commitment will make a great difference in our involvement with our partners. The majority of our mission co-workers’ funding comes from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours, for God’s mission is a responsibility of the whole church, not a particular area of the church. Now more than ever, we need your financial support!
In faith, our mission co-workers accept a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission, representing the whole church and you, sends them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts? With hope and faith, I await your positive response!
At God’s service and at your service!
José Luis Casal
P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!
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