A letter from Bob and Kristi Rice, serving in South Sudan
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As we exited the towering doors of All Saints Cathedral in Juba on a cool July morning, Wes, an SIL (Wycliffe) missionary, began a lament of his focused work in translating the book of Galatians from Greek into one of the 69 languages of South Sudan. Larry, who works to promote education for girls in South Sudan and who is also known for his dry wit, consoled him, saying, “Ah Wes, don’t worry about it, just throw some words in there, no one will know the difference.” I chimed in, “Yah, we all know how the story of the Good Book ends. That’s what matters most.”
Yes, while we do know how the story of the Good Book ends, the unique stories of our personal and collective lives have not yet ended. We live in the “in-between times,” whereby God has revealed Himself in the course of history through His chosen people, Israel, through the Prophets, and now most perfectly through His Son Jesus. Yet the promise of fulfillment has yet to be fulfilled. That is where faith comes in. We know the full compass of God’s mercy and grace, fulfilled in Jesus. We believe He will come again to make all things right. Yet, we labor and struggle in a broken world, waiting for God’s fullness to be made evident in our world. We wait.
The Bible actually ends with these telling words: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). Thus, as Richard Rohr, the Franciscan Priest notes, all of Christian history is lived out in a deliberate emptiness, a chosen non-fulfillment. That being the case, we cannot, in the here and now, demand perfection or fulfillment. We can only watch this unfolding drama and lean into it with anticipation and hope — we can only remain alert and attentive, waiting, like an audience with rapt attention to an orchestra in the throes of its tantalizing drama, waiting on pins and needles for the final denouement to assert itself so we can rise to our feet with thunderous applause. Writes Rohr, “The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves.”
This year has been one of disruption for Kristi and me. In early February it became clear that we would not be able to return to Congo, our place of mission service since early 2010. Still feeling the call to serve God’s people in Africa, we discerned with our mission leadership and partners a new call to South Sudan, a call that was confirmed in March. The bouncy ride of life continued as we returned to Congo to say our goodbyes only to arrive in South Sudan and be greeted by challenging health problems. At times, this season of disruption and change and illness has sent us into the wilderness of despair. “God,” we ask, “what are you doing?” “Why is this happening to us?” “Why now?” With such questions sometimes steering our ship of faith, our only choice is to lean into this present reality with hope and anticipation of better things to come. We wait.
On a collective and more global scale, this year has been one of disruption as well. Recently, it has felt like our world has been battered and tossed by the winds and waves of calamity and havoc with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, with massive flooding in India and northern Uganda, with a nuclear stand-off between the US and North Korea amidst continued tensions, with the 7.0 earthquake in Mexico, with a potential election “do-over” in Kenya, with ongoing refugee crises and famines not only here in South Sudan but spread across Africa and the Middle East, along with other catastrophes, shootings and attacks across the globe. “God,” we might collectively ask, “Why so much turmoil and pain? It feels beyond what we can handle.” As a collective human family and for the Christian family of faith, we struggle, we suffer, and we wait.
Yet here is where the “in between” really matters. Herein is why it is important for Wes to finish that translation of Galatians into a local language from the original Greek. The daily struggle and toil of life, especially in response to disaster and tragedy, refine us and prepare us for what lies ahead. As an example, I would never have wished to have the Epstein-Barr Virus, but I am learning important lessons as a result of this health crisis. I am learning patience, humility and a greater compassion for those struggling with illness and various handicaps. For Wes, his important labor of love with language will help South Sudanese Christians understand that the trials they face were also faced by the first century church. For those collecting themselves and picking up the pieces in Texas, the Caribbean, Florida, Las Vegas, Mexico, Uganda, Myanmar and India, they will have a new appreciation for the profound gift of life and how fragile life can be.
So, in the midst of disruption, tragedy, national disaster and the like, I encourage us to rise and say,
God, even though things look grim and bleak, even though I feel battered and tossed by the winds and waves of life, I open myself up to the good future I believe you have for me and for our world. I also open myself to the present moment, believing that You can calm the storms in my life, that despite my struggles and pain, You still speak blessings into my life and use me to be a blessing to others. Lord, I trust that one day you will return and bring fullness of understanding when there is so much I currently cannot comprehend. You will come and make things all right. You will bring justice to our world. For now, I am content to wait, finding my solace in You alone.
During the season of Advent, we celebrate the coming of Jesus into our broken world. We also wait, saying with baited breath, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
We give thanks to you, friend, for standing with us as we stand with sisters and brothers here in South Sudan. Without your prayers and financial gifts, we cannot be here. May the LORD heap blessing upon blessing upon you during this Advent Season and into 2018!
Grace and Peace,
Bob and Kristi
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