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Healing Hearts in Abyei

A Letter from Bob and Kristi Rice, serving in South Sudan

Winter 2022

Write to Bob Rice
Write to Kristi Rice

Individuals: Give to E132192 in honor of Bob and Kristi Rice’s ministry

Congregations: Give to D500115 in honor of Bob and Kristi Rice’s ministry

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery)


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Dear friends,

Bob came home excited after meeting three pastors from the distant region of Abyei who had come to visit Nile Theological College. They shared how they were forming churches in remote villages with no church presence and their struggle to travel long distances to reach each of the villages. They recounted how they had started their churches from scratch after Abyei was attacked and burned to the ground – twice! They were struggling to rebuild their church buildings with local resources, and the one in the city of Abyei now had thick brick walls just waiting for a roof to be put on.

Abyei is a disputed region along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. When South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, the people of Abyei wanted to be with South Sudan, but the government in Khartoum wanted their resource-rich land. The attacks and destruction of Abyei by the Misseriya tribe in Sudan are thought to be attempts to claim the land of Abyei for Sudan and chase the people out. Residents in Abyei continue to live in fear of attacks, particularly if they attempt to go to their fields to farm or travel in remote areas. A contingent of UN soldiers is now based in the main town to provide security, but the risk remains in rural areas.

Recognizing the challenge that Abyei residents have faced, our church leadership in the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) decided Abyei should be the next location for a healing and reconciliation workshop. Last week our team of three facilitators conducted a workshop in the main town of Abyei. Participants were invited from several different churches in town, as well as from newer centers in the remote villages.

Towards the middle of the Healing Hearts Transforming Nations (HHTN) workshop is the cross workshop session, where participants are invited to take their pain to the cross and ask Jesus to take it as described in Isaiah 53:4. We performed a short drama to illustrate how we often hold onto our anger, bitterness, or pain, resisting God’s invitation to ask God to take it and give healing in exchange. As they prayed, each person was encouraged to write down any sin or pain they had been holding in their hearts on a piece of paper. They then shared their pain with one or two other people and prayed for each other. One by one, people came forward to nail their papers to a cross, often pausing to kneel in prayer or grief as they did so. As we gathered in a circle and burned all of the papers, I got goosebumps thinking of what God was doing in each person’s heart. Spontaneous singing broke out, celebrating the salvation, victory, and freedom that Jesus gives us through his death on the cross.

The following morning, we invited people to share what they had experienced or learned the previous day in the workshop. An older woman said that she had been in conflict with her in-law and would frequently quarrel with her when they met at the market. But during the workshop, she gave over her pain to Jesus, and God enabled her to forgive her relative. For the first time in a long time, she slept well and felt her heart was free and clean. A man who is a leader in the community shared that he had learned a lot in the workshop, particularly about being God’s holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). He had seen tribalism practiced in the church but now saw the importance of being united across tribal lines in the church. Another woman shared that she had such a terrible conflict in her home that she had left home determined not to return. She credits God with leading her to the workshop. Although she did not want to share her problems, she was able to tell a few others during the cross session and was encouraged by their prayers. Now she felt ready to return home and resolve the conflict with her husband.

On the final day, we were taught about collective repentance for wrongs that have been done to people groups in South Sudan and the importance of giving people an opportunity to forgive. Many people were moved by the confessions, including acknowledging wrongs done by Europeans and Americans in the colonization of Sudan and the exploitation of resources. We concluded with a celebration of the unique talents of each people group and the unity that we have as children of God. As we celebrated together, the big smiles and laughter felt redemptive, showing the beauty that God can bring out of pain when we face our wounds and confess wrongs to each other.

We are grateful to see God bringing healing and freedom to people through these workshops. SSPEC will be training new facilitators for the HHTN workshop in South Sudan from March 1 to 15. Please pray that God will equip people in various regions of South Sudan to do this significant ministry of trauma healing and reconciliation.

Thank you so much for partnering with us in God’s work in South Sudan through your prayers and support! We are grateful for the gifts of God’s people in South Sudan and the significant work being done here to make God’s healing and salvation known. You may have received news of a change in the account for supporting our ministry in South Sudan. Support for us as mission co-workers can now be sent through PC(USA), directed to account E132192.


Bob and Kristi

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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