Healing Hearts in Rwanda

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

April 2020

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In March our partner the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) sent 4 people to Rwanda to be trained at the International School of Reconciliation. Michael, Kuat, Suzan, and Toma joined participants from fifteen countries, led by facilitators from 3 different continents in a workshop called Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations. It was an intense two weeks of learning, sharing, facing the wounds in our own hearts and in the world, and working together across different cultural divides. Their training in Rwanda was cut off a few days early as the Coronavirus crisis heated up and countries in our region closed their borders and imposed travel restrictions. The church leaders had to change their flights multiple times and had quite an adventure returning to Juba—but they all insisted that the training was well worth it!

As we debriefed together, Kuat shared his own story. “My father was killed in 1983 when I was a child, so I am a victim of ethnic conflict. I prayed many times, and said ‘I forgive them, because they didn’t know what they were doing.’ But I didn’t really forgive in my heart. In this course I realized that pain was still in my heart, and I had the opportunity to acknowledge it, to give it to Jesus and ask him for healing. After thirty years, I am finally experiencing healing for my father’s death. And I realized that South Sudan is very similar to Rwanda. We can learn from them!”

Suzan affirmed, “The session called ‘Forgiving is not forgetting’ was really powerful for me. Because if someone hurts you, it is not easy to heal and forgive. It is not just a matter of saying ‘I’m healed.’ So I’m experiencing some healing of the wounds that I had. I don’t have the dreams anymore or the fears that I was having before. I really experienced healing in Rwanda.”

“This training was holistic,” said Michael. “Not just healing of wounds, but also coming together again with other people. We learned how we are called to be a holy nation and priests of God like the Bible says in 1 Peter 2:9, and how our identity as God’s people can connect us across our national or tribal identities.”

As part of the school, they visited a ‘peace village’ in Rwanda, where perpetrators and victims of the 1994 genocide live together in intentional community. “This gave us courage and motivation to implement this in South Sudan,” said Suzan. “We were really surprised to see offenders and victims living together. We realized that what happened in our country was not much worse than what happened in Rwanda, so it gave us courage that there could be reconciliation in South Sudan.”

I asked them how this training was different from other trainings they have participated in related to reconciliation and healing. Kuat shared, “This one is very practical, not just theory. You see people experiencing inner healing right there in the workshop.” Michael adds, “This workshop added reconciliation to the healing. In this workshop you bring your burden to the cross, but you do not go home empty-handed. You exchange your burden or pain for the joy or freedom or healing that Jesus gives. You leave with something lighter. I realized after you are healed, you can take the wrong that was done to you and put it on the cross, and then you see the person that wronged you as a person created in the image of God, a brother you can connect with, rather than just seeing the wrong that they have done.”

Toma, a new pastor serving in a rural area, said, “I felt like this training was a mirror. It showed me how I have been teaching and living out of my own woundedness. We have been bound by so many wounds from our neighbors. We claim that we are doing ministry the right way, but we are not. The dramas and the practical exercises that we did helped us to understand these truths and experience healing, and now I come with freedom in my heart. Other workshops talk about reconciliation practically and physically, but this one starts from the inner side. Indirectly, reconciliation is a result when a person experiences healing.”

The last few days of the school in Rwanda are set aside for a practicum, where participants teach and facilitate in actual workshops around Rwanda. Michael was assigned to facilitate a workshop for university students, and he said that the experience was very moving and transformative for many of the students. The other practicums were cancelled as Rwanda imposed restrictions due to the Coronavirus and everyone scrambled to get home before borders closed. Now Kuat, Michael, Suzan, and Toma join a small group of trained facilitators in South Sudan who are conducting “Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations” workshops. They look forward to conducting workshops and helping others to experience healing—as soon as groups are allowed to gather again when the threat of the Coronavirus desists.

Please pray for SSPEC as they help people to find healing from the wounds of the past and maintain hope during the current virus crisis. Michael shared a final reflection from the training that felt like a timely encouragement to all of us: “We were told that ‘God believes in you. God has hope in you! As weak as you are, even if you are not educated, God can work through you!’ So we realize that as weak as we are, God can do something through us.”

On a personal note, in light of the growing Coronavirus crisis, Presbyterian World Mission requested all mission co-workers to return to the U.S. if possible. We were able to talk with our South Sudanese colleagues, and they were very understanding and supportive of our temporary exit, having experienced times of crisis and displacement themselves. We made quick plans to leave, and are now back in the U.S., praying and waiting with you for an end to this crisis. We love to hear from you, and you can always contact us at bob.rice@pcusa.org or kristi.rice@pcusa.org.

In Christ,

Bob and Kristi


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