A Letter from Bob and Kristi Rice, serving in South Sudan
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Nyakuma shared openly with the students about her own father, how he was distant, unsupportive, and unkind to her as a child. When she graduated from vocational training school, he was the only parent who did not come up to hug his child when her name was announced. Her voice broke with emotion as she shared the disappointment of that day, and how difficult it has been to forgive her father. Nyakuma was seated in a chair, as Bob, representing the Heavenly Father, reached out his arms to her and welcomed her to come to him. Omot, standing in front of Bob to block Nyakuma’s view of him, represented her earthly father, just as he blocked Nyakuma from experiencing the love and care of God as our heavenly parent. When Nyakuma was able to forgive her father, Omot slipped out of view, and Nyakuma was able to come freely to Bob’s embrace. The poignancy and personal testimony of this drama touched the students deeply, and were significant parts of Nyakuma’s teaching about God as a Loving Father.
Nyakuma’s session was part of the “Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict” workshop that was held at Nile Theological College during their Easter Retreat for students and faculty. On the second day of the workshop, Mama Sarah taught about Forgiving the Offender, and shared part of her story. As a young mother, she encountered some children whom she felt compelled to take in when they were orphaned by the war or by accidents. As a widow herself struggling to raise her own 4 children, this was not easy. But she trusted God’s provision and stepped out in faith. One of those children was of the Nuer tribe. Soon after she took in the child, her father was killed by Nuer men. She fasted and was silent for nearly a week as she wrestled with the grief of losing her father, but then resolved that because of Jesus’ forgiveness, she, even though she was of the Dinka tribe, could forgive the killers. She was at home, bathing this child she had recently taken in, when her sister came to visit. “You are out of your mind!” Her sister accused Sarah, “Our father was just killed by Nuer. How can you dishonor him by taking in this child?” But Sarah was already able to respond, “I have forgiven them. If the killers came to my house today, I would feed them and care for them just like I care for this child.”
These testimonies are relevant — almost all of the participants in the workshop have lost family members during South Sudan’s long conflict, and have been refugees or displaced from their homes, losing nearly everything in the process. It is hard to find healing from those deep wounds and forgive those serious offences. Perhaps for that reason, students and faculty alike engaged and participated eagerly throughout the two-day workshop. Facing and expressing some of their pain with each other and then nailing it to the cross as they let Jesus carry it was one step towards finding healing and freedom.
This workshop at Nile Theological College (NTC) was a God-given opportunity to put into practice what we had been trained for in Rwanda. Nyakuma, Omot, and Sarah, all members of congregations in the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC), attended the International School of Reconciliation in Rwanda in February/March. I (Kristi) was able to join them for this school, and Bob had attended previously in 2015 with some of our colleagues from Congo. While in Rwanda, we experienced the workshop ourselves, and found healing from some of our own pain, prejudices, and bitterness. We learned about the gruesome, evil history of the genocide in Rwanda, but how God is miraculously enabling many people to forgive, reconcile, and live together without fear and anger. Nyakuma herself testified that when she went to Rwanda, “my heart was full of hate, but I returned to Juba, my heart was now filled with love.”
Back in Juba at the workshop at NTC, one of the final sessions was Standing the Gap. We decided that Bob would start out the time of confession by acknowledging wrongs done by America and Europe (The West) in Africa and South Sudan, and then we would open it up to others who felt moved to confess on behalf of their people wrongs done to others. As people came forward, kneeling in the dirt to ask forgiveness from others for how their tribe had hurt them, we saw the power of God at work. One man also acknowledged the way that women in South Sudan have been devalued and oppressed, and asked for their forgiveness. Conflict and tensions are ongoing in South Sudan, so this was not an event to take lightly. We know that this does not resolve all problems or erase the tensions, but it is a significant step towards healing and freedom both for the people confessing and for the people being given the opportunity to forgive.
Please pray with us for God’s work of healing to continue among people here in South Sudan. Pray for the students and faculty at NTC who experienced this workshop, that inner healing would continue and that they would become true agents of change as they train to become leaders in the church here. Pray also for this newly trained team of Nyakuma, Omot, Sarah and myself (Kristi) as we seek to bring this message of healing and reconciliation to churches in South Sudan. It is your prayers that opened the doors for us to attend the training in Rwanda and then to do the workshop in Juba at NTC, helping others to find healing. It is your financial support for us here that enables us to walk alongside the church for long-term healing and transformation. We are grateful for the privilege of seeing God work through his church in a place of suffering like South Sudan, and we know that the prayers and partnership from God’s people in other places are a big part of the work God is doing here. We are always grateful to hear from you, and would be happy to join you in prayer also.
Under God’s mercy,
Bob and Kristi
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