Hoping for a Fresh Start

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

August 2018

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Salaam ja! (Peace has come!) This was Susan’s excited greeting the morning after the signing of the peace agreement last week. The expressions of relief, joy, and hope that I saw that day from people of many different tribes gave me real hope for a fresh start of stability and peace in South Sudan. I start hoping — perhaps the years of increasing refugees and displacement could begin to correct themselves and the country could move out of “crisis” mode. But there are many steps yet in the process and hard work to be done for true peace to come. We hope desperately that this is indeed a fresh start for peace, but the future remains as uncertain as ever.

There are several “fresh starts” in our life right now. One is exploring an approach to community development called Community Health Evangelism (CHE). One of the leaders in the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) expressed the desire to train leaders in community development, so that they would be empowered to take initiative in addressing needs in their communities and congregations rather than just waiting for outside support. This is exactly what the CHE approach seeks to do — train community or church members to identify and address the needs in their communities in order to holistically improve physical, social, and spiritual well-being in their communities. Kristi will attend a training in Kenya along with a South Sudanese colleague this month (August) as a first step towards discerning how our church can implement this approach. Then, some colleagues from Ethiopia will come in November to lead a “Vision Seminar” for the leadership of our church to help everyone understand and discern how to move forward. Please pray with us for this new initiative, and that the right people within our church partner will be raised up to lead it forward.

Bob just started a new semester at Nile Theological College (NTC). He is teaching Evangelism to the junior students this semester. He started the course by sharing his own testimony of the dramatic change in his life when he realized that Jesus was what he had been searching for. This semester is a challenging one at NTC, as they are trying to move forward after their beloved academic dean died of a heart attack in June. You can find Bob’s reflection on his life on our blog. We have enjoyed worshipping at the congregations of some students and visiting in their homes. We continue to be impressed by their perseverance to be equipped for ministry and pursue God’s call despite so many challenges.

Last month, we got a “fresh start” in our language learning! Because of Bob’s busy teaching schedule last semester, we were not able to meet with our language teacher. We continued to use Arabic in conversation, but realized we were not improving much. A few of our church visits and daily interactions reminded us of the benefit of being able to communicate in Juba Arabic and motivated us to renew our efforts at language learning. So, we are back into the routine of weekly lessons, reviewing, and seeking time to practice in conversation. We were given some drafts of some books of the Bible translated into Juba Arabic and incorporated that into our daily Bible reading. It is not easy to keep up the discipline to study new words and practice grammar, so pray that God continues to give us the motivation and discipline we need.

We continue to seek opportunities to teach about forgiveness and reconciliation. We look forward to a fresh start with this ministry through the possibility of doing a workshop in the Eastern town of Pochalla. Kristi is also working with a team that hopes to do an ecumenical workshop in Juba to expose people to this significant teaching. Rev. James Partap, a leader in our partner church, said recently, “Even if peace comes, we still have a lot of work to do. We have to learn to live together!” Please pray for God to open doors and give wisdom to our team in coordinating these workshops. We need the Holy Spirit to do the deep work of healing and transformation in people’s hearts that can bring about true forgiveness and reconciliation.

After the initial euphoric celebration of the peace agreement, several people have expressed skepticism, and others have acknowledged the hard work that it will take for the parties to work out the details of the power-sharing agreement. We do not know how this will turn out, so we ask for your continued prayers for peace in South Sudan. In the same way, we do not know how things will turn out for NTC this semester, for the new initiative with CHE, or for ongoing hopes for reconciliation workshops. We rejoice in fresh starts and hopes for new things, but we realize that it will take the cooperative work of many people and God’s strength and intervention to make any of these a reality. You are a part of that cooperative effort through your prayers and financial support to enable us to be here in South Sudan. Your partnership gives us hope and motivation to persevere, knowing that God is able to transform any situation and bring fruit from these fresh starts that we celebrate.

May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit! (Romans 15:13)

Kristi and Bob


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