A letter from Bob Rice serving now in South Sudan
July 24 2017
Blog: Embracing Hope
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I exchanged friendly greetings in Arabic with Ms. Niemat, who sells bread and vegetables in one of our favorite little shops in Juba. I then looked at her wares as she asked in Arabic, “what are you looking for?” The only word I recognized was “what,” but I understood, and attempted the word for bread. She corrected my pronunciation, and then asked how many I wanted. “Four,” I responded. “No,” she corrected in Arabic, “you say, ‘I want four pieces of bread.’” I knew all the words, but I just hadn’t been quick or confident enough to put it all together without her prompting. So I dutifully repeated the phrase and knew that it would come easier next time.
Here we are again, folks. Back to feeling like little children as we learn to hear and form the sounds of a new language and probably sound rather like children as we slowly put together a phrase and get corrected for our pronunciation. As we put ourselves in this humble position of learning the basics of a new language, we are grateful for the great patience and encouragement that many people are giving to us—much needed on the long road of learning a language. We appreciate your prayers that God will help us in learning Juba Arabic and building relationships with people in the community as we learn.
Most of you know that we spent the month of June in Nairobi seeking medical treatment because Bob was sick. He was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus, which caused him to be unusually tired, achy, and weak. Recovery has been a long process, and his energy is not yet back to normal. We thank God for improvement, and are grateful that we were able to return to Juba even while he limits his activity for awhile and continues to recover. Being confronted with our physical weakness in this season has been a good reminder of our constant dependence on God and our need to surrender to Him fully—you can find more reflections on our blog about that. Please continue to pray for full healing.
We are gradually feeling at home in Juba—figuring out the public bus routes, buying vegetables in the market, and trying to catch words in Arabic on the local radio. One of our favorite new habits is taking a walk in the neighborhood in the early evening. At that time, the heat has decreased, people are done with work for the day, and kids are playing on the dirt streets. It is a nice time to practice some greetings in Arabic and learn our way around. Sometimes we stop to watch a volleyball or soccer match for a few minutes and enjoy the positive sense of community in the neighborhood—it feels especially significant given the conflict and trauma that so many people have endured here.
Last week, we were able to attend part of the opening ceremony for the new school year at Nile Theological College (NTC), where Bob will be teaching. There was a great sense of joy and anticipation from the faculty and new students at the start of classes. NTC is running out of space for classes as the school grows, so just last week a new temporary structure was built that held all of us comfortably for the opening ceremony. One of the alumni of the school gave the sermon—a powerful message from John 15 about being committed to Christ and transformed by Him, rather than just “going through the motions” of being religious. The school welcomed thirty-seven new students this year, which nearly doubles the size of the student body. We are excited to see the hunger for God among people in South Sudan, and we pray for this next generation of leaders whom God is raising up to help people understand His grace in a new way.
On July 9, South Sudan celebrated its sixth birthday as an independent country. This was a poignant time for many, as last year the Independence Day celebrations sparked significant unrest and violence in Juba. We are thankful that this year Juba was peaceful, although there continues to be unrest in some other cities and regions in South Sudan as government military forces clash with opposition forces.
We are still learning about the complex and tragic history of South Sudan, and are amazed at what many people have lived through. This July, more than 2 million people are displaced from their homes because of the ongoing conflict. Many people have been pushed to abandon their fields and flee, finding themselves starving without the food they had worked for in their fields. Please pray for peace and stability here in South Sudan, for provision for those without food, and that the church would be a faithful witness and voice for peace.
We are encouraged and sustained by the knowledge that you are praying for us and for God’s work in South Sudan. We really consider it a privilege to serve alongside our brothers and sisters here as they seek to make the hope and life of Christ known in the midst of suffering. And your partnership through prayers, financial gifts, and encouragement are a key part of participating in mission here. We rejoice in the hope that God has called us to, and pray that many in South Sudan would have the “eyes of their hearts enlightened to know the hope to which He is calling them” (Ephesians 1:18).
Bob and Kristi
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