A Letter from Bob and Kristi Rice, serving in South Sudan
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Warm greetings to you! We want to share some of the joys and challenges of the last few months and also ask for your prayers.
April and May were very busy months for both of us in Juba. Bob had a great celebration at the end of his class at NTC as students presented in groups something of the religious heritage of each of the nine people groups represented in his class. If you read our previous newsletter, you know that his class had rich discussions about how to discern which parts of their religious heritage to keep when they choose to follow Jesus, and how to think about culture in light of the gospel message. Bob also had some meaningful interviews related to research he is doing about context theology in South Sudan. If you want to hear more about Bob’s research, he also created a short video that introduces his research – just let us know and we will send you the link.
We landed in the U.S. in early June with plans for spending the next few months visiting churches, attending conferences, and being with family. Bob was not feeling well when we arrived, and the sickness has now dragged on for several weeks. Medical tests and doctor visits seem to indicate a resurgence of the Epstein Barr Virus that Bob experienced in 2017 and explain why Bob continues to feel unusually tired and weak. We were sad to have to cancel a few weeks of visits with churches and friends as we returned to Illinois in late June for Bob to recover. We are grateful that Bob’s energy is improving, although it appears that it is a rather slow process. Bob’s motto these days is “Walk slowly and carry a grateful heart.”
In July, I (Kristi) attended the Sudan/South Sudan Mission Network meeting. I was grateful for this ‘coming together’ of people who care about the people of Sudan and South Sudan and want to work collaboratively to increase God’s shalom there. Some of the people who were present have built friendships with Sudanese and South Sudanese colleagues over more than 20 years of visits, communication and shared experiences. Three people from the ‘diaspora’ community were present and their perspectives and experiences as South Sudanese people who have lived in the U.S. for many years helped to enrich our discussions. Those gathered represented presbyteries and congregations who have partnerships in Sudan or South Sudan, along with Presbyterian World Mission and several other organizations and individuals.
Alphonse, a colleague from Juba who teaches at Nile Theological College (NTC) and is also a pastor-in-training with the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC), made his first trip to the U.S. to attend the mission network meeting. SSPEC has a vision to start a Bible school where men and women who have a calling and desire for ministry can be equipped. Alphonse shared that the Bible school would complement NTC as a place where people who do not have the educational credentials or language ability for the academic environment of NTC can be trained and get credentials and later have the option of further study at NTC. The Bible school would particularly focus on training pastors for rural or under-served areas. Alphonse has been named as the first principal of the Bible School; he passionately shared the vision with the mission network gathering. Alphonse is actively developing a curriculum and recruiting applicants with the hope to start in January. He and other leaders are sharing the vision and trying to raise the needed funds to build a small hall at SSPEC’s office in Juba where classes could be held. We welcome your prayers for God to lead and enable SSPEC and Alphonse in this new venture.
Finally, you have probably all seen the news about the devastating civil war in Sudan that is causing upheaval in our region. More than 100,000 people have fled from Khartoum into South Sudan, in addition to other refugees who have fled to other neighboring countries. South Sudan was already stretched thin with severe food insecurity and economic crisis, so accommodating these refugees has been a slow process with many suffering without food or water. The families and relatives of many of our colleagues in Juba live in Khartoum, and they have struggled to find safe passage out of the country. Our church partners in South Sudan are providing some food and supplies to these people fleeing the war, and we ask for your prayers that the violence would end, and that God would protect and provide for civilians.
We are grateful to the Good Shepherd for walking with us on this journey, particularly in the uncertainty and discouragement of not feeling well. We welcome your prayers for healing for Bob and for God to continue to give discernment and wisdom. We celebrate the ways that God has worked this year in South Sudan, but we also recognize significant suffering and ongoing challenges that people face. Your prayers and partnership with us and our partners in South Sudan are important! You can always reach us if you have questions or thoughts to share at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristi and Bob
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