A letter from Bob Rice serving now in South Sudan
Blog: Embracing Hope
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With spring comes newness, new life. Tulips and daffodils and lilacs bloom, gracing the winter-hardened land with vivid colors and vibrancy. The winter withdrawal into oneself yields immediacy of hope and fresh vision. John O’Donahue, the late philosopher and poet, shares the Gaelic phrase ag borradh concerning springtime, meaning, “There is a quivering of life about to break forth.” Springtime to the soul can be hopeful, beautiful, and strengthening – even difficult transitions can be made in an unforced and spontaneous way.
Such images aptly describe our recent experience. Just four months ago, Kristi and I weathered the bleakness of uncertainty, withdrawing into the wintertime cold of waiting. Yet by mid-March, a new course for life and ministry was set. By mid-April, we were back in Africa for the Regional Gathering for all PC(USA) mission personnel serving in Africa, hosted in Rwanda on the shores of Lake Kivu, not too far from where Kristi and I first met many moons ago. By mid-May, we were touching down at Juba International Airport, greeted by warm faces and newness unimagined. The brightly colored blue and red rooftops, the clear crisp sky, the mountaintop in the backdrop, all welcomed us as our aircraft descended upon this storied city in the Horn of Africa. Our hosts and new colleagues were quick to help, moving us along the process of entry, sharing self-deprecating humor about their “International Airport” with tarps serving as canopy, serving us each step of the way as the soles of our feet tread upon the earth beneath, a country heretofore unvisited by us, the youngest country in the world, South Sudan.
After our bags were gathered, we were then quickly ensconced into an SUV and driven to our new home across town in the Doshi Motors Building, centrally located in Juba. We clamored up the stairs, following our hosts who hoisted our bags overhead and placed them in our modern apartment. The wide, white tiles covering the floor of our new abode gleamed back at us, while nice earth tones graced the walls accented by North African styled cabinetry, furniture and wall hangings most likely from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, the neighboring country to our north. We sat down to catch our breath with Reverend Philip Obang and Elder Daniel, the General Secretary and Financial Secretary, respectively, of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC). After some pleasantries and making plans for worship the following day, Rev. Philip and Elder Daniel departed, allowing us to relax and settle into our new digs. Shortly thereafter, we were hosted for lunch by Lynn and Sharon Kandel in their home just one flight above. Together, the Kandels fill the PC(USA) Regional Liaison role for the Horn of Africa.
The SSPEC leaders, Rev. Philip and Elder Daniel, have also been unwavering in support since our arrival. Rev. Philip will often call us just to see how we are doing. He is currently taking us on a whirlwind tour of all the SSPEC churches in Juba and will continue doing so for the next several weeks. The first Sunday, we visited the congregation where he often worships. They worship in the Anywaa language of the Anywaa people. We enjoyed the lively drumming and the “Gospel songs” written by Anywaa believers. More recently, we visited a Nuer-speaking congregation where I preached, not far from a large mountain on the outskirts of town. We were impressed by both congregations, their commitment to prayer, Bible study, and creating their own worship space with local initiative and funds. We have also visited the SSPEC church offices and had a good introductory conversation with their executive committee. We are excited to work here in South Sudan with both the SSPEC and NTC.
We have learned several expressions and words in Arabic and will devote the next six months to language learning. The guards below and the women who clean the building have been eager to teach us! A language helper has been recommended to us, and we look forward to working with him. While many people here speak some English and we can technically “get by” with English in our respective roles, the Arab influence is still strong, so learning Arabic will help us build relationships with locals and colleagues, get around the city, and shop. We are eager to learn this language. The localized form is colloquially called “Juba Arabic”—a pidgin form of Classical Arabic.
We cannot adequately express our thanks to you as you have prayed with us through this significant transition. Much has happened in a short amount of time, yet we feel God’s sustaining, healing power. As the Apostle Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5: 15 – 17). It is clear that the Lord has opened up this door for us for continued mission service. We are thankful for your continued partnership. We cannot serve here without your prayers and ongoing financial gifts. Thank you for your commitment to us and to the people of South Sudan. May the Lord’s peace fill you this day and always!
Bob and Kristi
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