Signs of Growth

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

Winter 2021

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Dear friends,

The church members in the remote town of Aweil felt grateful, honored, and hopeful as they welcomed their visitors from Juba and other parts of South Sudan. The visitors were members of the ordination committee of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) and had flown in from Juba to ordain pastors and elders in the congregations in Aweil. Men, women, and children danced and sang in celebration as they received members of their leadership who had been trying for years to reach this remote region in northwestern South Sudan. Their arrival was a significant sign of hope and growth.

The two pastors ordained in Aweil by the ordination committee were Joseph Garang and Goat Mapoath. They had each planted congregations in this region and had worked for some years to grow their congregations, get land to build churches, and help their people find ways to respond to challenges such as food insecurity and lack of education. However, they had not been ordained as pastors because of the challenges of convening the ordination committee and reaching this remote region. In 2019, Elijah Luak, a food security analyst with the World Food Program and SSPEC elder based in Juba, was sent to Aweil to assess the food insecurity in the area. He visited the new congregation in Aweil and was so impressed with the evidence of growth and faith that he personally gave the initial contribution that would help them buy some land that the government offered them at reduced cost. Elijah encouraged the church to start some projects with the resources they had locally, rather than waiting for help that might not come. They have since started literacy classes to help adults learn to read and write in their Dinka language. The ordination of the pastors and elders in Aweil will help the churches to have more credibility with the government and community in continuing these initiatives.

South Sudan locked down last year because of COVID-19 like much of the rest of the world. Thus far they have been spared a significant surge of cases, and restrictions have been partially lifted. Congregations are worshiping in person again and schools are expected to resume in April, with increased hand-washing and distancing protocols. South Sudan does not have the internet capacity to hold church or school online and most people earn a living from the informal economy, which increased the challenges of being in lockdown. Congregations found ways to stay connected through phone messages and visiting in small groups, and everyone appreciated being able to worship in person again. In the midst of the added economic challenges of the pandemic, members volunteered in promoting health and hygiene messages to keep people safe and assisting with food distributions to people who were hungry. We have been encouraged by the many signs of growth through churches in South Sudan despite the challenging environment of the pandemic.

Our reconciliation workshops were also put on hold last year because of COVID-19. Yet, the need and requests for trauma healing has continued. Severe flooding, displacement, and local conflicts have increased the tensions in some areas and the trauma people are dealing with. The facilitation team recently met to plan a few workshops for February and March. Most of the facilitators have other jobs and do this ministry as volunteers, so it can be challenging coordinating the logistics. The first workshop of this year is planned for Malakal, a region that has a large camp of internally displaced people from the attacks that have happened there over the last five years by various armed groups. Please pray with us for open doors and for God’s Spirit to bring deep healing to people who are hurting.

Another encouraging sign of growth is the graduation of the seniors at Nile Theological College (NTC) and the welcoming of new students! Bob celebrated the completion of classes in December for students he has taught for three years, and they are now able to serve full-time in their churches. Some of them are finally reunited with their families after a period of one or two years. Their graduation ceremony has been postponed one year because of the pandemic. NTC welcomes a new class of students every two years, and the newest group of students started this January. This class has nine women – the highest proportion of women in recent years.

After much prayer and consultation with our leadership, we discerned that it was best for us to delay our return to Juba for a few more months. We are eager to return to the work and life that we feel called to in South Sudan, which made this a difficult decision. While in the U.S., we will continue to support and work with SSPEC and NTC remotely. We also hope to have ‘virtual visits’ with some churches we were not able to visit in 2019 to share more personally how we see God at work in South Sudan. Please contact us if you would like to find a way to connect. We also are using this opportunity for growth through study and classes that will further equip us for supporting the church in South Sudan. By extending our stay now, we hope that when we return to Juba in a few months we can settle in for a longer period and maybe even be vaccinated.

Thank you for your prayers, for your financial support, and for your encouragement of us and our colleagues in South Sudan. This pandemic has been frustrating and devasting for many of us around the world, and we pray that God’s Spirit will awaken in us a greater spirit of connection and compassion for our brothers and sisters around the world as we work together for healing. Please contact us if you have any questions or feedback to share – we are always grateful to hear from you.

In Christ,

Kristi and Bob

P.S. – Presbyterian World Mission is trying to reduce the number of print letters being sent. If you can receive this newsletter electronically, please let us know or you can sign up on our mission connections page here: pcusa.org/bob-and-kristi-rice/. Then send an e-mail to us or to mission.connections@pcusa.org to remove you from the mailing list for print letters. Thank you!


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