Standing on Holy Ground

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

July 2019

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On a clear, brilliant day in May 2017, Kristi and I descended on our Ethiopian Airlines flight into Juba, the capital of South Sudan. These first two years in South Sudan have been filled with a lifetime of memories. It began with an inauspicious start, having to leave our new home in Juba after only two short weeks to go to Kenya for medical treatment. I had swallowed a fish bone on our last evening in Kinshasa as we were transitioning from Congo to South Sudan. Moreover, I (Bob) was dealing with unexplainable tiredness. Finally, into our fourth week of shuttling back and forth between the doctor’s office and the guesthouse in Nairobi, the doctor called me to tell me that I was the victim of an illness called “Epstein-Barr Virus.” On one hand it was good news — we finally had a diagnosis. However, on the other hand, it was bad news. This virus, similar in its effect on the body to mononucleosis, would sap my energy, and it would take months for me to get back to a state of semi-normalcy. Even now, two years later, I am still not 100% recovered. There have been moments over these last two years when I felt so despondent that I felt ready to give up on life itself. I felt as Elijah felt, sitting under the broom tree praying that he might die, saying, “I have had enough Lord…Take my life” (1 Kings 19: 4).

God, in his infinite wisdom, did not take my life. These two years God has blessed us with a host of wonderful colleagues and new friends and a wealth of unforgettable experiences. Our hearts are tickled pink when we think about Mama Mary and her tea shop in our neighborhood that we frequent, sitting and chatting with Mary and her host of unique and regular customers — all who are like a small family. I smile when I think of Revs. James Partap and Philip Obang, two wise and winsome colleagues whom Kristi works with, leaders and pillars of the South Sudan Presbyterian Church (SSPEC). Mama Sarah, who went to Rwanda with Kristi in 2018 to be trained in the ministry of healing and reconciliation, exudes the joy of the Lord! Listening to her tell her story of loss and pain and choosing to forgive and love her enemies personifies the Gospel lived out in a harsh and painful setting. My spirit sings when I think of colleagues and students at Nile Theological College (NTC) where I teach. I laugh to myself when I think of Paulino, the night guard and a diploma student at NTC who likes to sing 1980s love ballads in English. I am inspired and blessed when I think of senior student Daniel Achwil and consider all that he and his family have experienced through the crisis and his courage to come for his studies here in Juba. I give thanks when I think of Revs. Santino Odong and Michael Aban, considering their sacrifice and faithfulness in reopening the college in 2015 as the civil war ground on, starting afresh with only five students and helping the college grow to the level where we are today.

Three years ago, my sister Tiffany asked us, “If you could not live in Congo, is there another country in Africa where you would want to be?” Without flinching, “South Sudan” was my automatic response, a response that surprised both Kristi and me. What I intuitively knew then, we understand more fully now. South Sudan has blessed us in innumerable ways. It has been a gift to learn about the different tribes here and to learn greetings in the major tribal languages. We have thoroughly enjoyed our journey learning Arabic in its different Sudanese and South Sudanese forms. This land is filled with an amazing but tragic history of peoples who have courageously lived out their faith in the face of overwhelming odds and dominating forces that have overpowered but not defeated them.

We have been so greatly encouraged in making new friends and acquaintances, welcoming visitors from supporting churches and partner organizations, being part of the work of healing and reconciliation, listening to heart-wrenching stories and seeing tangible rays of faith and hope under the backdrop of displacement, poverty and pain. God’s grace has carried us through, no doubt. I am continuously inspired, challenged, saddened and encouraged when I listen to the laments of my students and when I hear their amazing testimonies of God’s clear call, and I get caught up with them as they express their hopes and their joys. I am reminded that our being here is like standing on holy ground. Our being here is God’s grace. It is God’s plan that we are now invited into this story of South Sudan, that we get a chance to play our part.

You have also played your part! We cannot thank you enough for transitioning with us from our years in Congo to our new home in South Sudan. For many of you, we will be able to see you this year as we begin our itineration this month (July) and continue through November. For others, we will have to wait another two years before we see you again — bummer! Whether we see you this year or not, please know how much we value your prayers, your encouragement, your friendship and your ongoing financial support. So much of ministry is “presence.” Our being here reminds God’s people that they are not alone, that God has not forgotten them, and that Christian brothers and sisters from the other side of the world are standing with them. May our Lord richly bless you during this season of Pentecost, as we celebrate God’s ongoing presence in our lives by His Spirit. We are not alone. God is with us. God is faithful. God is so very good. Amen and amen!

Faithfully Yours,

Bob and Kristi


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