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Zamani Time: Looking Back, Understanding Our Present

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

February 2020

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“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.”
2 Corinthians 2:14

The sun had risen to its apex in the clear blue sky. Our group of 75 gathered around the rough-shod cross, singing songs of God’s love and sacrifice, now the pinnacle moment of the “Cross Workshop.” We shared our pain with one another in groups of two or three, wrote our pain on small papers and nailed them to the Cross, then processed out of the church together following the Cross held high, now burning these small notes as a symbol of God taking on our pain and offering healing. Standing there, singing songs of praise with Congolese sisters and brothers, I felt a deep sense of ineffable joy to be participating in the Lord’s work of healing and reconciliation. Last month Kristi and I celebrated ten years of mission service with Presbyterian World Mission, years filled with both joy and sorrow.

We can never forget the joy experienced by the Congolese when they learned that we spoke their language, ate their food, and enjoyed being with them. The church leaders even gave us Tshiluba names – “Luse” (Compassion) and “Disanka” (Joy). Kristi will never forget the day when Mamu Meta was selected as the woman in the Savings Group to receive the funds saved by the group so that she could start a small business. Elated, she began singing and dancing, stuffing the bills into her bra as a broad smile extended across her worn face. This group was one of several savings groups started in Kananga by Mamu Victorine, Ruth Brown, and Kristi. The eye-opening experiences of traveling throughout the Kasai Region on perilous roads, visiting communities in far-flung places, sleeping on the ground or in small beds in simple earthen homes and worshipping with the people as we received their warm and loving hospitality are treasured memories that will not be forgotten.

In 2017, after learning that we would not be able to return to Congo, we were re-assigned to Juba, South Sudan. Our partners wasted no time in joyfully welcoming us into the life of their communities. Oh, the satisfaction of learning the local Arabic, being able to communicate and build friendships in our neighborhood. We savor opportunities to worship with our brothers and sisters in the various languages of South Sudan, who joyfully express their faith in times of uncertainty. Teaching at Nile Theological College is like a dream for Bob, seeing his students’ earnest hunger to learn and desire to grow in their faith. Kristi’s participation with South Sudanese colleagues in reconciliation ministry has been a revelation and a source of blessing as their team continues to witness the demonstration of God’s power to bring healing and forgiveness to His people.

Of course, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of South Sudan are no strangers to suffering and sorrow. In Congo, we sat and cried and prayed with friends who have lost children to malaria. We found ourselves surrounded by death, participating in more funerals than we could count. Together with our Congolese church family, we experienced our shared human brokenness and the pain of division. We listened to stories of trauma experienced by friends and colleagues during periods of unrest and brutal suppression. In South Sudan we have weathered unpredictability and instability, living in a “fragile” nation-state. We saw a man shot and dying on our doorstep in our building. We have heard traumatic stories from colleagues and friends from decades of war and ethnic violence.

We regularly hear stories of the injustices and challenges of life as experienced by friends and acquaintances living on the margins.

John S. Mbiti, a scholar of culture and theology from Kenya, describes how Africans look back to the past for meaning, to what they call “Zamani.” “Zamani” is the Kiswahili word for this concept. Mbiti describes this concept in African Religions and Philosophy.

Zamani represents the accumulation of past events creating the present.

As Kristi as I look back over the last ten years, we cannot help giving thanks for the accumulation of joys and divine consolation in our sorrows, now comprising our present. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, exclaims, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” We pray that the “fragrance of the knowledge of him” will fill us and extend through us in our continued mission service through Presbyterian World Mission with partners and friends in South Sudan. Thank you for your continued support, love and prayers. We cannot serve here without you!

Grace and Peace,

Bob and Kristi

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