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Finding joy in the midst of sorrow

South Sudanese Christians show faith and perseverance in a time of hardship

by Bob and Kristi Rice | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Nuer United Church women’s choir greeting visitors with song. (Photo provided)

JUBA, South Sudan — We disembark from the taxi with the Rev. Philip Obang, general secretary of South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, at the checkpoint at the edge of the city. Private and public vehicles are not allowed beyond this point so we jump on the back of “boda bodas” (motorcycle taxis) to ferry us down below, the horizon monopolized by a city of white tents.

POC3 is the largest of three UN Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps on the outskirts of the city of Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Entering the camp, I ask Philip, “How many refugees are in this camp?” He gestures widely with his arms, “Thousands!”

We receive an extravagant welcome by the women’s choir who arrives to escort us with song and dance — and quite the spectacle we become! Nuer United Church, a combined church of three congregations, often has upwards of two thousand worshipers on a Sunday. Their numerous choirs and animated singing stand in stark contrast with the drab surroundings of refugee life. Here we find joy in the midst of sorrow.

Bob and Kristi Rice.

Because of the ongoing civil war in South Sudan, the refugee crisis is one of the worst in the world. With a population of 12 million, two million persons are displaced in camps inside the country while another 1.8 million are living in refugee camps in neighboring countries.

Until there is genuine peace, the situation feels grim. A large percentage of displaced persons hail from the Great Upper Nile region where Presbyterians have been active in ministry for more than 100 years.

As mission co-workers, we are inspired by the faith and perseverance of our South Sudanese sisters and brothers who work tirelessly to demonstrate God’s Kingdom of grace, love and mercy in the midst of such hardship and pain.


Bob and Kristi Rice are Presbyterian mission co-workers serving in South Sudan since May 2017 at the invitation of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. They previously served in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2010-2017. Updates can be read on their blog, Embracing Hope.

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