Bob and Kristi Rice (PCUSA) - March 2014 Update

Democratic Republic of Congo

Dear Friends,       

You are my brother, you are my sister!
Pastor William Pender preached regarding our oneness in Christ (Bob translates into Tshiluba).

“You are my brother. You are my sister. I am your brother,” pronounces Pastor William Pender of First Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, TN looking into the faces of his Congolese listeners while concluding his sermon at the IMCK parish in Tshikaji. The congregation acknowledges him, “Eyowa, udi muan’etu” (Yes, you are our brother!). Pastor Pender and four others have come to express their unity and solidarity with the Congolese people, wanting to know how their church in the United States can be more connected with God’s people in Congo. This connection began with Dr. Bill and Effie Rule, long-term missionaries to Congo who helped start the IMCK hospital. The Rules had also been members and leaders in this Knoxville church. 

Pastor Pender’s message elucidates our oneness in Christ. In God’s Kingdom, traditional separations and boundaries marked by tribe, class and gender no longer have power. God’s people now transcend these barriers. Our baptism into the Body of Christ enables a new ordering of relationships. Pastor Pender cites a poem in which the person who “wins” is the one who draws his circle of fellowship around "the other"; he chooses inclusion versus exclusion. “Inclusion is difficult,” Pender concedes. “Loving others who are different from us is like the resetting of bones. Love is the necessary healing agent that may be painful at first but ultimately leads to healing and wholeness.” Healing and wholeness are needed in our faith communities and our communities at large. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be agents of reconciliation and healing. Jesus prayed that his followers may be one, even as he and his Father were one. Jesus prays for unity so that the world may know that the Father sent him, that the Father loves all peoples even as the Father demonstrated his love for his Son (John 17). The unity of God’s people communicates our oneness with Jesus (the Son) and our oneness with his Father (Yahweh). 

Yet too often we allow our brokenness and our worldly identities to trump the prayers petitioned by the Lord Jesus and the new realities Pastor Pender preaches. Within 24 hours of our arrival in Kananga, we were called into the offices of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) leadership. We were told about divisions in Kananga Presbytery and advised not to visit certain churches. These divisions within the Presbytery signal larger divisions that currently afflict the CPC. We can only pray for God’s healing and reconciliation amongst us during this time of fragility and lack of trust. 

I am saddened by the fact that on March 2 my home church, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, cast their vote to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This historic and vibrant church, founded 141 years ago under the auspices of the presbytery that birthed it, is choosing to leave its parent and its family. Moreover, churches across the land are also making the same choice. Of course there are some good reasons for leaving, but what does such action communicate to a world that the Lord Jesus prayed would come to the Father as they witness the unity of God’s people? 

Congo feels sometimes like a paradoxical combination of hopeless suffering and inspiring potential. Joy and warmth as the women sway down the aisle in church, despite the persistent struggle of mothers who always seem to have at least one child sick with malaria. Lush beauty of a valley filled with trees and the songs of tropical birds. A contrast with erosion as a new ravine is formed and threatens homes. Eager children walk long distances to go to school and then often have extra obstacles to overcome like lack of materials, a school roof that leaks or a family that cannot afford the school fees. Families who struggle to find the money for their next meal, yet will give sacrificially of time and resources when a friend or neighbor is sick or in crisis. People long on time, with great patience and perseverance, yet whose time does not often yield the means to support their family. A culture of high respect for authority, which then suffers silently under corruption and tyranny; passionate, persevering prayers seek out God’s help, yet then a fatalistic resignation to accept whatever happens.

A place with frustrating inefficiencies from my Western view, where I am grateful for the flexibility and patience modeled around me. I feel embraced by generous hospitality, and then repelled by presumptuous demands. Even the climate conflicts – the warm sun accommodating and comfortable year round, yet it harbors those destructive tropical diseases.

“You are my brother. You are my sister. I am your brother.” Thank you, Pastor Pender, for such profound words. I pray that we can all say these life-affirming words to one another in spite of our differences. May we walk the rough-and-tumble road of discipleship, learning how to truly love one another. Your prayers and financial gifts allow us to walk alongside our sisters and brothers in Congo. For that we are so grateful! If you would like to learn more about how you can be more engaged with our ministry in Congo through prayer and financial giving in 2014, please let us know. 

God bless you!                                                                               

Bob and Kristi Rice

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