Bob and Kristi Rice - April 2017 Update
Juba, South Sudan
Just after Thanksgiving last year we got a text message from our leadership at Presbyterian World Mission: “Don’t buy your tickets back to Congo yet. We need to talk.” In the ensuing conversations with our leadership we learned that our church partner, the Congolese Presbyterian Community (CPC), had asked us and another mission co-worker not to return to Congo because of instability in the country and conflict within their denomination. There were discussions between Presbyterian World Mission and CPC through December and January to see if the door might still be open for us to return as planned. In February, it was concluded that the door has indeed closed, and we would not be able to return. If you receive the e-mail version of our newsletter you should already know this news, but we wanted to say it again for those who get only the print version.
God has given us peace and hope in the midst of uncertainty during these months of transition. Plenty of other emotions have also hit us. We grieve having to give up our Congo home and leaving friends we had grown to love. On the other hand, we also felt relief when the decision finally became clear. We are grateful for the prayers and words of encouragement and comfort received from so many of you who have heard this news. We worry and grieve for our friends in Congo living in the challenging reality of conflict.
Living in limbo has stretched our faith, not knowing where we might be one or two months in the future. We are grateful for the humbling and challenging process of being in limbo, forcing us to refocus and depend on God as our rock, trusting that he will redeem this disappointment and work things out for his purposes. As we entered this time of uncertainty in late November, Isaiah 43:18-21 stood out to us, and we have found encouragement and comfort that God is doing a new thing, creating a way in the desert, making streams in the wasteland. During this period, we have taken time to reflect and remember, to cry, to pray, to read, to enjoy nature, and to refresh ourselves physically and emotionally as we process this transition and emotionally prepare for the next step. We each took a few days away with friends – Kristi to Disney World in Florida and Bob for an adventure in the snow in the Sierras. A friend introduced us to a worship song called “Sovereign Over Us,” which has become a theme song for us in this season. The first verse and chorus:
There is strength within the sorrow/ There is beauty in our tears/ And You meet us in our mourning/ With a love that casts out fear/ You are working in our waiting/ You’re sanctifying us/ When beyond our understanding/ You’re teaching us to trust.
Your plans are still to prosper/ You have not forgotten us/ You’re with us in the fire and the flood/ You’re faithful forever/ Perfect in love/ You are sovereign over us.
In February, we began to consider potential reappointment opportunities with Debbie Braaksma, the Africa Office Coordinator. As you may know, Presbyterian World Mission’s commitment to partnership means that they will only send mission co-workers to places where there has been a specific request from the local partner for that type of service. The opportunity that Debbie presented that we feel most drawn to is in Juba, South Sudan. The local church partners have expressed a need for two positions that fit both of us remarkably well. Bob would be teaching theology and ethics at Nile Theological College, and Kristi would serve as economic empowerment and community development advisor. After a few weeks of discernment for ourselves, the church partner, and Presbyterian World Mission, we all agree that we sense God calling us to South Sudan.
South Sudan is a new country, gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, but the people there have experienced decades of conflict, war, and suffering. Even now insecurity and ongoing conflict have led to a major famine, with more than 100,000 people experiencing life-threatening hunger and thousands in refugee camps in Uganda and elsewhere. It will not be an easy place to live. But we are encouraged that the churches there seek to be a light for Christ and a voice for peace in the midst of the suffering. There is so much potential for the impact and reach of the gospel as Christians in South Sudan are coming together and identifying the body of Christ as their primary loyalty over tribe and ethnicity.
We feel that God has “wired us” and called us to serve in places that are in great physical need. Adjusting to the new challenges of life in South Sudan (including the hot weather!) still feels intimidating. But we are excited that God has opened this door that fits our gifts and passions so well. If this feels to you like a big and sudden transition, we share those sentiments! A few months ago, we were preparing to return to our home in Congo; now we are about to land in a new place and start over learning language, culture, and new work responsibilities. Sometimes our heads spin just thinking about it.
In April, we plan to attend a gathering in Rwanda of all the Presbyterian mission personnel in Africa. After that we hope to return to Kananga to collect our things and say good-bye to our friends and colleagues. Please pray with us for God to use both of those experiences to help us transition well and be prepared for our next call. After hearing the message a few times now, “Don’t buy your tickets yet…,” we have finally received the go-ahead: “Buy your tickets!” We are planning to move straight to Juba after our visit to Congo to begin language learning. Please pray for us in this big transition!
Thank you again for joining us in this ministry – your prayers, friendship, and financial support are what make this work possible. As we transition to Juba, South Sudan, we will share more as our life and ministry in that land unfold.
Gratefully serving God together,
Bob and Kristi
Read more about the Rice's ministry by clicking HERE.
Outreach is seeking $10,000 for support funds for Bob and Kristi Rice.