Bob and Kristi Rice - July 2018 Update
Nile Theological College
Juba, South Sudan
A Proud Teacher
A proud teacher, like a proud parent, marvels and rejoices in the success of his or her students. I was thrilled with my students on the final examination day. For my two classes, Contextual Theology and Church History, I had grouped students together to present for our class, to share with us and teach us what they have learned. For my Contextual Theology class, I asked my students to create a local or contextual theology, a lived theology which speaks to the realities and concerns of the South Sudanese people. For my Church History class, I assigned each of the eight groups a question to respond to, each question covering a significant historical issue and/or person which we have studied together. For each of the two classes and their final group presentations, I was "tickled pink" to see my students use their imagination, their creativity, their gifts and their hard work in sharing with us and helping us learn together as a community.
For my Contextual Theology class, Rev. Paul Ruot and Dak Badeng Gai introduced us to a song sung by a clan of the Nuer, a song composed by the women of the clan over one hundred years ago. The song chronicles the history of one of two warring clans that fled into exile for having killed a prominent leader from the other clan. In exile the people suffered terribly from disease and their displacement. Finally, after many years, the men who were so weakened by their diseased condition came to the end of themselves. Into this sad predicament the women stepped forward, creating this song of repentance and intercession, naming the wrong committed and interceding to God through the known local spirit. Rev. Paul, the elder statesman and wise sage of our class, sang this song for us. He and Dak then connected the prominent role of women of this historical event with a South Sudanese woman who recently broke down and publicly wept during the failed peace talks in Addis Ababa. The students shared how the leaders, exclusively men, do not realize the full extent of the problem and the suffering they are currently causing in South Sudan. However, this woman’s public lament challenged the men while it also challenges all of us. According to my students, her cry indicates that women love peace more than men. Her cry is a prophetic call to a new reality, just as the song sung more than one hundred years ago was a cry for a new reality, recognizing wrong and asking God for help. Rev. Paul and Dak also connected this traditional Nuer ballad to the song which Miriam, Moses and Aaron’s sister, sang when the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Rev. Paul and Dak conclude that although women in Nuer culture and South Sudanese society are perceived as weak, they are in fact known for their commitment and emotional strength, particularly in regard to their ability to peacefully restore broken relationships. Moreover, Rev. Paul and Dak contend that the role of women and their significance is best embodied in the salvation which came through a woman in the birth of Jesus Christ.
In my Church History class students tackled big questions such as, “What was the impact of Constantine on Christianity?” “What central element of the Christian faith was Athanasius seeking to protect against Arianism?” “How did Augustine understand theological ideas like goodness, evil and free will?” “What difference do you see between the Christian view towards war and violence in the first two centuries compared to the eleventh, twelfth and thirteen centuries?” This last question raises a lot of emotion and thoughtfulness from my students who, along with their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, have lived under the shadow of Islam and Islamist policies for at least a century and a half. One group of students produced a skit representing well the Christian theological stance of peace and humility and willingness to suffer as modeled by Jesus, but also displaying the ambivalence and uncertainty which grew towards this pacifistic view over the centuries, and even how this view was altered and unabashedly compromised in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries as Popes called for a series of Crusades and Christian leaders called Christians to acts of violence and war against the Infidels (Muslims), Jews and pagans, a sad and pitiable part of our Christian heritage which continues to compromise our Christian witness.
Again, I am immensely proud of my students! One thing I have learned this semester is that working in groups and having presentations plays to the strengths of my South Sudanese students whereby orality and communalism, working together in groups, are central values in contradistinction to western values of individualism and written learning and testing. I look forward to our next semester together!
Grateful for your support for us and for Nile Theological College,
Bob and Kristi Rice
The Outreach Foundation is seeking $10,000 for support funds for Bob and Kristi Rice.