Sunday, December 8, 2013

Nelson Mandela

“I was the symbol of justice in the court of the oppressor, the representative of the great ideals of freedom, fairness and democracy in a society that dishonored those virtues.  I realized then and there that I could carry on the fight even within the fortress of the enemy” (Mandela; 1995). 

These words represent an epiphany of Nelson Mandela when he had gone “underground” as a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and was then apprehended by the police.  These words are written in relation to his first imprisonment which then extended for 27 years.  These words epitomize his long struggle against the tyrant of apartheid in South Africa.  Nelson Mandela is an icon of our times.  His life and legacy are celebrated in South Africa and across the world.  Few people have possessed his grit, his courage, his wisdom, and his desire to promote justice and fairness.  His stood resolute against the beast of apartheid and all its unjust, heinous laws.  Mandela’s life is worthy of our study and understanding. 

Nelson Mandela grew up a happy and carefree child in the hills of Qunu in the Transkei of South Africa.  He was groomed, as his father had been before him, to serve as a counselor to the rulers of the Thembu tribe.  Like his father, he possessed a stubborn sense of fairness and a proud rebelliousness.  He was steeped in the traditions and rituals of his people, a proud people who had fought against white invaders in generations past.  Mandela writes that the White man had sought to destroy the “Abantu” (fellowship) of various tribes; the White man was hungry and greedy for land, and “took the land as you might seize another man’s horse (27).  Early in his life, Mandela learned lessons of leadership and democracy by observing the local chief (regent) and his court.  Meetings were not scheduled but called as necessary, where matters of significance were discussed and decided upon.  Mandela observed democracy in its purist form in this court, where everyone who wanted to speak did so.  Mandela would receive the best education given to a black South African at the time.  However, his informal education through the influence of famous Xhosa chiefs and poets would set the course of his life.  He learned that his primary identify was that of a proud Xhosa, and later he embraced his greater identity as an African.  Mandela would later go to law school and would open his own law practice in Johannesburg.  In 1947 he officially joined the ANC and became a leader in his region.  It was from this platform that Nelson Mandela because the figurehead of a national movement and the lightning rod of controversy concerning a re-envisioned South Africa based not on the Nationalist Party and its hegemonic, White South African elitist and discriminatory objectives, but rather a South Africa based upon the intrinsic value of all persons of all colors, creeds and political affiliations.  Mandela painted a picture of this new South Africa when he spoke unabated for four hours defending himself and the actions of his colleagues at the famous Rivonia trial. 

Many people, including myself, question the use of violence by the ANC.  In fact, Nelson Mandela did not expect to receive the Nobel Peace Prize because the ANC had adopted such measures.  But he and his colleagues painstakingly made this decision because they felt that they were pressed to do so.  They had tried to lead an effort of resistance based on the principles of Gandhi and nonviolence.  Their efforts were met only with an iron fist.  For the first fifty years of the ANC’s existences, all ANC efforts and objectives were based on principles of nonviolence.  However, they felt they had to change their tact.  They felt behooved to do so because of the unfettered violence and ruthless subjugation of the apartheid regime against them and their people.  In responding to one of his detractors while in prison, Mandela would say that even Jesus raised the whip against the money changers in the temple.  Personally, I do not know whether violence is defensible.  However, in this context of South Africa, an armed struggle became an effective means to bring the Nationalist government to the bargaining table.   

Nelson Mandela gave his life to his people, and to all South Africans.  It meant that he was stripped of his freedom to be a father and a husband, and it forced him to live the degradations of prison life for almost three decades.  Yet, over the course of his life, Mandela demonstrates a deep care for all people, including his oppressors.  His life changed the landscape of the world as we know it.  I commend to you his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.  In this book you will meet a man of profound conviction, outstanding courage, personal charm and good humor.  A movie based on his life hits the theatres Christmas Day.  Please go see it, and please pray for peace and reconciliation for all peoples.


long-walk-to-freedom (2)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Traditions

In 2010, our first year in Congo, we were not sure how to celebrate Thanksgiving. We gathered with one of the few other Americans in Kananga, our friend James, and another friend, the “Americanized” Jim for dinner at the local restaurant. We all enjoyed some pizza and a night out, grateful for the simple things in life. I must say that since then (and perhaps before that too), James and Woody Collins have both been party to some elaborate American-style cooking to bring the celebration of Thanksgiving to Kananga (including bringing a frozen turkey from the U.S. in a cooler!!)


Pizza at Mona Lux with James and Jim in 2010

This year, we are in the U.S., and we appreciate the gift of being with family for this holiday as well as the familiar foods that have been passed down through our families on this holiday. We have enjoyed sweet potatoes and lots of pumpkin, Aunt Mabel’s cranberry holiday salad, and the classic stuffing – trying to recreate the flavor from Bob’s grandma. We have enjoyed the cooking and the camaraderie and memories that it brings, especially with these classic dishes.


Bob prepping turkey

Bob pins up the turkey


A holiday tradition – a backgammon match between Bob and his Dad

As I am stuffed with food and feeling lethargic, I know that the food is not the real meaning of these holidays. But with a day like Thanksgiving, I think specific foods can be triggers – memories or traditions that remind us of the greater significance of taking time to be grateful and celebrate the intangibles of life. Just like the feast days in the Old Testament and the opportunity to remember all that God has done, on Thanksgiving we get to stop and count our blessings. As we share food, we reminisce about times together in the past and are grateful for each other and God’s faithfulness past and future. So, we are storing up the recipes and look forward to trying some while we are in Congo, with some substitutions of course, but with the spirit of the tradition!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Storm Warning

**This poem chronicles our experience in central Illinois on Sunday, November 17th, when tornadoes and massive winds and rain swept violently across the land.  Thirty five miles from Bloomington (Kristi’s home town, where we are) the town of Washington had entire sub-divisions of homes totally destroyed. 

Hues orange brown tumbling dancing
Circling winds whine, life invisible,
Seemingly Sunday morning Normal.

Pastor preaches, interrupted he –
Storm warning hesitation, caution.
Shepherd shifts, intones, implores -
Go down! Children will find, worry not find.

A hull full hunkering, congregants congregate
Chattering, listening, waiting, wondering -
Man in hand, holds white mound melting,
“Golf ball” hunk a’ hail, heaven’s missile morning -
Wonder hovering waiting shifting…chattering.

Released congregants out-of-doors fly -
Dark reality greeted, water winds “Wow!”
How…wow…how? Radio, storm warning
Bleating – song, warning, song, warning.

Power torn tower, flung here tree there
Wondering wanderers, “Just…happened…what?”
Please stay home - Storm Warning.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In the news

We are rejoicing at some important news for Congo. Last week one significant rebel group in Eastern Congo, called M23, was defeated by the Congolese Army and gave up fighting. The M23 group took over the major city of Goma in November of 2012 and has been wreaking havoc in the past year. Thanks to international pressure, a more robust mandate for the United Nations in that region, and some military changes, the tide was turned. There are other rebel groups that remain active, but this is still a significant step worth rejoicing over. We hope that some of the thousands of people in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in that region will be able to return to their homes soon! The NY Times article that describes this event is here:

On another front, the current issue of Mission Crossroads magazine just came in the mail. If you received it too, we highly recommend the article about evangelism, which has some quotes from us and pictures of Congo. If you do not receive it, you can see it online (and subscribe if you want to) at  Just click on the red “New ePub edition” button on that page for the current issue.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

By the Numbers - “take two!”

We just finished our final “swing” of church visits for our PC(USA) Mission Interpretation Assignment.  Whew!  It has been a “full” seven months of being on the road in the United States.  We have lived out of our suitcases, and haven’t been in any one place more than two weeks, usually not more than a day or two.  Here it is by the numbers, “a countdown” of the things we have done and the places we have been since arriving in the U.S. in April.   


13, 718           Miles travelled by car

72            Beds slept in

       51            Churches visited

       47            Presentations given

       28            times preached by Bob 

FPC, Albany, GAFirst Presbyterian Church, Albany (GA), this old downtown church has recently
been renovated, and the congregation is experiencing wonderful revitalization    

Mboyamba, evangelism (CMN)Kristi helps Pastor Mboyamba present -   
Congo Mission Network (San Antonio, TX) 

Bob Rice-April 28 preaching hope in hopeless situationsBob preaches a message of hope,
South Highland Presbyterian (Birmingham, AL)

       25            States visited, plus the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.)

       14            Flights

       12            Museums, art exhibits, and arboretums visited



map of places visited, IA (2013) All the states where we visited churches as well as
family and friends are marked in green! 

Rice family, dinner (Whidbey, Wa)Rice family vacation, Whidbey Island (WA)


Rhododendrums - Birmingham gardensKristi enjoys the rhododendrons at the Birmingham Arboretum

P1180201Cody Ross of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (PFF) treated us to a tour -  
the Civil Rights Museum (Birmingham, AL)


        9             Baseball games attended (Major League, Minor League, Frontier League, High School)

        7             Baseball stadiums visited (Major League, Minor League, Frontier League, Little League)

Busch Stadium, watching cardinals At Busch Stadium in St. Louis in August,
watching Cardinals beat the Pirates

P1200390Visited Williamsport (Pa),
home of the Little League World Series


        6             National Parks and Forests, State Parks, and Historical Sites visited

        5             Children’s Sermons given by Kristi

        4             Conferences attended

P1200133We were blessed to visit Yellowstone National Park
with Mom and Dad (Rice), a real highlight!

Kristi, Children's Sermon, FPC Normal (Oct 27, 2013)Kristi uses fall leaves to teach children about God’s grace,
First Presbyterian Church, Normal (IL)

Big Tent, new mission co-workers being commissionedBig Tent Conference -  
new PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers and their families being commissioned in Louisville (KY)


        3             Miles hiked on the popular Appalachian Trail (AT)

        2             Countries visited (U.S., Mexico)


P1180922 croppedHiking the AT, with brothers Josh and Jeff Bertolet,
and the incorrigible and highly intelligent “Oscar Savage” 

P1180725 Incredible views from the AT, Shenandoah Valley (VA)

Mark Adams and Miriam, Agua Prieta, MexicoWe visited Rev. Mark Adams and his wife Miriam Maldonado Escobar
and their family; they serve as Mission Co-Workers on the U.S./Mexico border

        1             Lost computer cord

        0             Car breakdowns, flat tires, and missed flights    


We keep praising the Lord for keeping us safe in all of our comings and goings!  We were also hosted to countless potlucks, and were blessed by McDonald’s and Panera Bread which we frequented for wireless computer access and mid-trip meals.  We have been blessed to visit so many places, to meet so many people, and to have so many wonderful experiences.  We will return “home” to Congo in January. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Café Justo

In the midst of our travels, we had the opportunity last week to visit fellow mission co-workers Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado Escobar and their family living on the U.S./Mexico border. It was so encouraging to be with them and learn more about the significant ministry they have in showing God’s love to people who are passing through that region.

One highlight of our time with Mark and Miriam was a visit to Café Justo, a coffee cooperative that has an office in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Five cooperatives of coffee farmers in the states of Chiapas and Nayarit have come together to form the organization Café Justo (Just Coffee). They harvest, clean, and dry the beans and then ship them up to their roasting and shipping facility in Agua Prieta.

Cafe Justo packing

Cafe Justo with Carmina

We talked with Carmina (second from right in the picture above), who shared her own story. Her father was a coffee farmer in Chiapas, but the income was insufficient to support his family. She came with him to Agua Prieta when she was 16 to find work in a factory. She worked long hours in a factory and she and her husband were able to make a meager income to raise their two children. She joined Café Justo a few years ago fulfilling orders from the Agua Prieta office. Her father has since been able to return to Chiapas and to coffee farming since the formation of the cooperative. She shared that through Café Justo, coffee farmers now have health insurance and pensions. Their children do not need to quit school and leave home to find work at age 16 like she did, because of the increased wages that they earn from their coffee. She got tears in her eyes as she reminisced about her childhood in the village in Chiapas and shared about how Café Justo makes coffee farming a viable occupation again.

Cafe Justo roasting

Pedro (above) demonstrated the roasting process for us. He pours in the beans and monitors the temperature while it roasts the beans and separates the hulls. It was fun to watch the beans transform as they bounced around in clothes-dryer like cycles.

Cafe Justo Daniel

Daniel Cifuentes (on right, in above picture) is the visionary and founder of Café Justo. He also was a farmer in Chiapas, who abandoned his farm for economic reasons. He said that the global price of coffee plunged in the 90’s, so the brokers that bought coffee from the farmers were not paying enough to make growing the coffee worthwhile. Several former coffee farmers from Chiapas were part of his church, and so discussions began with Frontiera de Christo how they could organize the cooperative along a fair trade model. Frontiera de Christo was able to help with a loan to purchase the first roaster and an office in Agua Prieta. When they started, the coffee brokers were paying about $35 for a 100-pound bag of green coffee beans, while the cooperative was able to pay the member-farmers $130. In 2002 when the cooperative formed, Café Justo had a goal of selling just one ton of coffee, but they surpassed four tons in that first year. They have since been able to buy a higher-capacity roaster and add more farmers to their cooperatives. Their goal is that sales will continue to increase so that all the coffee farmers in Chiapas will be able to be members. One of the distinctives of Café Justo in the midst of the fair trade coffee world is that the cooperative owns the whole process – from planting the seeds to the roasting. Incidentally, Daniel is an elder at his church and is currently involved in planting a new church in Agua Prieta!

Café Justo has been hailed as a creative and just solution to the problem of illegal immigration into the U.S. – by helping Mexicans have sustainable jobs in Mexico, they are not driven to emigrating to the U.S. out of desperation. We were inspired to see this example of lives being changed and God’s love being celebrated and shown by the church. Maybe someday something similar could happen in Congo?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Congo Mission Network (CMN)

This year’s Congo Mission Network (CMN) gathering was held in San Antonio (TX), from October 3 – 5th.  CMN is an annual meeting which brings together “Congophils,” those passionate and concerned about ‘all things Congo’.  Kristi and I attended CMN in Cincinnati in 2009 before going to Congo, and attended again this year.  In 2009 we met CMN members for the first time.  This year it felt like a special reunion when we arrived and saw so many familiar faces in the lobby of the Hyatt Place hotel.  Since 2009 we have interacted with many CMN folks via email and during their trips to Kananga and Kinshasa.  Truly, it has been a blessing to get to know CMN members who feel so passionate about this land of Congo which we are growing to love.    

The CMN delegates come from across the country, hailing from churches connected to church partners and ministries in Congo.  Some CMN delegates are former missionaries to Congo, and some are the children of former missionaries.  Other delegates are PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers serving in Congo and PC(USA) World Mission staff coming from Louisville.  Other CMN delegates are Congolese persons who have migrated to the US and are active serving their homeland.  
signage, outside Northwood church (CMN)Welcome sign, Northwood Presbyterian Church, San Antonio (TX)

Bob with two CMN delegates
Bob pictured with two Congolese delegates  
now living in the United States  
What is the goal of CMN and the goal of delegates who attend?  To make a difference in Congo and to connect with each other as communities of mission practice, sharing wisdom, knowledge, and best practices for mission involvement.  This year’s gathering was convened by Mike Clement, a member of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte (NC).  It was hosted by Charles and Melissa Johnson and their church, Northwood Presbyterian of San Antonio.  Around seventy delegates met for two full days.  The featured speaker was Pastor Mboyamba, the Director of Evangelism of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) and the Legal Representative of the CPC for the West Kasai Province, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi.  For one hour Pastor Mboyamba gave a power-point presentation, sharing an overview of Congo and the work of the CPC.  Many delegates expressed appreciation for this overview; some were amazed at the breadth of ministry conducted by one of our Congolese partner churches, the CPC. 

Pastor Mboyamba, context (CMN)Pastor Mboyamba gives an overview to CMN participants 

Different delegates spoke regarding projects they have been involved with.  Charles Johnson shared about the process of creating a movement of compassion, responding to the need for mattresses in CPC hospitals.  Jan Sullivan described the “Technology of Participation” (TOPS) - helping our partners assess their strengths and plan strategically.  As she described the success of inaugurating an all girls school in Kananga, Fay Gratsy impressed upon us the need to keep returning to Congo and keep relationships alive.  Sharing about the value of partnership, Jeff Boyd asked the important question, “Can we hurt the dignity of others by primarily focusing on solving their problems?”  Ruth Brown shared from Mark chapter two, how we are like the four friends bringing the paralytic to Jesus as we come alongside our Congolese sisters and brothers.These are a sampling of voices heard this year at CMN.

Ruth Brown (CMN)Fellow PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker Ruth Brown
shares during one of our meals

While CMN represents a wide array of interests and passions, we are learning to listen to each other and help each other become more faithful and effective.  Too often we work in a vacuum, focusing only upon our area of interest to the exclusion of other ministry concerns.  Mike Clement exploded this fallacy, submitting that “Your ‘baby’ [pet project or passion] can be more powerful if you are more familiar with the whole.”  Regarding the ‘whole’, Pastor Mboyamba states that everything we do has the foundation in our faith in the risen Lord, and that evangelism and sharing the love of Christ should bind all aspects of our work together.  

Mboyamba, evangelism (CMN)Pastor Mboyamba speaks passionately about evangelism in Congo
(Kristi translates)
CMN is a great place to learn more about Congo, and to witness passionate people share passionately about their Congo experiences.  For those who pray for and support our ministry in Congo, we invite you to consider being part of the Congo Mission Network in the coming years. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Celebrating history

Bob grew up in California and I in the Midwest, where something that was built or happened 100 years ago seems like nearly-ancient history. This month we have been traveling in the Eastern part of the U.S., and have been amazed at the long and rich history that we have encountered through some of the churches we have visited. It has been a fun season to learn more about the history of our country and celebrate how God has been at work here.
We visited Lower Marsh Creek Presbyterian Church in Gettysburg, PA – one of the first early churches that we had encountered. The church was founded in 1748, their sanctuary was built in 1790, and the church continues to be a thriving witness to Christ in the community. We were also blessed to have a member of the church give us a guided tour of the Gettysburg battlefields…more extensive and well-marked than I expected!
P1200653Sanctuary of the Lower Marsh Creek Pres. Church, built in 1790
Gettysburg Battlefield with LindaOn the Gettysburg Battlefield with our guide, Linda
A few days later, we were in Lewes, DE, where the church has existed since at least 1692. The church building seems nestled into its graveyard that surrounds it, with some marked graves of soldiers from the Revolutionary War.
Lewes De lighthouse
We spent a few days in Washington, DC visiting people as well as a few of the memorials and museums. It was my first time to visit any of the museums in DC as an adult, and we realized we were barely able to scratch the surface of taking in the rich history that is there to learn. We went through the Holocaust museum – which is a powerful and sobering experience. Then, we went to the American History Museum, and discovered that with only a few hours you have to choose just a few sections of the many exhibits they have on American History! We enjoyed seeing some of the monuments at night …a really different perspective than seeing them during the day! In keeping with our savoring of historical things, we went to eat at “Gadsby’s Tavern” in Alexandria, VA, purportedly one of George Washington’s favorite places.
FDR memorial bread line
Remembering the bread-lines of the Great Depression at the FDR memorial
We have now worked our way south through Virginia and North Carolina, noticing Civil War battlefields and other historical sights along the way. Bob has been collecting recommendations of books about the Civil War, and enjoyed learning from some of the enthusiasts we’ve met. We made a stop in Hampton, VA to see a small museum that contains cultural artifacts from Kasai in the 19th century, collected by William Shepherd. We are currently in Montreat, NC, and have enjoyed seeing elements of the history of the Presbyterian Church in Congo, and spending time with missionaries who served there and remember the rocky days of Congo’s shift to independence.
Montreat Heritage Center sep 2013
Visiting the Montreat Heritage Center with our colleague from Congo, Pastor Mboyamba.
We met there former missionaries Hugh and Ellen Ferrier and Tom McCrutchen

Remembering and celebrating both American and African history seems to help give us perspective as we get grounded in Congo. The events of the past and God's faithfulness through the ages reminds us that God IS at work in Congo and that there is hope for the future!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sabbath Economics

“So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  (Luke 16: 11)

Two weeks ago Kristi and I attended the Oikocredit USA summit in Washington, D.C. Oikocredit describes itself as a “worldwide cooperative and social investor, providing funding to the microfinance sector, fair trade organizations, cooperatives and small to medium enterprises.”  In our desire to become socially responsible investors, Kristi and I began investing in Oikocredit a few years ago, trying to use our dollars to give a “hand-up” to the poor in the majority world.  This conference made us feel incredibly excited about our investment with Oikocredit!

Divine Chocolate photo (for blog)
These women and men work with Divine Chocolate
a fair trade organization and partner of Oikocredit  
(photo taken from Oikocredit website)

Ched Myers spoke at the summit on a principle which he calls “Sabbath Economics.”  He taught from Exodus 16, when Israel first receives manna from heaven.  Ched shared with us three lessons learned during this wilderness experience as chronicled by Moses.  All three lessons deal with economic principles that can be instructive for our communities today.  First, the people are to gather enough for that day, and that everyone should have enough.  Second, the manna should not be stored up and accumulated.  Lastly, keeping Sabbath is central.  Sabbath is about self-limitation.   

Ched described how we have more than our share in our dominant culture.  We, in the United States, are caught in a dominant economic cycle whereby capital has replaced community as the center of our economic story.  Myers quotes Ferdinand Tönnies, a German philosopher and sociologist, who elaborated on this principle.  Myers argues that there is the need to advocate for community over capital.  He argues that the inequality created by a largely capitalistic culture is unjust.  He stresses the need to connect our faith with our money. 

How do we connect our faith with our money?  The answer, according to Myers, is to advocate for community over capital.  To make his point, Myers cites a seemingly obscure story of Jesus recorded by Luke (16: 1 – 13).  In short, this story describes a money manager who is in the process of losing his position from the rich man whom he serves.  After a period of self reflection, the manager realizes that his only option is to associate himself with the debtor class so that when he loses his job, he will be welcomed into their homes.  Thus, while still retaining his position, he shrewdly reduces the debts of the debtor class, helping them and thereby endearing himself to their cause.  In the end, the rich man commends this manager for his shrewdness.

How does this story connect with us?  Myers suggests that the “mammon” (money) system of the world is unsustainable.  Too often it destroys community because of its impersonal nature.  For instance, how many of us have IRA accounts and stock portfolios which invest in companies with whom we feel no kinship and don’t have a clue about their business practices and social dealings?  I, for one, stand guilty as charged.  Some Christian financial advisors even advise investors not to concern themselves with the social implications of their investments.  Thus, we Christians often find ourselves part of a larger global system which, by definition, marginalizes the poor. 

Myers says that Sabbath Economics is essentially the struggle between manna and ‘mammon’.  The real issue, he contends, is “where do we place our trust?”  Do we place our trust in capital or in community.  These are significant questions which require some soulful wrestling.  However there is a warning to be heeded.  If we don’t seek to remove the gulf that exists between the rich and the poor, we may find ourselves on the wrong side of a chasm that can never be removed (see Luke 16: 19 – 31).

Thankfully our money can be used as an instrument of social relationship and social good.  As we think about what our investment capital is doing, may we consider the human element, seeking to identify with the debtor class and the economically marginalized.  Kristi and I feel that the “compound interest” of investing in people through Oikocredit is greater than any hot interest rates we will ever receive from stock portfolios which in most cases widen the chasm between the rich and the poor. 

Lord, please help us to learn more about how we can honor you with what we have…

Lord, help us to be faithful in advocating for community over capital. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


We are celebrating two big answers to prayer this month. So many individuals and churches came together in different ways to meet these needs, and we are amazed and encouraged. We want you to celebrate with us, and hopefully there will be more updates in the future when we return to Congo.

…Drumroll, please! The first answer to prayer is the completion of the needed funding to purchase a new Land Cruiser. The Department of Evangelism’s current Land Cruiser, affectionately called “Tshikunda” (older woman), has a strong engine but is not so reliable these days. Bob has spent countless hours sitting at the mechanics shop while it was worked on to prepare for rural travel. We have numerous stories about breakdowns – like driving without breaks, using soapy water to sub for clutch fluid, and being delayed 3 days for a rural presbytery meeting because we could not get parts. We realized that when we were spending more time and money repairing the vehicle than we were actually traveling in it, it was time to get a new one.

Caught in a hole made by rain in the middle of the road. The basket on the back of the Land Cruiser holds some of Pastor Mboyamba's chickens.

This year, as we visited churches and described the work of the CPC in Congo, one need that we emphasized was the need for a new vehicle. Churches and individuals from all over – Myrtle Beach, SC to Menlo Park, CA contributed generously to this need, including two people who encouraged others by offering a significant matching gift. The First Presbyterian Church of Wellsboro, PA rallied together to finish off the final third of this need just last month. Praise the Lord! We are now in process of getting the quotes and logistics for purchasing the Land Cruiser and getting it to Congo.

The second reason to celebrate is that we received word a few weeks ago that Presbyterian Women has awarded a grant to Ditekemena (Project Hope), a ministry of restoring children on the streets into families. Churches in the Kananga area will be trained and equipped to care for children who have been on the streets, and the children will be fed, loved, and given a new chance at life. Bob wrote about this project and its visionary leader, Pastor Manyayi, in our February Newsletter. The CPC leadership hopes that this project will get started in January of next year.

We praise God for his provision, and express our gratitude to the many people who participated in these events in various ways. We celebrate this good news, and look forward to seeing the work of the church in Congo grow in new ways as a result of each of these initiatives!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Stranger Among Us

"Don't abuse or take advantage of strangers; you, remember, were once strangers in Egypt” (Exodus 22: 21, Message)

The last weekend of August found Kristi and I worshipping with recent Congolese immigrants and political refugees.  It was a highlight of our time in the United States.  Our worship together was powerful and full of God’s Spirit. The desperation, hope, faith, and confidence-in-God of these recent arrivals was palpable.  We were blessed and encouraged to visit First Presbyterian Church (FPC) of Champaign, Illinois, a church which has created a home for these Congolese families.  Members of FPC Champaign have gone to great lengths to help these “strangers,” these Congolese foreigners find their footing in a new country.  Members have extended their love by teaching them English, driving them to and from church, finding them furniture, helping them learn to drive, amongst manifold other services and acts of love and hospitality.  Bob and Claudia Kirby, two recent retirees, spend countless hours each week helping these families.  Kristi and I found ourselves inspired by the Kirbys and other members of FPC Champaign who are welcoming the ‘stranger’ in their midst.  The Congolese families are now joining the church and are changing the ethos of the congregation in a very positive way.  We praise God for this tangible example of welcoming the ‘stranger’ and caring for his/her needs. 


The following week we visited college friends of Kristi’s who live in West Chicago.  Matthew serves as Director of Puente de Pueblo, “Bridge of  the People,” a ministry to Hispanic families and Iraqi refugees sponsored by Wheaton Bible Church.  This ministry provides case management for families struggling as they adjust to living in a new place.  It also provides after-school programs for children, along with English and Spanish language learning opportunities for adults.  Matthew and his wife Catherine shared with us the multitudinous challenges the Hispanic families face.  Matthew plainly shared how many families he works with are headed by undocumented workers.  He shared the unfathomable injustices these men and women regularly confront.  While the United States may be sending the message that we want their presence in our country because we value their economic contribution, at the same time our country does not provide a clear path towards citizenship and does not protect their rights.  For instance, if a worker is hurt on a job, he/she will not receive any form of disability.  Also, these workers pay into Social Security but will never see that money.  The system seems altogether murky and polluted with political and economic self-interest.  What I took away from this conversation isn’t altogether surprising, but nonetheless heartbreaking.  Our nation is taking advantage of the ‘stranger’ in our midst, undocumented workers who are often publicly and privately maligned, but economically welcomed and exploited.       

While questions of immigration reverberating in our coffee shops and halls of Congress often focus on politics and economics and can at times feel entirely xenophobic, I suppose Christians may want to inquire regarding what God says about these issues.  First and foremost, there is the biblical injunction to not abuse or take advantage of the strangers among you (Ex 22: 21).  This message was for the people of Israel, and indeed can be extrapolated for today.  The psalmist writes how God watches over the alien (Psalm 146).  Jesus talks about being a stranger and being invited in (Matthew 25).  As Christians, we are called to be the salt and light of our culture.  This would include advocating for the stranger in our midst, especially as they are being mistreated.  I realize that this is a very touchy issue, but I am incredibly thankful for the example set by the Kirbys, FPC Champaign, and for Matthew and Catherine.  May we, God’s people, find tangible ways to  advocate and care for refugees, immigrants, and even undocumented workers.                  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer travel update

We have chalked up a few more states to our list since Bob last gave a travel update in May. We traveled the length of California, popped briefly into OR, WY, and MT, enjoyed some vacation with family in WA, then flew to PA for the New Wilmington Conference, KY for the Big Tent Conference, and now back to IL for a couple weeks of catching up before we launch out again on more traveling. Here are a few pictures of highlights from the summer.

Christ Pres Sunday sm

Sunday morning at Christ Pres. in Los Angeles – “Hawaii style”

P1190961In Yellowstone Park near the Grand Prismatic Spring – amazing!


The “Pennsylvania Grand Canyon” near Wellsboro, PA

NWMC mission fairBob talks with someone about Congo at the New Wilmington
Mission Conference Mission Fair

We are feeling very grateful for all the people that we have been privileged to meet, stay with, and talk about God’s work with. We are grateful for safe travel, good health, and so much encouragement in all of these encounters! God’s peace and being part of God’s family have turned what could have been a laborious and exhausting few months into a joyful experience that we will treasure. We are gearing up now for another 2 months of traveling in the fall, and would appreciate your prayers. Then, we look forward soon to returning home to Congo!

Monday, July 29, 2013

New Wilmington Mission Conference (NWMC)

After the third worship song on Wednesday evening, we joined the chorus of missionaries throng towards the platform.  Couple by couple, family by family, person by person, our names were announced along with our countries of mission service and the total amount of years we had served.  A woman dressed in all black with a veil sat next to us.  Her name and location were not mentioned due to security reasons.  Don Dawson, the indefatigable director of the conference, gave the final total of years served amongst missionaries gathered – 1,072 years.  Wow!  What a legacy.   

This last week marked the 108th annual New Wilmington Mission Conference (NWMC).  It is perhaps the longest standing mission conference in the United States, dating from the days of the Student Volunteer Movement when thousands of young people were signing up to go serve as missionaries to all parts of the world.  One of the early participants of NWMC was Robert McQuilken, founder of Columbia International University which has trained thousands of pastors, church leaders, and missionaries, serving all over the world.  Thomas Alexander Lambie, also an alumnus of NWMC, would become a dedicated missionary doctor serving in Sudan.  He would later become the first American missionary to serve in Ethiopia, where he launched the Abyssinian Frontiers Mission which would merge with the Sudan Inland Mission (SIM).  He would later serve in Nigeria and Palestine.  Within the last couple of decades, Harold Kurtz became a much loved participant of NWMC.  He was the first director of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (PFF), an agency which seeks to make the Gospel known to unreached peoples.

P1200374Some of the flags from different countries
represented at NWMC


This year nearly 900 people descended upon the small town of New Wilmington (PA) to spend a week together at Westminster College – worshipping, fellowshipping, praying and playing together.  Families have been coming to this conference for generations.  At the golf fundraiser on Thursday, I sat across from Larry Ruby who has been coming to this conference for 51 years.  He met his wife Linda here.  Others have also been coming every year for decades.  NWMC is geared towards the next generation.  The highest proportion of participants are high school and college age.  The music is loud, the spirit is fun-loving yet serious, and everyone is made to feel at home.  Every evening after the benediction in the large outdoor Anderson auditorium, we would all sing “Surely the Presence of God is in this Place” while embracing those around us and swaying gently from side to side.  For us it felt like a homecoming, though this was our first year to attend.


P1200386 A spirit of youthfulness pervades NWMC! 

As part of the missionary staff of NWMC, we were charged with speaking to high schoolers every day for about forty minutes.  We were admonished to engage with them, telling them about ourselves and our mission work.  I found this part of the conference most rewarding.  They had great questions and stayed awake despite a packed-out week of activity.  Kristi and I also spoke to young adults, children, and we shared during the vespers-hour one evening.  This conference felt like the crossroads of the Presbyterian mission world, and it was great to connect with old friends and make new ones as well.

P1200383 These high school girls were so attentive and had great questions
even on the last day of the conference

Some may ask, “What good can come from the Presbyterian Church (USA) these days?”  An easy answer is this – The New Wilmington Mission Conference.  Presbyterians are serious about God’s mission and having fun.  Please consider being a part of NWMC next year.           


P1200379Govinda and his family are missionaries to the US
from Nepal, serving in Lynchburg (VA)       

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Toxic Charity

I just finished reading this thought provoking book by Robert Lupton. I must admit that sometimes I had to read it in small chunks – just one chapter at a time – because it felt like so much to think about. I have studied international development and missions, worked with several different organizations in different contexts, and experienced situations where I struggled with questions of dependency and long-term impact. Yet, I felt like in this book Lupton articulated in a fresh and poignant way the harmful long-term effects that we too often have with our charitable efforts. For example, the unintentional battering of parents’ dignity when their children receive presents from strangers rather than from them. Or a church that makes an annual mission trip which over time weakens their partner rather than empowering them. It felt a little jarring and hard-hitting at times, but definitely a message that could be the wake-up call that we need.

Lupton writes from forty years of experience in urban community development, and involvement with churches in that process. He tells poignant stories that include insightful perspectives from people who have received help in building houses, tutoring children, or cleaning up neighborhoods in poor communities. I want you to read the book, so I don’t want to give away too much. But these are common situations…we know that the world is in crisis in so many places, and people are suffering. We want to help, and doing a food drive sounds like a great way to meet one need. Or sending a team to Mexico to build houses. Most of us have participated in some effort like that, or in some way supported those who did. It is these common actions and strategies that Lupton challenges us to reconsider. “Wherever there was sustained one-way giving, unwholesome dynamics and pathologies festered under the cover of kind-heartedness.” (pg 35) The action itself is not wrong, of course, but it is good to be challenged to evaluate our strategies and priorities in the process of trying to help.

While his focus in this book is rightly on charitable efforts within America, Lupton does discuss charitable efforts outside the U.S. as well, and cites the book Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo for statistics and examples. I have read Dead Aid, and recommend it as a book that also sheds light on efforts in international development. But in Dead Aid, Moyo bases her statistics and findings exclusively on government to government aid (e.g. the U.S. government giving a loan or grant to Congo). So – my one reservation in Toxic Charity is that sometimes he is using statistics from Dead Aid that might not be the proper fit for the context.

Lupton lays out some good principles to guide our efforts to help, including his Oath for Compassionate Service. One message stands out clearly in his book that we heartily endorse – relationship, or partnership is key. We (as westerners, or anyone trying to help someone else), need to make sure that we are not disempowering those we are trying to help, or imposing our own goals or strategies for how the problem should be resolved. This is hard. I am a person that loves to help, and likes to be efficient. Sometimes, I go overboard, in doing something “helpful” for Bob, and he has to remind me that he would have preferred to do it himself. Even more so in a cross-cultural or partnership situation do we need to exercise restraint and respect the decisions and priorities of our partner.

We encourage you to read this significant book – and you can join us to hear Robert Lupton speak and discuss more about healthy engagement in missions at the Big Tent World Missions conference in Louisville, August 1-3.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Man at the Mall…

This blog post chronicles my coming to faith in Christ, 18 years ago this month (June) in a shopping mall in Boulder, Colorado

Somehow, the man at the mall caught my attention. After not finding what I was looking for at Sears, I exited the store and passed into the large corridor of the indoor mall. At this moment, I again noticed this same man. He was walking directly towards me. In a split second, I realized that I needed to make a decision. Would I stop to listen to what this man had to say, or would I continue on like the others to my next order of business? I decided that I would stop and hear what he had to say. He greeted me kindly and I returned the greeting. He then asked if I had a few minutes, and if I could respond to a couple of questions. I told him that I had some time, and that I would be willing to respond. And so he asked me, candidly and directly, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”

“Well,” I replied, “I have heard a lot about Jesus in my life, going to church and all. But I am not sure that I believe.”

“Fair enough,” he responded. “It is a difficult question. Well then, let me ask you another question. What happens when we die?”

“I don’t know,” I retorted. “Being here in Boulder, I have heard people talk about reincarnation, but I am not sure I believe in it.” 

“Fair enough,” he again responded. “That also is a difficult question.” He then began telling me the story of a sower of seeds. He shared how this sower dropped seeds on four different surfaces: a hard path, a ground with rocks, a ground with thorns and thistles, and then good ground. Not understanding the intent, he then explained the meaning of the story. He shared how the hard path represents the heart of a person who hears the Word of God, but this person quickly forgets what he has heard. He explained that the ground with rocks represents someone who also hears the Word of God. This person responds with great joy, but when troubles and hardships come along, this person falls away. He then shared how the ground with thistles and thorns represents a person who also hears the Word of God, but that wealth and the longings of this world pull this person away from his/her faith. Lastly, he shared how the good ground represents someone who responds with joy to the Word of God, and yet this person remains faithful and committed, serving God and doing good things to help other people. He then asked me, “Does one of these ‘grounds’ represent your life?”

“Yes,” I instinctively replied. “The ground with the thorns and thistles best represents my life.” I knew in my heart that my longings and dreams were ‘worldly’ dreams. I wanted to work on Wall Street and makes lots of money. And, as far as I knew, I was doing nothing for God.

“Thank you for your honesty,” he replied.

“You’re welcome. Listen…I need to go down to Radio Shack to find an adaptor for my phone.”

“Okay,” he said. “How about if we meet back here in fifteen minutes and we can talk some more?”

“Yes, I will be back here in fifteen minutes.” As I walked away and headed towards Radio Shack, I was gripped with the sudden desire to go find my adaptor, and then go home so that I could relax, make dinner and watch some TV. Yet, a voice inside me said, “Go back! What have you got to lose? You have been searching for the meaning of life and this guy has something to say! What will it hurt you to simply go back and listen?”

I found him just inside of Sears, playing with a display computer. We shook hands. He told me his name, Stan Wagner. I remember looking into Stan’s eyes. One word describes what I found there – I found love. Even though I had just met this man, I instinctively could tell that he genuinely cared. Stan suggested that we walk through the mall and find a place to sit down. As we strolled through the mall, Stan began to tell me his life story riddled with an abusive past.  Stan eventually ran into trouble, and was issued a twenty-year prison sentence.  In prison, Stan came to a point of crisis. He found himself at the lowest ebb – spiritually, emotionally and physically. At this defining moment, Jesus spoke to Stan and said, “Stan, this is what the world has given you. Will you continue to choose the ways of the world, or will you finally choose Me?” In that moment, Stan gave his life over to Jesus Christ and was transformed. Stan was eventually released from prison. Now he goes anywhere and everywhere, sharing with anyone and everyone the powerful, liberating Good News of Jesus Christ!

On this particular day in Boulder, Colorado, I happened to be the ‘anyone and everyone’ Stan found to share this Good News with. We sat down at a table. Stan took out a piece of paper and began drawing a diagram. The diagram illustrated two cliffs with a chasm in the middle. On one side was God; on the other side was man. By means of this diagram, Stan showed me how good works, morality, religion and philosophy do not bridge the gap between man and God. In other words, man cannot use these means to achieve a relationship with God. Rather, we can only access God and have eternal life when we believe in Jesus Christ and receive Him into our hearts and lives.

Stan demonstrated how sin separates man from a holy God. Because of our sin, we reject God. Yet, God in God’s mercy and grace, provides a way to salvation through God’s Son. Stan opened his Bible to certain scriptural references and asked me to read. I read how all people are sinners (Romans 3: 23), and that sin causes spiritual death (Romans 6: 23). Moreover, there will be an eternal judgment (Hebrews 9: 27). There will be eternal fires prepared for the devil and his angels, and for those whom Jesus sentences due to their disobedience and lack of love for others (Matthew 25: 41). Those whose names are not found in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20: 15). Yet, those who hear God’s word and believe are given three promises: eternal life, they do not come under judgment, and they pass from death to life (John 5: 24). Jesus must become Savior (Revelation 3: 20) and LORD (Luke 9: 23). Moreover, Stan illustrated to me how everyone’s mindset is on the flesh. This mindset leads to death. The worldly mindset of the flesh revolves around: money, our job, how we spend our free time, family, education, government, religion, and marriage. When our mindset is on the flesh, our life revolves around these things. Good or bad, they control us. Yet, the man or woman of peace is controlled by God in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ influences a person positively in these various spheres of life. Christ is in control, not these worldly concerns. What freedom!

Stan discerned that I was open to God. He asked me directly, “Bob, would you like to make Jesus Christ your LORD and Savior?”  I balked, telling him no, that I needed more time to read more materials and think about it.  However, I immediately realized that I was only fooling myself.  This was not a question of knowledge and having more facts and evidence; for me it was a question of courage.  I knew enough to make a decision, and I was confronted with a question.  Was I willing to turn my life over to another, to turn my life over to Christ - God of gods, King of kings, Lord of lords.  I quietly mulled it all over, considering my life and realizing that I was on the precipice of a life altering decision.  If I said “yes,” there would be no turning back.  I thought about my mother and her Christian influence and her prayers.  I thought about all of my searching for life’s answers over the last few years, and how I had found myself empty, bereft of meaningful answers to life’s biggest questions.   

After about five minutes of silence which felt like an eternity, I barely whispered the word “yes.”  Stan sat stoically across from me.  He smiled.  He suggested that we pray.  He prayed and then gave me a simple prayer which I read - “I, Bob Rice, commit today, June 2nd, 1995, to follow you, Jesus.  I promise to be your disciple all of my days.  Thank you Lord for coming into my heart.”  After our prayers, I felt a rush of energy flood through my entire being.  I felt a tingling sensation ripple down the back of my spine.  After months and even years of restlessness and feelings of uncertainty, I felt total peace.  This was indeed the right path.  

Stan continued meeting with me through the summer.  We met at Starbucks every Sunday and would go to the park.  We would talk about the Bible and pray.  I had lots of questions and he had lots of helpful answers.  Towards the fall our paths went in different directions, but Stan had helped me find the path of life.  I am forever grateful to Stan, the man at the mall.  My life is marked by him, and ultimately by the One who sent him.  To God be the glory!    

Boulder, CO
The Flatiron Mountains, Boulder, Colorado 

photo compliments of Jose Kroezen at flickr

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tool, toy, or tyrant?

When we returned to the U.S. in April, we decided to use a smart-phone. We knew that with all of our traveling this year, it would be helpful for directions and finding information on the road. We have used it to listen to the Hobbit during our recent travels, check the traffic, watch and listen to baseball games, check e-mail, and all sorts of other useful things. Unfortunately, answering the phone was not so intuitive, but we finally got past that.

Last night, we took the Bart train in San Francisco to go downtown. I watched people get out of the train, and noticed that about 50% of them had earphones in – some talking on the phone, some presumably listening to music or radio. Then, while sitting in the train, I looked around and saw more than half of the passengers actively engaged with their smart-phones – texting, e-mailing, games, reading the news. With these amazing devices, the possibilities are endless!

As Americans, we place high importance on productivity and efficiency. We also value our privacy, and our personal space or personal time. Smartphones seem to respond to all of those cravings, and riding on a train for your daily commute is exactly the space where a smart phone can help you to feel productive by accomplishing multiple things at once – getting to your destination while also checking e-mail, for example. Having a device like a smart-phone also enables us to create the illusion of being in our own private “bubble”…we can interact with whoever we choose to, many miles apart, via the phone, without feeling awkward about ignoring the strangers sitting a few feet away. My friend Catherine wrote a wonderful reflection on this daily commute and how we often act like we are alone in the train full of people.

My mind shifts to numerous rides on the bus in Kananga. Often, we are so jammed and squeezed into the minivan-sized bus that one of us is sitting on the lap of a stranger, or the people are so wedged together that I could not move my leg if I wanted to. Children are passed around to any adult who has a free lap in order to make room for the most number of people. Often, passengers are holding live chickens, or a goat is under the seat. People are shoved and squeezed to rather uncomfortable positions…then the bus goes bumping down the dusty road, and we wince each time it swerves to miss a pothole. Since the bus is far too bumpy and crowded for doing anything “productive”, some lively conversation transpires. When we get on a bus, we often get to be the object of the conversation – and I fight with my inner self and culture that prefers to reach the destination just quietly enjoying my “private world”. But I also thoroughly enjoy this other way of travel …recognizing that we are thrown together as companions on a journey, and don’t need to be afraid of each other.

Paul tells the Ephesians to “Be careful, then, how you live…making the most of every opportunity”. (Eph 5:15-16). Somehow, I don’t think that he was referring to checking e-mail on the train. What do you think? I know that these technological devices can be helpful…but have we gone overboard? How do we ensure that they don’t block us from experiencing “life” and community the way that God desires?

Minibus in KenyaA mini-bus (in Kenya) loads up with people and goods

DSCN5148Getting cozy in the CPC Land Cruiser – ready to travel!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

By the Numbers

In April and May we traveled throughout the south and southeastern part of the United States.  It was a major blessing, visiting supporting churches and seeing some friends and family along the way.  Our last blog chronicles several “firsts.”  This blog tallies some of the things we did and experienced.  Here ya go!

1             Major League Baseball game attended; we saw the Braves lose to the Nationals
2             Times we ate “grits” (once it was Shrimp and Grits, and oh it was good!)

Shrimp and Grits, Beaufort, South Carolina

3             Miles hiked on the AT, the Appalachian Trail (in Shenandoah Region of Virginia)
4             Minutes being interviewed on television (on the morning show in Albany, GA)
5             New states visited for at least one of us (TN, AL, GA, SC, NC) 

Tennessee state sign

6                Smoothies consumed at McDonald’s, a great snack on the road!
7                Times we preached and gave the Children’s Sermon at different churches
12              States driven through (KY, TN, AL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, WV, PN, OH, IN)
16              Chapters of the Hobbit listened to while driving
17              Times we gave our presentation and shared with different church groups

sharing, Rock Falls Church, Erwin, TN
Sharing at Rock Creek Presbyterian Church, Erwin, TN 

18                Different beds slept in (most were quite comfortable)
19                Churches we visited and connected with in some way

FPC, Albany, GAFirst Presbyterian Church, Albany, GA (a revitalized congregation!)

30               Days on the road
1732           People who heard about Congo through our presentations and preaching
3821           Miles on the road

P1180039                               On our way to Erwin, TN (our first church visit)