When Chris Rice arrived in Durham 14 years ago, he thought he would stay for three or four years — just long enough to complete his Master of Divinity at Duke Divinity School.
Rice says he never could have imagined he would go on to co-found the school’s Center for Reconciliation (CFR) along with former Duke professor Emmanuel Katongole and spend a decade building a ministry of reconciliation for Duke students and clergy and practitioners from around the world.
“Starting the CFR has been one revelation after the other,” Rice says. “We had no idea what we were starting. It’s been such a joy to be part of founding this work and seeing how its fruitfulness has grown.”
Now it’s time for a new chapter — and a new move.
As the Divinity School’s new senior fellow for Northeast Asia, Rice will develop Duke’s emerging Northeast Asia Reconciliation Initiative, which brings together clergy and ministry leaders in Japan, China, and North and South Korea for collaborative reconciliation work in a region with a history of pain and conflict.
In addition to his new role at Duke, Rice and his wife Donna will move to South Korea in October, where they will spend five years as country co-representatives for Northeast Asia for the relief and peace organization Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
MCC is an ecumenical organization with Anabaptist roots that Rice became familiar with during his time at the CFR. MCC is a partner organization of the CFR’s Great Lakes Initiative Leadership Institute, which brings together Christian leaders from Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Burundi, and other countries each year for a week of academic study and personal reflection on reconciliation. MCC plans to partner with Duke on the Northeast Asia Reconciliation Initiative as well.
The new dual roles come at a fitting time, Rice says.
“To be able to work in the region is really more than I could have asked for or imagined,” Rice says, who grew up in South Korea where his parents were Presbyterian missionaries. “Being able to use the Korean language that I know, knowing the culture, knowing the region, being able to build trust, and being able to connect Duke Divinity School — it’s really a dream come true.”
As Duke expands the work that the CFR has begun, Rice says he is looking forward to connecting students to the region. In addition to the Northeast Asia Reconciliation Initiative, the Summer Institute for Reconciliation and the Great Lakes Initiative will continue on at Duke.
Rice says that leaving his role at the CFR is difficult, but he is filled with expectation for the possibilities ahead.
“I’ve really wrestled with, ‘What does it mean to be a founder of something and to be a steward of that which you have been privileged to found?’ There’s the founder’s responsibility for sustaining. But there’s also a founder’s responsibility to leave at the right time and to let go,” Rice says. “Letting go means letting it be different and letting it grow. Reconciliation is God’s work. New creation is what God is doing. It’s going to be leaving with a lot of tears. But they are tears of gratitude and joy.”