June 30, 1924 – April 6, 2017
Free Methodist World Missions is deeply grateful for Clara (Sparks) Rice’s 36 years of dedicated service to her Lord through the Free Methodist Church in Africa. We celebrate her life – a life used of God to touch the lives of countless others.
Clara earned a B.A. degree at Cascade College and her nursing education from Emanuel Hospital School of Nursing, both in Portland, Oregon. She also earned a degree in midwifery from Frontier Nursing Service School of Midwifery. It was April 9, 1954, when Clara M. Sparks, R.N., was appointed by the General Missionary Board of the Free Methodist Church to Ruanda-Urundi, Congo Beige, Africa. Her journey would include a train trip from Portland to Chicago to New York City. From New York, she sailed to Belgium on a carrying freighter, which held 12 passengers to Belgium for a year of language study and then on to Africa on August 27, 1955. In October 1955, she wrote, “What a happy day when I set foot on Urundi soil and the realization swept over me that I was really in the land to which God had called me over five years ago.”
Clara’s ministry was focused on medical missions and primary school education. Clara served in Burundi and Rwanda until 1964. In 1966, Clara married the Rev. Paul Rice, a minister in the Ohio Conference of the Free Methodist Church. Clara and Paul later served in Burundi beginning their work there in 1974. Clara was assigned to Kibuyu Hospital and Paul did evangelistic work. Clara saw as many as 100 patients per day. They returned to the States at the end of 1976. On several occasions during her ministry, Clara worked for the General Missionary Board of the Free Methodist Church located in Winona Lake, Indiana. Clara retired in 1990. Together, Paul and Clara served the church in some capacity for more than 90 years.
Missionary colleague Priscilla Osborn Thompson shares this memory: “It was a glorious day at Kibuye, Burundi, when the Africans’ beloved Clara Sparks Rice returned. Celebrations and stories of her earlier ministry in the hospital and at Muyebe flowed off the tongues of her previous patients. As a nurse midwife, she had delivered some of their babies, comforted them in their losses and touched them with her gentle hands of healing.
“As a young student nurse in South Dakota, I first met Clara at a conference. As I shared my quest to be a missionary she recited her favorite verse, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain’ (John 15:16, KJV). I followed in her footsteps to the Frontier School of Midwifery (Kentucky) never dreaming that we would once more meet in Africa. This time as a missionary with her husband Paul, she again bore fruit as together they ministered to the spiritual and physical needs of those in Burundi and Rwanda. This sweet, chosen and dedicated missionary stepped into heaven on April 6, this time welcomed by the Jesus she served faithfully in Central Africa and wherever He led.”
A missionary colleague, the Rev. Martha Kirkpatrick, remembers Clara: “Clara was loved as a nurse and a friend. She was known for her mild manners, kindness, and optimism. We loved to hear her sing! Clara lived looking forward to good days ahead!”
Bishop Emeritus Gerald E. Bates writes, “Clara Sparks Rice, R.N., was a part of the missionary team when we arrived in Burundi in 1958. She served in rural dispensaries at Muyebe (living in the ‘white house,’ first home built by J.W. Haley) and, later with her husband Paul, at Rwintare station. Clara maintained her active interest in missions and kept in contact with her missionary network of friends after her retirement and to the end of her life. Clara is one of that early cohort of pioneer missionaries who learned the language, loved the people and served happily in modest living conditions, with modest medical equipment, but who made a huge difference in African lives by faithful medical service and Christian witness.”
Former Africa Area Director Henry Church remembers first meeting Clara: “I first met Clara one day when she was walking from the International Friendship House to the Free Methodist Headquarters in Winona Lake (Indiana). She needed some help so I assisted in carrying some items for her. She nicknamed me her ‘Big Angel’ on the spot, and I responded by calling her my “Little Angel.” From then on, that was the way we referred to each other. She was a delightful friend and prayer partner. Clara served effectively as a missionary in Africa. She loved Jesus and it was obvious by her character. So ‘Little Angel’ has now joined the angelic choir singing before the throne. I know she had a warm welcome on her entrance into heaven.”
David G. Colgan, former pastor to Clara, writes, “Clara Sparks Rice served our Lord and the Free Methodist Church for many years! While a missionary to Burundi, Clara visited the Bedford (Indiana) Free Methodist Church while on deputation and shared with my home church.
“When Paul and Clara moved to Winona Lake, Indiana, Clara served at Free Methodist Headquarters. She later became the administrative assistant at the Winona Lake Free Methodist Church where I was appointed to pastor in 1985. Clara and I became good friends. She always had a deep desire to do things well and to serve the Lord with her very best! Paul and Clara where such gracious servants and willing to do anything they could to make a difference in peoples’ lives! We are blessed by the memory of our working together for our Lord!”
Bishop David W. Kendall, overseeing bishop for Africa, writes, “The Free Methodist Church in the USA and central Africa owe a huge debt of gratitude to Clara and offer praise to her Lord for sending her to serve among the peoples of Burundi and Rwanda. In some of the neediest places, Clara offered medical care to underserved areas of these central African nations. She practiced and taught midwifery in rural areas and in that way literally helped to raise up future generations who contributed to the development of their nation and to the kingdom of God. After she completed ten years of missionary service, she returned to the U.S. to work in our Department of Missions, only then to be drawn back to Africa in response to the urgent needs created by civil war. Clara is among the heroes of missionary passion and service in the history of our ongoing global mission.”
On April 6, 2017, Clara Sparks Rice went to be with her Savior, becoming part of the rich legacy of those who have served through Free Methodist World Missions. Her decision to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth has borne eternal fruit.
Rev. Gerry Coates
Director of Global Church Advocacy
Free Methodist World Missions