The Long String of Coincidences

Last week a long string of ‘coincidences’ culminated with God answering prayer, leaving me stunned at how He brought it all together, and feeling His love, especially since what I had talked to God about didn’t seem very important.

It all began a year ago. Frik (the CEF regional director for southern Africa and the Indian Ocean) came to visit Madagascar. One Sunday he invited me to go to an English speaking church with him. I hadn’t (and haven’t since) attended an English speaking church, preferring to attend a Malagasy church, but of course I said yes. The couple sitting in front of us that day were only here for a few weeks. The lady told me she was with Bible Study Fellowship and came to visit the Bible Study Fellowship that had been started here every now and then. I asked her where the Bible Study was, but she didn’t know the name of the location seeing that she is only here for a few weeks at a time.

I go to a Malagasy church and Bible Study with Pastor D (which is AMAZING by the way) with the teens on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, but a few months ago I felt that I would love a women’s Bible Study or a small group also, more with people that are around my age. So I began talking to God about this and even looked for info on the Bible Study Fellowship here in Madagascar online, but found nothing. Last weekend I decided to go to an English speaking church thinking maybe there would be Bible Studies or small groups there. As it turns out, I was nice and sick last Sunday and didn’t go to the church I had planned (Saturday I was fine and Monday I was fine).

Then I went to the CMI graduation on Friday. A lady came into the graduation late and sat down on the other side of the room. Since the ceremony was in French and I couldn’t understand any of it, I had plenty of time to people watch. I noticed this lady and came to the conclusion she and I would get along great. So after the graduation it was late, but I was still busy when Pastor Guston, who lives near me, has a car, and usually gives me a ride home from late night function, left so I passed up the ride. Then another group was leaving in a taxi and there was a seat left. The teens wanted me to go with them at least down to the bus stop, but I still needed to get my computer and what not and didn’t want to ask them to wait. So it is starting to get dark by the time I was ready to leave and as I was coming down the steps, the lady who came in late was sitting on the bottom stair. She asked if I was alone and then suggested we leave together since we were both going in the same direction. I agreed to wait for her. The teens where scared I wasn’t going to be able to get a bus since it was late and were trying to get me to leave, and I almost ended up on the back of Pastor Rufin’s motor cycle. But I waited for the lady to get done talking to one of the students and we headed out together.

She spoke great English and didn’t switch to Malagasy when I answered her in Malagasy which was strange, so I asked her where she had learned English (and if she did in fact speak Malagasy ;)). She said she had lived overseas and was most comfortable with French and English though she is Malagasy. Then she told me she spoke English well because she went to Bible Study Fellowship on Thursdays and they usually spoke English even though they are all Malagasy. I then excitedly proceeded to invite myself to go with her. We figured out the time and place to meet and then she told me how she had just happened to get that afternoon off to come to the graduation and almost didn’t make it because her boss kept having one more thing for her to do. One of the CMI students had just happened to go to her church one week and had met her and for some reason chose this lady for the one person she could invite to come to her graduation. My new friend figured it was God who got her there and we were meant to meet, as she laughed about how she couldn’t believe she had asked a stranger to walk to the bus stop with her. After she got off the bus at her stop, I couldn’t help but wonder at how God had arranged the evening and how we had both ‘just happened’ to do things out of the ordinary. That I turned down three rides. That the CMI student had met her and invited her to the graduation. That she was able to come. That she asked me to walk with her. And to top it all off, there were still buses for me to get home. In fact, they didn’t stop at the usual stop down the hill from my house, but the guy working the back of the bus suggested he have the driver stop at the top of the hill by the road I turn off on to get to my house.  And so, on Thursday, Hari and I are going to Bible Study.



Definition of FLATLINE
1 a: to register on an electronic monitor as having no brain waves or heartbeat  b: die
2 a: to be in a state of no progress or advancement  b: to come to an end

I have been thinking a lot about this word lately. She flatlined. Does this, could this, describe me?
Moving to a new country that doesn’t speak English forced me to learn Malagasy. I had to learn the number system, how to get around, get anything I needed and solve any problems that came up. But now the question is how do I keep learning language and not just flatline where I am at? My langauge skills allow me to go anywhere, get anything, solve any issue that has come up so far, communicate and have friendships. So, there is no built in motivation, it is up to me to keep pushing, keep striving. As I have been pondering this issue, wondering if I have flatlined and what to do about it, one of my missionary friends sent me this video. Why don’t you watch it.  
Ouch. I thought this was suppose to be an encouraging little video but instead it very accurately nailed my problem and shined a light on part of my heart I would rather keep hidden: pride. I am sick of making mistakes and sounding like a kindergartener when I talk, so I just use words I know instead of pushing myself, instead of risking mistakes, instead of risking my pride. And the problem is, I know enough words that I can just replace a word I am not sure of with one I already know and can say without messing up. If I am not sure of the sentence structure, I can simply use a sentence structure I know well instead of stretching myself. If someone gives me the price of something in French, I can just ask them to repeat it in Malagasy instead of learning the widely used French numbers. So the problem is actually worse than I had imagined. I am not suffering from a case of flatlining, but the heart issue of pride. And so the climb out of the flatline has begun.
The stores here have everything lined up on selves behind a counter. You walk up to the counter and ask for what you want. This is not a problem if you know how to ask for what you want. I always nail it because if I don’t know what something is and it’s not important, I just wait till I am at a bigger store where I can pick what I want then go through the checkout. So the other day, standing in front of the counter,  I asked for what I needed, then spotted Nesquik powdered chocolate milk. Knowing I needed to stretch myself and kill the pride, I decided to get some instead of waiting until I was at a bigger story. Just as I was about to make an attempt, in walks the girl who helps at the store and the storekeepers son who much be around 5 years old. Now I have an audience. I attempt, the storekeeper is confused and points to several things that I usually get….and then I do it. I say, “Um, the one with a bunny on it.” (the nesquik chocolate bunny was on the front of the container) The little boy starts laughing and says, “the one with the bunny?!?!” The helper starts laughing. The storekeeper is laughing. Sheepishly, I pay and place the hard earned item in my bag, as the little boy keeps giggling about what I said. As I walk out of the store, leaving a wake of laughter behind, I know that this is the key. Refusing to flatline comes at a price, my pride. It means forcing myself to try new words and sentence structures even if I end up sounding like a kindergartener or making people laugh (which I love to do, just not at the cost of my pride….) So I will not avoid new words. I will not ask someone to repeat a number they said in French in Malagasy so that I can stay in my comfort zone. I will use the sentence structures I have a hard time with. I refuse to let it be said of me, ‘she flatlined.’


The Phone Conversation

The ensuing phone conversation took place between me and one of the girls about something I needed to get to her.

Ezra: Well how about I stop by your house in the morning and get it?

Tara: That’s fine except I still need to get it at the store.

Ezra: How about I stop by your house in the morning and we can both go to the store and get it, then I will just head to school from there.

Tara: Yeah, or we can just meet at the store and I can give it to you there since the store is down by your house.

Ezra: Yeah, but I could just stop by your house and then we could go together.

Tara: Ok, that sounds great, I’ll see you at 7 tomorrow morning.

This isn’t the first of these kind of conversations I have had. It’s actually one of quite a few. Why am I even telling you this? Well, this is one of my culture lessons. Even as the conversation started previous conversations that went along these lines flashed through my mind. I am always about the most efficient way to get things done. How can we get that done in less time? What is most cost effective? Thus, my choice is simply meeting outside the store and handing the things I need to get to her. It saves time and money. I am trying to help her out. It will take up less of her time if we do it that way, the store is walking distance from her house. It will be cheaper because she won’t have to pay for the taxi bus to get to my house and then to the store. It’s the perfect idea. But for Ezra, those things aren’t important. She isn’t looking for the most efficient way of getting the things from me. The time and money aren’t the issue. Our relationship is. So my great idea is actually a terrible idea to her because I have just eliminated the whole point. And thus another one of my lessons in culture goes down. The lesson that life here is about building and maintaining relationships. Time isn’t a factor. Money isn’t the issue. Next time, I will get it right. And tomorrow, when Ezra and I go to the store at 7am, I will just simply enjoy being with her.


That 'Kid at Christmas Time' Feeling

Do you remember what it felt like when you were a kid around Christmas time? The waiting….the anticipation…and then on Christmas Eve, try to make yourself fall asleep so that Christmas morning would come faster? That was always a losing battle. Well, I know Christmas is still a ways out there, and I may be a little old for this, but I feel exactly like that. A kid at Christmas time, that is me. But the reason for my excitement really has nothing to do with Christmas. Or maybe it kinda does… You see, I got the go ahead last week to begin teaching Good News Clubs. In Malagasy. That in and of itself is exciting, but even better, I can start my very own Good News Clubs in new areas. Excited doesn’t really fit, I think stoked may be a better word. So the planning has begun. This week I am going on a few scouting adventures for locations and I am hoping to be able to start the first Saturday of November. The idea is to find three or four locations that are relatively close together that can be taught consecutively on Saturdays. Planning the lessons and activities for club in Malagasy has also begun since I am very aware that teaching an entire club may be a bit of a stretch the first few weeks. But not even the fact that this is actually kind of scary can dull the excitement. After all, this, I have been dying to do since the first time I came here in 2006. So let the planning begin! There are still so many children who need to hear about the baby God sent to earth over 2000 years ago, the Savior whose birth we celebrate at Christmas and whose death and resurrection paid our ransom. There is nothing other than this that I would rather do with my Saturdays. Let’s get started!


The Game

Over and over, a ball, which was a black plastic bag tied into a lopsided circle with twine, bounced slowly over the dust toward me. Stopping it with the toe of my flipflop, I kicked it back. At the other end was one of the cutest little boys I have ever seen. Hardly waist high, with sparkling dark brown eyes, he must have been around three or four years old. Our little game wasn’t something he took lightly. Before kicking the ball, he crouched down with a look of determination, stomped his feet, and flexed his arms before taking off at a run toward the ball. An exaggerated kick sent the ball bumping randomly over the dust and sent me running to catch it. A grin split his face as I cheered for him and was usually followed up by him running up for a high five. When I kicked the ball back to him, he wasn’t satisfied to stop it with his foot. Instead he ran towards the ball and stopped it with a football style tackle that kicked up the dust around us. I am not a huge fan of playing ball, but I’d play ball with him all day if I could. Walking home that evening, I couldn’t help but thank God for sending me to this island, to these children.


Dancing; French; Chickens

A few days before the conference started, my friends and I went to the city where the National CEF Conference was being held. Those three days were filled with more stories then I can tell, but I thought I would try to give you an idea of what happened on our 'mini vacation.' And while there are no dancing French chickens in this story, there is some dancing, some French, and a chicken or two.

We stayed at Pastor D's wife's dad's house. This is a picture taken off the second story deck. We were woken up each morning by roosters and geese, and the smell of rice cooking on charcoal fires. It doesn't get much better. :) I got to draw my first bucket of water from the well that a few of the girls are using in this picture, much to everyone's delight. The worst part is they didn't think I would be able to do it...... Outside of cooking three meals a day, which can take a good part of the day, we were free to entertain ourselves and wander around.


 One of the upper rooms turned into our dance floor during the mornings and evenings. With Malagasy dance music blaring from the other room, we put together a dance. Unfortunately, I didn't realize until I had been choreographed into the dance, that we were going to perform this at the talent show at the end of conference, so I ended up dancing with them in front of....everyone.... Kinda made me thankful for the many years of dance lessons I took while growing up...

 Here I must pause with the pictures and relay a lunch time story. One morning I was sitting at the kitchen table working on my presentation for the conference. The teens were busy working on lunch, but I had tuned everything out and was working. I happen to glance over just in time to see one of the boys holding a chicken under his arm with a knife, and the other hand was full of feathers that he had just pulled from the chicken's neck. I did the O_O thing and was like, "Stop! Stop! Don't you dare do that right here!!" After some teasing and offering to let me do it, they stepped in the hallway to kill it and then brought it back in, laying in a tub, still jerking around. I can't believe I was able to eat the poor thing after that...  After lunch we would walk across the rice patties to this strip of trees and lay under the trees laughing, talking and watching everyone try to swing on a low tree branch like the local boys did.

 There was alot of sitting around talking. It was the perfect opportunity for me to work on following conversation between alot of people. I can usually handle a conversation with one or two people, but following a group convo is harder, so I enjoyed practicing.

We met some adorable children while out on a walk one day. As we finished talking to them, a lady comes around the corner, sees me and gets all excited and starts saying hello to me in French and is excitedly shaking everyones' hands. She kept chattering away in French and usually when someone starts talking to me in French, I explain I don't speak French. But I wasn't sure I could get a word in edgewise, and plus she was so excited, so I just did the smile and nod thing. Thankfully after shaking everyones hand and chattering away she went hurring off down the road and the teens and I stared at each other in shoke then started laughing. Thank goodness no reply was needed. :)

We also spent alot of time wandering around the town. There are little 'stores' which just have a window cut into the side of the house, then you go up to the window and place your order which can be anything from tea, coffee or milk which comes in a little tin cup that you drink on the spot and give back, to breads or yogurt, all of which you eat standing infront of the window or store front and return the untensils afterwards.

We had so much fun during our 'mini vacation' that we were a little sad to head over to the conference, and were already starting to talk about next year.


The Two Big Events

National Conference. I am not even sure it is possible to sum it up in a blog, but we are going to give it a try. Much of the conference was….normal conference stuff. Great speakers, great sessions, meeting new people, and of course lots of rice. Three times a day. But two events overshadowed the conference. Big events. Events that rank right up there with the day I was told I had been accepted at a missionary to Madagascar. Two events that I will never forget.

The first took place on Friday afternoon. Each morning and afternoon, different regions taught a Good News Club for the kids of the CEF workers. Friday, Southern Antananarivo, which is where I am from, had the floor. After playing a game with the kids, I sat down with them as club started, all the while my heart pounding. Partly from excitement, partly from fear. My part was the Bible lesson. My first time teaching a Bible lesson in Malagasy. On the one hand, I couldn’t wait to teach again, I love teaching Bible lessons in the States. But on the other hand….in Malagasy?? What if I got up there to teach and forgot everything?? I sat there reminding myself that THIS is what I love to do. Plus, thankfully it was only for the kids. Messing up in front of the kids and some of my friends was better than in front of all the adults. Just as it was my turn, the adults started flowing out of the building. Break time. I turned my back on the growing crowd of adults who quickly realized what was about to happen, and began to teach the children. As one of the guest speakers from Poland, ran around snapping pictures, the story of Jesus’ resurrection somehow came out of my mouth. How fitting that the first Bible lesson was all about God’s power. Victory in Him. Sitting down afterwards, I knew that God had carried me.

The second event took place during the last session of the conference. Saturday evening. We had free time that afternoon, then the last session at 5. The teens and I wandered around the city, and were careful to be back by 4:30. The girls and I returned to our room where I carefully gathered my notes and Bible and changed out of my jeans. Mama’i Volana (Pastor D’s wife), was making sure my hair was just right and the girls kept making sure I had everything. Nirina decided I definitely needed to reapply chapstick even though I insisted I had just put some on. After everyone took their turn telling me I’d do great, we headed to the conference room. My heart was pounding as I took my seat. Partly in excitement and partly in fear. On the one hand, THIS is what I love to do. I love to teach, even adults, and THIS, Christian Youth in Action, is my passion. One of the CEF directors was teaching everyone a catchy song and I joined in, hoping that the words of the new song wouldn’t crowd out the ones I would need later. Then it happened. The floor was mine. The mic in my hand, the eyes of everyone at the conference on me. I began by telling one of my ‘language learning stories’ and succeeded to make everyone laugh then began sharing with them about Christian Youth in Action, the impact it has on teens and the plan for how it will work here. Somehow everything I had carefully planned, came out of my mouth with only a few glances at my notes. Sitting down afterwards, I knew that God carried me.

As I talked to people afterwards, gave out my number, and even began making plans for the first Christian Youth in Action to take place during the two week Easter break (three months before I was thinking of doing the first one), my excitement to see CYIA here in Madagascar began to grow. I learned a lot of great stuff at the conference, but the one that will stay in the back of my mind for a good long time, is the one I experienced firsthand. God carried me. And as I work on planning CYIA, I know He is carrying me.
During the opening ceremony, children dressed to represent each region of Madagascar, sang, danced, and shared the gospel message with picture flash cards.

Some of the children who were dancing at the opening ceremony.

The was an exhibit on the first day. Here Southern Antananarivo, where I am from, is working on setting up our exhibit. The things on table are hand made song and verse visuals. We sold them and the baskets to raise money.

These are the CEF workers from the west cost, dressed in traditional clothing.

Everyone who came from Southern Antananarivo.

Pastor D speaking at the conference

The teachers were all given teaching materials from CEF Press through the Boxes of Books program. Thank you so much everyone who has a part in that ministy!

Teaching the Bible lesson at club on Friday


The girls and I had a great time. We shared a room and managed to take a ton of pictures of each other over the course of the week.


It's National Conference Week!!

I can’t forget the last time I was in Antsirabe just over a year ago. I had just arrived and spoke pretty much no Malagasy whatsoever. I remember on the bus ride there, I was go over one of my first Malagasy lessons, turning things on and off. I remember sitting by the women cooking rice in the mornings and wishing I could talk to them. And then there was walking through the streets with the girls as they taught me names of buildings such as church, market, school and so on. They still tease me about that and laugh over how I said certain things. Then there was sitting on the edge of the lake with the teens. Renoh gave me a lesson on ‘there is’ and the difference between ‘can’ as in, ‘I can speak English.” And ‘can’ as in, ‘I can go to the store.’ These are lessons I will never forget, though I am not sure how I remember them so well in the craziness of my first few months here. It makes me super happy that when we arrive in Antsirabe tomorrow (Monday) for the week, I am able to communicate, ok….for the most part anyway.

This week is the National CEF Conference. About 100 CEF staff, volunteers, and committee members will be there. I will have time to share about the Christian Youth in Action program we are excited to see started here. Please be praying that the staff here will be excited about CYIA and that God will give me the right words as I present.  I also get the opportunity to help the CEF chapter I am from teach a Good News Club. I will be teaching the Bible lesson about Jesus’ Resurrection.

We are heading out tomorrow at 5am. I look forward to what new lessons Antsirabe holds for me this year!


Around the Palaces and to the Zoo

Ezra, Hasina, Seheno, her little brother and I walked around the two palaces that are here in Antananarivo and went to the zoo. It was a gorgeous day and so much fun to learn a little of the history of the place from our tour guide.
This is a giant catholic church that is below the palaces.

Hasina, Seheno's little brother, Seheno, and Ezra
The girls grew up going to Good News Club and now teach GNCs. I love hanging out with them and can't wait to teach together soon!

The view of the city was stunning! I live out by the hills to the far left. The lake is man made and in the shape of a heart. 

This is one of the two old palaces up at the top of the hill. When Janet was here in October, it was open and we were able to go inside and look at the artifacts, on this day it was closed.

Our tour guide took a picture of us here on the stairs of the palace.

These are some old houses from the time of the palace. They are just below the palace. Aren't they cute?

This is the old court 'house.' They made it without walls to that anyone could watch the precedings, even the death sentences which was administered here.

The body of water here is the water reservoir for all of Antananarivo. The crops that look like rice is actually not rice but a lettuce type plant that is eaten here called anana.

Our guide showed us many flowers and plants around the area that can be used as medicines. This flower is used as a medicine for a certain disease by first drying it, then crumbling it up, rolling it in cigarette paper and smoking it.

This is an old church near the palace. The flower on the tower is also on the old 1 ariary coin.

The second palace was burned out on the inside a while back. No one can go in this one and there are guards outside the gate. Even people taking pictures from the gate need to do it quickly and not linger.

These are some of my favorite trees that we saw at the zoo that day. The palaces are on the top of the hill that is in the background.
We ended up spending all day around the palaces and at the zoo which involved climbing more stair cases then I have had to in a long time. We decided it would be a good idea to live at the top of the hill and have to climb these everyday. :) We started out at 8am and got back home around 6pm. It was a great opportunity to spend ten hours straight listening to and speaking Malagasy. I was thrilled that I could understand alot of what the tour guide was explaining and even able to ask some questions about what he was explaining. Next time you are passing through Madagascar, be sure to take a tour of the area. Pictures just don't do it justice. :)


Crossing the Street. It's an Art.

I can’t tell you how many times I have almost gotten run over this year because traffic rules are not the same here as they are in the States. For example, cars do not stop for pedestrians. Also, motor cycles, bikes and ox carts drive on the sides of the rode and between lanes. So you may think that since both lanes of traffic are stopped, you are home free, until you almost get run over by a motor cycles driving between lanes or an ox cart coming down the side of the road. Thus, you need to be careful but the problem is, if you are too careful, you will never cross the road. If you aren’t careful enough you get run over. Both cases being undesirable seeing as how you never actually arrive at your destination. Thus, I have decided that crossing the road here is an art form. There are several strategies I have found that can be put to use in mastering this art.

·         When you see an opening in the closest lane, you can cross that lane and then wait between lanes for the other lane to clear as long as there are no motor cycles. If you are good, you can time it so you just pause in between lanes for a second and then cross the second lane.

·         You can also wait until there seems to be an opening in both lanes that seems big enough to give you time to cross, though it can be hard to judge how fast the cars are going since there are no speed limits.

·         The other option is to wait until the traffic is at a standstill and then cross, this strategy however, involves checking for motorcycles between lanes before just stepping out from around a car.

·         If all else fails, the best strategy, and one I use most often, is to cross the road when you see a person near you starting to cross.

I have noticed, that if you do this right (like all the Malagasy people do), you do it smoothly with your dignity intact; as opposed to my halting/desperate attempts. This is an art form that I have been working on all year. Last week, I executed the perfect crossing. I did the ‘ambling carelessly’ alone the side of the road until the nearest lane had an opening that I thought I could make it across and then if I paused just briefly in the middle, there was an opening to cross the next lane. It was a perfect execution. Walking the whole time at a leisurely pace, no fear or desperation written on my face, and the ‘pause’ in between lanes was smooth and almost unnoticeable. At least that’s how it went in my imagination, if nothing else. I found myself glancing around upon arriving on the other side of the street to see if anyone else had noticed how smoothly I had crossed the street, until reminding myself that I am the only one who would notice this mastery of an art form since everyone else, even the little kids, are already highly skilled. Oh well, at least I think have mastered this skill before loosing all nine lives.


All in a Day

At church on Sunday, Seheno told me she was going to stop by ‘real quick’ to pick up a flashdrive at my house Monday morning. My idea of ‘real quick’ is just that, real quick. So after doing some wash and cleaning the house that morning, I settled down at my computer to finish translating a plan I had made up for Christian Youth in Action and wanted Haja to look it over for me when we studied in the afternoon. Sitting at my computer, I was anchored down by two kittens who were sitting on my lap when Seheno stopped by. We talked for about an hour and a half before she left. By this time, I had written off the idea of finishing translating the document for Haja to correct and instead got ready to drop the last of the kittens off at her new home on the way to study with Haja. I was thinking this would be a ‘real quick’ stop since I was studying in the afternoon. I stopped, and dropped off kitty, who by the way is one feisty kitten and was not happy in the least to be transported in a backpack or being relocated to a new home, my scratched up hands go to prove it. I was just happy they don’t live too far away. After introducing kitty to her new family, Tahiana and her mom brought out rice and laoka (veggies/meat) you put over the rice. I had already eaten and wasn’t planning on eating there, but they had quickly added chicken to the menu just for me, so I joined them for lunch. Arriving 20 minutes late to work with Haja on my Malagasy, I was thankful that being 20 minutes late isn’t a big deal here. On the way home from studying, I stopped at the market which I hadn’t had an opportunity to do earlier. The plan was a ‘real quick’ trip to the market because it had been a busy day and I was worn out. A little older lady, Jose, who has been running one of the veggie stands for her daughter, who just had a baby, has been cheerfully greeting me for the last few weeks. Today she begin asking me my name, all about my family, how long I had lived here and how long I would stay, and just about everything you could possibly want to know about someone you have just met. I returned her questions and she told me all about her two sons, the new baby granddaughter, and just about anything else you might want to know. Deciding to go the easy route for dinner and just make scrambled eggs, I stopped at a place by the market that has eggs and bought a few. I then walked up the hill to my street and stopped at one of the little shops by my house and went in to buy water and a few eggs for dinner. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had bought eggs twice. I’m guessing that buying eggs twice is an indicator of the end of a great day.

What a joy to get to spend some one on one time with Seheno and hear about her morning, how she got involved with CEF, and things God has been teaching her lately. She is such a joy. And then having lunch with Tahiana and her mom was a great opportunity to get to know them more and let them get to know me. Our lunch today will be followed up with a shopping and lunch date on Saturday because they wanted me to come over so they could cook my favorite laoka. Of course studying with Haja is always fun and full of laughter. And to top it all off, I have a new friend, Jose, at the market. I cherish these kinds of days. Not because I get a lot accomplished work wise, but for the people, the conversations, and the relationships built. You can’t help but love the rhythm of life in Madagascar.


A Wedding and a Step Outside of the Comfort Zone

Upon being invited to Nicolas’ wedding that was on Saturday, I carefully inquired about what I should wear. I was hoping for, “oh, you can wear a nice top and dress pants.” The answer? “You speak like you are Malagasy and you eat like you are Malagasy so you need to dress like you are Malagasy too.” I knew what this meant. The Malagasy people love to dress up for weddings, church, and any other occasion they can get away with it. I was off to hunt through the thrift market for a dress.

Saturday arrived. I put on my dress and made my way to Nicolas’ house, all the while feeling very uncomfortable wearing a dress, which is the second time since about junior high that I have worn one. I arrived on time, which is very early by Malagasy standards. Many people were busily setting up for the reception and preparing food. It didn’t take long before I was helping prepare tomatoes, and making trips to Pastor Di’s house for more chairs with the girls. Then we all piled into several vans that would be transporting the wedding guests that day.

The first step of a Malagasy wedding is the groom and all the guests ride over to the bride’s house to get her. Isn't she cute?? Then they each ride in separate cars to the county offices.

Here at the county office, they are given a marriage certificate which is signed by each of them and several witnesses.

Now they are legally married. Everyone then rides to the church for the wedding ceremony which is much like an American wedding ceremony. Pastor Di gave an amazing message on love from John 3:16. Then Pastor Guston officiated.

 After the wedding which was held at our church, we went over to were the reception was to be held. It was held between some of the houses where Nicolas and his family live. First there was food and more food. I was thankful to notice not every one was finishing each plate, which I took as permission to do likewise. :) After pasta, bread, salad, veggies, rice and meat and more veggies to top the rice, we had fruit with pudding that Pastor Di had made.

As we were eating, people were talking turns singing up front. As the eating came to an end, and the cake was cut, they began requesting certain people to come up and sing. First it was the bride and groom, then the parents of the groom, the parents of the bride, and the pastor and his wife. I quickly saw where this was going. How could I avoid being called on? Pretty much impossible. I sat there watching everyone sing and accepted my fate. I knew before coming here that my Malagasy friends love to sing and dance and that meant I needed to love those things as well. And then it happened, a guy I didn’t know grabbed the mic and pointed out that I hadn’t participated yet, and asked me to come up front and sing. What do you do when you aren’t someone who should be singing behind a mic, but suddenly have no way out? My solution was to ask the teens to sing with me. So with about 8 or 10 of them, we sang several songs together. After this, the tables were moved to make room for dancing. Knowing it was important to the girls, I joined them in dancing to some of our favorite songs. So here you have it, a picture of me, in a dress, singing behind a mic.

Saturday was not just a time to step outside of my comfort zone and adopt more of the culture here, but it was a lot of fun. All throughout the day I thoroughly enjoyed being able to understand and participate in conversations, understand almost everything during the wedding, and sitting by Nombana, Pastor Di’s youngest son, and playing with him. Even the singing and dancing was an amazing opportunity to continue connecting with the girls. To each of you who has been praying for me this last year as I learn the language and culture, thank you so much!


The Ugly Truth

In January I began hearing rumors that I might get to teach at the French Children’s Ministries Institute® that will be held here this fall, despite not speaking French. I began to anticipate teaching again. But in the back of my mind I, I remembered the fact that this CMI is in French, so I would need a translator. I hate teaching with a translator and had decided a while back that I wouldn’t use a translator again when I was teaching. I would put whatever was needed into teaching in the language of the students. I have always felt that a translator is a huge handicap especially when it comes to using teaching methods outside of lecturing and making class time fun.

Despite this reservation, the excitement grew when Pastor Di gave me an envelope with the topics I would be teaching. I peeked inside, and immediately my heart sank. I had been assigned three topics that I know I am not good at or have no experience teaching. In fact, one of them, puppets, I have no experience in whatsoever. I have never taught children using puppets before. How am I supposed to teach the students three things that I am not very good at or have never taught before?
As I thought about my reservations in teaching these three topics and teaching with a translator again, two things came to mind. First, when it really comes down to it, it is a pride issue. I don’t want to teach something I am not good at because I want to be the best and because I am afraid of what others will think of me if I am not the best. My pride shows that I am all about my self-image instead of being all about God’s glory.
Second, these reservations reveal a self dependence instead of being dependent on God to accomplish that which He has asked me to do. I remembered how a book I have been reading lately was explaining that God equips us for whatever he has asked us to do. Because God chooses to equip us as we say yes to him, instead of just giving us a set of spiritual gifts for life that we can always rely on, we are forced to rely on him. Also, there is no way we can steal glory from Him for anything that we do, because we are aware that it is all Him. Pride and self dependence are pushed out the door as He gets the glory for everything and we know that if he hadn’t equipped us, we would have failed.
And so lesson planning begins. Puppets. Visual Aids. Newsletters. Ideas pop into my mind as I begin thinking about these topics and how to best teach them the students. I know it is God not me.
Will you pray that I will be a tool God can use at CMI as I begin working on lesson plans? Pray that I will be striped of my pride and depend on him and give glory to him. Pray for the students as they begin preparing to come. Pray for each instructor and the logistics to come to together in the next few months.

The girls came over and we started making soup. Then we realized I don't have any bowls. Our solution? Use all the pots and pans in my kitchen instead. If you have never tried this, you really should. We had a ton of fun!

19: An email from a friend.
20: A knock on the door that interrupts study time.
21: Laughing, talking, cooking and listening to music with the two girls who came over.
22: Two days without running water in my house. What at first was frustrating, turned into a great opportunity to test out if I REALLY don't want/need running water in my next house.
23: Terrible traffic that made our taxi driver turn off the main road, bringing laughter to everyone on the taxi, as we bumped and jolted on dirt roads through a village and over a soccer field. Signs on the front window where changed occasionally so we wouldn’t get caught by the police.
24: Traffic behind us decided it was a good idea and followed behind us.
25: Reading my Malagasy Bible.
26: People I don’t know passing me on the street and using my name when they greet me.
27: Christmas packages in June.
28: Cold weather, socks, and hot chocolate. It is indeed starting to feel like Christmas. J


Jack Fruit? Lychee? Kumquats?

Depending on the season, the fruit stands here in Madagascar are piled with a wide variety of fruits that I have enjoyed trying this last year. Some were ones I was already familiar with, while others were completely new. Here are some of the highlights.

Bananas are plentiful here and available all year around. Some are big (I mean, really big) some are tiny and every size in between. They come in red, brown, yellow and green. On the street, you can buy bananas that have been covered in batter and fried.
Jack fruit: The most fascinating fruit I have seen yet is Jack Fruit. First of all, it is huge! I remember the first time I saw it and asked Pastor D’s wife what in the world it was. She explained it was a fruit that grows on trees. I immediately decided there is no way these huge things can grow on a tree and figured maybe I hadn’t asked the question right and had gotten an answer for something else. Then, going to the coast in December, I saw it, growing in trees. I must say I was disappointed after trying it. It has to be one of my least favorite foods here.

Peaches: They peaches here are amazing, especially because they aren’t fuzzy like the ones in the States. The small red ones are the best in my book.
Mangos: Mangos come in green, red and yellow. In general I don’t like them because of their stringy insides, though the small red ones are great and not very stringy.
Avocados: I still can’t believe how many avocados are on the stands here and have been for forever. I still prefer them in a salad or sandwich, American style, as opposed to mashing them up with a spoon and adding sugar, Malagasy style.
Papaya: I love the tall, skinny papaya trees with a small spread of leaves at the top and a ring of papayas growing under the leaves. When I first came, I categorized them with cantaloupe which I can’t stand, but now, I am excited that it is once again papaya season. They grow on you. J

Oranges: The oranges are delicious and even eaten when they are still green.
Pineapple: Still one of my favorite fruits here, which I have yet to see growing in a field. I am keeping my eyes open for a pineapple field next time I travel since I am dying to see one!
Apples: The apples are usually green and very small, they remind me of granny smith apples (a much smaller version anyway)

Pomegranate: One of the neatest fruits here is the pomegranate, though they are hard to find here in the capital city. They have the most amazing texture!
Kumquats: I have saved my two favorites for last. My love of kumquats began when I was here in 2008 and is still going strong. They are just now making a comeback to the fruit stands. Yes!
Lychee: And lastly, my all time favorite is the Lychee. I remember sitting around Pastor D’s table with his wife and some of the teens and staring at the inside of my first ever Lychee, thinking it looked and felt just like a huge, puffy, white larva. Surprisingly, they are my favorites and I can’t wait for November and December to roll around again.