Dispatches from Madagascar

Seven members and friends of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, led by Sally Harwood, are on a 12-day mission trip to Madagascar, the island nation off the southeast coast of Africa. The trip began on April 6 and concludes this week. Accompanying the group are Dan and Elizabeth Turk, mission co-workers of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and mission partners of Fifth Avenue. The group is learning first-hand about the diverse ministries the Turks are leading in Madagascar, including a native fruit tree cultivation program, the development of clean-water resources, and a range of education and public health initiatives.

Taking part on the mission trip with Sally are Susanna Black, Dottie Cannon, Kaytee Clements, Micki Frein, Naomi Kroeger and Ed Rule. On April 18, as most of the group returns home, Sally and Dottie, chair of the Outreach Committee, will move on to Lesotho, where they will visit another Fifth Avenue mission partner, the Ministry of Hope, a refuge for orphaned and other vulnerable children. Following are some dispatches from the first week in Madagascar, written by Sally, Susanna and Dottie. with photos by Ed and Dottie.


Monday

Sally Harwood and Naomi Kroeger with Pastor Juliette.We visited with Jan Heckler, a Presbyterian mission co-worker, and her colleagues, who have been using an evidence-based method of instruction (EBMI) in several FJKM schools. The FJKM, or Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, is the sister denomination of the Presbyterian Church (USA). With this method they have seen an increase to consistently over 90% passing grades with different schools, subjects and grade levels. Jan’s work is among the ministries in Madagascar financed in part by our congregation. 

We also met with Pastor Juliette and the fourth-year seminary students in Ivato. A new pastor’s first postings are typically far out in the countryside and will cover multiple churches. This is necessary as there are approximately 7,000 churches in the FJKM and only 1,500 pastors.

Tuesday

We headed to the countryside to see the Mahatsinjo Fruit Tree and Vegetable Center. It was a four-hour drive each way from where we were staying, but we all had special memories of many parts of the day. We were amazed at how much Dan Turk and his technicians and workers have accomplished with 27 varieties of mangoes, along with many other trees and vegetables. We were lucky enough to see some actual grafting of the mango varieties. 

Dan Turk explains the fruit-tree cultivation program.Afterward we walked down to a water spigot in a local community that was developed using the water that was trapped for the tree/vegetable project. We got to hear the huge difference having this clean water has made to the health of the entire community, from saving the women a two-hour walk for water to the health improvement for their children. Then we headed to a local high school where the trees have been planted and were treated to a wonderful song by the students along with lots of group pictures.  

Wednesday

We moved into the downtown area today to a meeting with the officers of the FJKM. Madagascar is a country where approximately 50% still follow traditional beliefs. They have needs for more ministers, more seminaries, more churches and upgrades in technology. We then learned much more about the FJKM's ministry to marginalized people from its dynamic director, Pastor Helivao. 

The scope of their work is amazing. With only 43 full-time people they are covering so many programs for the most isolated, including prostitutes, street children, human trafficking, mental health, vocational training and so much more. We were then able to meet and hear from several seminary students who have completed a two-month program where they go to different, mostly remote, areas of the country and assess the situations with these groups and discover many other cultural issues that the church is trying to address. It is hard not to be incredibly impressed by the passion and deep grace all the people we have met have exhibited both to us and those they are working to help.

Thursday

We are having an exciting mission trip and can feel the Lord’s grace in each place that we visit. This is a beautiful country of rolling hills that are green and lush. 

Today we were able to visit a school and play with the children. They are a combination of shy and timid as well as curious and very interested in the strange-looking strangers in their midst. We sang "Old McDonald" to them and they loved the animal noises. Then we sang the "Hokey Pokey." 

They didn’t know what we were saying but thought it was very funny to watch these adults wiggle and dance around. Teaching them patty cake allowed those who were brave enough to come up and touch the strangers, sharing their time and love. 

After the school, we saw water systems that the Presbyterian Church has installed. This system has enough run-off water that they have created three fish ponds, and it is also easier now to make mud to construct homes. It is amazing to see the benefits of having fresh water

Please continue to pray for us on this trip, that we are able to share Jesus’ love and hear God’s voice, and please continue to pray for the people of Madagascar.

Saturday

Saturday was our Nature Day, so named for our planned hike through the rainforest to see the lemurs in their natural habitat, a visit to the lemur park, then to a local animal park featuring other native mammals and reptiles. To get into the spirit, we stayed in these uber-cool, Swiss Family Robinson-style bungalows. What an adventure!

Dottie with her new friend.Of course there was a steady rain the entire evening prior and throughout our planned Saturday activities, which invariably led to mud, puddles of muddy water and muddy shoes. But better a rainy day than a hot, humid, mosquito-filled day! The highlight for everyone, by far, was the visit to the lemur park, where we interacted with the lemurs.

Sunday

Our group divided into three groups to experience various worship services throughout Moramanga. It was joyful to see the local traffic crowded around the entrance to the church, people gathered to worship, and the energetic music (which was greatly needed for our 3+ hour service!) The organized “women of the church” and their children dressed similarly in beautiful uniforms. Such a vision of solidarity. On our 4+ hour drive back to Antananarivo, we reflected on our weekend and engaged in a strong dialogue with our mission leader, Elizabeth Turk (who has been in-country since 1993) about what she’s seen and where we can continue to be involved.

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