Soles for souls

The discussions are raging currently within the evangelical church in the USA around social justice. These are I believe important ponderings, especially when it pertains to the preeminence of the Gospel. Yet, one of the things that sadden me is to see how easily it has become a war on semantics and a conflict of perspectives, to the expense of developing a Christ-like compassionate heart for others. I have been even more saddened because I saw a more empathetic attitude from the members of a non-Christian organization, Soles 4 Souls, who were here in Madagascar to give away shoes to the poorest.

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I have been observing these ladies washing dirty feet, hugging children, wiping snotty noses and giving away even their own shoes and clothes to the people we visit.

They are not doing it for a photo-op, but out of love. They are all from different religious backgrounds and walks of life, but they all share the same heart and zeal for people.

In the span of 7 days, we were able to distribute shoes in 7 different locations, giving away footwear to children aged 4 to 14 in partner children clubs. The monitors within these clubs are giving their time, energy and often from their own money to take care of these children every Saturday; it was so good to see the smile on their faces as brand-new shoes were placed on the feet of the children they love and share the Word of God with.

Even though it was a short visit, these ladies have developed a heart for our country and I am thankful that the Lord brought them our way. I am thankful that Soles4souls chose to entrust Madagascar 3M with the organization of the trip. I am grateful for all the interns and volunteers who helped us with the planning and the distribution.

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As we gave to the “little ones” (Mat 10:42), we were the ones who gained the more. I pray that this partnership will continue in the future. These children are being taught from Scripture every week; the salvation of their souls remain our utmost priority. But they do need shoes, and clothes, and school gears, and health care, and so much more. Are we not to help them if we can?

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I am not confused about the priority and singularity of the gospel, but as gospel bearers in a country where poverty, injustice, and corruption are vividly part of our daily reality, every believer in this country ought to contemplate how he practically can live out loving his neighbor as himself. Why are we not as Christians pouring out into the lives of others around us the love we have undeservedly received from above?

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Material aid has never been and will never be the first responsibility of the church; making disciples of the crucified Christ is. But along the way, I pray and challenge us as individual Christians to not close our eyes to the depravity around us, not only at the spiritual level but also at the physical level. Needs are everywhere, within the church and outside. The same heart of compassion compelled Jesus to teach people many things and feed them (Mark 6:34-44). May we all seek wisdom from the Lord and follow His example.

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TMAI President visit to Madagascar

We had the privilege of having Dr. Mark Tatlock, president of The Master’s Academy International (TMAI), visit us a few weeks ago. He is one of the pastors of the fellowship group we attended at Grace Community Church and was my boss at work during our time in the USA. We became friends and I have always looked up to him as one of my mentors and so always cherish any time I have to pick his brains and learn from his example.

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His visit was very encouraging to me as I was able to show him the context in which we serve as well as hold a few key meetings and discussions on what a TMAI involvement in Madagascar can look like.

 

He was also able to visit and preach at our home church, have lunch with some of the members of the congregation, and meet with the eldership team.

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There are still a lot of building blocks that need to come together for this to become a reality, but it was so uplifting to be able to frame the potential future a little bit better. Please continue to pray as the Lord is at work to raise more worshippers and witnesses of His great name here in Madagascar.

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You can read Mark’s impressions from his visit here.

My Time in Madagascar

By Hannah Cullen

From the moment I first heard Faly entreat the students at The Master’s University to come to do ministry with him in Madagascar, the Lord put it on my heart to chase that supplication until it became a reality. Now that I’ve experienced what Madagascar has to offer and what fervent ministry is being done each week on the large African island, I am eager to witness more of what the Lord has in store for Faly and my other brothers and sisters in Christ serving there.

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After landing in Antananarivo and driving through the busy city, I was surprised by the landscape. Maybe I was expecting to be in the jungle? Maybe I was expecting lemurs on the side of the road? What I did know was that I had been to Africa before but the scenery was far from what I had imagined it to be in Madagascar. I was reminded it was a third-world country.

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Being immediately struck by the friendliness of Faly and his team, I was on the edge of my seat ready to get started with the next two weeks. We spent our first few days meeting people from church, adapting to the lifestyle and prepping for a Vacation Bible School (VBS). Then on our first Sunday afternoon, we went into the heart of the city to meet with children varying from ages 2-14, introduce ourselves and share some of our testimonies. The smiling faces on each child’s face brought instant joy to every member of our team. I would say it was a greater encouragement for us to experience the eagerness and generosity we received from them as they welcomed us into their classroom.

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The more we discussed the logistics of the VBS, the more excited I was to have a massive sleepover with hundreds of kids. My teammate Sarah and I began preparing the crafts and all the supplies we needed to bring. Even so, there was a factor of mystery. We had no idea what our “craft room” would look like, how many kids would actually attend, if we had enough supplies, and whether or not the message behind each craft would leave an impact on at least one child. It was our first test of faith. Sure enough, on Monday morning, with the help of some of our team, Sarah and I began building our craft tables out of bricks and old doors. We had prayed the translators would understand our instructions to the kids and would know of ways to occupy their time with us. The the first wave of children came. It was just the right push and from then on we were motivated to bring the gospel into each craft, prayer and activity.

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Whether we were washing our own dishes in a small water bucket or sleeping on a sheet of wood, those three days taught me three things: you don’t need a shower or mattress for a successful VBS, children around the world are virtually interested in the same thing, you can never have too many glue-sticks.

 

 

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Prayer and flexibility gave way to an exciting, small week of worship, fellowship, and creativity to a team of Americans. Remembering why we were where we were was just the motivation we needed to set aside our comfort and serve a group of children who were thirsty for the pure milk of God’s Word. It is for that reason, our Savior never stopped providing for us.

Teaching Out of my Comfort Zone

By Ferris Smith

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An American who had never been out of the United States going to the bush of eastern Madagascar was an incomparable experience, to say the least. After two days of hiking into the bush, in the rain, we arrived at Tratramarina.

The people there were such a blessing to us. They served us coffee sweetened with sugarcane and more rice than we could eat. The next seventeen days were nothing that I could have fully expected. The hospitality of the villagers was something that I cannot ever forget. They gave us everything they could. When we arrived, they gave us a hut to stay the day in, and before the day was over, they gave us two more huts to sleep in. When that was not enough room for us, they gave us ground, enough to set up two tents on. In the first day, they did more for us out of kindness – yet they had no way of knowing anything about us or what we could do for them – than anyone has done for me in my life. When we left, they gave us chickens out of the abundance of their hearts.

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During our time in Tratramarina, the rest of my team and I were responsible for teaching the children the bible. Starting in Genesis, with Creation, through the Old Testament to the Gospels. It was, of course, impossible to cover everything in that time, especially with kids. However, we made it our goal to touch on the important points in-between Creation and the Gospel that would most prepare the children to understand the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. I taught only twice while in Tratramarina. I taught the ten commandments, and I co-lead the lesson that recapped the whole time of teaching at the end of the time in Tratramarina. Teaching the Ten Commandments to three to twelve-year-old children was a difficult thing to do. I am under the conviction that if you teach and you do not show in your teaching that God is great, then you have failed in your teaching. Teaching the Ten Commandments was more than telling them some law that Jesus summed up. I knew I had to give them the theological reasoning that should be behind us when we obey the Ten Commandments. In other words, I had to answer the question, “why does this commandment matter so much to our relationship with God and other people?” It might seem impossible to teach such theological principles to kids, however, I am now under the conviction that most children can handle more theology than we give them credit for.

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At the end of that lesson, I realized one of the biggest problems I would have here in Madagascar: I couldn’t have any type of verbal or non-verbal reaction for my audience to better understand if they truly understood what I was saying. So I had to make sure that everything I taught had to be grounded in 3 things: an accurate representation of the Word of God, an effort to show that God is great, and a full trust that the Lord would permit everything to be translated correctly, so that that they were understanding exactly what God wanted them to understand. It was difficult for someone like me who is usually able to know how the audience reacts to what he says when preaching or teaching.

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The Lord grew me in many ways while I was in Tratramarina, but the biggest lesson for me was to realize that I had some measure of fear of man in my teaching. There, I had to trust God for the content of my message and for the ability of my hearers to hear it. Learning to trust God and not myself was the most liberating thing, not because it took the responsibility off me, but because it was a way to worship the Lord wholly in my teaching, as I feared Him and no man, woman or child.

Trust in Suffering: A “Vazaha” Experience

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By Chris Pena

Here amongst the Malagasy people, the word for a “white foreigner” that is commonly used is “Vazaha.” This is a name that we would continue to hear for the duration of our time on this six-week missions trip. Upon my arrival in the country of Madagascar, it was a quick turn-around to what we would call the “Deep Bush.” It was an eight-hour drive to the small village of Mahatsara, followed by a twenty-seven-mile hike to the village of Tratramarina.

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We quickly experienced a taste of the harsh realities that the Malagasy people face daily. Once we finally reached this remote village, our goal was to do a series of Biblical lessons that would cover the Old Testament, culminating with the resurrection of Christ. It came time for me to teach on Jesus healing a blind man. Now, in this chapter, we see that the question is posed to Jesus as to what sin did this man, or his parents did to make this man born blind. To which Our Savior responds, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:3).” This became one of the most humbling experiences of the trip and here is why. Some of these villagers were slowly dying by a parasite called “Schistosomiasis”, also known as “snail fever”.  What this parasite would do is when it would enter the body, mainly due to drinking contaminated river water, is that it would attach itself to the inner linings of the lower intestines and then multiply to the point of rupturing the intestines. There were about 8-10 people in this village that were living with this parasite in their body, and many of them had witnessed fellow villagers dying from this parasite. Not only were the conditions grim due to the scarcity of food, clean water, and proper healthcare, but also with this parasite that if left untreated would literally eat them from the inside out.

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Since I had been there for about two weeks at the point that I taught this lesson, I was aware of the kids that had this parasite, and the ones that had lost parents because of it. These kids were no strangers to suffering and the challenging part for me was to look these kids in the eyes and from the Scriptures explain that all suffering gives glory to God. Compared to these children, I am a pampered American that just so happened to be living with them for a short time. But the Word of the Lord rings true no matter what status I may have. It was humbling in the sense of knowing that I cannot relate to what they are dealing with, but what I can do is point them to the One who knows the suffering of His people and is inclined to hear their prayers.

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God’s Word was the all-sufficient means of reaching the people of Tratramarina, not the words of a “Vazaha.” This is but a sample of the humbling experiences that has so caused me to trust in the sufficiency of Scripture and therefore lay hold of the promises that lie within it.

Ministry to Tratramarina

Twenty days, seventy miles of walking, and many bowls of rice and cassava leaves later, the nine-member missions team has returned from the deep bush. The team consisted of both local Madagascar 3M affiliated missionaries and the five American missionaries on a short-term trip from The Master’s University (TMU). We were again reminded of our great need for the Lord, both physically and spiritually, as we set out to serve Him on the field.

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The trip began with the long drive from the capital, Antananarivo, to the eastern coast. We were welcomed in Mahatsara by the local missionaries who showered us with hospitality. The first destination was Ambohimanarivo, where a regional conference for both adults and youth was being held. It was at this event that I was able to share from the Word about spiritual warfare, and his message was accompanied by many questions from the eager listeners. It was clear that the people truly longed for the pure milk of the Word, a beautiful embodiment of the exhortation in 1 Peter.

During our stay at Ambohimanarivo, the team participated in a worship night, a soccer match, some teaching sessions for the conference, the Sunday morning service, and many games with the children. The short-term team, fresh from the America, not able to speak any Malagasy beyond a simple greeting and thank-you, were able to find creative ways to interact and communicate with the kids. You would be surprised at how blowing in between two blades of grass to make a whistling noise can break down barriers!

After returning to Mahatsara, the team spent a day at the beach with other missionaries serving in the area, gaining energy before the long trek the following day and getting to know one another better for the sake of unity.

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After the day of relaxing, a good night’s rest, and an early breakfast, the team set out to Tratramarina. The journey took two days, including an overnight stay in the village of Tananan’i Lemanana. Some youth from the village met us 2 hours before our arrival and carried our bags for the rest of the way. When we arrived at our destination, before even greeting us, the people took the time to pray, thanking the Lord for His provision. This is a common practice, done because the people desire to acknowledge God before they acknowledge man.

From the time we arrived in Tratramarina until the time we left, the believers in the village did not cease to show us the utmost hospitality. Their sacrificial hearts spewed the love of Christ. Each day had a similar schedule. In the morning, I would teach the adults on the subject of the Kingdom of God. I was met with must receptivity and curiosity, similar to the believers in Mahatsara, even with the theologically complex nature of this subject. The rest of the team would work with the children. Each session consisted of teaching, singing, games, and review. The team put together two two-hour sessions each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Throughout the two and a half weeks, the team taught through the main events of the Bible, leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel was presented several times to the kids. We pray that they will retain what they have learned and that the Holy Spirit would be working in their hearts.

Every other evening, we projected a Christian movie in the middle of the village, attracting many onlookers, and we always concluded the evening with a clear call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. We were able to do the same in nearby villages who invited us to come to share the Word in their location and project a movie.

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We also were involved in the preparation work for the building of a new church in the village. It was amazing to see young and old, vazahas (the word for “foreigner” in Malagasy) and Malagasy work together towards the same goal.

Our goodbye was accompanied by both singing and tears. The members of the church were very thankful for our visit to their village, always making sure we were healthy, fed, and had a place to sleep. They were so inclined to express their gratitude when we left that they even gave the team four chickens as a parting gift. Seeing how little they had and how much they sacrificed was very humbling for the team. We saw a beautiful picture of the body of Christ, which is not distinguished by race, gender, language, or age. Because of their great kindness, we left with not just full stomachs but full hearts, excited by the ministry in Tratramarina and encouraged by the body of believers there.

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Despite being physically exhausted, our team has been very spiritually refreshed. The trip was a great reminder that the same Holy Spirit that is in work in the hearts of the big churches in developed countries is at work in the hearts of a small church in a remote part of Madagascar.

 

A Zeal for God and a Love for People

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I was on my way to the West Coast of Madagascar to visit a couple of churches when I received a phone call informing me that my mum was taken to the hospital as an emergency as she was not feeling well. As she was not able to make it last Sunday to church to listen to me preach (and she would never miss that for anything in the world), I knew there was something really wrong. I called Lily and told her to go to the hospital with the kids. She called me back half an hour later in tears, telling me I had to come back. My mum had passed into glory.

There is so much to say to celebrate what God has done in her life and through her life. She has left quite a spiritual legacy and so many reasons to glorify God. She has shared the gospel faithfully. She did so both with the highest in the Malagasy society rungs, ministering to the wives of people in authority or army generals, and with the lowest, walking sometimes 35 miles in the countryside at age 72 to bring the Word of God to rural villages. And she was faithful both outside the home, and within the home. I remember that when I was still in my parents’ home, even as a 22/23-year-old man sometimes coming home at 1am following business meetings or time with friends, she would still wait for me as she had committed to pray with me every night, and so she did. That’s my mum. The greatest thing my mother has given me is a model of love for God and His Word. I have decided to preach on Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 for her funeral on Friday May 5th 2018, as a tribute to her. Please pray for me, that God would find me faithful to His Word. Please pray for the service, that as her life was not in vain, so won’t be her death. And that even as we put her body in the grave, many would turn to Christ and would have, like her, the assurance of the future resurrection at the Lord’s return.