By Ferris Smith
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.
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.
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.
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.