By Tara Hubbard
From May 23-June 6, I was with a team of 8 dear believers from Grace Community Church. We went to Madagascar to support, build up and mutually encourage Faly and Lily Ravoahangy, their family and their church. While visiting, we were able to attend two different churches in Madagascar. One in Antananarivo, where Faly is an elder. One in Andasibe-Vavatenina, a small village on the north eastern side of Madagascar.
We went to church at FBB Ankadivato, in Antananarivo the first Sunday after we arrived. FBB Ankadivato is marked by hospitality and a true thirst to pursue Christlikeness. During night church, the 9 of us sat in front of the young adult’s group on a panel discussion about dating, singleness, and guy/girl friendships. The questions that were asked were so humble and heartfelt; they all desired to know how to love one another in a way that brings God the most glory. It was a little awkward at first because I’ve never sat on a panel, and I didn’t actually feel qualified enough to speak on the topic, but it ended up turning out well. By God’s grace, we were able to give some helpful answers and point the youth to God’s Word.
The next day our team grew from 9 to 16 as we added Faly, his son Samuel, his daughter Immanuel, and 3 church members from FBB Ankadivato (Miora, Astieldo & Faniry) who gave up their week to translate for us 24/7. That day we did some traveling and hanging out with lemurs at this lemur island thing. Most of them were friendly.. but one decided to use Brian’s hood as a toilet, while Hillary and I stood around and laughed. After we left Lemur Land (as I like to call it), we were able to celebrate Rachael’s 20th birthday and eat some super tasty food. Then we made our way to the village to meet some of the sweetest, loveliest people I have ever met.
I had expressed to some of my friends before the trip that I was a bit discouraged with my own lack of preparation, and I just want to thank you for praying for me whenever you thought of that. One of the many things that the Lord taught me throughout the week was to set aside my own feelings of inadequacy and to be obedient. When you trust God and submit, the joy of the Lord keeps pouring onto you and out of you.
The joy of the Lord was a consistent theme for me throughout the entire week. I didn’t go more than a day without crying tears of joy to the Lord for His kindness in letting me be a part of such a ministry, and for His faithfulness in these people’s lives.
We had a long drive to get to the village after the lemur day and it had been raining heavily so the roads were super muddy and washed out at parts. God supplied us with this Malagasy Vin Diesel guy named Eric who drove us through 98% of the terrain with little to no concern. We were supposed to meet up with a few people who would help us carry a generator & projector for movie nights in the village, but we had to stop about 2kms or so away from the meeting point because the road became too muddy to drive up. Faly ran to go to the meeting point and tell the guys to meet us down the road.
A few minutes later, as we were trying to figure out what to do, we see Faly returning with a village of people behind him. And for once, that expression isn’t an exaggeration. Men, women, and children came down and began grabbing everything they could from us, to relieve us in carrying some of the burden. Malagasy kids wanted to carry our sleeping pads and mosquito nets. Two men grabbed thick bamboo rods, tied our generator to the rods with rope, and began to ascend the trail. Some Malagasy women took peoples’ backpacks, balancing them on their heads throughout the hike.
This alone was amazing to witness and praise God for, but as we all began to hike together the people of the village began to sing Malagasy hymns at the top of their lungs. We hiked for three and a half hours, in the dark, in the mud, (they were barefoot!) and they never once stopped singing, praising God for His kindness in sending people to give them the training to handle God’s Word.
It was crazy and humbling to realize that they were praising God for the arrival of Bible teachers. I don’t often consider the immense privilege it is to have study bibles and resources at my fingertips, and I often waste these resources with my own laziness. But to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48); I have been blessed with these resources by God, and it is expected that I use them to glorify Him and benefit others.
The people from Andasibe were marked by joy and worship, and they worshipped out of true reverence and love for God. Throughout the week, they would use any of their downtime to sing praises to God in Malagasy. Even in children’s class, the kids would wait patiently & without prompting, start singing Malagasy hymns.
When we arrived at the village, it was around 10pm and everyone was exhausted. But rather than dropping off our stuff and heading to their homes for the night, these precious people gathered outside of the house we were staying and sung a joyful song to God. The lyrics (I’m told) were thanking God for safely delivering us on our long journey and delighting in the days to come. All our hearts were so full as fellow believers gathered around us and sung at the top of their lungs in their own language.
We spent 4 days in total in the village. Every day, Jonny and I and one of the translators (either Miora or Astieldo) would teach the children lessons based on the Fundamentals of the Faith lessons that Grace Community Church offers. Jonny taught the main lesson and I developed questions to ask the kids, or points I wanted to expand on with them after the lesson was over.
We taught bible classes two times a day, and between lessons, we would have a couple hours of downtime. We used that time to play soccer one day… Honestly, I played for like 10 minutes, but I thought I’d throw the soccer game in here because it was still fun and something that happened… and to swim and bathe in this really fun river. After the final lesson of the day, we would rely on Astieldo to come up with a game to play with the villagers, so that we could build relationships during the short time we had with them.
At night, we set up a big screen, generator and projector, in the middle of the road so the villagers could watch a movie. For three nights, we played Christian movies with Malagasy voiceovers, and after the movie was over someone from our team would preach the gospel to the audience. Faniry, Astieldo, and Faly helped to translate the gospel message and one man came up after, wanting to know more about how to become a believer. He had mentioned that he had lived a life that he wasn’t proud of, and he felt trapped in his circumstances. Faly talked with him more and explained to him that he will always feel trapped in life’s circumstances if he doesn’t get right with God and confess and repent of his sins. He seemed to listen to what was being said and will hopefully attend church in the village!
Conceptually, I understand translators play vital roles, but since English is one of the most common languages, I’ve never depended on someone else to articulate what I’m trying to say. Thus, I’ve always stayed in a comfortable bubble of other people conveniently speaking English. Miora, Astieldo, and Faniry (and Faly!) were so crucial to our ministry, and we all were dependent upon them to translate what we wanted to teach. They also translated whenever we wanted to have a conversation with anyone. They never complained and they even went out of their ways to ask if we wanted to communicate with anyone specifically. Not only did I gain valuable insight on the importance of knowing other languages besides my own, and how to serve selflessly, I also gained 3 new friends which was one of the sweetest blessings on the trip!
It was amazing to watch the way our entire team was knit together in love for one another and above all, for Christ. We were united in one mind, one heart, one goal: to encourage the church and equip the saints. God brought us all together as a group and we were able to serve in the unique ways that He made us. Every person was so vital, every member of our group was being used. It was a real reminder that there are no second-string players in God’s kingdom because He uses the weak to shame the wise. We were all vital and an important piece because we were all committed to loving Jesus above everything else.
Each person died to themselves and overlooked preferences. There was repentance and forgiveness towards one another. There was generosity and there was selflessness. The sacrificial love that was displayed was a love that could only come from Christ. And it was never a burden to die to ourselves. When you fix your eyes on Jesus, the command to lay down your life for others is not burdensome. Jesus’ yoke is a light yoke to bear and we receive the fullness of grace when we put our hands to the plow & keep our eyes on the King. Pursue the Lord. Serve others. These commandments are SUCH a blessing from the Word of the Lord.
For the 4 nights we stayed, we were fed amazing meals and lived in the main room of one of the biggest houses in the village. It was a huge sacrifice for the village to host us, and the food they gave us was really only for special occasions. The believers in Andasibe were more generous with what they had (which was close to nothing) than some believers I know in America, and most of them lived in shacks made of wood and bamboo. I noticed that their lack of possessions freed them up from the type of idolatry that I’ve experienced in the States and made them less distracted in general. Obviously, there are temptations to sin everywhere, because our human heart is what generates these idols, but it did seem sweeter to live this simpler life. It’s good to remember that contentment doesn’t come from material possessions, but that it’s an inward quieting of the heart that only God can supply.
Along that same train of thought, many of the believers in Andasibe didn’t own a personal bible. They memorized scripture and met three times a week to read and pray (and sing of course!) together. This was a great conviction to me because I don’t treat God’s Word as if my life depends on it, and I’m someone who owns 3 bibles. Along with that, I am very poor at sticking to the memorization of scripture and knowing the references. This should be something I take seriously for the purpose of encouraging believers and ministering to others, and yet my life is marked by laziness in this area instead of faithfulness.
Another thing that really stuck out to me about the people in Andasibe was that they would ask us to pray for them whenever we had time to talk to them. It was clear that they loved and cherished prayer above riches or fine gold. They asked for us to pray for loneliness, contentment, growth & loving others. Their prayers were to love God better, and the only time they ever asked us to pray for a material possession was when they expressed the desire for more bibles in their village. Their prayers were godly prayers that were according to God’s will.
After only four days of serving and worshipping alongside the people in Andasibe, my heart was full. It was hard to leave this little village because it seemed like a glimpse into what heaven will be like. And it’s sad to think that I may never see any of those people again on earth, but I know that the reunion in heaven will be so sweet as we all will stand before the King and sing praises to Him.