Monday, July 28, 2014

Alarums and Excursions!

On Saturday night just before 11pm, I woke with a stinging / burning sensation in the ring finger of my right hand.  I held my hand under the cold tap to cool it, and the pain spread to the palm side of that finger, and then to more of my hand. This is the arm with no lymph nodes c/o the cancer surgery, so it was quite dramatic in spreading, as there is no lymph to fight infection. I found ice cubes and held them on the finger (which usually helps a lot with mosquito bites) but they were no help.
 I woke Simon to help me find where we had packed the Claritin, as I guessed I must have been bitten / stung although there was no obvious bite location.  It felt more as if acid had been poured on my hand.  We tried hand sanitizer to make sure the hand was clean, and various bite creams on different areas, all with no success.
Around 11:15 we prayed and decided that if it was still spreading in five minutes we would wake Todd and Patsy, as we might need doctor or clinic. 
Five minutes later the redness was continuing to spread down my wrist, and there was a patch further down my arm, so Todd and Patsy were woken up and joined the Babbs family.  

I read the info on the strong antibiotics I had been prescribed in case of injury to this arm, but as there was no break in the skin decided not to risk them (again they come with the possibility of death from liver failure, and I don’t tolerate drugs processed in the liver, so I really don’t want to take them unless I have to). I was very frightened of what was happening to this arm. 
Doctor Anna did not answer her phone, but we could still drive to the clinic.  By now I had my hand in a bowl of cold water, and was beginning to tolerate the shock of the cold. 
Todd searched online, and recommended elevating the arm and found a cold pack (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off).
Around midnight when it was still spreading, Todd suggested prayer again, and I asked for the laying of hands.  So I have now had the laying on of hands and anointing with oil from a Bishop and Priest (and lay person too.  I am sure many people have been anointed in hospital while wearing pajamas, but not often while the clergy were in their pjs too!!!!
Very soon into the prayer, I felt a sense of deep internal peace, and when we finished and removed the ice pack the redness was receding.  We all sat up for a while longer and I continued to ice it, until the hand was back to its normal colour.
As Todd said, we don’t know if this was an answer to prayer or if the Claritin and ice were kicking in, but the sense of peace could only have come from God. 
The good news on Monday, was that the Claritin stopped the stomach issue; the not-so-good news is that the hand didn’t like me wearing the lymphedema sleeve and glove for the flight, and is now itching again (despite a further dose of Claritin) but it has not spread as far as it did on Sunday night. 


Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday's banner making

Simon said this morning, as we walked to devotions at 6 a.m., “That sky itself makes it worth getting up this early!”  There were the wonderful pre-dawn colours in the sky, a thin, crescent moon, so thin that we were able to see the whole outline of the moon and Venus shining brightly. I did not have a camera with me to capture it for you all, so you will have to use your imaginations.  (and yes, we have seen the Southern Cross at night, amongst the wonderful display of stars). 

Today's banner making was a great success.  We had a few more men join us too. At the end the women sang us a song about the Samaritan woman at the well.  Neither Patsy nor I knew there was such a song, and certainly not one in English.  It was wonderful to have chosen to make a banner that was of such a familiar story to these people.  

Other highlights:  

  • Matthew sitting and cuddling the babies, and teaching a couple of toddlers to say "hello"! 
  • An older man sitting and stuffing white cotton soccer balls with the waste backing paper.  The balls were made with the scrap fabric from the white crosses, with soccer ball designs drawn on by black Sharpie. 
  • The young girls designing their own small purses and making them from scrap blue fabric.
  • The scouts turning up with small pieces of blue and red fabric to get a neckerchief made
  • The joyous celebrations every time a banner was finished! 
  • The speed with which Zafy learned each part of the banner making, and his ability to teach the others.
  • The woman sitting and drawing the banner into her notebook

  • The excitement of the women as they examined the shirt I had made for Patsy

The most wonderful part of it all is the timing of Ann and Dick's arrival, so that she can now carry on the ministry of sewing with the local villagers on Tuesday and Friday mornings.  Neither of us knew each other beforehand or that we had a shared enjoyment in sewing.  She had come with a simple dress pattern, and now she has the  left over fabric, thread, scissors, needles, pins etc which she can use to teach the Malagasy people.  By the time she leaves in mid-September, they will be proficient and able to carry on for themselves. 

All in all a great success!


What Todd and Patsy did on Thursday

On Thursday, Sue, with help from Matthew and Ann (the US lady mentioned in an earlier post), and with Zafy as interpreter and further helper, were working in the banner-making session, and Simon was laboring on the bookkeeping. 

What were Todd and Patsy doing?

In the morning, Todd, accompanied by Venerable Theodore (the Archdeacon) and Ann’s husband Dick, visited a town about 10 miles from Toliara, where a new group of Christians has recently formed.  As it’s well off the paved road, the trip took 45 minutes or more each way.  No fewer than 140 people turned up to meet with them!  When asked, the group dated their beginning back a mere few months, more specifically to 29 March 2014.   Todd and the others talked and prayed with the group in the shade of a large tree and an improvised awning. They also viewed a piece of land which someone wishes to donate so that a church may be built.   Todd plans to send a student catechist so that candidates can be prepared for baptism (sounds like learning on the job in size!), and maybe a priest can visit once a month.  Basically, the diocese is growing faster than staff can be trained.
Patsy had arranged to spend the latter part of the morning with Lucia, the beautiful young Malagasy woman mentioned in our post about the English-language service at Ankilifaly last Saturday. Patsy had asked Lucia to bring some of her crafts for Patsy to buy.  (They are very fine.  We decided to buy them from Patsy to use as gifts.)   Patsy paid Lucia an amount that should enable Lucia to pay rent and look after herself and her child for the next month.  Patsy has enough funds to continue to buy some of Lucia’s crafts over a few months while she works to help Lucia develop various channels to try to sell her work on an ongoing basis.

Todd and Patsy did several other things in the day, but I want to share some reflections with you on the two activities I’ve just described.   Both the seedling church and Patsy’s efforts to assist Lucia are in their infancy.  For purposes of reflection, however, let’s assume that both succeed.
If you or I had helped to plant and establish a brand new church, or to enable a desperately-needy craftsperson establish a livelihood, I imagine we might someday look back on such achievements as among the highlights of our entire lives.  Yet in Todd and Patsy’s ministry here, such achievements take place on a fairly frequent basis.  And that, of course, is why Sue and I have delighted to be supporters of their ministry since we met them, and why we commend them to you.


Wedding Photographers!

A role we never expected to undertake!

After the banner making workshop (8:30 - 12:30, then 2:00 to 4: 30), Matthew and I were asked to take photographs of Zafy and Tantely, dressed in their wedding finery, for them to use as invitations to their Church Wedding which is on September 13th.  They have already had two weddings, a traditional and a civil wedding, and are now about to have their Church wedding.  Todd and Patsy have a few wedding dresses and suits and bridesmaid's dresses which they keep to loan to their employees to enable them to have a Church wedding. Tantely's dress belonged first to Patsy's sister, Betsy and was then worn by Patsy - and now Tantely.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

At last to the banner-making workshop!

 We started today making the banners depicting Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Rev. Patsy asked them what the banner was about and the recognized the story.  Hurrah!! I succeeded in getting the images to be meaningful.
 Of course, they were able to confirm that the best time of day to get water from the well was the cool of the day, not in the mid-day sun.  We talked about how this woman was an outsider – getting water in the heat of the day, not with the other women at dawn and dusk, when it was cooler; how Jews and Samaritans didn’t talk to each other; and how men didn’t talk to a woman by herself.  This woman has the longest conversation with Jesus of any individual in any of the Gospels, and she talks with Him and questions Him.  She manages to lead her whole town to an experience of Jesus, which results in their own decision to follow him.  As they make this banner, I encouraged them to remember that the woman took what she heard from Jesus and told her whole village about him, and invited them to meet Him, and that they could do so too in their villages .

It seems highly popular, and is going fast.  We had 50 women and 8 children and about three babies, still breast-feeding, and being held while the women sewed.  They are so talented, and learned each step so quickly.  It was a bit slow in the afternoon as we had only two irons and seven banners to fuse together.  It was glad that I had put the fusible web on the back of all the fabrics before we came, so that they could cut out the sections and then fuse them to the backing fabric.  They are getting on well with the stitching, so that is very encouraging for getting them completed. 

With the donations from members of St James the Less we bought a sewing machine and iron for this workshop (also a hard drive to back up the Diocesan computers and a CD player which we used in the children’s workshop). Thank you so much to those who donated the funds for these. 

Jeannette (Todd and Patsy’s housekeeper) and I gave lessons to the young girls and some of the women on using the sewing machine, and the girls were very enthusiastic to learn.  Ann helped the girls sew a pin cushion from some of the scraps.  

The women, children (and one brave man) had brought their own vary (rice) and the Diocese provided loka (the meat/vegetable accompaniment to the rice).  Just look at how much rice they eat, and there is about double the loka on these dishes than they would usually have! 

It's not all zebu and large groups

Like any operation, the Diocese of Toliara has to keep its bookkeeping in order.  It is already a leader in this matter, in that it is the only diocese here to have commissioned an external audit.  
The diocese decided that it would be helpful to migrate their bookkeeping off Quicken onto  a more sophisticated package, Quickbooks.  (Lightly) armed with an online training course in Quickbooks and my past experience as Treasurer at StJtheL, I spent some time before our visit working with a British guy, John Griffin, who is the finance whiz of Todd and Patsy’s international support group, PRP, to figure out possible ways of achieving this migration.

The Office Staff:  Florette, Mamy and Antsa

Tuesday onwards this week, I have been meeting with Todd and/or the bookkeeper and treasurer here to begin to turn our tentative plans into reality.  With just one and a half days to go, I hope we can achieve enough for Florette and Mamy to cope on their own with remote support.

Matthew's speech session

We were humbled at 6am morning devotions today to meet the three men who have travelled from Betioky to come to this session.  It is an 8 hour journey each way by taxi brousse .

The women came too on the same taxi brousse, ready for tomorrow’s and Friday's banner making session.  Partly they have come for what we have to teach and share with them, and partly to meet with other Christians.  Others will walk 5 to 8 miles to get here.

Apparently they have spent the night in the dormitory here, and will be cooking in the open at the fireplace.

The main event of our day was leading a session on voice projection and expressive reading.   Matthew led the former aspect, and we shared in the latter aspect.  Matthew observed afterwards that if, 6 months ago, someone had suggested he lead a voice training session – let alone to 52 people of an unfamiliar language – he would have considered it a most bizarre idea.  Bizarre or not, Sue and I were impressed with Matthew’s leadership.

Exercises before speaking to remove tension!

Overall, we think it was useful, though those who already stronger readers obviously had less to gain than others.

Simon and Sue

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tuesday's change of plans

Our plans today had been to visit the Botanic Gardens in Toliara, but with my stomach upset, I didn’t know if I was able to cope with that, so we decided instead to visit the cattle market and the local village, which are nearby.  Zafy, who is interpreting for us, came with us. We were so glad that we made this decision, as it was wonderful to be welcomed by the Malagasy villagers.

At the cattle market, we were offered one of these handsome zebu for sale,  17 million ariary (nearly 7000 USD).  A special price for the white woman we suspect!  

This market is about 15 minutes walk from the Cathedral complex along sandy roads.  From the windows of Todd and Patsy's home, we see the zebu and goats being herded to and fro. 

The goats look very healthy, with thick coats which are often glossy, and some have interesting tails, different from what I am used to.

These two had been bought and were getting their first (and probably last) pousse pousse ride!

We then walked back through the cattle market, past the cemetery on the hill, to the village of Andranomena, which turns out to be just the other side of the palm trees beside the Cathedral Complex.  We had no idea so many homes were there until we ended our visit and were brought back the quick way at the end of the visit.

On arrival we came to the well where they wash and do their washing.  There are two other wells for drinking water.  A group of children trailed us, and loved posing for photos - and then seeing what their photo looked like on our cameras! 

After we admired his flower garden, and watched them building the foundations of a new small building, we were invited into the home of an elderly man, and met his fourth daughter, and cat. We then went to Zafy's home and met his wife, and 4 month old baby Christopher, and his wife's sister and husband and 2 1/2 month old baby. It is customary to live with the wife's mother when you have a new baby for quite a few months (I forget how many).  So there were a lot of people, one double
Tantely, Baby Christopher & Zafy
with the brother-in-law in the background
bed, 3 seats and a TV in one room, and the kitchen(and maybe more) in the other.  How many foreigners would you invite to sit on your chairs and bed on first acquaintance?  It was such a generous welcome! 

I must go now to the voice session.  Thank you all for following along


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Worship at Ankilibe - Simon and Matthew's Service

On Sunday, Sue attended the baptism service at Ankilifaly. A key motivation was to honor Antsa, whose work at Mitsinjo was instrumental in several of the baptism candidates.  We all felt that was important to do. As Sue was especially keen to do so, Matthew and I were left free to accompany Patsy to preach and celebrate Holy Communion “under a tree beside the ocean” at a new congregation formed just 10 months ago at the village of Ankilibe. I was keen to do this partly out of a desire for as wide a range of experiences as possible.  In addition, the idea of villagers gathering under a tree and singing without accompaniment formed another part of the Africa of my imagination.
It turned out that the congregation had moved its gathering place to a sandy open space on the landward side of the village. They had fenced an area of about 15 feet by maybe 40 feet, partly with reeds woven into a wooden framework, and partly with sheeting made mainly of opened-out rice sacks.  A few of the congregation were seated on benches or chairs, but most were sitting on the sand.  There were about 80 present – not bad for such a new church in a small village where witchcraft is prevalent!
Matthew and I were offered chairs in the “chancel” area of the fenced enclosure, alongside Patsy and the two lay people who would lead the service with her.  As we would not have any role in leading the service, it felt appropriate to decline the honor and sit on the sand with our backs supported by the fence, among the congregation. This then turned out to have various benefits. Not only were Matthew and I well shaded by the fence, but also we were sitting directly across from the entrance to the fenced area.  Through the entrance we could see the huts and palm trees of the village and the ocean beyond. Periodically a villager with a bale of firewood, a foraging pig, or a sail of an outrigger-canoe fishing boat crossed the field of view.
Part way through the service a jetliner flew fairly low overhead.  This was a doubly strange experience.  Firstly, there was the contrast between the world of jet travel and that of the villagers, for whom an airline ticket would cost several years’ total income.  Secondly, there was the contrast for Matthew and I between the sanitized and homogenized experience of much affluent tourism, and the opportunities we were having to encounter – albeit briefly and relatively safely – something of the lives of the Malagasy.  Each of these considerations made us both feel immensely fortunate. 
Since Patsy’s last visit to that church about 2 months ago, they had learned several more hymns and songs.  Patsy was thrilled at their progress.  In addition, it meant that she and Matthew would not need to play the guitars they had brought just in case.  This was a relief for Patsy, as it was one fewer responsibility for her. Everything was in Malagasy.  Patsy periodically whispered to us the need to stand or kneel in case we were not getting the gist of our whereabouts in the service.  Matthew and I found that the speed of the hymns and songs was sufficiently below that of ordinary Malagasy speech that we could follow the words in the hymnbook and even join in the singing.  Some of the villagers had the book, but many did not or even were illiterate, and were singing what they had memorized over recent weeks.  The singing was just like African singing one has heard on videos or whatever.  That – and the joy on people’s faces as they sang – were wonderful.  And to be able to actually join in was a fantastic experience.
At the end of the service, the announcements included explaining who Matthew and I were, and about the various workshops Sue, Matthew and I will be involved in.  I figured Patsy must have been speaking about Matthew’s voice projection and expressive reading workshop when Patsy mimed someone reading in a monotone mumble. My burst of laughter set the villagers laughing too.
At this stage, Matthew and I distributed to each person one of the greetings cards from StJtheL we had brought with us.  These were received with delight.  So thanks, 8 o’clockers, for all your pasting efforts to affix pictures from Northfield  on those cards.
As we drove back, Patsy explained that one of the two laypeople helping lead the service came from a village some 75 minutes’ walk away.  He had usually arrived at the morning service in his home village seriously drunk.   He had now turned his life around, been confirmed, and was now attending weekly training sessions on leading worship. Patsy said Todd urges every newly-confirmed Christian to see him/herself as a new church worker in some capacity or another to put their newly-affirmed commitment into practice.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday - trip to Anakao

Monday’s expedition was a visit to the piece of empty property the Diocese of Toliara owns at Anakao, about 15 miles down the coast from Toliara.  The vision is to develop a guest house /  resort / religious community, based on Benedictine principles.

Sue stayed at The Gathering Place to nurse a stomach upset, while Matthew and I, with Dick and Ann, and Rev Hery went with Todd and Patsy to the piece of property.

Revd Hery serves as priest at Sakaraha, a village on the paved road that leads ever-on (well two days) from Toliara to the capital Antanarivo. He left Sakaraha at 3:30am to get a taxi-brousse to Toliara.  A taxi-brousse is something between a bus and a truck.  They are generally absolutely crammed with Malagasy, while luggage, boxes, oil-barrels, and heaven knows what else, is strapped to the roof.  Revd Hery had intended to travel yesterday, but the taxi-brousse had no space.

We drove to meet Rev Hery by the edge of the “harbour”.  The tide was less than half way in, and the “harbour” is essentially an extremely gently shelving beach.  So passengers are ferried out to boats on tiny ancient carts pulled by two zebu, the ever-useful humped and long-horned African cattle.  Talk about a picturesque and authentically African means of transport.

The boat was less comfortable than the whale-watching craft at Ifaty, and the sea was quite choppy.  Several hours later, my rear end still recalls being bounced around on a cushionless seat on the 15-mile journey to Anakao.  Why not go by road, do I hear you ask?   Well ... the track that branches off from the Toliara-Antanarivo road is suitable for ox-carts, on which one can get to the church at Betioky by ox-cart in about 8 hours from Toliara, but whether/how one could get from there to Anakao seems more doubtful.  50 minutes by water is just so much shorter!

The Diocese of Toliara extends from a latitude of about 20 degrees South down the western coast of Madagascar to the country’s southernmost tip at about 26 degrees South, and then a little way around the eastern coast to Fort Dauphin.  Patsy estimates that’s about 1,000 miles of coastline.  The only paved road in the whole of the diocese is a few tens of miles of the Toliara-Antanarivo road mentioned above.  If one has the money, one can fly from Toliara to Fort Dauphin in around 45 minutes.  Overland, it’s a 3-day journey on unpaved tracks.  After heavy summer rains, the route may be simply impassable.

It was only today that it hit me for the first time just how much the area covered by the diocese of Toliara is: (a) huge; and (b) overwhelmingly undeveloped. The combination of the two means that getting around is a major undertaking.  (The tardiness of this realization may be in some way related to the fact that I am about to be a philosophy student, not a geography student.)    At some point, the diocese of Toliara may consider getting a boat to help getting around.  Madagascar and Mauritius are both parts of the Province of the Indian Ocean in the worldwide Anglican communion, and use of boats to get about is apparently commonplace in the church in Mauritius.

Developing the beachfront property at Anakao would present some daunting challenges.  These must be superable, however, as there are a number of hotels scattered along this bit of coast serving some superb surfing, scuba-diving on the reefs, whale-watching, and sailing.  Another piece of geography that is news to me is that there is 150 miles of reef off this part of the coast.  Apparently it ranks third in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the reefs off Belize in Central America.   Tourist development is not without its drawbacks.  On the whole, however, increased economic development should help alleviate the extreme poverty of the area.  Eco-tourism would likely be especially beneficial.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Worship at St Lioka’s, Ankilifaly - Sue’s Sunday morning

Today we divided into two groups.  I went with Bishop Todd ( and 2 Americans – Ann and Dick, who arrived on Friday) to Ankilifaly, the oldest church in the Toliara Diocese. The congregation from Mitsinjo walked the 5 to 8 miles for this Baptism and Communion service.  They are pastored and educated by the Student Evangelist, Antsa, who showed us round the cathedral complex on our first day.  

I am finding it really hard to put the experience this morning into words, as it was so moving.  

Factually, at 7:45 am Patsy drove the three of us to Church, before going back for Simon and Matthew and guitars and songbooks to drive to their service. On the way, the car was stopped at the police checkpoint to see if we had any crayons for the policeman's children, as he had heard we were giving crayons away! (We had given three wax crayons and a pencil to each child on Saturday morning.  They didn't know about stickers and how to take them off the paper backing to wear).

Street view near St Lioka's
We were greeted by everyone – salaama – especially by the children.  Everyone wanted to shake hands with us.  I learned last night why the children laughed at me uproariously yesterday morning, when I went out the them as they gathered and said “My name is Sue”, “Je m’appelle Sue”.  Sua is the Malagasy word for good!  So having been declared last night to be good and perfect, I am now going with the French version of my name, Suzanne  (which was what I was called in French lessons in High School).  A blast of the past!

The service started at 8:30 a.m., and after an hour we had reached the baptisms, which took 45 minutes.  I counted 15 adults and 2 young boys.  At the start a little girl had cuddled up in front of me, and wrapped my arms around her, and tickled them, and blew on them! By the end of the baptisms, I had three little girls standing on the pew in front of me, holding on to them to keep them safe. The font is at the back of the church  in the traditional way to welcome new members into the Church.

The whole service lasted three hours.  At the end the newcomers were welcomed with a traditional Malagasy clapping welcome.  We stand with our arms open ready to receive the welcome, and the Malagasy rub their hands together (to warm the fire, I think we were told yesterday) and then clap a number of times (it seems to have been 10 mostly) and then send the welcomes to us.  We receive them and put them in our pockets!

The first hymn this morning was “How great thou art” – my favourite!  It was sung in Malagasy,  and I found it such moving experience, I was in tears of joy (again!)  it is hard to explain why – the familiarity of the tune and knowing the English words even though it was being sung in a different language; the enthusiasm of the congregation as they sang; the joy of finally being in Madagascar, after so many years of supporting Todd and Patsy.    It was easy to worship even though I hardly know a word of the language.  It was a wonderful, emotional, spiritual experience. 

Masina, Masina, Masina means Holy, Holy, Holy

Rev. Donay’s son, Joary, came and sat between Ann and Dick, and translated the sermon, told us what the Bible passages were so we could read them in our English Bibles, and generally guided us through the service.  Joary is 16 years old and is being sponsored through medical school at university in Toliara by St Gregory’s Deerfield (who paid for the church building at Fort Dauphin in the south-east of the Diocese.  Rev. Donay is the priest there).  Joary lives in a room in the building next door to the Church, which is on the ground floor underneath  “The Box” where Todd and Patsy lived for 3.5 years, right next door to the Church building in the middle of the slums.  You need to read Tamana, Patsy’s book to discover how hard she found that, but how God carried her through.

At the end, Todd was given a lamba (traditional cloth)
At the end, every one came out and shook hands with a long line of people - starting with the Bishop and proceeding through the evangelists, acolytes down to the tiniest choir member (looked to be about 4 years old) and then the congregation added themselves on to greet us. 

Thankfully Simon’s prayer in the middle of the night kept my threatening stomach upset at bay, until we had returned and eaten lunch.  Thanks be to God for relieving all symptoms while I was spending so many hours in a church in the middle of the town with no access to toilets!!


Children's Session on Saturday and an English service

The main event on our schedule on Saturday was the session for the kids that Sue (with assistance from Matthew and me) was leading in the morning.  The session was held in the training center / temporary cathedral at The Gathering Place.

We had been warned that any number of kids up to 200 might turn up, aged between 2 and 16.  In the event, 39 showed up, all aged no more than maybe 10.  The absence of older kids may be attributable to upcoming end-of-year school exams.  For us, relief dominated disappointment, as we had been apprehensive of coping with 200!  With 39, not only was the session more logistically straightforward, but also it meant we could do all the activities in the relative cool of the building and did not need to attempt dances amid the hummocks of the grass outside.  (It's been around 85 deg most days by lunchtime, dropping to the low 60s overnight).
As well as Sue, Matthew and I, leadership consisted of the regular church school teacher Lili, and also a local youth leader named Zafy who would act as interpreter (and Antsa asked if she could join us too).
The children were lovely kids, and beautifully behaved.  That helped!  They sat on the floor with arms folded and fingers on lips to keep them silent.  (Sue:  I haven't seen this since I was a child!)

Coloring using the crayons from St James the Less

Anyone among you who has led a session in a summer program at StJtheL won’t be surprised that Sue had carefully prepared a range of material all relating to developing a particular theme.  Our theme was that children could pray for themselves and each other, regardless of age. For our Madagascar trip, Sue had over-provided material so that she could pick and choose items in the light of the numbers and ages of the kids, and in the light of how working through an interpreter would turn out.
The only item that worked at all poorly was the game “Simon says”.  You’ll recall that the participants in the game are supposed to obey commands prefaced by “Simon says”, such as “Simon says stand on one leg”, but to ignore an instruction not so prefaced, such as simply “stand on one leg”.  When our interpreter relayed instructions from a person actually called Simon, it was just too confusing for the kids to distinguish between “Simon says X” from the indirect speech that “Simon says ‘X’”.  Confused?  Join the kids!
Anyhow, everything else went just great.  The children loved the songs, and even more the English circle dances.  Patsy has written a musical entitled A Time to Dance - and Sue made a banner relating to that - hence the dance activity. They listened attentively to what Sue had to say about prayer.  We all had a lovely two hours.  

After chilling out for a few hours, and taking a nap, we trooped off to the church in Ankilifaly (the slum area we visited a day or so ago – see an earlier post) for the English-language service.  (“We” here means Todd and Patsy, the Babbs family, and a US couple who arrived this week for a 3-month mission trip.)  This Saturday service attracts mostly a modest number of students at the University of Toliara, some committed Christians and others merely curious and/or eager to improve their English.  Also among the congregation was a young woman of 21, beautiful even by Malagasy standards (men-only note:  that’s a wow!), who had fallen into prostitution and had a baby about two years ago, when aged 19.  Matthew read one of the Scripture passages, and joined Patsy in the playing the guitar.  Sue and various Malagasy led Prayers of the People.  Before the sermon, Todd invited me forward to give a testimony.  This is the first time I’ve ever done such a thing!  I shared the story of how, as a teenager, questions as to the meaning of life and the basis of “right” and “wrong” led me eventually from nominal Christian belief to personal encounter with God and commitment to the Christian way. 
After the service we chatted with the students.  One passed his Baccalaureat (final exams at high school) aged 16, is now a first-year pre-medic, and founded a scout troop which in its first year of existence has risen to 80 young men with a sister group of about 40 young women.  So much is amazing here!

When the Wild Cat Washes Itself *

Simon and I joined Todd this morning (Saturday) at 6am to go the morning devotions in The Education Building (where the Church is meeting here at Andranomena).  The walk across the complex took us towards the sunrise over the hills.

It was a lovely, peaceful start to the day, punctuated solely by guidance from Antsa as we moved through silent individual periods of praise, Bible study, adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.  All the time encouraged by each others’ presence to take part in these reflections.

* The translation of “Misafo helika ny kary”  - the Malagasy for dawn.  

A Whale of a Time!

Well we have fallen behind, so prepare for a small flood!

Friday was our tourist day heading down for some whale watching and to visit the Spiny / Baobab Forest. We got up at 6am with the expectation of meeting our driver and translator who had been arranged by Patsy. Once they arrived though our translator (Alain who speaks French and English) related where we wanted to go to our driver, Regala (who only spoke Malagasi and a little French), and then our translator left. So off we go on an hour long drive through countryside we've never seen, with no phone, and on what could be described as sort of a road but is probably more accurately described in a collection of bumps you try to avoid.  The driver also had to avoid zebu carts, pedestrians, goats and people.

It was, of course, spectacular.  We traveled from the slightly urban town of Toliara, through quite an arid landscape, north along the coast to Ifaty with it's mangrove trees and the ocean. We arrived at the gorgeous Hotel Nautilus which sits right on the ocean, with a very pretty infinity pool facing straight out to the sea.

We hustled down and boarded a 25 ft motor boat with a two man crew and off we went. We had not realized that this was to be a private tour. We rode out at full speed for about a half an hour and then promptly stopped at sea, looking out at the waves. It was really a perfect day for it; relatively cool, not a cloud in the sky, and the ocean was smooth as glass.

We sat for about 15 minutes and were starting to wonder if this was all whale watching would really entail, just sitting and hoping, when we spotted our first whale. Our navigator called out and we gunned over to it. At first our sightings were spread out. When we did see something, it was only for a few seconds and then they were gone, but as the day progressed we got to travel along groups of them, or pods. At one point we travelled next to a pod of 6, who were continuously coming to the surface and spouting. It was a truly majestic experience. It's so soothing just watching these giant creatures ease through the water and lovely for us not to have to think about being somewhere else or doing something else as we were trapped on this boat for the next 3 hours. At times, the whales seemed to be floating on the surface enjoying the sun.  It was great listening to the noises the whales made as they spouted and swam.

There was one truly special moment in our time there.  We had just approached one whale and had been there for about a minute. It was straight in front of the hull of the boat and all five of us were watching, our family and the two men navigating, when this whale jumped clear out of the water, and spiraling splashed back down. We took many pictures Friday, but nobody was ready to get that one. It was perfect. We all just cheered and laughed and enjoyed getting to see something so special. The people we have told have said how lucky we are, which really makes me feel like this must not happen for many people. Truly a treat for us!

After we came back, we played on the beach, visited with the ghostly crabs and then headed off to the Spiny Forest. We were given a tour by a guide who spoke better English than any other Malagasy I had so far met and he told us all about the local plant life, showing us the Baobabs, the Flame trees and so much more. Apparently Madagascar does not have indigenous cacti despite all the thorny things we've seen growing. We did learn that the baobabs soak up water from it roots that have grown down about as deep as the tree is tall and that water is stored in its wide trunk. This is why so many of those trees are cut down; for people to drink from their fiberous insides. The oldest tree was 8 people around, I'm not sure how tall, and 1,200 years old! That tree is 4 times as old as the United States!

We also were shown native lizards, radiated tortoises and insects which I can't even figure out how to explain. Ask dad about the white lichen insects! It was really an incredible day and all without anyone who spoke English. A true adventure.

Veloma (Goodbye)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Babbs around the Baobabs

More to come when we're less tired, but meanwhile a photos from the Spiny Forest / Baobab Forest at Ifaty

This is the biggest and oldest (1200 years old, no that is not a typo) baobab tree at Ifaty, and takes 8 people to span it

So what did we do on Thursday...

Thursday morning, we had a tour of The Gathering Place with Antsa, a student evangelist in her 3rd and final year of training. 
We started in the meeting room above which Todd and Patsy live.  At one side is the chapel which StJtheL built from our capital campaign a few years back.  There is a sense of peace and the presence of God there. In the chapel, some of the quilts the group at StJtheL made are used as wall hangings.  Though the quilts weren’t designed with that use in mind, they are remarkably effective in that role.

Simon, Rev Hery & Antsa in the Bishop's Chapel
We then saw the spot where the cathedral will be built, and the training building currently used for services.  On Saturday we will be in and around that building leading up to 200 kids (gulp!!)
We took a look at the simple dormitory where Antsa lives (currently the only female in the 16 bunk beds), and the men’s dormitory nearby.
As we went around, Antsa took courage from our halting French and tried out her equally halting English.  (French is the language of high-school education here, though many do not progress that far.  So the more educated Malagasy are totally fluent speaking French.  English is learned as a foreign language at high-school, and almost all Malagasy who interact with tourists seem to have picked up some English one way or another though the amount varies widely.) The combo worked pretty well.  We asked her if she knew where she would serve when her training is complete.  She explained that she already serves in her future role, in Mitsinjo, a village about an hour away by bicycle pousse-pousse (ubiquitous rickshaw taxi). She goes there 4 days a week, once for pastoral visits, once for evangelism, once to prepare candidates for baptism or confirmation, and on Sunday  leads Sunday school, followed by leading a service at which she preaches and afterwards to.  The church was started a year ago with a visit by Bishop Todd and youth who had attended a youth convention in Toliara, but has been growing prolifically under Antsa.  It now has 150 people!  There have been 5-10 baptized and/or confirmed at each of several occasions in the year.  As if Antsa’s work at Mitsinjo weren’t enough to fill her time, she also has her studies and helps out in the diocesan office!  More From Mitsinjo will be baptised at St Lioka's Church in Ankilifaly on this coming Sunday. 
Antsa, this mighty person of God, we guess to be 20 years old, and five foot tall if that.

 Antsa and most of the Cathedral Complex, viewed from where the Cathedral will be built

In the afternoon, we went with Patsy and their housekeeper Jeanette into Toliara to withdraw cash, shop for groceries, and buy various items needed for our children’s sessions and Sue’s banner-making sessions.  This will add a boombox, a sewing machine and a steam iron to the diocese’s stock of equipment. The equipment costs totaled $216, which spent most of the various donations made to StJtheL for such purposes during our trip. Other money has gone on a hard drive for backing-up the Diocesan Windows 7 re-conditioned laptops , which were donated by members of StJtL.  Many thanks to Chuck Saunders for working hard for several days to get them cleaned up and running for us to bring out here.  And thanks be to God that the airline officials at Manchester airport did not ask how long we had owned the electrical equipment which we carried.  They normally do! 
As sunset approached, we drove to Ankilifaly, a slum area of town.  Ankilifaly is the starting place of the Episcopal church in Toliara.  We met the now elderly lay couple of Malagasy who, about 40 years ago, had begun the Episcopal church in the town simply by asking neighbors to join them to pray.
Given the prevailing poverty in southern Madagascar, a slum is desperately poor indeed.  Opposite where we parked in Ankilifaly, one home was a hut built of sticks and flimsily thatched, simply taking up what would otherwise have been the last few feet of the width of the very dusty sand track that passed for a street. The area of the hut?  Matthew and I guessed maybe 10ft by 7ft.    Extremely picturesque but squalid in the extreme, devoid of running water or sanitation, in no way rainproof, and offering no escape from the dust during the dry season.  Two blocks away is the tiny upstairs concrete apartment, nicknamed The Box, in which Todd and Patsy lived for their first 3 years in Toliara.  Small wonder that they are accepted and respected among the people, even though the residents of Ankilifaly would likely have only a very limited sense of what a sacrifice making a home in such a place would be for a US couple.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

And so our second day in Toliara begins!

I am feeling valiant, having survived showering and washing my hair in cold water – but at least here in The Gathering Place (Todd and Patsy’s home) we have running water, and toilets - not bucket baths and latrines (with or without doors and roofs). 

I am sitting on the balcony with Buddy – and as Bruce Mason told me he felt, feeling so much more alive than normal.  It is very hard to stay focused, as there are distracting unknown bird calls, herds of zebu and goats being taken by, and people wandering past, some carrying bundles on their heads.  I was overcome with tears of joy at finally being here.

The trials of the last two weeks before getting here are in the past.  As we prepared things seemed to keep on going wrong.  I could not sleep because my shoulders, knees, neck, wrists(and sometimes a hip and ankle) were all aching.  The two donated laptops were a great challenge to clean up and get working (many thanks to Chuck Saunders for being a knight-in shining armour and getting them to behave), then Simon’s  car’s warning lights all came on and the internet connection went down.  On the flight from America to Chicago I was gripped with fear about what we are about to do, and doubting that I could do it.

My joints are all happy again, the computers are still working and all the flights worked fine.  Then this morning, I was reading  in Tom Wright’s The Early Christian Letters for Everyone:  “When a Christian is tested it shows something real is happening. ….. But you wouldn’t be tested unless you were doing something serious.  Mechanics don’t test scrap metal; they test cars that are going to face tough conditions.  Those who follow Jesus are not simply supposed to survive.  They are supposed to count, to make a difference in the world.”  

Here’s hoping we will be able to make a difference for a short while in the lives of the people we meet here in Toliara, for they are going to make a difference to us.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Arrival from Simon's perspective

For several years Toliara has held a similar place in my mind that is occupied by Timbuctoo and Samarkand – known to be real but also mythically remote.  So it was a very strange experience to step onto the tarmac of its little airport, to read the greeting on the terminal building: “Tongasoa Toliara Bienvenue” (“welcome to Toliara” in Malagasy and French) and to know I had arrived in that semi-mythical place.
Todd and I took a ride from some friends of the McGregor’s to fetch Todd’s car so we could all reach The Gathering Place. Even that 10-minute ride showed many sights from the Africa of the imagination: herds of hump-backed longhorn “zebu” cattle; women carrying loads on their heads; rickshaws and carts pulled by zebu, bicycles, or men on foot between the shafts.   Then warm smiles of greeting from those who live and/or work at The Gathering Place – those who study to be evangelism or work in the diocesan office, or cook, or do odd jobs and keep a security eye open.
Todd, Patsy, Matthew and I had all traveled many thousands of miles at strange hours over the last several days. So today has been a light day of running errands and unpacking, followed by a drive through town to watch the sun go down over the ocean from the terrace of a hotel whose owner is a friend of Patsy’s.  

We've arrived!

Arrival from Sue's perspective:  We made it! We're here!  The idea of coming to visit Todd and Patsy has turned into actuality!  Everything went amazingly well with the journey - my brother arrived at my dad's home at 3am, and got us to Manchester airport safely.  Flight onward to Paris was on time, so we had plenty of time for quiche and soup and an excellent chocolate pistachio tart before our next flight, which took over an hour to board.  There were more than 600 passengers on it - at least Malagasy, French, Belgian, Swiss, Italian and a troop of Canadian scouts.  11.5 hours later we arrived slightly ahead of schedule in Antananarivo, where it took the best part of 2 hours to get visas and collect baggage.  Todd was waiting outside customs to great us and took us to Manga Guesthouse, where we slept from 1:30 to 4:10am before leaving for the next flight to Toliara.

After 4 trips through security for Simon (he had to go back outside to pay for the excess luggage on the internal flight) and finding the mislaid wallet, we successfully got on the flight to Toliara.  Everything went smoothly, and we had  delicious pains au raisins for breakfast on the flight (one of my favourite French pastries!  It has a custardy inside, as well as raisins and is like a Danish pastry without frosting).  All our luggage arrived safely in Toliara!  So we have all the supplies we need for the sessions we'll be leading.
When we arrived we were greeted by Buddy (Todd’s dog) at the gates to the complex and then the cook, guards, evangelists in training (and I forget the jobs of the other people) in a line-up reminiscent of Downton Abbey.  

Patsy, Matthew and I unpacked in Bishop Todd and Revd Patsy's lovely home, above the Diocesan offices and chapel, while Simon went with Todd to get a new battery for his pick-up truck, which they'd had to jump start earlier. ( Todd and Patsy had been away for 2 months).

 After a delicious lunch of rice and greens and ground (minced) beef (depending on your nationality) we all napped before setting off to see the sunset at the seaside.  
We have a couple of quiet days getting oriented before the first children’s session on Saturday morning.

It's now night-time and the geckos are talking to us, so I think it's bedtime. Photos will follow when we have adequate internet access to upload some

Thank you so much for your much-needed – and totally successful  - prayers so far. 


Thursday, July 10, 2014

The bags are nearly packed!

Thank you to everyone who donated pens, markers, pencils, crayons, erasers, rulers, chalks and so on!  I am so glad to have squeezed them all in.  There are going to be some delighted children when they get to use these!

 Thankfully we were also able to fit in the banners and kits, and the two donated Windows 7 laptops (which will be used in the Diocesan Office to replace the Windows XP computers that are currently in use).

We even have space for some clothes, sunscreen and mosquito repellent!

Almost ready to go!


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Yippee!! The Banners are Ready!

After many weeks of drawing, sewing and cutting, the banners are finally ready!! Hurrah!

In our second week, Matthew and I will be leading a two day workshop with around 50 ladies from the 7 Churches in Toliara, which has meant a lot of preparation to try to make this work smoothly. 

While we are leading this workshop, Simon will be working with Florette and Mamy to setup the Diocesan accounts in Quick Books.

We now have 2 kits prepared for each Church (i.e. 14 kits) - and 2 completed banners as examples for the ladies to see.

This first banner is based on the story in John chapter 4 of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan Woman, in the heat of the day at a well. We chose the rock and soil colours to be as close to that of the local soils  in the photos we have seen.  It will be interesting to know if we got it right!

Patsy had asked if the ladies could make banners showing the new Diocesan logo (the red Bishop's mitre, sun, baobab tree and text).  The date on the logo reflects the year the Diocese was formed. The style of cross is that used on the Evangelists' scarves.  The background is a much brighter colour than in this photograph. 

It took me most of a day to find ways to draw the logo (using a combination of Lace Design Software, Paint and Photoshop Elements!)  Then I had the fabric printed at Spoonflower - 4 mitres to a square metre(!), as this seemed the simplest way to get the logo and text on to a banner.

The new Diocesan Vision Statement is: "Mitombo, Mandroso ao amin' ny Kristy", which translates (roughly) to  "Move Forward & Progress in Christ". 

The final two banners are based on images on the Archdeacon's stoles:

Patsy has written a musical: "Life with God is a Time to Dance", which is what the Malagasy says on this banner, and we will be using this idea in the children's workshops.  More on that when I've written the lesson plan!!! Next challenge is to pack all of the fabrics in the suitcase...