Sunday, July 20, 2014

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!

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