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 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.