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!!