Thursday, August 4, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Home Again

Well, I'm back home. After a total of 30 hours of traveling (flight time and layover time), I finally made it back to Chicago. The first things I did were check email, open all my snail mail, and do the dishes. Then I took what was supposed to be an hour and a half "nap", and I ended up sleeping for 6 hours! I guess not sleeping on the airplane can do that to you. :) I had cereal for my first meal back in the states, and Giordano's pizza for the second! (I'd been looking forward to that pizza for weeks!)

So, how am I doing adjusting back to America? Here's some things I miss about Madagascar, and what I love about being back home.

What I miss about Madagascar:
1. My team. It's hard to believe that after five weeks, we were separated so quickly in the D.C. airport, without really getting the chance to say goodbye.
2. The missionaries and friends that we met while in Madagascar. Many thanks to the Zagamis and the Schafflers for all their help. Thanks to Betty for her amazing hospitality. Thanks to Mr. Rado and Mr. Samson for helping and befriending us. Thanks to Michelle and Hany for their friendship.
3. The slower pace of life. Even though we had schedules, it definitely felt more relaxed and less stressed than here in America.
4. Less options. Honestly, the only reason I had cereal for lunch when I first got home was because I was overwhelmed by all the options in my fridge! Sometimes having less options can be really helpful when you aren't in a decision-making mode.
5. Walking everywhere. Never thought I'd say this, but I really miss our long walks to get somewhere. Especially since there was so much beautiful nature to see while you were walking.
6. Rice and fish. Had it often. Miss it.

What I love about being home:
1. Family! I missed them so much, and it's been a blessing to see my Dad and Brother again. I'm still waiting to see Mom and sisters, since they are all away at camp.
2. Personal space on public transportation. Unlike the buses in Madagascar, there was plenty of room on the CTA coming home from the airport yesterday.
3. Wonderful showers! While we did have hot water in most cases in Madagascar, having a good showerhead with adequate pressure is a luxury we had to forego.
4. The food! It's no longer a Malagasy version of American food, but real American food! Yum!
5. Having a washer AND dryer. Clothes take less time when you are able to dry them in a machine.
6. Fast internet connection. I know it sounds lame, but it's so much easier to update this blog here.

Thank for all your prayers everyone! This trip was amazing. I'm still processing everything that happened. There are so many more stories to tell, pictures to show, and thoughts to process. As I now try to reflect on this trip, adjust back to America, and prepare for this upcoming school year, I'm in awe of God's faithfulness this summer and always. May you also recognize His faithfulness.

In Christ,

Monday, August 1, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Culture Notes, New Experiences, and Some Myths About Roosters

Tomorrow afternoon my team leaves Madagascar. It's so weird to think that this trip has come to an end. I thought I would share some more about our trip by presenting you with three different lists: culture notes, some new experiences of mine, and some myths about roosters.

Culture notes:
1. There's no such thing as personal space. It's not uncommon to fit five people on a seat meant for three on a public bus.
2. Cutting in front of people is not considered rude, nor is staring at people.
3. Women breast-feed in public. It's considered perfectly normal.
4. A matching athletic suit is considered "dressy" because it matches.
5. It's normal to see zebu in the middle of cities, even the capital of Tana. Also, chickens roam every single street.
6. There are no traffic signals or signs, so you basically cross the street whenever you can and hope that cars will stop.
7. Even if you order off of a menu, you never know what you're going to get.
8. Most people walk everywhere, although you don't normally see people jogging for fun/training.
9. Picnicking is very popular here; especially for dates.
10. Whistles, catcalls, and cries of "Bonjour Madame" are normal here.

My New Experiences:
1. Bargaining in another language
2. Malagasy facial mask
3. Swimming in the Indian Ocean
4. Sleeping with a mosquito net
5. Riding a pousse-pousse (a rickshaw)
6. Boarding an airplane from the outside, rather than from an inside terminal.
7. Tasting zebu meat, rabbit meat, octopus, crab, cabbage, jackfruit, and Madagascar sweet potato.

And finally, some myths about roosters.
1. They don't say "cock-a-doodle-doo." It's more like "cock-a-choke-choke."
2. They don't crow only at sunrise. They also crow at 2am, 5am, and all day long.
3. They are not plump, regal looking creatures. They're rather scrawny and ugly. If I were a hen, I wouldn't find them at all attractive. :)

I hope you've enjoyed following along with my adventure in Madagascar. I'll be writing an update from home in a couple of days to let you know how I'm adjusting back to the states. Thanks for all your prayers. I ask for continued prayer for our trip back to the states and for adjusting back to American culture.

In Christ,

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Sarodrano and Andasibe

Well, we're back in Tana for a couple of days before departing Madagascar. It's so hard to believe that we're already at the end of the trip. This past week we spent traveling mainly to two different places.

Sarodrano is a small fishing village on a sandy island that is about an hour and a half boatride south of Toliara. We spent about two days there with Pete Schaffler and his sons, Luke and Jojo. We stayed in small bungalows at this little hotel run by residents of the village. It was the most rustic place we've stayed, but it was incredibly fun. We spent two days relaxing and recuperating from the English club in Toliara. We went to a beautiful grotto to swim, and since we were staying right on the beach, we spent some time in the Indian ocean. Some of the highlights of our stay were the times we played with the local children. Some of the young girls sang in Malagasy and performed a little dance; I tried to follow along. I'm sure I looked ridiculous, but it was a lot of fun. I also really enjoyed the stars when we were there; with no electric lights and no trees, the starlit night is incredible to see.

The other half of the week we spent in a rainforest called Andasibe for debriefing. We stayed in a hotel right on the edge of the rainforest, from where we could hear the cries of the Indri lemurs. We did a four-hour hike in the rainforest, during which we got to see four different types of lemurs. We also did a nighthike during which we saw chameleons and nocturnal lemurs. During our stay we had individual and group debriefing with Daniel Zagami. We talked about what we've learned on the trip, how we thought the trip affected us, and what we are planning for the future. It was a very good, needed time for reflection and rest.

We will spend the next couple of days in Tana finishing up shopping, packing, and getting ready to go home. We might also get to go to a halfway house for troubled youth. Pray that the next couple days we will continue transitioning mentally and physically to return home.

In Christ,

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Teaching English and Getting Stuck in the Bathroom

This last week our English club in Toliara went really well. We started with 45 students on Monday and ended with 94 students on Friday! It was quite the experience; six of us teaching 94 students from all different age ranges. We had to pull out all of our creativity, flexibility, and patience to make it work. Most of our material was prepared for younger students, but our adult students went along with it really well and some of them were even helpful in teaching the other students. It was also nice to have adult students because we were able to have good conversations with them and learn some about their lives. As crazy/chaotic as it was, I'm really going to miss working with some of those students.

Teaching english to non-native speakers is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Not only are you unable to clarify concepts that may be difficult for them to grasp, but it is practically impossible to discipline students when you do not speak their language. Sometimes it helps when you have interpreters, but if children are not used to structure, they can get a little out of hand. And of course they chatter on around you in a different language, and it is frustrating for you when you can't understand them. Our students do enjoy it when we try to learn Malagasy. It shows them that we don't have all the answers, and that we can learn just as much from them as they can from us.

Now for a humorous bathroom story: We went to the restaurant of the hotel next door for dinner, and I needed to use the bathroom so I went in and closed the door. What I didn't realize was that there was no handle for the door and that the door latched when I shut it all the way. So I spent a couple minutes trying to pull the door open (although there wasn't much to hold onto except a broken lock and two tiny holes where the doorknob used to be). I didn't want to call for help because I didn't want people to know that I was stuck. After a while, I gave up my pride and banged on the door. Luckily, the girls heard me and came over. They laughed at the fact that I was stuck; until several of them tried kicking at the door and realized that I was legitimately stuck. Finally, Rachel ended up kicking the door as hard as she could several times in a row before it banged open. A metal piece from the doorframe broke off and the latch ended up scraping up the wall pretty well. Relieved that I was out, we all had a good laugh about it. :)

Next week we will be doing a lot of traveling to see some different things in Madagascar. First we will go down south of Toliara to a seaside fishing village to spend the night. Then after flying back to Tana we are going to spend two days at a rainforest. Please pray for safe travels and continued health as we go. (By the way, the Schaffler's friend is okay, he just lost his phone and no one could get ahold of him. Thanks for your prayers.)

In Christ,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Toliara

We flew out from Tana at 5:10am on Sunday morning. We were picked up at the airport by Pete Schaffler (Pete and Kara Schaffler are the AIM missionaries here) and after we settled into our hotel, he took us to the beach for a couple hours. I have now stepped foot in my third ocean, the Indian Ocean (technically, it is the Mozambique channel, but it's part of the Indian Ocean).

Our English clubs here are much different than in Tana and Antsirabe. Our youngest student is 9 years old, and our oldest student is 47; most of them are in their mid-twenties! At first I felt weird teaching them in this capacity; that is, most of our activities are geared toward children. However, we simply figured out how to change some things and make them more of use to adults, so it works out. It feels like here we can develop real relationships with our students because we are on more common ground concerning age. Several of them have asked us questions about our personal lives.

One of the most beautiful things is singing time with these students. It feels like we are truly worshipping together. The Malagasy have beautiful voices, and they seem to harmonize almost on instinct. One of our students even brought his guitar and plays along to the songs on it.

Thank you for all your prayers so far. I have kept in good health, and we've been able to find sufficient energy for each day (though by 9pm we're exhausted and ready for bed). Please continue to pray that God's message will be spread through our clubs. Also, we ask prayer for the AIM compound's night guard back in Tana; he lost his wife to cancer last week. Lastly, pray for a friend of the Schafflers who has gone missing here.

I'll try to write again soon!

In Christ,

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Antsirabe

Well, we just spent the last week in Antsirabe, a town about a 3-4 hour busride south of Tana.

We stayed at a guest house in the country run by a Swiss woman, Betty. Her house had wooden paneling on all the floors, walls, and ceilings, and was thankfully warmer than most cement houses here (and it is very cold in Antsirabe; like, October weather in the Midwest). Betty made us homemade European meals every night, with TONS of homemade bread, cheese, and peanut butter. We ate very well there! She was very sweet and hospitable, and we really enjoyed staying with her. She loved playing Scrabble, especially French scrabble!

To get to ML School (where we held the English clubs) we walked about 10 minutes on a red-dirt road to get to the bus station. We then took a bus into town and once we got off we walked about a block to get to the school. This week the English clubs went really well. The kids loved the crafts, songs, games, and skits. Their favorite song was "King Jesus is All," a repeating song that they would sing throughout the whole day. We split the children into three levels based on English ability. Rachel and I taught the intermediate level; we learned common English phrases of introduction, colors, feelings (and emotions), and family. During the club we enjoyed getting to know our interpreters, Mr. Samson and Mr. Rado (who owns the school), and Mr. Rado's wife, Miss Dina. They would always ask us questions about proper usage of English words and expressions. They were a lot of fun to be around, and a great help in crossing communication barriers with the kids.

While we were there we also taught two adult conversation classes. We were asked all kinds of questions about the United States, including some tricky religious and political questions. We were also able to teach a few concepts, such as the difference in pronunciation between "leave" and "live." It was a very good experience. They taught us a song in Malagasy:
Tia Zaza
Tia zaza
Ny Jesosinay
Lanitra nafoiny
Zaza notrotroiny
Tia Zaza
Tia zaza
Ny Jesosinay

It means Jesus loves the little children, Jesus came from heaven, Jesus loves the little children.

I'll leave you with one more story of the week. One day while we were riding on the bus, the song "God of this City" came on the radio (they play lots of English music here). I don't know why, but it struck me that this song was exactly true; our God is also the God of the people of Madagascar. Whether they know Him or not, He is still at work, He is still in charge, and He has great plans for this nation. It's very encouraging to realize His greatness when faced with the poverty we've been seeing. It's great to realize that He has a plan for each of the children to whome we ministered.

Tomorrow we leave for Toliara at 3am. Pray for rest tonight, continued health for the team, continued energy, continued creativity, and continued hearts of service for each other and for the Lord.

In Christ,

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Food, People, and Chameleons

Oksy, time for some stories of our first week in Madagascar.

First, the food. We've had some very interesting meals here. The first night we had pizza that had egg, shrimp, and some kind of meat on it. I thought it was I ended up eating most of the leftovers over the week. :) Typical Malagasy foods include a LOT of rice, which I love. You have to be careful when you eat the rice from the market; sometimes it has stones in it, so you have to bite down carefully! There's also lots of vegetables: tomatoes, green beans, carrots, some other stuff I don't know. The fruit that is very popular here is papaya, avacado, bananas, and pineapple. I've also tried jackfruit for the first time. It's REALLY good; it tastes like bubblegum and it is really sticky. Yesterday I had fish for lunch, which was delicious. While here we've gone to a Chinese restaurant, an Indian restaurant, and a Korean restaurant! So, we're getting a well-rounded food experience here.

Second, the people. I love the people here. They're very friendly; the children love to shout Bonjour when we are walking by because they think we are French. The buses are very crowded, but people help us pull out the foldable seats that go in the aisles. Every morning we walk about two miles to get to the school where we are teaching. I love this because we get to see so many people. We've also gone to the market several times, and I've gotten to the point where I am able to use simple enough vocabulary to buy things from the vendors. The people in Antananarivo are really more Asian-featured than African-featured. They tell us that they do not consider themselves "Africans", but they are a separate people with their own identity. People dress very Western here, at least in the city. Some of them are very helpful; like the vendor who helped my teammates practice counting in Malagasy.

Third, a story about chameleons. In the AIM compound where we are staying there are chameleons. We searched and searched for them for two days, but we couldn't find any. Then we asked the gardener, Solofo, to find one for us. Solofo is terrified of the chameleons, but he found one for us and was using a broom to bring it over to us. When the chameleon fell off of the broom, he dropped the broom and ran away screaming! It was hilarious! We were very thankful for him finding one for us, but he must have thought we were crazy to go so near the chameleons!

Tomorrow morning we leave very early for Antsirabe, where we have our second club. Pray that it will be as successful as the first and that we will be able to keep our energy up. Also pray for health, as three of the six of us have had a 24-hour sickness because of food. So far I've been okay, but I'm hoping to keep my health. Thanks for all your prayers and support!

In Christ,

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Antananarivo

Manaona! (Hello!) Greetings from Madagascar.

It's hard to believe that I've been here for almost a week. I don't even know where to begin, so I'll just start at the beginning (the very best place to start).

Our flight into Johannesburg, South Africa, took about fifteen hours. It was quite a long flight and I didn't sleep much more than two hours. In Johannesburg we had about a one and a half hour layover, most of which we spent going through security and just getting to our next plane. We met another Christian who was on his way to Tanzania, and it was really cool to be able to talk to him about missions. At our terminal there was a bus that took us to the airplane; it was the first time I'd ever gotten onto a plane outside rather than using one of those hallways into the airport.

After another three hour plane ride we got to Antananarivo (Tana), the capital of Madagascar. That night we met the AIM missionaries here in Tana, Daniel and Sarah Zagami (and their baby son, Orion). That night we had pizza with egg, shrimp, and ground beef on it. I thought it was delicious, but no one else did (I just finished the leftovers today). For the first couple of days we spent time touring Tana, having basic language lessons, getting to know each other and the Zagamis, and planning for the English clubs.

On Sunday we attended the Zagamis' church, which meets in a three-sided school garage. The fourth side has blankets strung across it to keep a semblance of warmth. The service was in Malagasy, but there was someone there to translate for us. Some of the songs were in English, and some in Malagasy, but once we learned the Malagasy vowel sounds we were able to sing along on the slower songs. They had a long discussion time about a passage in 1 John and we were able to participate in the English-speaking group.

The past three days we've been holding our English clubs. The children actually understand a lot more English than we thought they would, so it's really turned into more of a VBS with a little English lessons thrown in. So far we've taught that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, Jesus is the Living Water, and Jesus is Our Savior. We've been using Bible stories to illustrate these concepts (the Lost Sheep, the Woman at the Well, and the Prodigal Son). Every day we sing songs, hear a story, go over a memory verse, have small groups (during which we try to re-explain the story and teach basic English grammar), have a snack, and do crafts and games. I'm in charge of crafts, which is fun and also tests my creative ability with limited resources. It's been a lot of fun to get to know the kids and to play games with them every day. They love it when we play their version of "Red light, Green light," and "Catch tag" (freeze tag).

Being here has been an amazing experience, already. I have so many stories, but I'll just have to share those later! :)

Veluma! (Goodbye)


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: But First, New York

Well, my adventure has officially begun. Yesterday (June 27th) I flew into Newark, NJ, and then drove to AIM's headquarters in Pearl River, NY. I absolutely loved the flight, as I sat back and admired the beauty of God's creation as it shrunk away far below me. Lake Michigan looks like a gorgeous blue from the air. Even just being surrounded by the fluffy whiteness of clouds, I felt a sense of awe of God.

I met my other teammates (Rachel, Anna, Marlee, Tanya, and Meghan), as well as the people who work at the mission and other short-termers who are going to different places. We had supper together and my roommates and I (one of whom is a teacher and the other who is an education major) had a fascinating discussion about education. :)

Today we spent the entire day in workshops, learning about everything from culture shock, to travel details, to our Biblical purpose for why we are here, to budgeting, to defining culture. It was quite a full day. At the "farewell luncheon" I was one of those selected to give my testimony: a short less-than-three-minute telling of my name, where I was from, where I am going, when I accepted Christ, a Bible verse that God has used in my life, and prayer requests. It was neat to hear some of the other testimonies given.

Tomorrow we fly out very early in the morning. We will fly into South Africa, and from there to Madagascar. I don't know how often I will have internet access while I'm there, but I'll try to blog about my trip whenever I get the chance. So keep an eye out for updates! Thank you all for your prayers. I have an added prayer request: two days before coming here I got a cold, so I've been trying to deal with that while preparing to leave. It isn't too bad; I've just been coughing a lot, so I would appreciate your prayers.

I want to leave you all with the verse that I shared in my testimony:
Philippians 1:20b- "Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by my life or by my death."

May the Peace of God dwell in you richly,

Monday, April 25, 2011

God's Rainfall

You know what's beautiful? Rain. Rain is beautiful. Have you ever seen a raindrop just barely clinging to the bright green branch of a fir tree? Or maybe it hangs off of pink flower blossoms on a dogwood tree. Have you pondered the beauty of a raindrop? Or what about the sound of rain. A steady, comforting shhshshhh as it drips and falls. It reminds me of a whisper. A whisper of God. I see and hear God in the rain. In its beauty and in its comforting sounds. Rain makes grass and trees look really, have you ever looked at the grass while it's raining? Something about the shimmering water falling makes the grass look its greenest as its roots soak up new life brought by the rain.

Today I went for a walk in the rain. Not a walk to get anywhere, not a walk with a purpose, just a walk, a time for communion with God in His creation. After all, the same God who created the Sun also created the rain. So why is it that we appreciate and find joy in the sun, but not in the rain? Why do we find the sun more beautiful than the rain? When the sun comes out we rejoice and we want to go outside to enjoy it. Yet we cannot stand God's other gift, rain. We hurry to our destinations, hunched over, trying to avoid the raindrops instead of basking in the glories of God's creation. I find this interesting, and I ask myself, Why? Why do we place the sun on a pedestal but shrink from the rain? Why do we make such a distinction between two of God's gifts? I say, revel in the rain! Find joy in the rain! God is there in the rain just as He is in the sunshine. Laugh in the rain. Find God's presence in the rain. Look for God's mysteries in the rain. Look and listen for the beauty of rain. And maybe you will enjoy the rain as much as I did today.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sacred Singleness

"It is difficult enough to get among people, learn their language and customs, get acclimated and make all those emotional adjustments without adding the tremendous task of aligning to married experience. For the woman, it is even more difficult and there have been cases where family responsibility so absorbed the wife that she never has become a missionary, simply lacking time to make the social adjustment because of the multiplicity of domestic details." -Jim Elliot (quote from Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot)

Lately, I have been reading a lot of books on being content with whatever our relationship status may be (and for me, that is currently singleness). I have found that there are certain times when I am much easier about being single than other times. Living on a Christian campus where one cannot avoid couples even if one wishes too only adds to the challenge. Yet, I find myself quite content with my current condition, and have been realizing more and more lately that perhaps God is calling me to singleness for quite some time. Over and over I have been reading of the effectiveness of single missionaries, and since that is what I want to do with my life, maybe God has plans for me in the near future that do not include getting married. I will not pretend that I don't want to get married, it just seems that there is no time for a romantic relationship in my life right now. As I begin preparing for the mission field, I am glad that I am able to make decisions based on what I feel is God's calling in my life, whereas if I were in a relationship I would feel the need to consult my significant other in the making of those plans. Singleness is much simpler at this point in my life.

I am not a fan of the current trend among young Christian men and women to follow the pattern of the world in casual dating. I do not think that it is necessary for a young woman (or a young man) to have a string of relationships in their past, nor do I believe in jumping into a relationship without careful prayer and consideration. As Christians, we must become content with God's will for our lives, whether that includes marriage or not. Jumping after every chance to get into a relationship does not help us follow God's will, and brings more heartbreak than would otherwise be necessary. Jim and Elisabeth Elliot waited for six years before they sensed God's permission for them to marry. They were only married three years before he was killed. Are we willing to live with that kind of commitment to God's will?

I am not trying to offend anyone with this message, I'm simply trying to state that there is another option to the dating scene: waiting on God to direct our love story. The more I wait, the more I discover that perhaps God wants to use me in ways as a single woman that He wouldn't be able to were I married. And to anyone who is reading this, I ask that you consider this as well. What does God want for your romantic life? Are you focusing on your relationship with Him first before you focus on your relationship with the opposite sex? Does the romantic relationship that you are in keep you from focusing on God's plans for your life? Does it inhibit your willingness to go into all the world and preach the gospel?

Maybe you will dismiss this as the ramblings of a woman trying to find an excuse for her singleness. Well, that's your choice. All I know is that God has a purpose for every circumstance, whether single or not. And I want to choose to live for His purposes, not my own. Would it be hard to accept if God called me to an entire life of singleness? Yes. Would I accept it? Yes.


If you want to research further this idea of sacred singleness, here are some books I've been reading during my devotion time:

Sacred Singleness by Leslie Ludy
Authentic Beauty by Leslie Ludy
Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot
Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot by Elisabeth Elliot

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Greatest Commandment

Mark 12:28-30 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.'"

God's commandments are like a pyramid. The first, greatest, and most important commandment is the bottom layer that holds up the rest of God's commandments. If we obey this foundational commandment, we will naturally obey the rest of them. Yet this first commandment is also the most easily broken. Often we look at the commandments near the top of the pyramid (such as do not murder or do not commit adultery) and say, "I'm not a very bad person because I haven't done such and such." Yet, if we turned our view to the bottom of the pyramid, how many of us would find a cracked and broken foundation for our self-righteousness? We would find that we have broken the one commandment that is key to all others. And we have broken it often. So if we are to obey God's commandments, we must first learn how to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength; that is, with every fiber of our being, with all that we are.