A new mom’s thoughts on bush trips

Tessa here. After our most recent trip, I wanted to chime in with some honest, but sort of disconnected, thoughts about our bush trips.

It’s been cool (read: challenging, at times terrifying, exhausting) to see how intensely Chyella’s development affects our bush trips, especially for me. One of our first family trips, back in July, was kind of a dream. C was still nursing, so I got to completely control her food options, and throughout the trip she miraculously napped against me twice a day out in the villages. It was pretty incredible.

But, as she was just crawling then, it was also tiring holding her most of the time. Dirt is everywhere in the bush, and the combination of her crawling and her putting everything (including her hands) in her mouth was just too much for me . . . so I held her above the dirt.

On a later trip, where I was still holding her a lot, I was sitting with a group of women, and they started whispering. I smiled and asked, “What are y’all talking about?” They responded, “Well, we’re just noticing that you don’t really put her on the ground much.”

I smiled apologetically, “Well, it’s just that she eats everything, and I don’t want her to eat dirt. What do you do with your kids?”

They answered, matter-of-factly—“Oh, we put them on the ground, they eat everything and then they get diarrhea.” Gotcha. Good to know.

Mobility has made a huge difference for C and I out in the bush. To be able to set her down and have her toddle off, where only her feet touch the ground, has been amazing! Still, though, there are new challenges. This most recent trip, I found myself sitting on a mat, talking with an old friend and a new one, looking for ways to get to know them and also turn the conversation to the Gospel. In the meantime, I’m scanning: She’s playing with dirt . . . ok. She’s playing with actual trash (piled up in front of where we’re sitting) . . . not so ok. She’s playing with dirt outside the potty . . . not good. She’s playing in a little pond . . . fine. She’s drinking the water in the pond . . . not good. She’s playing with a knife . . . definitely not good. She’s playing with a chicken . . . ok . . . and on and on and on. The idea of a playground—a clean one, with that fun, rubbery stuff under it, and nothing dangerous in sight, where I can sit more than 10 feet away and maybe have a real conversation . . . that’s such a nice idea.

One huge step of this last trip was in her communication. We’ve been doing signs with her, and on this trip I started trying to double the signs in English and in Malagasy. So, if someone hands her something, I prompt her to sign, “Thank you,” while saying, “Thank you, Misaotra!” This worked great! She caught on very quickly, and it also gave the women and even the kids we were playing with a way to communicate with her. She’s such an anomaly for them, but on this trip I actually got to watch her communicate, and that was a huge blessing to me!

This trip was also the first time Chyella actually played with the kids close to her age. In the past, older kids have “played” with her, taking care of her and being sweet to her. This time, a little boy and girl about two and three years old played with her. They climbed up on this big pile of sand, and Chyella climbed with them—jumping and plopping and screaming. It’s a strange thing to watch your baby becoming her own person—an amazing, beautiful thing.

I know our life would look much different if we actually lived out in this rural area. In some ways it seems like it would be easier . . . in some ways it would be much, much, much harder. I’m not actually sure we could do it. Either way, though, our churches and believers are growing, and we truly believe that they will continue to take the Gospel further out. Why would we step in and steal that from them? Why not come alongside them as we can and encourage and empower them? That’s the why, but the how—how do we encourage them? Are we coming alongside enough when we don’t live there? Do C and I have a role as a family there, or are visits enough? What is the point of the visit if I spend most of it watching her?

These are the tough questions we’re always asking. But we’re thankful for the time He gives, and trying to remain open to any changes He might lead us toward. In the meantime, thankfully, this whole thing is not about us at all. It’s about Him, what He’s doing in so many of His people here, and what He will do as we all continue to hope in Him.

9 thoughts on “A new mom’s thoughts on bush trips

  1. Hi Tessa. It’s good to hear from you. I’m so thankful you wrote so clearly about a topic which so many mothers of little ones on the mission field can relate to. The struggle is real and complex, as you stated so well. So many factors are at play; there is no definitive answer to it. Your questions are good and God will guide you and Nate in these things, like he does all other things. God’s work is often hidden from our eyes, yet I feel confident you and Chyella are an encouragement and influence beyond what you may think. Like mothers who wonder why they even go to village church with toddlers, it is a testimony of what we believe is important. We’re praying for God to continue the good work that He has begun among the Mahafaly and that your family will be blessed beyond measure to be a part of it. Grace and Pesce to you.


  2. Hey Tessa! Thanks so much for sharing. I’ve often wondered how you handled things with Chyella while you’re there and especially when ministering. I knew however you did it, you did it well and with grace. Thank you guys so much for the work you do and for faithfully allowing God to use you for His kingdom. We love and miss y’all!!

    Kim and Brian

    Sent from my iPhone



  3. Haha I’m so glad we have kids the same age and we are both in missions. I read your post and can totally resonate with what your saying. Today for instance a student was sharing with me things that she is dealing with and how God is speaking to her and I am trying to pay attention to what she is saying all while watching Cai’s play outside and climb things and run off. I kept having to say excuse me and go and redirect him and then try and come back to our conversation. I’m glad she was gracious and just picked up where she left off multiple times 🤣🤣. I will be praying for you friend it’s definately a new challenge and transistion. May the God of wisdom bestow it upon you and give you what you can do and should do in this season. You are a fantastic mother and wonderful friend. I miss u lots xoxoxo


    1. Kim, Thanks for chiming in! Yes, it’s always so encouraging to think of y’all working so hard in your ministry, and now with two little ones!! And thanks for this reminder that even with a nice, clean playground, uninterrupted conversations are unlikely for a mom of littles! Thanks for your example of tenacity and adaptability! Love and miss you guys too!


  4. Tessa, thank you so much for your honesty and vulnerability. I am so thankful for your faithfulness, and for opening my eyes to the world. I pray that God will continue to bless you in big and small ways and y’all will continue to be a blessing to the Malagasy people!

    From: Kim Neal [mailto:bkmsneal@yahoo.com]
    Sent: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 12:54 PM
    To: Bakers in Madagascar
    Cc: Neal, Brian K
    Subject: Re: [New post] A new mom’s thoughts on bush trips

    *** Exercise caution. This is an EXTERNAL email. DO NOT open attachments or click links from unknown senders or unexpected email. ***
    Hey Tessa!
    Thanks so much for sharing. I’ve often wondered how you handled things with Chyella while you’re there and especially when ministering. I knew however you did it, you did it well and with grace. Thank you guys so much for the work you do and for faithfully allowing God to use you for His kingdom. We love and miss y’all!!

    Kim and Brian
    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Tessa, I have imagined the difficulties that you face being a missionary mom taking a young child into the bush – or just in general. Thank you for being real with us so we can better pray for you. As for you wondering about the point of going and having to watch C so much – it’s about building relationships. Other moms there will surely identify with you as mom – even if their way of raising their kids is different. As they see you living life as a mom among them, they will surely see your dedication to them and be willing to connect on a deeper level. Part of me wishes you had a way to teach them about sanitation but I realize you are there as theological missionary – not as a healthcare worker! Another part of me thinks – C will have a great immune system! 🙂 Praying for C’s safety and for God to keep her free from injury, disease and general illness from what she’s exposed to. and for you to have wisdom to know when to worry, to scoop her up and when to let her go.


    1. Robin – Thanks for this encouragement! Your prayers mean so much! We actually have had some of our volunteers, especially from Southbridge, come out to teach on hydration, sanitation, first aid, etc., which has gone well! And at the same time, I think I’m learning from them to relax a little 😉 – you’re right, Chyella will have a great immune system, Lord willing! And you’re right, I’ve been so blessed by the different relationships with women, now being back as a wife and a mom–it’s been very special!


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