Part of what we are doing right now is crafting and translating stories from church history into the Mahafaly dialect. We want to connect them to what God has been doing through the church through the years. We are now working through the story of William Carey, the so-called father of modern missions.
There were a couple of insights from that session I wanted to share with you. In the story, we pointed out that Carey was poor but taught himself constantly in order to be a better missionary. The word “mission” we ended up translating in Malagasy as “God’s work to be done.” Basically, because there was work to be done, Carey, despite his poverty was doing what needed to be done in order to do God’s work still to be done.
But our Mahafaly partner and friend, Edia, raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean he was poor?” I went on to describe that Carey was bi-vocational, working for free as a pastor and making his money as a cobbler. He also struggled to put food on the table, did not have ongoing educational opportunities, and often sacrificed food, clothes or other belongings if he wanted to buy a new book. I already knew it was coming as the words left my mouth. What I had just described was almost everyone’s life here. Edia said, “Carey wasn’t poor. He was just suffering. People here say every day, ‘Yeah, I’m suffering, but I’m not poor.'”
(Turns out, the word for “poor” here is better translated for us as “beggar,” someone who is no longer working but solely depending on others for survival. The “poor” or “beggars” here are very different. Almost all are physically or mentally handicapped. Everyone else is only suffering.)
That is one of the greatest lessons I, personally, have taken from our time here: Everyone suffers. We forget, having built our lives around comfort, that we live in a dying world, where most struggle to survive, and all of us suffer. It’s been that way since we fell from grace.
But even by their own standards, the South is suffering badly. The rains have come less and less over the past five years. Now, the Mahafaly are in a crushing drought. They are facing a year in which none of their crops produced. The only food right now is coming from a crop harvested a couple years ago in another area of the south. Therefore, stale, old cassava (from another area, from another year) is their only food source at the market now. What happens when that runs out? In times past they have harvested food from the forest. But deforestation and a slowly intensifying drought (linked to said deforestation) have also drained the dwindling forest.
This year, US Aid invested $4.3 million for 1,870 metric tons of food to help the South. That’s after pouring $39 million into the Southern drought crisis since 2015. Recently, we heard the story of a young, single mother. Her joke of a husband left her and their young child to find a better life. Having no food and no husband to get any food, she cooked the only thing she could–tree leaves. It is a huge problem we are constantly trying comprehend and help address. It is a new level of suffering for the Mahafaly.
And yet, just like Carey, the Mahafaly are doing what needs to be done in order to do God’s work still to be done. That young mother was helped by one of our churches (and God provided for her). Even as some move away to find work, they take the gospel with them. More churches and more Bible studies continue to be started. Leaders continue to go on empty stomachs and teach those new in the faith. Are they worried? Yes. Do they understand why this is happening? No. Do they even doubt God’s plan? Oh yes. But they learned a long time ago–and not from us–that suffering is inevitable but survival is a choice.
Please, do not misunderstand, the Mahafaly are not victims. The believers here struggle to be sure, but they do believe God has a plan to turn this evil for their good. And they work hard to do his work. They can’t stop the drought; none of us can. But they believe what God has said: There is beautiful new world coming back with Jesus, free of all suffering. And in the meantime, there is God’s work still to be done in making sure everyone knows about that–that everyone who will can be there.