Tessa always wanted to be a missionary and Nathan thanked God he wasn't. Now we're here in Madagascar, learning the fascinating stories of others and culture while storying through the most exciting story of all . . . God becoming a man to save the world!
Last Easter, we were at the start of what Madagascar called the “confinement” . . . the period where we here in Madagascar were supposed to stay in and limit contact with others. Churches weren’t allowed to meet, and shopping was limited to certain hours during the day. By comparison, the restrictions here were actually much less strict than in many other parts of the world.
Still, the constantly changing rules and the uncertainty were a bit overwhelming. The week of Easter, I decided, sort of spur-of-the-moment, that I would start a new baking tradition. Coconut cream cake, I determined, would be our Easter cake, effective immediately. We all have our coping mechanisms. Baking and creating new traditions is, apparently, mine.
I found this recipe and it was wonderful!! It’s a bit of work, but wow, it’s worth it!
Now, I made this a layer cake, and stacked and iced the layers, but I’m not going to lie, my icing just didn’t whip up properly. Could have been the heat, or my (lack of) patience, or that I didn’t have the mixing bowl or the cream cold enough . . . but it definitely fell short—flat—whatever. Still, it was delicious. I’m trying again this year, and I’m going to give the whipped topping and the layers another go. We’ll see if the outcome is improved!
Also, in case anyone is wondering, I did NOT try to make the beautiful buttercream roses that Sally, the original recipe creator, shows in her photos at the link above 😂 That’s way above my ability. But if you’re brave, give them a try!!
It’s me, the Traveler, and I have a story to tell you. It’s a story from a book of holy writings called the Bible. This book is a collection of many stories, and they have all been brought together to tell the whole story. It is the story of our ancestors, and our story. Let me tell it to you.
Now then, when Moses and Aaron had told the story of the Prince of Creation’s message to the tribe of Abraham there, they went also to the king there, that is the King of Egypt, you know, to tell the story of the Prince’s message.
So they, what they do at this point is the Prince had them bring many signs to do before this king. And even though they told the story the Prince of Creation’s message to the king, even though, there before the king, they did all those signs the Prince had them bring, the king resisted them and did not send the descendants of Abraham there to that other land.
So then at that point, the Prince spoke to Moses and Aaron, and says, “There this one sign I’m going to do, and that’s what’s going to get you out of this land here. So, tell those in the tribe of Abraham: All of you, get a male sheep, fat, one year old, and nothing wrong with it . . . every family, every house. And on the day that I come, you will kill this sheep. And his blood you will drip on the sides and over the top of your doorways. And then it’s meat, don’t eat raw but roasted. And you all eat it quickly; you’ll be going.
When I come in the night, that house with blood I’ll pass over, but those with no blood I will, instead, kill . . . the firstborn male animal and the firstborn male human. This is also a rite for you every year, every year: you will get a sheep, kill it, eat it together, have a party, and remember how I bought you back when you were slaves here in this land of Egypt.”
And so, you see, when this message was done concerning all these things, Moses and Aaron retold the story of the message to the tribe of Abraham there. And they did everything in keeping with what they had just retold to them.
So then, on the day of the Prince’s coming, when Prince of Creation came . . . at night, he passed over those houses with blood, but those with no blood he, instead, killed. At once, all the firstborn animals were dead in that land, and the firstborn human, up unto the firstborn of the king.
At that point, the king got summoned Moses and Aaron, saying, “Right now, right now, you all take the tribe of Abraham and get out of my land.”
Moses and Aaron took the tribe of Abraham there, immediately, left the land, and they were gone. And as they left, they were afraid. They had seen the enormous sign done by Prince of Creation to buy them back from slavery in the land of Egypt, so that they were able to travel to the land given by the Prince to Abraham. And they thanked the Prince, and they worshipped the Prince of Creation.
I did it again. It’s a new village, no one knows me; I let my local, dark-skinned, Malagasy teammates get out of the car before me . . . and it still takes me less than a minute to draw a crowd of about 50 of my new best friends. Only I find out as I approach the crowd and an older man starts yelling at me that we are not best friends. We’re not even on the level of Facebook friends.
I didn’t catch the first part of what he was saying. But as I walked up, I began to hear him. “Bonjour vazaha! Bonjour! What took you so long? Don’t you care about us? We all know you’re the only one who can save us. After all, you vazaha rule this world. You’re God’s righthand man.”
To which I responded, “Uh . . . how’s that, sir?”
From where we were standing it’s a bit of a surreal scene. We’re in an open field that sits higher up, so you can see a long way off, all the way to the waiting ocean, probably about 20k away. And as far as you can see, where there should be fields full of corn, cassava, and lentils . . . there is nothing. Absolutely nothing except sand and red, dead, land. The only living plants hanging on are the sparse trees and the cactus, and even they are beginning to wilt. It’s been over two years since even one drop of rain has fallen in these areas. Its a full-blown humanitarian crisis. Yet, from where we are standing, we can also see maybe around a thousand people milling around for market day. But what are they doing at market when there are no crops? In this growing desert, people have two options for survival: they are eating the fruit of the cactus they can find or family members making money in other towns are sending them money to buy imported products at market like rice and drinks. And so, as people slowly starve, scraping by on what is left and the cash their family can pull together, local sellers of imported goods and foreign companies make a little extra cash. Win, win.
But back to the old man. “You know, we pray to God,” he tells me. “But we know that you vazaha are his favorite children. And look! We pray for deliverance from this drought and famine and what happens? You visit us and bring us food!” As he says this he motions to the tracks of the dozens of white Land Cruisers and Hilux, just like the one I drove into town, delivering USAid-funded food to the surrounding villages. He’s not wrong. From his perspective, they prayed and people that look like me sent food.
“But, O princely one . . .” I say, which is how they refer to respected older men here, (I tried to see if Tessa would call me that but it hasn’t stuck yet) “It’s true that I am a vazaha and that my country has sent food to you. But we are both humans made to be God’s representatives. We are from the same ancestor . . . Adam.”
Let me pause and explain: vazaha is the word or title referring to foreigners, usually of European descent and usually those with light skin. That’s even easier to recognize because while there are local people of Arabic or Indo-Pakestani origin, they are not called vazaha. And, spoiler alert, being vazaha is one of the hardest parts of cross-cultural communication for anyone who is one here in Madagascar.
The old man wasn’t having it. “God did not make us the same. We have a saying here: vazaha Njanahary hita maso (foreigners are gods the eye can see). You are white and we are black. You are clean and we are dirty. He has blessed you with possessions and power. So we say we pray to God, but we pray to you vazaha. Because you are seated at the right-hand of God. So have mercy on us vazaha.”
I’m a missionary. I went on to share with the old man how there actually is a Man seated at the right-hand of God. He’s not white, but He is a foreigner, named Jesus, and He is God’s only perfect human representative. I told him, if there is anything different between us, it is that me, and the dark-skinned, Malagasy brothers with me, are covered in the blood of that Man, Jesus. His is the king of the world, and we serve him.
But I was haunted by his words as we got back into the Hilux and drove away. Not because I have never heard anything like that working here before. Oh no, much the contrary . . .
Vazaha are more powerful than Malagasy, immune to magic and Malagasy rules of society.
Vazaha are angels from heaven, which is why they’re so white.
Vazaha eat children. If a child does something bad they will be taken by a vazaha.
Vazaha do not have blood.
The Malagasy parable that says, “Biby ty vazaha” (vazaha are more creature than they are human).
These are just a few of the things I have heard said about me in particular, much less other vazaha. What exactly it means to be vazaha from a Malagasy perspective could fill up books. But recently, a profound irony dawned on me: during this time of COVID crisis and now, driving through the middle of drought-riddled fields, everyone was coming to me, and other vazaha, for help, not because I know the King of Creation, but because they do look at me as a kind of god.
I’m pretty sure that’s not what my pastors and seminary professors had in mind when they sent us here.
Can you believe it? I’m a missionary! My job is literally to help people turn away from false gods and lead them toward the God of gods and King of kings. . . Jesus. And here I was, inadvertently helping feed a mixed-up system of idol worship. Because, here in one of the world’s poorest countries exploited by world powers, I have so much influence, so much authority, so much power comparatively, that I’m viewed as a demi-god. And let me tell you–as someone who knows myself pretty well–that scares the stuffing out of me. Because while I do try, I often do not resemble the GodMan, Jesus. Often I do behave more like a white, capricious god from a land of abundance. Sometimes I do act as if I’m the one who’s supposed to save people here from all the troubles they bring to me. Sometimes I do act as if I’m the only one who knows Jesus here.
Lord have mercy.
When we pulled into the circle of huts, there was another white truck already there. A local agency was handing out food. The strange things was, as soon as we got there the NGO workers quickly wrapped things up and took off. We found out later that they are selling the aide in every village, so that the NGO workers are making a little extra off of every family they give to. These people who already have nothing are even exploited through food relief. It was only because a white American showed up that the food was suddenly given out with no further extortion. The workers were afraid that a USAid employee had actually shown up in that God-forsaken place to observe the distribution. Thankfully, they don’t know had badly they’re underestimating an American’s need for things like A/C!
We found our way to the small, wood hut where our friend was waiting. One of my long time friends, Manoely, is from this town, and had spent the last few days on his own out here delivering a little bit of food and sharing God’s good news in, as he put it, “afo be faharoe” (the second hell). I can tell he’s more emaciated than when we left him. Still, his smile and infectious laugh light up the little hut as he tells us what happening and connects with his sister who is hosting us.
I should have known it was coming. I’ve been here long enough to know better. As our team of four sits and chats with Manoely, his sister enters the hut with two sodas. “We don’t have much. But here’s a little something to quench your thirst. We would gladly give you some cold water, but all the well-water here has gone salty.”
Manuely elbows me, “She was going to give you some beer! That’s what the other pastors ask for here.” We all laugh.
This is Malagasy custom. Guests are always treated with the highest honor. But as we ask, we discover they bought the sodas at market for about a week’s wages. We debated giving the drinks back to them, but Manoely informed us that to do so would shame his sister. So we drank our very expensive soda. And while we did, large bowels of rice and bowls of quickly-cooked sheep meat were placed before us. The food that had just been given by God’s righthand representatives to their starving, third-world subjects had quickly been converted into an offering.
And so I sat there; my white, very human, very privileged self; eating relief rice and drinking soda bought with hard-earned money, preparing to get in my truck and quickly leave this village in the red, dead dust as I relax in the A/C. As I sat there, watching an emaciated, Malagasy brother and sister serve us their only sustenance as they laughed and leaned into one another, I just couldn’t help from thinking, “So who are the better gods, really? Which of us is really representing God?”
Avocados here in Madagascar are huge! And beautiful! We love that we can do homemade guacamole as long as avocados are in season.
I’d love to hear your recipes for guacamole, especially if you’re Hispanic and / or from anywhere where guacamole is a part of your home culture! I’m an amateur, but I love this tasty dip as a topping for taco night.
Here’s how I do it:
2-3 large avocados, mashed (set aside pits)
1 tomato, chopped fine
½ small onion, chopped fine
½ TBSP vinegar
½ TBSP olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup of sour cream (optional)
Just mix and mash all the ingredients together with a fork or spoon! My sis-in-law likes to add the sour cream (or we use plain yogurt here in Madagascar), and this addition definitely makes the guacamole creamier.
Can you see through the space age
we swallow like koolaide and die?
Reaching the moon we let go of the sun for nothing
but comfortable living room sets.
Wizard of Oz behind a steel curtain
shatters like glass and we cut ourselves
bleeding out on an IV leech,
bleaching our hearts into pure benign sterility.
Spongy butts and petrified brains―Man!
What a science fair we make.
But we're going places behind our great walls
and slowly dying behind them.
So we set our places and smile our faces
preparing our five course fine dining oasis.
All we need is candle light
to enjoy the progressing grey.
February is off to a great start! We’re still in the midst of hot season here, so trying to beat the heat and continuing to pray for rain for our area.
We’ve started a two-week training this week, welcoming leaders from across the southwest. Pray for this group as they learn and grow and serve!
Chyella is still loving school and loving on her friends there! We’re also enjoying a new children’s book in French each month through a subscription service the school runs. And, Jairus is walking!!! He’s super proud of himself as he wanders around the house! 🙂
Nathan and I are enjoying taking a class this month by Be the Bridge for white people wanting to learn about racial unity work. We’re learning a lot!
We just sent out our monthly update, so email me if you’d like to receive it. I’m attaching it here as well.
Chyella is still loving her French preschool! And we love it too–we love that she can make friends with children from many different places, and that she can learn a new language too! We also really enjoy doing “worksheeps” together at home on off-days, so this month we’re supplementing with some Black history month resources! If you have ideas or resources, please share as well!
Here are some fun animated Black History Stories as videos for preschool age. They’re from Goose Goose Duck YouTube channel, and it seems they have lots of fun videos I want to check out!
I was also able to download free printable coloring pages highlighting famous African-Americans on ScribbleFun. Looking forward to learning with Chyella many of these historical Americans’ stories this month! There are many other great resources–here’s a link to lots of ideas–but most of these are for older kids than preschool.
Our organization has also created an app to share new initiatives and current stories of what God is doing around the world. This app has been promoted through many of our SBC churches–feel free to download it here. A few months ago, our organization partnered with Barna Research Groupto do a study on the Future of Missions. Barna and others then shared much of what was learned through the app. This month, starting February 7th, our organization is highlighting many stories of African-American missionaries who have served around the world and throughout history, including some children’s resources! Check out these stories through the app!
We’re so grateful for these initiatives and look forward to learning a lot this month–both with Chyella and ourselves as adults! At the same time, as a couple, we have also learned a lot this past year about the racism in our history in the SBC, and, honestly, in our own hearts. We absolutely want to celebrate the contributions of African-Americans to our denomination and organization, and any progress we are making toward greater racial equity. But we also want to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go. This Christianity Todayarticle talks about the low numbers of African-American and other minorities serving as missionaries with our organization, compared to the numbers of those minorities in our Southern Baptist churches. This IMB.orgarticle discusses why it matters–the great loss to our organization and its impact around the world without more minority voices and leaders.
Each month we want to highlight Malagasy believers serving Christ across the island! We are so blessed to know, learn from, and pray for these friends.
This month, meet Grace and Lalaina. I (Tessa) first met Grace when I came to Madagascar in 2008. She and her family were part of the Malagasy Baptist church I went to. She has a unique kindness and sense of humor—she is a natural big sister to a big, fun family, and carries that spirit with her into other relationships—she definitely was always like a big sister to me as I tried to learn language, understand culture, and make friends. Her husband Lalaina is a gifted minister and leader for his family and the churches he serves. They have three beautiful children that Grace is homeschooling.
Grace and Lalaina have always had a passion for missions. In the last few years, this passion has honed into a unique vision for care for other local missionaries and pastors and their families. Grace and Lalaina have pursued this vision through creating their ministry: Salanitra. Salanitra provides a place for ministers, missionaries and their families to come for retreat, counseling, sabbatical and vacation. They have a center with accommodations. They also provide care as needed for those who come. All of this is provided free-of-cost, as much as ministry funds allow, to pastors and missionaries who visit. In addition, their center is working toward being self-sustaining both in terms of food and energy. They are working on a farm on the property—they have chickens and geese right now—toward this goal; they’re hoping to branch into more livestock soon.
Please join us in lifting up this family with their heart and efforts to serve the Malagasy and the global church in this way! Here are some specific ways you can be praying for them:
Pray for Grace and the kids as they homeschool—this is a big challenge!
Pray for Grace’s health—she’s currently seeking some treatment in another part of the island.
Pray for the Salanitra center as they are having a problem with their water supply. This problem, in turn, affects their farming and efforts to reach self-sustainability in food and energy.
Many families already want to come for retreat, but space and funding is limited. Pray for the provisions and scheduling for these missionaries and pastors seeking rest, care, and refreshment.
Pray for Grace and Lalaina and their family to have patience and wisdom for each challenge that arises.
Hello, it’s me again, the Traveler, and I have a story to tell you. It’s a story from a book of holy writings called the Bible. This book is a collection of many stories, and they have all been brought together to tell the whole story. It is the story of our ancestors, and our story. Let me tell it to you.
This story is called, The Calling of Moses . . .
The Calling of Moses
It came true what the Prince of Creation had said to Abraham: those from Abraham’s heart, his tribe, settled and grew. But, these from the tribe of Abraham, at that point, did not stay in the land given to Abraham by the Prince. Instead, the settled in a land inhabited by other people. And they suffered in that land, enslaved and suffering badly. Just then, the Prince of Creation made a plan to take them from there, leave that place, and finally go home to the land given to Abraham. So he chose someone, one person, to lead them there. Moses is the name of this person.
So there was Moses. Then one day, Moses went to shepherd out there. So there he was out there, shepherding. And when he was out there, he saw a bush in flames! But the bush did not make any ashes, it did not turn to ash at all! So befuddled by all this was Moses, he went and visited this bush.
A voice, then, spoke from out of that fire there, “Mosesy! Mosesy! Slip out of your cow-hides there. This is holy ground.”
Moses took off his cow-hide sandals. Moses got closer to the plant. Again, there was a voice, “Mosesy! You’re going to be sent by me. You will go to the land of Egypt where the lineage of Abraham is suffering. They are ensalved by that land. And you will lead them to get them out of there, to not be there anyone. And you will lead them to the land I gave to their ancestor . . . that’s Abraham.
“Aha,” said Moses. “Look, I, even though you’re sending me to go there, those people don’t miss the sound of my voice. They won’t take me seriously, but this is what they’ll say, “Hey! What God and from where said all this to this guy? I’m a person who doesn’t know how to talk. So you just pick another person.”
“Aha,” said this voice. “You look, I am the Prince of Creation who is said to have always been from ages past. That’s me. I am the Prince of your ancestors. Abraham’s God. Isaac’s God. And if you speak this, my name, to them they will be afraid and they will believe what you say. All this that you’ve said, like, ‘I don’t know how to talk.’ Look, I made the mouth. And I will put want I want to say in that mouth of yours, and the same thing will be done to the mouth of your brother, Aaron. You two guys are gonna go over there. “You all,” said the Prince, “I will be send with three signs.”
So then, after all that, Moses left and met with his brother, Aaron, took him with him and the two guys went there. And when they arrived there in that town, they gathered the tribe of Abraham there. They told them the story of what God had said, how he would get them out of that land, and go to the land the Prince had given to Abraham. And, they also did there, those three signs. After that, the tribe of Abraham was good and scared and they believed the Prince and trusted Moses.
Then, the tribe of Abraham was happy and thanked the Prince and they were saying, “Would you look at that! God sees our suffering and he’s gonna get us out of this suffering to the land there that he gave our ancestor Abraham.
And that is the story taken from the holy writings, and it’s all true.
Let’s start off the year of recipes with one of our family favorites: homemade tortillas!!
When I was in college (and arrived in Madagascar), I could make a very limited repertoire of meals. Noodles with red sauce (from a jar), scrambled eggs, grilled cheese . . . honestly that was about it.
Thankfully, some sweet American ladies living in Madagascar started teaching me how to cook. One was Kristi, and this is her tortilla recipe.
all-purpose flour – 2 cups
oil – ¼ cup
salt – 1 tsp
warm water – 2/3 cup (as needed)
Mix flour, salt, and oil in a large bowl with a fork. Add water slowly, stirring with a fork, then with one hand. Water should be warm—not hot or cold. When the dough is ready, it will pull together away from the sides into a ball. Be careful not to add too much water. Do not overmix.
Once dough is in one ball, divide into smaller, golf-ball-sized balls. Begin heating a non-stick pan on the stove. Roll out each ball (or use a tortilla press!). Cook tortillas one by one in the hot pan, flipping, until small brown spots appear on each side. Tortillas are especially good / ready / right if they blow up with big bubbles. Serve warm.
This quickly became one of my weekly staples. When Nathan and I got married after we moved back to the USA, I tried to switch to store-bought tortillas. Nathan came home from work one night, and I had fixed tacos and heated tortillas from the grocery store. When he saw them, Nathan’s face fell. He asked me, “You just didn’t have time to make the homemade ones?” I explained that the ones from the store are a lot easier. “But I’m sure it’s cheaper to make them yourself,” he suggested.
I laughed–“Not really! This pack of 30 is about three dollars!” But Nathan was just so sad about it–and let’s face it, the homemade ones are delicious!–so I always made our own after that 😉 And then my sister-in-law blessed me with an electric tortilla press . . . definitely made the process faster and cleaner!
Enjoy this recipe y’all! Fix ground beef or chicken with your favorite spices, chop up some fresh veggies for salsa and guacamole, grate some cheese, and put out a large container of sour cream . . . yum! Have fun!