The Famine in Madagascar

For those who haven’t yet seen it, David Muir from ABC did a special on the famine in Madagascar. We can personally attest from our own experience the situation in Southern Madagascar has worsened throughout the last ten years. To hear it from the locals, rains were more frequent, dried-up rivers still running, and fields much more productive 20 to 30 years ago. Something has changed. What ABC captured is not just “political.” It also isn’t recent. Obviously it’s getting publicity because of the recent UN summit, but because this situation has been building for a while, the solution will also not be solved by bandaid aide or ideas.

In 2018, we had two days of rain in the South. Two days! Crops have failed year after year when the Malagasy plant their fields after the first rain only for them to burn up in the withering sun with no follow-up rains. COVID-19 just made things worse. The villages we know in the South had already come to depend on the supplemental food handed out by World Food Program, USAid, Red Cross, and many others working in Southern Madagascar. But as soon as COVID-19 hit, those Non-Profits pulled out. Only one or two returned. So, at the same time COVID-19 lockdowns restricted access to shipped-in food, the organizations who have been handing it out haven’t been handing out as much, leaving many, many villages to flounder.

We are not in any way experts in weather or climate change. From what we’ve seen, this is absolutely driven by deforestation and sudden weather changes in the past 10 years. The foreign food aide has helped, but it misses the need for water that only massive infrastructure development could help offset. Unfortunately, the reality of this drastic situation is that any solution will only be a drop in the bucket.

People are suffering and dying in Southern Madagascar, and no matter which way you slice it, we have a responsibility as humans, first, and especially as Christians, to do something about it.

Please pray for the Malagasy, especially the Mahafaly and Tandroy tribes that are most heavily affected by the drought and famine. Learn more about what caused this famine and how to help. Pray for the efforts of local, Malagasy churches who are working to get food to their churches in the middle of all this (one trip is scheduled for next week). And let’s ask God what our drop in the bucket should be.

New LMCO Video

Since Christmas will be here before you know it, we have our yearly Lottie Moon update:

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) is the yearly offering that Southern Baptist churches take up every year to support thousands of IMB missionaries (like us).

Thank you to all of you who support us and others like us!

Featured

Connecting to churches in America

Our new prayer card photo, complete with new baby, Tyndale Baker.

We’re here in the good ole U.S. of A and connecting with churches throughout the Southeast. Last week we were glad to be able to share what God is doing in Madagascar with First Baptist Fernandina. They asked us some questions about the work in an interview format, our first experience doing that and very cool.

Let us know if you’re interested in having us come visit your church and hear what God is doing in Madagascar! Our calendar is pretty full for the time being. We’re trying to get back to Mada sometime after the New Year, Lord willing and all the processes go smoothly. But feel free to let us know and we can start planning now for the next time we’re on this side of the world.

Recipe Thursdays: Coconut Cream Cake

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!!

Good luck, and enjoy! 

Mahafaly Bible Stories: Passover

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.

Passover

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.

That is story I am telling you.

Better gods

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.

Before and after comparison of cassava fields

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?”

Manoely

Recipe Thursdays: Guacamole

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. 

Enjoy!

Enlightened

Can you see through the space age
empirical blockade
we swallow like koolaide and die?
Reaching the moon we let go of the sun for nothing 
but comfortable living room sets.
 
Mechanical facade
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.

Friday Family Update – #alwayslate :)

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.

Resource Spotlight: Black History Month

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 Group to 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 Today article 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.org article discusses why it matters–the great loss to our organization and its impact around the world without more minority voices and leaders.

For our awareness and learning in this area, two books have also been very helpful in the last year: Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, and this collection of Southern Baptist pastors and professors writing specifically about the SBC’s history, Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention.

We have a lot to learn!