Mahafaly Bible Stories

My name is Traveller. I’m going to tell you a story. And the story I’m going to tell you is called Abraham’s Sacrifice, and it’s taken from the Holy Writings . . .

Abraham Sacrifices Isaac

It came true! What the Prince of Creation had spoken when he promised Abraham came true! Even though Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was old they had a son. His name was Isaac. There and with that, the Prince of Creation touched Abraham’s thoughts. The Prince said to Abraham, “Abraham! Take your son, of which you have not two and not three, and worship me. Go on, and I’ll show you the land and the mountain.”

“Ok,” said Abraham. So Abraham woke up the next morning and took his son, Isaac. He also took with them two younger boys. And they left.

So they went, and went. After three days, Abraham saw the mountain. And, you know, he thought, “That’s the mountain the Prince of Creation was talking about.” He said to the two young boys with them, “You boys stay here. We’re going, me and the child, on top of that mountain over there.”

“Ok,” said the one.

So they left, climbing and going up the mountain. When they had gone a little ways, Isaac said, “Um . . . Baba . . . Where’s the sheep we’re going to worship with? Only the knife, the wood, and the fire are here.”

“Uh-huh,” responded Abraham, “The Prince of Creation will see the sheep we’ll worship him with.”

So they went, and they climbed higher. And they arrived at the top of the mountain there. When they arrived there on top of the mountain, they constructed the place, the place they would make the sacrifice. After everything was done to do the sacrifice, the father seized his son and was about to slit his throat. Just when he was about to slit his throat, the Prince of Creation’s messenger spoke, “Abraham! Don’t kill the child. God sees that you believe and trust in his voice.”

Abraham turned with that, hearing a male sheep stuck in a small, thorny tree. And Abraham saw it. He untied Isaac and grabbed the sheep, placed him on top of that wood they had brought, slit its throat and worshipped The Prince of Creation.

And when all that was finished, the name that was given to that place was, “The Price of Creation will see.”

Afterward, the messenger spoke again, saying, “Abraham! The Prince of Creation has said to you, ‘He will make many, many, like the stars or the sand of the seashore, your offspring. The Prince will bless you, and you will be protected by the Prince.”

Then, with that, they went and got off the mountain, Abraham and Isaac. They met up with those two boys they had left below there. So they went back home together and arrived back in their village.

And that’s the story taken from the Holy Writings, the sacrifice Abraham made.

Things to Ponder: Hope

We recently did a food distribution here in our town through three of our local churches. In filling out our evaluation form afterward, the final question was something to the effect of: What other measurable spiritual benefits came from this project?  Nathan filled out most of the form, and I came behind him to fill in a few additional details. I was struck by his answer to this question. He wrote one word: hope.

This year has done a number on our hope. I think if you looked the whole world over, you would be hard-pressed to find one community not touched by COVID-19 . . . by sickness, death, loneliness, job loss, uncertainty, fear, upheaval, grief, anxiety. Where do we find hope in a time like this?

I’ve witnessed hope in the faithful lives of Malagasy believers. I want to share that hope with you. From 2017-2019, we worked through a series of stories from church history that emphasized different doctrines with the Mahafaly leaders. We started with the first church in Acts and followed along with stories up through today.

One week we were concerned as we prepared, because our topic was God’s sovereignty and suffering. From our own cultural perspective, we expected this topic to be tough. We wrestle with how a good, powerful God can allow suffering. We’re always asking, “Why?” In fact, we struggle with that question often personally here. We see significant suffering around us every day. Why? Why is life so hard here? Why is our life so much easier? How can I fix this suffering around me—make it stop! 

But when we taught through this lesson, the Mahafaly leaders didn’t bat an eye. The principle is basically that a loving God calls His people to suffer in a fallen world. When I’m confronted with this reality, I buck against it, either from one side or the other. Maybe God isn’t really loving. Or maybe He can’t really control my circumstances. Or there will be some “silver lining”—visible very soon, I’m sure—something that shows me WHY!!!

But our people here just aren’t asking those questions. They are following Christ faithfully. And they are suffering deeply. And these two things simply aren’t incongruent for them. One doesn’t threaten the other. I don’t have either the theoretical or the experiential framework for that, yet I see it over and over in the convicting testimonies of the believers here. 

I’m beginning to hear this conviction too from the testimonies of people of color in the United States. I have always assumed that our propensity to insulate ourselves from suffering is an “American” problem. But I am realizing that I can only speak as a white, American evangelical. I’m learning that right alongside the America I’ve experienced are communities of believers of color worshipping God through deep suffering on a daily basis. 

Please understand. I’m not denying that everyone in the world suffers—it’s a part of being human. Please, don’t hear me diminishing your personal experience of suffering. I know many of you reading this have experienced suffering unlike anything I’ve never known, and my heart aches for you. But God has been bringing specific stories of suffering and faith—from people of color in the United States—before Nathan and me over and over the last few months. I confess I was unaware of so, so much of what these brothers and sisters are facing. I’m committed to continue listening and learning, and to try, as much as I can, to weep with those who weep, whether here in Madagascar or there in the United States.

One of our local pastors here shared with us about the challenges they had faced as a family during the “confinement,” as it’s called here—the time when people were supposed to stay at home, churches were restricted from meeting, and travel was extremely limited due to COVID. He admitted that yes, things had been very hard. Then he continued, “But sometimes you forget how good God is, until you truly need him every day, like we do now.”  

“Sometimes we forget how good God is, until you truly need him every day, like we do now.”

Pastor Manentesoa

How have the challenges of this year helped us realize our true need for God? Every day? That’s the gift of suffering.

This year has been tough. I know it’s been hard on us. I know many of you have faced significant struggles. If you find your hope flagging, please take courage from communities practiced in suffering. Some of the circumstances we find ourselves in now, we probably never thought we would face. But even if . . . 

You’ve lost someone, there is hope.

You don’t feel confident in the future, there is hope.

You’re worried about you or someone you love getting sick, there is hope.

You’re separated from an elderly person you love, there is hope.

You don’t see anything getting better with the coming election, there is hope.

You’ve lost your job, there is hope.

You feel threatened, there is hope.

Because, as Ekemini Uwan says, 

“Hope is not an abstract concept. Hope is a person.”[1]

Ekemini Uwan, Truth’s Table Podcast

[1] “Truth’s Table Classroom: Why We Can’t Wait : Eschatology and BLM,” Truth’s Table podcast, 4 July 2020, recording from lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary, 2014.

Recipe Thursdays: Curry Vert

One of our favorite restaurants here in Toliara—the Blue—is owned by a German man. He and his team serve a delicious meal called Curry Vert, French for Green Curry. It’s yummy!! It’s a favorite for sure. 

When we were staying in due to COVID, we really missed this meal! I decided to tackle it myself! I needed green curry paste—you may be able to find some at your local grocery store! Here’s the paste recipe I found to make it from scratch. We were able to find most of these spices here, though not the galangal and not the kaffir lime. What is galangal, anyone? 

Then, this is the Thai green curry recipe I found to use for the whole meal—the green curry chicken with veggies and over rice. I love this recipe. The only thing I do differently is that I really don’t like touching raw chicken—even cutting it up! So I put the chicken in right after the oil, garlic, and paste and let it pan fry. I usually have to add more oil and some water, and keep turning it over. Small tenders works great for this. Then once the chicken is pan-fried I go on with the coconut milk and the rest of the recipe.

Enjoy!

Resource Spotlight: Undivided

If you’re part of the SBC you may be aware of the recent decisions of some to start calling themselves Great Commission Baptists. If you’re asking yourself, “Where did that come from?” or are just puzzled by the current cultural climate, particularly in the church, then I have some resources for you.

NAMB: Undivided

A friend just recently made me aware of an SBC effort to talk through several issues disturbing our society. As an international missionary constantly engaging in cultural issues here in Madagascar, I was stoked to hear that NAMB (our national baptist missionary sending branch) is trying to help people be on mission in American culture in this moment. I’ve found it really helpful just to hear the different voices as people seek to address what ails us from a biblical perspective. There are several sessions covering multiple topics but focusing on race and social engagement. Check out the trailer below.

History (American, Church, and otherwise)

So much of what I’m currently learning as pertains to current American moment comes back to not simply race, but history. We have Black History month as if that is somehow segregated from the rest of American history. It’s not. What some of us conceive of as one country is, as one of my black brothers pointed out, not United States but several “countries” of people with different versions of history. As a missionary, I would say we have to know these different versions of the story if we are going to engage people with the best story of Jesus.

Unfortunately, there is a version of the story that is pretty uncomfortable for the “American Church.” I put that in quotes, because what I have learned is that what I think of as the “American Church” is really a predominantly white church. I have been helped greatly by Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise. He does an admirable job of condensing the American Church’s timeline into an historical survey that brings out the heavy silence from the church on racism. Historically speaking, there would be no Black Churches, Asian Church, Hispanic Churches, etc. if it were not for white Christians who would not accept their brothers and sisters who did not look like them as equals.

If you doubt that, or think of the Church’s role in things like slavery as just an unfortunate incident, then please read the Appendix to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I am thankful I was taught to view Douglass as a heroic figure. Yet, I was never aware of his scalding words on the “American Church” and our version of Christianity:

. . . between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 95.

He goes on, and I would encourage you to read it. From the very beginning of American history and therefore the history of the church in America, we have been a double-minded and divided people.

I hope that resources like Undivided can help us course correct. But if we don’t engage with other resources like The Color of Compromise or aren’t aware of our own complicated history of complicity, there’s no way we’ll be able to talk to each other, let alone understand one another.

The Desolate

Desolation comes in many different forms:

A salesman in a crowded shopping mall

Ignored by all who pass.

A child playing in the hall

Unwanted and forlorn.

What creates the loner?

Deserted buildings?

Buzzing freeways?

Setting changes nothing.

Unwanted,

Shameful,

But curable on contact. 

Desolation is the human soul

Untouched.

Faithful Friends: Pastor Edia

This month, we want to introduce you to Pastor Edia. I (Tessa) first met Pastor Edia in 2010. He was a part of one of the first three story-crafting groups. He is Tanalana, one of the people groups of the southwest, and he was enthusiastic about studying God’s Word. At this time, Edia was not yet a pastor. Very quickly, he became the story-teller of that group. The group would work together to create Bible stories in their dialect, and once all were satisfied, Edia would tell the story for the recording. 

Edia and I worked together for three years, meeting with the group weekly to craft stories. Week after week, the group would debate specific words choices, meanings of words and concepts in Scripture. Sometimes Edia found himself surprised by what he found in Scripture—but whenever God’s Word was different than what he had believed, he submitted his heart to God’s Word. 

The group crafted over 45 stories, which God has used all over the southwest of the island. Edia answered God’s call to obedience in believer’s baptism. He answered God’s call to serve the Baptist church as a pastor. He has followed God’s call to seminary. He also has had the opportunity to teach around the island about the helpfulness of creating oral Bible stories in each dialect. Edia continues to be instrumental in God’s work all over the island. 

Pray for Edia. Pray that the seminary will be able to reopen and he’ll be able to complete his studies. Pray for the church and cell groups he serves here in Toliara, as he continues to disciple their leaders for when he’s gone. Pray for his ever-growing depth of knowledge of God’s Word. Pray for God’s guidance, protection, and provision on his life as he continues to follow God’s call. 

Things to Ponder: Chyella’s Concept of “English”

Our daughter Chyella is four. She is a huge talker. She goes to French preschool—or at least she did, before COVID-19. She also talks with Malagasy people as we visit them and go to church with them. She knows words in French and in Malagasy, and likes to practice. She has a category for the French language, and one for the Malagasy language. One day, we started talking about English. She learned a new word, and asked if it was a French word. No, I told her, it was just an English word that was new to her. She gave me a very puzzled look. 

C: Mommy, what’s English?

Me: You know, English. The language we speak here at home. What we speak all the time.

C: (still super puzzled) You mean French? 

Me: No—you practice French at school, and Malagasy at church. But English is most of what you know, everything we’re saying right now.

She shook her head. We repeated this conversation in some form or another for at least a week. She never got it. I’m not an early childhood development expert (if you are, please chime in! :), but I think I can imagine why she struggled with this concept. English is equivalent to just talking for her. It was a “does a fish know it’s wet?” moment for me. For Chyella, English is not a language to be learned or studied or practiced (as she does with French and Malagasy, because her exposure is more limited). It’s just talking. Removing herself from her daily speech to examine it is nearly impossible. 

I believe this same struggle is true for many of us who are white when we think about race in the United States. We’ve never examined our experience, stepped back from it and considered the role our race plays in it, because to us, our experience is the “American experience.” Race has nothing to do with it. We don’t even realize uniquely white elements of our experience. We don’t understand African-American struggles, but the depth and breadth of what we may be missing never occurs to us. We don’t often step back from our own and other Americans’ experience because we expect it to be our own. 

With the murders that have taken place in recent weeks and months—at least, those that have come to the attention of the news—and the protests that have followed, I have found myself in the midst of a powerful lesson. I’m humbled to admit that I haven’t learned this lesson before now, that I’m new to this conversation on racial injustice. When the protests and rioting started, I felt the impulse to reach out to African-American friends, to check on them and ask how they were doing. And then I realized—again, with shame—I hardly know any African Americans. Suddenly I realized—I don’t know anything about African Americans. How could I possibly, when I know so few?

Nathan and I are missionaries in Madagascar. We have the privilege of working among people who are culturally different than we are, and having many deep relationships with Malagasy people. We have worked for years on language learning and cultural observation. We have learned to enter every conversation with open ears and open minds, assuming throughout that we’re missing something, determined to reserve judgment and keep learning. That doesn’t mean we do this perfectly, but we have seen that regular and prolonged exposure to another culture has given us an incredible gift—we now know just how wrong it is possible for us to be. 

When we first came to Madagascar, we were enamored with the differences—it’s called the honeymoon phase on the culture shock continuums. Then, we developed some real relationships and found ourselves reveling in the similarities . . . this culture wasn’t so different after all! Humans are the same, the world over! Then, as time went on and language and culture comprehension grew, a deeper reality set in. We are different . . . very different in many ways. This is not a statement of value—different isn’t bad. But it is real. There are significant differences between American culture and Malagasy culture. If we ignore those, we will not be good missionaries. We will not share our message or our lives in ways that are meaningful here. We will miss huge swaths of what is happening around us. And the more we learn, the more we discover is missing or inadequate in our earlier understandings. The more we know, the more we know we don’t know.

This experience has changed the way we view life. We now have a growing instinct to listen first, learn first, expect to be wrong, expect to adapt. We are eternally grateful for the development of this learning muscle in our hearts and minds.  

And yet, here I am, failing to practice this discipline in my home culture. I’ve discovered a huge gap in my experience, a whole group of people I’ve lived alongside, yet ignored. And yet I’ve drawn conclusions, as if I could know. 

I’m determined to change this, to listen and learn intentionally to African American voices, to minority voices, especially those who are brothers and sisters in Christ. Even in beginning to listen, I’ve heard stories of suffering I can’t imagine—would not have thought possible. Romans 12:15 calls me to “weep with those who weep” . . . and yet I have brothers and sisters weeping and I’ve been oblivious to their needs. To friends of color who are reading this, I know you don’t need me . . . but I will be doing my best to learn to listen. To those of you who are white reading this, will you join me in learning? 

Recipe Thursdays: Lasary

Lots of times when visiting Malagasy families for a meal, friends have served us this delicious mixture of raw, chopped tomatoes, onions, carrots and cucumbers soaked in what tasted like a vinaigrette-style dressing. It’s delicious! And at the little hotel we where we stay near the Mahafaly villages, they serve this as a side along with French fries. You would be amazed how incredible double-fried French fries taste with tangy cucumbers and carrots spread on top. So good. 

Anyways, silly me, I assumed this salad was made simply by soaking the chopped veggies in vinegar. And I proceeded to do that and serve it to several Malagasy families. Poor them! As I’ve mentioned, my tolerance for sour is very high, but I’m sure the vinegar-only dish was a bit of a jolt for someone used to the real thing! Thankfully, a couple of dear Malagasy friends—Narindra and Chantal—helped me out. They explained that, no, actually the dressing is a combination of vinegar, salt, sugar and oil. And, no, the veggies really don’t need to be soaked overnight—oops, again!  

Now, thanks to Narindra’s and Chantal’s help, I believe I have nearly mastered the salad. Here’s what I do. Enjoy! 

– enough cucumbers peeled and thinly sliced to make 2-3 rows short-ways in a casserole dish (usually 2-3 small cucumbers)
– enough tomatoes sliced to make 2 rows (4 tomatoes)
– enough carrots peeled and grated for 2 rows (2 carrots)
– 2 small onions thinly sliced

Slice onions into a small bowl. 
Add 2 tsp salt, 1 TBS sugar, 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 TBS olive oil. Stir. Adjust to taste. Set aside for several hours.

Prepare other fruits and vegetables into a casserole dish. Refrigerate. 

After a few hours, stir onion mixture again and pour over other vegetables. You can serve immediately or refrigerate further.

Mahafaly Bible Stories: Abraham

Hello, 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.

First, madam and sirs, let me tell you that after the curse came in, Adam and Eve, well their relationship with God was severed. But God, you see, he still wanted the relationship with humanity. Yeah, so Adam and Eve sprouted and their tribes began to settle. Then, after this, you see, God chose one person to be in relationship with so that he could have humanity worship him again. The name of this person was Abraham. The story I’m about to tell you is about this guy, Abraham. 

“So,” says God, “Abraham, leave your lands, leave the lands of your father, your ancestral lands. You go and travel to a land I will give you. You will be blessed by me. Your offshoots will be made so many by me. Your fame will be made my me to be heard from the ground to the sky. Also rooted in you will be all the people on this earth that I go on to bless. 

Abraham says “Ok,” and he takes his wife and everything else he’s in charge of, his shepherds and all of his belongings. Abraham was seventy-five years old at this time.

So that was that. He left. Now let’s keep the story moving . . .

They made it to that land there. They explored all over that land. Then, once finished going all around the land, Abraham set up camp.

“So,” says God, “This right here is the land I’m gonna give to your offshoots.”

And with that, you see, Abraham thanked God.

So there Abraham was for a long while. But let’s keep the story moving . . .

“So,” says God, “Abraham! I’m gonna bless you. Don’t be scared. There still a lot of other big things I’m gonna give you.”

“Huh,” says Abraham, “And what exactly will I do with these good and great things you will give to me, me not even having any offspring? Are all these workers here going to inherit everything?”

“Oh no, says God, “You will beget a son who will be your heir. Those workers of yours won’t be your heirs. You go on outside.” Abraham went outside. “Now you look up above you and watch.” So, Abraham looked above him and watched. “Just like these myriad stars above you, I’ll make your offshoots many.”

Abraham trusted this pronouncement. And God also saw that Abraham trusted his pronouncement. And there was relationship between God and Abraham.

Resource Spotlight: Politics

Yep, be very afraid, we’re dipping into politics. We know we’re all thinking about it. How can we not with social media lit up with opinions and ire and a presidential election around the corner? I’m not looking to fan any fires: if anything I’d like to recommend a couple of resources that I hope will if anything dampen our sound and fury while helping us discern our role as Christians in this time.

Jonathan Leeman @ Downtown Church

Jonathan Leeman from Capital Hill Baptist and 9Marks ministries has four sessions on the Church and Politics. He covers the Church’s distinct perspective on politics as people who follow King Jesus. The church is an explicitly political organization because we follow a king, not a party, platform, or president . . . the king of kings. He also discusses how to get along as church members with differing political views and gives some advice on thinking through voting as part of our role in American politics.

We do not agree with everything Leeman says. In fact, though Leeman is very thoughtful, helpful, and non-incendiary, it struck me how very unfair it is for me to expect one voice (be that a person, pastor, pundit, organization, church, etc.) to give me all that I need to be faithful to God in the political arena or even just the upcoming election.

I am very grateful for how Leeman deals with both his political agency and authority in his local church with the appropriate gravitas and humility. What struck me, however, is how little we have these discussions around politics together as Christians. One man, like Leeman, cannot possibly educate us and give us enough discernment for the job of political engagement. We talk about the great gift and responsibility of voting. But if it’s such an honor, why don’t we do a better job of educating ourselves on how to do it well together as Christians?

I think that’s the unique contribution of the next organization I want to recommend . . .

The (&) Campaign

The (&) Campaign is a non-partisan political movement designed to clarify the Church’s voice in politics. That I am aware of, they have a website, a podcast, and a book (below) that just came out. I’m reading through the book right now and I have found it very practical. It’s called Compassion and Conviction because they are trying to bridge the partisan political gap between a lack of compassion from political conservatives in the Church and a lack of conviction from political progressives in the Church. The faithful way of political engagement for Christians, they argue, is both compassion and conviction, a middle way . . . or perhaps a politic that looks radically different than any current, partisan options.

For people in the States, they also have local chapters people can join to discuss and mobilize for political action. We are not in the States; we’re only able to learn from afar through the podcast and book. Still, I’m extremely grateful for a para-church organization doing just that: gathering and organizing churches to give us a forum for political discussion and action. Trying to address what ails our nation is so much bigger than just voting in November. The Church cannot be part of the solution until we listen to each other (especially those with very different perspectives) and mobilize in our local communities. Voting is a big part of that; but it’s so much more. I hope these resources help us work together to become the alternative society God has brought us together to be.