Archive for July, 2009

Goodbye, South Africa

Date: Saturday, August 1, 2009

Time: 8:24am (South African time)

Location: Terminal A, Johannesburg International Airport

Outside, it’s drab, cold, and rainy—a prototypical winter day. I’ve been in South Africa for about twelve hours—enjoying the airport. I tried to sleep—unsuccessfully (someone actually stole my favored bench when I took a restroom break). This afternoon, I fly to Madagascar, my final destination. Here are a few random shots during my airport wanderings.

This is where I worked on my computer. The coffee was pretty good.

This is where I worked on my computer. The coffee was pretty good.

Part of the terminal. It was very nice and modern...and warm (thankfully).

Part of the terminal. It was very nice and modern...and warm (thankfully).

More of inside the terminal.

More of inside the terminal.

Outside the terminal it was not warm. It is winter in the southern hemisphere, and today, this area of South Africa is very cold and rainy.

Outside the terminal it was not warm. It is winter in the southern hemisphere, and today, this area of South Africa is very cold and rainy.

SouthAfricanAir

View from a lookout area.

View from a lookout area.

Lord willing, the next time I post, I will be in Madagascar..

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07 2009

Conversations with South Africans

Saturday: very early in the morning South African time (around 1am)

Location: a bench in the Johannesburg airport

I’ve been trying to sleep, but the stiff competition from jet lag and the blaring music on the PA system have forced me awake.

I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa for about seven hours ago. It’s winter here. My sandaled feet know it. Thankfully, the airport is a bit warmer than it is outside. I’m spending the night in the airport, and will leave for Madagascar on Saturday at 2:30pm in the afternoon.

I’ve been able to spend some time talking with several South Africans. First I was able to talk with a friendly immigration officer. When he heard that I was going to Madagascar for missionary work, he asked, “To spread the Word of God?”

“Yes,” I told him. “Do you know about the Word of God?”

Smiling, he answered that he did, and told me he believed in God. “In fact, every African believe in god. I believe that god created the world. But I believe in the ancestors, too.”

“Have you heard about Jesus?” I asked him.

“Yes, but the ancestors are so strong,” he told me. I urged him to find a Bible and read it.

“We learned about the Bible in school,” he told me. “But if I were to change my belief, my parents would be so angry.”

Standing in a line a while later, I asked another South African man all about his country, and got an insider’s scoop—from culture, to politics, sports, geography, racism, economy, crime, etc. He was very friendly, and I learned more about South Africa in those 45 minutes than I had in the whole of my life.

A bored policeman on his numbing night watch came by my bench a while ago to chat with me. At first he came by while I was talking on Skype with Keren. (He thought that Skype was pretty cool.) Later, when I was off he sat down for a bit of conversation. I shared a granola bar with him, and we began to talk…

“I believe in the ancestors very much,” he explained as our talk circled to spiritual things. And then he told me a story—a story of his father, his father’s death, the dreams he had, interpreting those dreams, the breaking of the tombstone, the cessation of the dreams, and how it all affected his life.

“Everything I do. Everything. It is all for my father. I want my father to be pleased. Everything that I do, I think, how can I please my father?” was how he explained his life philosophy.

“How do you know if your father is not pleased?” I asked him.

He looked away pensively and told me, “I don’t really know. But I can feel it. And sometimes I have dreams.”

I queried him on his beliefs, to learn all I could. For nearly an hour, he told me about his ancestor belief system, and how it affected his life.

When I began to tell this man of the rock-solid Word of God, he deliberately changed the subject of the conversation. He would not hear of the Gospel.

What I’ve found among the few people I’ve spoken with is that they are familiar with the story of Jesus, but their lives are controlled by the deep and age-old traditions of their ancestor’s spirits. Even though they are living in South Africa’s biggest, most modern city, the power of traditional religion pervades..

31

07 2009

An Early Departure

IMG_8279Just before church Wednesday night, we learned of a possible schedule conflict that would cause Daniel to miss his flight from South Africa to Madagascar. After a few phone calls to my sister following the service, we had the flight rescheduled for Thursday evening, instead of Friday evening. Ah, the adrenaline rush!

It was neat to see how God arranged our planning ahead of time so that we had taken care of most of the important details ahead of time. Details even down to Daniel’s choice to wash the car, change the oil, and cut the grass on Wednesday instead of Thursday; details that included Daniel’s preparation of collecting all the items he’d be taking with him and the shipped in items for some missionaries there. We had reserved Thursday to spend some time together as a family, and planned to spend time just enjoying our last day together. But God had other plans, and we had a wonderful trip down to Atlanta and the airport, in spite an earlier departure than we had originally planned.

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Flying standby can have disadvantages, but it also comes with a few perks. For Daniel, it meant a discounted ticket, and a last-minute move to first class. :) I’m praying he’ll be able to have a physically refreshing and spiritually profitable trip, as much as a 15-hour flight can be. We are so thankful for all the help that my sister Kelly and here husband Erik have been in helping us arrange our flights with Delta!

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As I write, Daniel is now in the air and should be arriving tomorrow evening in South Africa, Lord willing. We would appreciate your prayers as we are one step closer to what we believe will be a crucial step in discerning where in Madagscar God would eventually have us begin our ministry. We are thankful for the great encouragement we have had from so many praying friends and family, and now covet your prayer more than ever. Hana Kate and I would also appreciate prayer for God’s grace and strength while our daddy and beloved husband are away.

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Our pastor has been recently preaching on prayer preceding our Wednesday night prayer time, and preached a couple of weeks ago on perservering prayer. I was personally challenged to return to continuing in prayer for God to open the door for Hana Kate and I to also be able visit Madagascar during this survey trip. God has promised that He will not give his children stones when they ask for bread, or snakes when we ask for fish. But often we give up in our persistent prayer because we assume too quickly that it is not God’s will, when instead God desires our persistence in prayer. For now, though, the bread that God has clearly given to us is for us to be apart, at least for the present. Yet still, I will persist in prayer, knowing all the while that my gracious Father loves to give His children good gifts; and I will persist in accepting His good and perfect gifts as He sovereignly gives..

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07 2009

Praying for Safety and Other More Important Things

I promise that this blog won’t consist of merely my quoting from books and biographies. Although most of those guys are better worth your reading time, I will eventually post information about what I’m seeing and learning in Madagascar. That’s just a few days away. In the meantime, I want to share a few words from a book that I’ve been reading.

The title of the book is Crazy Love, written by a pastor named Francis Chan. Something he wrote made me think of a prayer request I often unthinkingly ask for during this trip. The excerpt below comes from a section called “Risk Takers” on page 131.

Haven’t we all prayed the following prayer? Lord, we pray for safety as we travel. We ask that no one gets hurt on this trip. Please keep everyone safe until we return. And bring us back safely. In Jesus name we pray, amen.

The exact wording may vary a bit, but that is the standard prayer we recite before leaving on mission trips, retreats, vacations, and business trips.

We are consumed by safety. Obsessed with it, actually. Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to pray for God’s protection, but I am questioning how we’ve made safety our highest priority. We’ve elevated safety to the neglect of whatever God’s best is, whatever would bring God the most glory, or whatever would accomplish His purposes in our lives and in the world.

Would you be willing to pray this prayer? God bring me closer to you during this trip, whatever it takes…

People who are obsessed with Jesus aren’t consumed with their personal safety and comfort above all else. Obsessed people care more about God’s kingdom…than their own lives being shielded from pain or distress.

(Until Friday, you can download the entire audio book for free from Christian Audio. It’s worth the few minutes you may snatch listening to it during a commute or exercise time. Obviously, the fact that God has used this book to convict and motivate me does not mean that I wholeheartedly agree with Francis Chan, Cornerstone Church, or the book. But you probably already knew that.).

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07 2009

Unreached People and Getting Around

MountaintopInMadagascar

Unreached People Groups

One of my goals during my 24-day visit is to survey some of the unreached people groups of Madagascar. Three tribes in particular stand out as most needy. I will attempt to visit rural villages of each of these people groups during my visit.

1.  Antakarana

Meaning: “People of the Rocks”

Population: 140,000

Location: northern tip of the island

Geography: extremely mountainous; dense wet forest

2. Antanosy

Meaning: “People of the Island”

Population: 513,000

Location: extreme south

Geography: mountain ridge, some dense rain forest and other arid regions

3.  Antandroy

Meaning: “People of the Thorns”

Population: 928,000

Location: south central region

Geography: desert

Much of this information comes from the a survey completed by the IMB (International Mission Board) of the SBC. They deserve a significant “thank you ” for their massive effort — an effort spread across several years and shared by dozens of believers — to “discover the tribes with the least amount of access to the gospel” in Madagascar. I constantly use for research, prayer, and reference, the 130-page document that they produced.

Infrastructure Challenges

MountainousMadagascar

Part of the difficulty in reaching these tribes is the lack of good roads. On Saturday, I spoke with a missionary who plans on moving in August to minister to the Antankarana people.  He described the roads in Madagascar as “the worst he’s seen in his entire life.” Since the traditional road trip may not be ideal, we will utilize other modes of transportation.

Helicopter: We plan on traveling north via helicopter, utilizing a missionary helicopter service whose goal is to bring the gospel to unreached areas. Because the north is so mountainous, many of these isolated villages are inaccessible by any other means than helicopter (or laborious and time-consuming hiking).

Airplane: I will fly to a city in the south (Fort Dauphin) that is equipped with an airport. The flight will put me within a reasonable driving distance of the Antandroy and Antanosy.

Taxi-brousse, dirt bike, oxcart, pirogue, or who-knows-what-else: The public transportation of choice is the taxi-brousse (literally: bush-taxi). Usually consisting of a vintage van or a retrofitted pickup, these can accommodate large numbers of people. No seat reservations, no amenities: just pile on. Motorcycle or dirt bike rentals are available in some places. Traveling with bikes is usually faster than a car or truck. Oxcarts are slow, but steady. Some Madagascar missionaries and/or explorers have used pirogues, hovercraft, or other means to find their way to out-of-the-way places along bodies of water. Obviously, we are not opposed to using our feet, but Madagascar is a big island.

Taxibrousse

Please Pray

Please pray for the lost and needy souls in Madagascar. Many have no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The ultimate objective of my survey trip is to prepare for long-term ministry among the unreached. Pray for our safety, success, and facility as we travel throughout the island..

27

07 2009

Guest Post by Hudson Taylor

Today, Hudson Taylor, has left a few words for the blog. This comes from The Collected Works of J. Hudson Taylor of the China Inland Mission, Dust & Ashes Publications. These quotations come from a sermon he preached at a missionary conference in 1900.

Beloved, you whose duty it is to remain at home, are equally sharers with those who go into the mission fields in this work; yours the responsibility; yours equally to share in the reward when Christ is glorified and His kingdom is everywhere made known.

The command was not given to a limited class; it was given to the whole Church, and we all have our share of the responsibility.

There is another method of preaching the gospel; believing it to be the power of God unto salvation; preaching it in the expectation that He who first brought light out of darkness can and will at once and instantaneously take the darkest heathen heart and create light within. That is the method that is successful.

We may well thank God that He has not left us a difficult service without providing us abundant power, adequate power and resources for its discharge for all time, even to the end of the world.

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24

07 2009

Guest Post by John Paton

Since I’m away for a few days, I asked John Paton if he wouldn’t mind leaving a guest post. He graciously obliged, thanks to his 524-page autobiography that he left behind in 1891. I realize that reading dusty quotes by dead guys is probably less thrilling than looking at your friend’s Facebook pictures.

However, all these quotations strike a theme, common in Paton, that I think is extremely relevant today. See if you can pick up on that theme, and ask yourself if Paton is right or wrong.

I clearly saw that all at home had free access to the Bible and the means of grace, with Gospel light shining all around them, while the poor Heathen were perishing, without even the chance of knowing all God’s love and mercy to men…Some retorted upon me, “There are Heathen at home; let us seek and save, first of all, the lost ones perishing at our doors.” This I felt to be most true and an appalling fact; but I unfailingly observed that those who made this retort neglected these Home Heathen themselves; and so the objection, as from them, lost all its power.

My heart often says within itself – when, when will men’s eyes at home be opened? When will the rich and the learned . . . renounce their shallow frivolities, and go to live amongst the poor, the ignorant, the outcast, and the lost, and write their eternal fame on the souls by them blessed and brought to the Savior? Those who have tasted this highest joy, “The joy of the Lord,” will never again ask – Is Life worth living? Life, any life, would be well spent, under any conceivable conditions, in bringing one human soul to konw and love and serve God and His Son, and thereby securing for yourself at least one temple where your name and memory would be held for ever and for ever in affectionate praise,–a regenerated Heart in Heaven. That fame will prove immortal when all the poems and monuments and pyramids of Earth have gone into dust.

What could not the Church accomplish if the educated and gifted Elders and others in Christian lands would set themselves thus to work for Jesus, to teach the ignorant, to protect the tempted, and to rescue the fallen.

Your own Towns and Villages are overmanned; why not resign your charges, and go to the millions of Heathendom?

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23

07 2009

How Many People Are There?

Lots of them.

Madagascar’s population is 20,653,556. Big numbers tend to lose real meaning in my mind sometimes, so are some comparisons to put that number into perspective.

  • Their population is not too far behind Australia’s (Australia’s population is  21,853,000).
  • Their population is higher than the population of any single U.S. state, except California and Texas.
  • Their population is higher than better-known countries like Greece, Sweden, Israel, Hong Kong, Cameroon, Zambia, and many more.
  • In fact, Madagascar’s population is the 57th-highest in the world (on a comprehensive list of 223 countries and territories).

Madagascar is growing…fast. The population growth rate is more than 3%, which is the 13th highest in the world (the U.S. has a population growth rate of .08%).  Average Malagasy moms have five kids.

Obviously, those are just numbers and boring statistics. But, whatever way you slice it, that’s a lot of people. The grim side of those numbers is that the vast majority of them are practicing animists, meaning that they worship animals, dead ancestors, and big trees, not the one true God.

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22

07 2009

How Big Is It Anyway?

VastLandsape

Until 2005, most Americans heard very little about Madagascar. Even today, two feature-length animation films later, singing lemurs and violent fossa are most of what comes to people’s minds at the mention of Madagascar. One common misunderstanding about the country is its size. Maybe this will help to put it in perspective:

  • Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in the world. Great Britain is number nine on the Biggest Island List.
  • Even though it is an “island,” please do not think “Hawaii.” This place makes Hawaii look like a sandbar. Madagascar is about 146 times bigger than the island of Hawaii.
  • From top to bottom, Madagascar is a little bit longer than 968 miles. That’s about the straight-line distance from Bismark, ND to Dallas, TX…or from New York City to Springfield, MO.
  • From east to west, Madagascar is as wide as 352 miles.
  • It’s twice as big as Arizona, the 6th largest state in the U.S.
  • It’s bigger than Spain, Germany, Japan, Iraq, Kenya, and Cameroon.
  • It’s the 46th largest country in the world (out of a list of 233 countries and territories)

More important than its geographical size is Madagascar’s population, something that I’ll write about later.

panorama.

21

07 2009

Destination Fort Dauphin: Confirmed

Bay at Tolanaro

Today, I was able to purchase tickets from Antananarivo, the capitol of Madagascar, to Fort Dauphin, a city located in the extreme south of the island. Fort Dauphin, alternately known as Tolanaro, Tolagnaro and Taolagnaro, is a regional capitol, recognized for its beauty and economic promise. On my return flight to Antananarivo, I will have a layover in Tulear, another city I wanted to visit.

Countryside near Fort Dauphin.

Countryside near Fort Dauphin.

I choose to visit and research Fort Dauphin for the following reasons: Read the rest of this entry →

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07 2009