– Newsletter Vol. 4

Greetings again. I hope all is well and the weather in America is starting to warm up. Thankfully it is starting to cool down a little here, at least I think so. Some of students wear sweatshirts in the morning and evening. I think it just getting comfortable, but to each their own.

Here at Fihaonana we just started the final term of the year so the students only have a couple of months left until their graduation. Sadly I will miss this since I’ll already be gone by that time. But the fun part is that now we started planting our own garden which, I am happy to report, is doing great! Its also been spring cleaning over Easter break. What does that mean? In true Fihaonana style, they usually clean out the storage area, redo the roof of the barn, hunt down the rats, and also triage the animals to see which chickens can still lay eggs which one can’t. We then sell them off with pigs, cows, and other animals that are no longer producing. That’s the way it goes here at Fihaonana. The good part of all this is that we will get a lot of chicks and other baby animals. After helping midwife during a cow birth, I finish off the circle of life for all the animals on these farm from life to death. It is safe to say that I have gotten some basic skills in animal husbandry.

Whereas before the question of teacher and student was did I work on a farm in America, now it is will I start a farm in the American after all I have learned here. My answer: no, but I will have a nice garden and maybe some animals someday. I tell them that farming in the US and Madagascar is very different. I have limited farming experience in America but I feel I can say that they are different in big ways. They are similar to each other in that they are proud of the hard work that farming is in both countries, but different when talking about field and crop size. Back home having fields of corn as far as the eye can see with seemingly endless rows of corn, here they have similar fields for rice but not as vast as Iowa or Illinois corn fields. But I finally got to show them when I got an Iowa picture book from my church’s 5th and 6th grade class. I showed the students the endless fields of corn, and snow. Many of the students and teachers think Iowa is beautiful place to which I agree. The students think we are crazy to live where it snows. But the question that came up when I first arrived here now echoes in a different way.

That question is: is it harder to live in America or in Madagascar? My answer: it is just different. It is hard to compare places and compare the struggles of each of these places. That was the question asked a lot to me by several students. A question asked by some of the teachers is when will Madagascar look like this? To which I have no answer. They don’t mean when will Madagascar look like Iowa, but rather, when will Madagascar progress on of the place it in now. Some teachers add on “when will it be like the US?” This I cant respond to either. Some people would criticize the word “progress,” and that if the US is progressing then why would they want that. Saying that country or place will risk losing it’s identity and culture when progressing to other places ideal of progress. But to unpack that a little, what then do we mean by progress anyway? I think it is important to never think that anything is going to be perfectly right or a hundred percent just in the world. Rather, progress means moving toward making things better, not prefect. It is fruitless to go for perfect. In that regard we all can help in the terms of progress.

The idea of a country asking these questions is not about losing it’s identity or culture, as might the fear in Globalization or Westernization, but rather, asking when will Madagascar have things like clean water, power, less corruption and larger farms so Maylasgasly can have plenty of food. These things are major goals of progress which is what they mean when saying “when will they be like the US?” Its never getting rid of the idea that progress in culture is an ongoing thing. That culture is never a stagnant of something that is lost but change by the people living in the country mostly and also outside force. The hope is the outside forces don’t hurt but help. It sounds simple to say of course–help not hurt–but in truth its never an easy answer. In many ways I now know how complex the trying to help not hurt question is, but I’m still learning everyday what that means.  For me it helps to know that no matter what I do I won’t fix the world and I won’t be perfect, but trying and reflecting is key. Seeing how my actions both help and harm, but I can never know the full answer.  The one thing that makes my work with Fihaonana interesting is the school activities trying to change the culture and forge progress in the students to want a better Madagascar. The way in which the school advocates change in culture is with sustainable farming techniques as well as in many other ways. I am proud to be apart of that attempt to change Madagascar for the better and doing it the Malagasy way.

((Pictures will be posted soon – check for updates)

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Living Water

Hello from Madagascar! I hope all is will with you all back home. Here it has been both good and hard at times. But what is life but a mix of both good and bad? The last couple of weeks I have been given my own piece of land to grow my own food on along with the students. The teachers hope I can grow food and then sell my food in the market. It will be funny to have a stand in the same market where I buy food every week. Also this last weekend all the workers and teachers got to cool off at the beach were we had social event. Half the day was fun in the sun and the other half was business talk. I was not a part of that; I mostly played soccer with the kids. I think it was a lot better choice. This was all good, but with the good times come the hard times, and out hard times come as the difficulty of getting water.

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Imagine finishing off a hard day all muddy and smelling like the worst thing you ever thought you could smell like. All you want to do is to wash your hands to start to cook dinner. Then you turn on the water and nothing happens but the eerie noise of no water. Then, having to put your sandals back on to walk to the well only a short walk away to get water. Those steps are filled with frustration, and all you can think is just  “why can’t I just wash my hands?!”  This is an episode I repeat again and again. I wish I could say I am used to it but it still gets me some days when all I want is water to flow out of the faucet to clean my hands.

Right now, it is in the middle of the raining season. Its not a cool rain season, but rather a hot one where the humidity sits around 90 percent. Then add about 10 degrees to a mid-western summer day and that is about how hot it gets. The thunder rolls off in the distance signaling rain is coming to cool off these hot days. But the trade-off is working in the hot sun or in the muddy, rainy fields. Both have their positives and negatives, where the negatives seem to pop up more in my mind in the midst of the hard work, not after the task is accomplished. With all this rain why is there not always water that flows when I turn on my faucet?? Well the first reason is the pump breaking down sometimes. We have two water pumps on site that go into the ground to fill our water towers. But they break–okay, that’s fine and reasonable–but when one breaks down, the other pump can’t keep up with the demand on site. In time the pumps get fixed, sometimes fast and other times it takes a bit. Another problem is that the power cuts in and out which can also put the pumps behind causing us to run out of water. The last problem is the one that effects us the most: the underground water source is either running out or the pump is not deep  enough to get the water.

When this happens, we stop giving water to us humans and the animals get the water first.  This is because the animals can’t get their own water since there is no waterhole for them. So when the water is out we luck out and get to spend a large part of the day getting water for the cows and pigs.  They can drink a lot of water so if both pumps are broken, we spend most of the day drawing water one bucket at a time. As you can imagine, this can take a long time when you do it alone.

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So how do I and we fix these problems? The I is just to have extra water always in the room, from reused bottles to just buckets to cook and wash my hands and feet from the day’s work. The other way we try to help is to collect rain water either from run off from the building into small underground wells or collected in large barrels. Then when it storms and those barrels become full, we fill up buckets so as to not waste a drop of water. Water is one of the four things you need to stay alive and in the US, water–clean water especially–is plentiful and easy to get. But in Madagascar its not easy to get and not ever clean so we’ve still got to clean it before we can drink or cook with it. Funny one of the things in which people were not worried about me coming here is getting dehydrated since I was the hydration king at my camp. “Water all the time for everyone!” But here just some day I cant stop the thirst for water no matter how much I drink.

Makes me think of the Bible verse at the well where drink one type of water and never be thirsty again. John4:13-14: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’”   That sounds great! I want to drink that water here and now, and then I can hand it out to all of my friends here. Although it would solve  a lot of problems, I don’t think Jesus is talking about physical water here, but rather, that life for the sake of life like water for the sake of water only can just let you live. But drinking the water of the community of Jesus, the grace he gives, makes life more then for the sake of life. Instead it gives the grace of a community for the life of the community. Like when I give water to the pig when I am alone, I become alone and frustrated at the pig and tired and each bucket seems only to make the pig and I thirst once again making it an endless task. But when I have help of the student and worker, in that community of struggle, we are given grace to work together making getting the water to the pig easier. Almost as if the water comes out fast and the pig not as thirsty.

This is one of many problems that plague the world and Madagascar: not only getting water but getting clean water. But when the act of getting water is more for than just the purpose of water but for the shared community for the animals, the people, our food, our drinking or our cleaning, the act done in a different cause than just getting of water not easy but life giving. That their is eternal well that comes out in the community of water being shared in love and grace.

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If you would like to hear more about what is going on in Madagascar please email me with any questions. 

What is American food?

As I mentioned before, one of the things I teach here is a cooking class. It is great fun and I love it but they want to learn how to make American food. So far I have taught tacos, salsa, bread and pizza. But these are not really American foods, just foods we frequently eat in America, so my question is: what is American food? “What do we eat?” is the question they always ask to me. The reason they ask is almost every meal here has rice with it. So there must be American food like rice that we all eat a lot of most of the time. Well, we eat food out of cans and food that is frozen. Is that our rice? If processed food is our “American food” then how can I teach that? It is interesting that going to grocery stores and getting frozen processed food is a privilege here; a sign you have money to get food that quick to prepare but in the US not so much the case. In the US having time to cook food from market fresh ingredients is something special, but here where I live in Madagascar, market foods is all you can get and have to make time to cook their no choice. Let me just say, sometimes what I would do for a frozen pizza!

So I ask again: what is American food? Has the US been a mix of so many cultures that American food is all food from all people that come to the US? Or has it been that US just mixes them all together and what comes out is this odd mix of ethnic food being Americanized. The only foods I can think that our truly American are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so in my next food class we’ll cover how to make peanut butter. The only other food I can think of is BBQ, southern comfort, Cajan and Midwestern hot dish/ hot plate casserole (part of which comes out of a can). Do we even have a food culture in America? Or did we trade our food culture for the fast food and frozen food? One thing I like here is learning to cook using all fresh ingredients. It has been great.

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BUT A QUESTION FOR YOU ALL THAT I NEED HELP WITH IS WHAT IS AMERICAN FOOD?

AND WHAT ELSE CAN I TEACH FOR MY COOKING CLASS? I do not have access to a lot of foods but I add different things in and make food from scratch like the tomato sauces for pizza. All from ingredients grown nothing processed. SO can you send me ideas of what I can teach next? Send it to my Facebook or on my blog. It does not have to be American, just more ideas for my cooking class.

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Gifts and Talents – Newsletter Vol. 2

Greetings from Madagascar! Much has changed over the last couple of weeks. One thing is that
the students have finally come to Fihaonana, the farm school where I work. This changes a large
part of what I do. I still do work around the farm but now I get to take some of the hands-on
classes like helping plant the rice fields and caring for the hogs. I have also been teaching more
English classes, some at night and others during the day. Other changes have been the fact that
the fruit trees have started to ripen so I get to help climb the trees to harvest the fruit. Also now
we have fruit breaks where we see a couple of ripe mangoes when we are out working. We finish
what we are doing, then climb up the tree and harvest the fruit. We take a short break and eat
whatever we just picked, anything from mango in season now to Leehcy, just out of season. And
of course it is getting hot. The best way to explain the heat is to add about ten degrees to a
Midwest summer day, and more humidity, and then you about have it. People thought I was
crazy for sleeping in my tent all last summer at camp, but I was getting ready for this experience
here.

My coworkers and me during the Christmas celebration
My coworkers and me during the Christmas celebration

As I mentioned, many things have changed here. From the students getting here to my friends and coworkers finally going home. The coworkers are the people I work with the most here. We made
bread, ate, work, ran, and played together. At first they did not know much English and were afraid to use what they knew. I knew even less Malagasy so as we worked for so many hours together we
filled our dialogue with pointing, acting it out, English and Malagasy. We grew to become friends but it was time for them to go home. They were students last year hired to work until this Christmas and then they go home with the lessons they learned at Fihaonana in the hopes and prayers that they go with much success in their future. I will miss them but I am not sad since I know they are happy to be home and starting the work they have been doing here at Fihaonana this whole time.

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As you all may know I teach English here. Originally this idea scared a lot of people I knew and professors I encountered. People asked me how I could teach English? This question came from the fact that I have a learning disability which makes my grammar and spelling terrible. I reassured everyone that I work as hard as I can and I always do my best to teach those around me correctly. So I taught English here but Christmas time comes around every year and what do they want to learn but Christmas songs. I
am not the biggest fan of Christmas songs since when I worked at Target and I was always near the music box that played an endless loop of Christmas music. But here I am in Madagascar with no Black Friday, no endless Christmas loops playing. Since it was my choice to teach some songs, at least now I could choose which ones to teach so I did some good old classical songs like “O Come all ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.” Then other just fun songs like “Jingle Bells.” Another common fact about me is that singing and rhythm are not my strongest suits. This is something everyone would tell me at camp. Now here I am teaching and singing songs to teach the English language. To top it off, some of them even asked what the symbols over the words were so I taught some basics of note reading. This is something I have not used since I got out of high school a long eight or nine years ago. The irony of teaching English by singing is that neither is a talent or a gift people would want back in the US but here it is both.

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Funny how things work out. They are never what you had planned or the way in which you saw it happening, but now here I am. I sing now in front of a class of about 60 Malagasy to teach English. How things in one place in one community can make life harder, like my learning disability, but then those thing can be a gift in another. That every community in place and time needs the different talents and gifts you bring to the table. The key is to remain humble and do the best with the talents or gifts you are called to use. Now the side note Christmas at Fihaonana we had church which led into a choir-like concert where different groups of people young and old come up and sing. So we staff at Fihaonana sang a couple of songs, so it was not just me singing in English, but also in Malagasy. With that, everyone here at Fihanonana told me to tell all of you to have a Merry Christmas and that their prayers are with you.

A Holiday gift for my readers: “The Football Story”

The day has come to write this story down. I don’t know if it will be as good as when I tell the story in person, but I will try.

I got the Football about eight years ago when I was stationed in Germany with the US Army. It is hard to come by a football in Germany, especially on post at the store because they sell quickly, and there aren’t many to begin with since most of them are sent to deployed areas like Iraq and Afghasatan. Many days we were bored so one day, a friend and I were in the store looking around and we found a football. This was a surprise because in Baumholder, Germany where we were, there are many troops so footballs, razors, and other manly things get sold out quick. My friend told me to buy it since we did not have one for our unit, so I did. The rest is history.

About a week later our leadership was not around for morning PT (physical training), so we deicided to play a game of football in the rain and mud. We were not normally allowed to play football since it was usually played too roughly by people in the military. The football was played with a lot, especially when we grilled out.  The thing about military grill outs is that everyone buys their own meat and spices and cook it up like they would at home. Then you cut off pieces to share with all the other people there. We

talk about everyone’s certain way to cook beef and how we do it at home which means different styles from all over the US and beyond. Never do you eat your own cut of meat, you hand it out so everyone can get a taste and a story from your home. No one is ever left hungry. There was plenty of food for all. We would cook, eat, drink, play football and share stories of home, what life was like, and what it will be like after the Army.   

Then it was time to go to Iraq. The football made the journey to Kuwait and Iraq, where it did not get thrown around as much due to the fact we were always busy doing something and when we weren’t busy, our time was spent sleeping. But one of the holidays was coming up and we were told we had it off, and that we didn’t have to really do anything at all (that’s about as much of a day off as you can get in Iraq). That morning, however, my Platoon Sergeant woke us all up and told us to get ready to do PT. We all complained that that was a nice way of putting it…NOT! Regardless, we all got out in formation and started to run. Then we ran out to our vehicle line and as we were in the dirt doing push ups, he came out with the football that I just gave him days earlier. We played a game to help us deal with the holiday away from home. The game did not make us forget the holiday, or the family and safety we left back home, but it did help us remember each other, and that through those hard days we still have family between us. 

In the months following, the football did not get thrown much, just a couple times with some Iraqis that we worked with whom we taught how to catch and throw the football. Eventually, it was finally time for us to go home. Before we could go home, however, we needed to clean all the gear. Not one bit of dust could be left behind it seemed like. So we cleaned and cleaned but the inspector only worked until five pm and we got done around six. Then we had to either pack it all up and come early tomorrow or leave it out and guard all it night.  Our Platoon Sergeant–not wanting his soldiers to have do more than he was willing to do himself–told us that we all could leave and he would watch the gear. We were excited, but ultimately we all said no, that we would stay out with him; that we had been through so much together, we will all share and bear this last struggle together. So we stayed. We found my football in the bags, circled our vehicles, turned out the lights, and together we played a last night game of Football.

Back to Germany. We threw the football around and taught some Germans about the game, then people started to leave to go home or to a different duty station. Our family who, for 15 months, lived, fought and did everything together was changing. Eventually it was my turn to go home. From there I left to go back to Iowa to throw the football with friends and family at home. Then to Augustana College where I tossed it around a little with my fellow students.  Then my first year working at LOMC (Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center), where every camp and camper I had has heard the story and tossed the football around. At camp the Football has fallen of a cliff, been baptized, tossed, thrown, lost and everything else in between for the four summers I worked at camp. 

Many have heard this story and some have heard it enough to be able to tell it themselves. Sure, some people even like the football more than me. It is certainly more famous than me.  As my last summer at camp drew to a close this year and I was looking forward to going to Madagascar, I wondered to myself whether or not I should take my football. Afterall it has been through a lot and is starting to fall apart in some places. But in the end I had to take it. So now it is with me in Madagascar, where I have told the groups here the story of it. This is just the start of the football here, as I have taught all the people I work with how to toss, catch and play a little football. I also use it to help teach English and have small group of local kids I play football games with. Our YAGM group threw it around some on our last retreat together. Also I have taught some of my close friends here the art of throwing a football.

The hands that have touched this football are now linked in some small way, from my unit in Germany, Iraq, US to Madagascar.  The question always comes to mind: how long will it last/hold up? And what will I do when it does fall apart? For now, at least, it still being tossed around and making connections in ways that only food, sports, music, prayer and religion can do in this world.  As always, if anyone has more they wish to add to the football story please do. This story is one that is constantly growing and evolving and even I do not remember all the parts of what happened with the football at camp.

Lessons learned….SO FAR

I find it funny, looking back in my journal, and seeing how much of my first couple of weeks here in Madagascar had to do with food. While I do love to cook and have cooked for many people back in college or on cookouts at camp, cooking for myself is something I never really cared to do. However, that was the first lesson I learned here: getting food and how to cook for myself. Honestly I could care less what I eat, so my first week here was all rice and beans. But there comes a point where that is too little. It also did not help that I was nervous to try out my Malagasy on my own to buy different items from the market.

So there was my second lesson: to not let my nervousness at speaking this language stop me from buying food. This lesson came partially from my need for more than just rice and beans. I also knew that it was my choice to have just rice and beans, or not. When I work in new places, I listen and learn before I act. This led to my first victory after a long first couple of rice-and-bean-filled weeks in Madagascar. The victory was mofo (bread). The bread we get in the town nearby is already a day old when it gets to the market so it is not that good. So I learned to make my own. Not so much learn, but willed myself to try to make it. Then I e-mailed some friends for more recipes (thank you, Nyssa, from LOMC, for sending me the baby bread recipe, aka yeast bread). This revelation of sorts led me to making more and more items I would make it easier to live. Now, in addition to bread, I make my own peanut butter, sauces, yogurt, and all types of things. This has become a new challenge to myself, since it is either hard to come by these things here, or it is expensive. This desire to make more and different things leads to new adventures in the market where my wants have to measure against my will to ask for items and my willingness to speak in Malagasy. Now my Malagasy is better and—thank God—my cooking has also gotten better.

Lesson three: working on the farm. I have learned a great deal about working on a farm. At first my friends here were nervous about what I would be willing to do and how much I could do physically. I, on the other hand, was nervous that I would mess things up. But with my willingness to do anything they ask of me, from cleaning up animal stalls to feeding animals to all the different tasks on the farm, they slowly let me do more and taught me more. This lead to them teaching me how to butcher pigs, chickens and fish. Fish I already knew how to do, but they do it differently here so I have now learned another style.  They have also let  me plow with two bulls yoked up. Trust me, there’s nothing funnier than seeing a white guy lead a team of bull yelling commands in Malagasy. People would point stop, share, and laugh. In truth I laugh at myself as well. How else could I be learning so much and getting the opportunity to do so many new things without a sense of humor?

Lesson four: the value of a long lunch break. Now I wake up at 5:30, start work at 6, break for breakfast and devotions, then we stop again around 11ish until 2 which is great because I need time to cook my food, or go to market. But the long lunch break is something that needs to happen the rest of my life.  I get time to go for my run–which now my co-worker joins me for run–or we play football, soccer or basketball. Then I cook and still have time for a small nap. It really is the greatest thing ever.  But the reason for it is that many people go home for lunch and it is the biggest meal of the day here, so that is why it so long.

Lesson five: the value of items and not of time. I have realized this because the school is building new buildings and they need sand, rock, and wood. So for the last couple of weeks after the farm work gets done in the morning we go get the materials. The sand we get near the town, which is a bit of a ride in the trailer. But the rocks were placed here following a past project. Now the rocks we are moving are gravel size and not in one pile but in several piles. When we get all the rocks out of the pile, we squat down to pick up each small rock that could be used. In my past projects in the US, the hours spent doing picking up rock would be spent doing other part of the project because time is money and time spent getting the stone is money wasted. But here the stones not used means money wasted. This leads to my the last lesson for now.

Lesson six: the value of items, whether new, used, or reused. We pick up each rock or bag or any item, and use and reuse it until it cannot be used any longer.  Everything will be used until it cant have a function anymore. For example, the beg we tear apart we end up using on the farm to clean out buckets. This is simply the world and the reality that the people here face. Where it is sometimes worth the time to pick up each rock, each piece of gain. Because that one rock or piece of gain is just what needed.

These are only some of lessons learned so far in my time thus far of my living and learning here. I’ll update this later on when the students get here and we’ll see what else I will learn.

Newsletter No. 1: What to say in a country I do not know

First, thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers as I prepared for and am now here in Madagascar. My placement is in the small farming school of Fihaonana, near the town of Vohipeno, Madagascar. Fihaonana is a Malagasy Lutheran-run farming school where they teach people how to work with all types of animals and crops.  The school was founded by the Norwegian Lutheran missionary society which still helps out with the school and many parts of Madagascar to this day.

What I do here is a little bit of everything: I work the fields, milk cows, collect eggs, and teach English. Teaching English is something that can happen any time and any place. While I do have a class that I teach once each week, sometimes a friend asks about a word in English and how to use it in a sentence, so I write it out in sand and dirt. This sand and dirt teaching has become regular to me.  I also teach how to cook different foods in different ways. This all started with a simple dish from back home: pizza. Everyone wanted to know how to make pizza so one day, I taught them. On November 11, the students will begin school, so keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well as they journey to school here. The students that will be coming are ages 17 to 30, but average 18 -20 years old.  And do not worry, I do have my football here. I taught them how to throw it and we play some games of ultimate football. So that is just a little bit of what I do here and it changes everyday, one day helping sell eggs, the next day working the field, but overall it is life on a farm.

Each day, I wake up at 5:30 in the morning to get ready to work on the morning chores at 6 am. After breakfast, morning devotions take place at 8:45 am daily. Here we sing a hymn in Malagasy, say a prayer, and one of us gives a mini-sermon for the day. Everyone who works and lives here with the school comes to devotions and everyone takes turns giving a sermon. Afterwards, we resume work, and either Hoby or Olivia tells me what was talked about that morning.  Hoby and Olivia are my site mangers and take care of me here. They act as my parents here, watching, helping out, and teaching the skills I need to live here in Madagascar. I have also been asked to give a devotional sermon sometime, where I can choose a bible verse and give a short talk about it. That should be easy for me, given my work at summer camp over the last four years, as well as helping out with a Wednesday night high school youth group.  From those experiences, I am used to staring down high school and junior high students in order to get them to not only open their Bibles, but to also talk about it and help to make it into something they enjoy doing. This would frighten most people–to share and talk about life with youth.  You may think that giving this devotional sermon should be easy right? Perhaps not. After all, what can I say to people in Madagascar?

My normal devotions with high school and junior high students talk about where God is in the world, more specifically, in the struggling world. I challenge them to think about those who are struggling through difficulties, and how their struggles with God are fine because it helps them to see how He works in this world. But here in Madagascar, my audience is very different. What can I say in the context of the people here in Madagascar, where the struggles of life are so different than those in the US.? Here I do not means to compare or measure who struggles more or less. The comparison of struggles in the world only denies the real lives lived by both groups which you are trying to measure.  So ultimately, struggle is what it is within the truth of a person’s life; an individual’s and community’s life. It cannot and should not be measured, quantified, or compared, just understood as a part of the person themselves. That being said that both people in Madagascar and US struggle and can’t be compare or measured of who more or less it just different.  If this is so, then what can I talk about in my devotion? I have a hard time understanding the context of the lives of the people here so what can I possibly share about the Bible?

The first time I spoke, I talked about hospitality to others, and to me. I thanked them for showing so much care and grace to me. I then said that we need to do the same to others; to all people. As I prepare for my next devotion, I still struggle with what to say, but that struggle makes me sure that I will think and choose what feels the best. What make the process more interesting is that any part of the Bible is open for this morning devotion, even those really hard parts that we do not look very often at in the US. Or perhaps we do have those sermons and we do talk about these topics, I just don’t remember or didn’t pay attention (“How dare you, high school JD, for not listening more!”).  What I mean by this is they look at Job, or this one preached on by Olivia the other day, Habakkuk 3:17-19, which in a nut shell says If the field, trees and animals do not produce food, we need still rejoice in God. Olivia talked about still rejoicing in God, even in a hard time. This is a challenging lesson to think about in a farm school where if the field, trees and animals do not produce, it could mean a difficult year, or even life or death. To look in the face of a struggle and rejoice is a hard thing to do, but to think that grace came through the ultimate struggle is what rejoicing is all about. It is still hard for me to understand what to preach about from the Bible with a different context of culture and worldview.  The message seems to be the same to the Madagascar and American junior high and high school students that I work with: the struggle is real but rejoice in grace.  Let’s just say that it is easier said than done in either context.

((Stay tuned: Pictures on the way))