Sunday, August 17, 2014

Here are some of the critters of Madagascar

Wow, it can't be August already. Where did 2013 go? We continue to make our rounds of the mission which consist of zone conferences given in each of 10 areas every three months and interviews with each missionary in between the zone conferences. That makes for a lot of traveling. We are on the road or in the air most weeks ( over 150 flights so far ). The hour and a half or two hour trips to the airport (only 23 kms from home), usually in heavy traffic, and the frequent multi-hour flight delays or cancellations on Air Madagascar are our big frustrations. When we fly out of the country we avoid Air Madagascar. This week we begin a very intense and hectic two weeks. In two days I will interview the 8 departing missionaries and we send them off the next day. A few minutes later we welcome 14 new missionaries, 13 from the US and one from Madagascar. We have a welcoming dinner for them and the next morning we have an orientation. That afternoon we are back to the airport to pick up Elder Kevin Hamilton, a general authority 70 and member of the Area Presidency, with his wife. We leave from the airport to drive 3 hours south to Antsirabe for a zone conference the next morning. We drive back to Antananarivo after the zone conference. The next morning, Saturday August 23, we have zone conference with the two Antananarivo zones and a special adult member fireside in the evening for one of the stakes . On Sunday after Sacrament meeting we will drive 6 1/2 hours to the city of Tomatave on the east coast for a zone conference there. The next morning we fly to Reunion for a zone conference for all of the island missionaries.
We love being with the missionaries. We have an exceptional group. As the average age of the missionaries is now lower than in the past, we have not noticed a significant change in spirit, motivation, work ethic or abilities in these younger missionaries in comparison to the ones who started on the average a year older. This is good news.

I will include a copy of part of a letter from one of our sister missionaries, Sister Paterson who works in Antsirabe, about the conversion of an amazing couple. Their story helps put things into perspective.

We have been teaching a new family- Frem and Paulette-and they have two young sons. One is under one, and the other just 8. The 8 year old is so brilliant; he loves to bare his testimony, and is such a gentleman. He always walks us to the bus after we teach, and I confess I brake the rules sometimes and buy him some bananas or vegetables on the way. He always gets so happy and skips all the way home. Well they are absolutely amazing. Frem is very handsome, and brilliant, but his legs are severely crippled. When he walks, he walks on his hands. When he was young, his mom and dad died. His grandma took him over. Then his grandma died, and he ended up on the streets. I don't know whether he even had a wheelchair at that point. He told me it was the worst time of his life and he wanted to just die. He had no friends- he said "No one wanted to be a friend of someone who walks with their hands, and looks different from everyone else". He said one day there was a beautiful, young girl who passed by- she smiled, and it filled him with a new hope and happiness. She started passing by more often. She is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, and that is the truth- spiritually and physically. They became the best of friends. She cared for him. Before he was close to death. No money for food, no one would give him a job, living off the streets, being tortured and treated badly. She would bring him food, and talk with him for hours about his potential and how amazing he was. One day he got really sick- she got desperate. She begged her parents to get him medicine. They said "You stay away from that boy- he is no good for you!" She told them she loved him. Her parents were very upset by her, and wanted her to leave their presence. She said she prayed God would give her a way to save him- she stole medicine her mom had, and prayed the medicine- even though it wasn't for his sickness- would heal him. It did, and they ran away to the country. When they got here, they didn't have a home, or money, but said they prayed every day that God would help them. Paulette saw the missionaries, and knew that they had the full message of God. They taught them and Paulette quickly felt it was true and wanted to be baptized, but couldn't because they weren't legally married yet- traditionally only. It is expensive to be legally married here, and their paper work is far away, which would require a lot of money too. They only have money for one meal a day- sometimes two, but rarely. They pray just to have a few beans and rice every night for them, and their tiny sons to eat and survive. There house is a little shack that gets cold at night, especially when the winter comes. Their home is made from a small amount of wood, and card board; however they respect it and keep it so clean on the inside. There is a picture of Joseph Smith, and the Plan of Salvation, and all the books that we have taught them with are used for decoration. The sight of it is enough to bring someone to tears, because it is powerful. Frem kept saying- "I am Catholic- I can't convert". While telling their story to me, she said "I knew the church was the only true church, so I prayed to know what to do- and God told me to read the Book of Mormon out loud." At first Frem would play his guitar- but he slowly started playing quietly and listening. One day he said, "I know that book is true" They kept praying and seeing huge miracles. Frem said "We would literally be suffering from not eating for days, and I would pray or read the BOM or go to church, and random people would show up and give us food for the night- we have this little place to live because a random man gave it to us." They saw us on the path, and yelled our names. Well they have baptism dates, and I have been working my hardest to get them married legally- I have a couple routes through the mayor of the city or through the elders in a city far away from here. She pushes his wheelchair two hours to church, and he carries the baby on his lap. Sometimes their 8 year old son will ride on the back of the wheelchair or run next to his mom. They asked if they could pay tithing even though they aren't members because they have so much faith in it. I told them to save it in a bottle for temple money- They are so excited- they are already preparing to head to the temple- they want to be together for eternity- they are in love. Elder Todd saw him at church and was so impressed by him and his character. He was visiting with a bunch of mission leaders, heard his baby boy crying, and hopped from his wheelchair and went and got his baby and came back. He thought it was amazing how even though he was talking to other men, his baby came first. Elder Todd said he was so moved by him, and the way he loved and cared for his baby. They are the most diligent, faith filled people I have ever met. They have faithfully kept every commitment we have invited them to keep. Even when they had no food- we promised if they came to church instead of washing the neighbors cloths for money that they would be blessed with a miracle, and God would put money in their hands. The next Tuesday we taught they were so excited to tell us that the promise we made was fulfilled. A lady at church gave them enough money for the week. She said she felt like it was theirs from God. Miracles have happened, and their paper work is on its way in order for them to become legally married. We were teaching President Noel's mom, Marceline, the other night and she was extremely upset, and crying about some hard things in her life. During our lesson Frem called- He was laughing and cheering because he got a call that the paper work was on its way and they were going to finally be baptized and become an eternal family after learning from the missionaries for 7 years. We rejoiced together, and I can honestly say, I have never felt such incredible happiness in my heart. It healed everything wrong that I have ever been through. They have changed my life forever. After I went back to teaching Sr. Marceline- President Noel's mom (who we were preparing for her baptism on this Saturday). I told her a little about Frem and Paulette, because I noticed she had made good friends with them at church. I told her about the miracles they had seen- she then let me know that there was one Sunday she felt overwhelming strong feelings to give them money, and followed the promptings. I about died when I found out it was her who fulfilled our promise to them. She said she felt a special connection with them, and wasn't sad anymore but had strength to do what God had told her to do, and her biggest wish was to be baptized on the same day as them, which is her birthday. We never thought it would be possible. Frem thought he wouldn't be baptized until December at the soonest. Elder Todd called me last night, and said the elders would have his paper work here by Thursday. I called Frem, and he said he has already finished all the other steps, but the money they saved wasn't enough. I told him of Marceline's wish and said it was possible this weekend if it were his and his families desire, because God is able to do miracles for his faithful children. He cried out, "This Saturday!, We could be baptized into the true church, and prepare to be an eternal family this Saturday!?" He was shocked, and so happy- laughing, and crying. He said "Of course, This is the desire of our hearts- thank you!". The Todd's came with us last week and we all had a party hanging up card board, and trying to fix their house up a little. It was so much better after- what an incredible opportunity to watch Elder Todd and Frem work together on the house. I even helped the best I could by stapling and hanging card board. They were very grateful. Now we are all just crossing our fingers that they can be baptized this Saturday with Marceline. Keep us in your prayers. This is God's great work. We are literally bringing people heaven here in Madagascar. 

I will include a photo which shows Frem and his family with the very small wooden shack that is their home.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Random stories and photos
It has been quite a while since our last post. We have been on the road or in the air for the past 8 or 9 weeks. We have been to most of the cities and islands 2 or 3 times in that time. During the past 4 weeks we have had 2 mission tours with General Authorities (one with 4 zone conferences in 5 days), two district conferences each with an Area Authority 70, a week in Johannesburg for a Mission President Seminar, and a coordinating council with all the stake and district presidents and another Area Authority 70. We were able to be with each of our missionaries. In each of those conferences (except the one in Johannesburg) we did several presentations and talks. We are both pretty tired and are taking advantage of a few days back "home" in Antananarivo to regroup and recuperate before starting the cycle all over again. These were all great events and went well. In two weeks we will be at the half way mark in our mission. The time is racing by. The weeks are a blur. We have now exceeded 100 flights.

Our missionaries are doing well. There is a real spirit of devotion and dedication among the younger and senior couple missionaries. They are a remarkable group. We now have missionaries from Madagascar, the US, Canada, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Fiji, Tahiti, France, and Italy. More and more elders are coming at age 18. Over all they are doing just fine.

Madagascar continues to be in severe economic distress with a poverty rate above 95%. Next week there are elections for a new legislature and president. The current president is in a transitional government as a result of a coup in 2009 and has not been recognized by the international community.
There are hopes that new a government will at least have some recognition with a freeing-up of international aid. The country is so bankrupt now it will take a long time to see some progress. In spite of all of this, life and commerce continue in its own rhythm. Most of the people just make do. Our big challenge is to help the upcoming generation of church young adults, especially the returned missionaries, to find ways to further their education and to get ahead and get out of poverty. I have had conversations with several recent returned missionaries who are very bright, articulate and strong in the church, but are struggling to find meaningful work and education. Several are fluent in English and French. We have one, and we hope soon another, senior missionary couple coming soon who's assignment it will be specifically to help this group. In many respects for the church in many parts of Madagascar, this is "Nauvoo  in the 1840s".

The following photos are of the Branch of Andranomanelatra 15 kms north of Antsirabe. They meet in a rented house. The first photo is of the "main room" which has space for a maximum of 50-60 for meetings. Sacrament meeting attendance is ranging between 160 and 180 with people jammed into the hallways (second photo) and other rooms and standing outside. The full-time missionaries working this area do no contacting. They teach all day long the investigators referred by members. We are hurrying as much as possible to acquire land and build a simple and much larger church.

The next photo is of our recent district conference in Antsirabe. The Sunday attendance was 863. The district has 8 branches and soon will have 11. It will become a stake in the next year or two.

Here is a photo of one of the many random road side vendors we see on the side of the highway. This one is selling rabbits which she holds up by the ears.

Springtime in Antananarivo with the blooming of the Jackaranda trees

This is a typical village home in the mountains next to the Saradroa branch building. This one belongs to the family of one of our full-time missionaries, Elder Rakotomalala.

Chickens going to the market tied into baskets on the top of a taxi bus.

Other random photos


We are starting summer and rainy season with some violent evening thunderstorms almost a daily happening.  Antananarivo is a very hilly city which means there are low lying areas which frequently experience flash flooding. We have only one set of missionaries (the assistants) who have a car here. One evening they were teaching a lesson. The streets were dry when they started the lesson and looked like this at the end of the lesson. Yes that is their car. It actually started the next day.

The inside needed a little cleaning.

Sewing in Antsirabe

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gathering of the Madagascar Saints

  By Elder Kevin Ray Moore  (used by permission from author)
Members and missionaries walking an hour and a half to church in Manandona 
Many changes for the better began to happen in Madagascar as the members caught the vision of striving for temple blessings. The nearest temple to them was in Johannesburg, South Africa, 2200km across the Mozambique Channel. Securing such blessings required many of the Saints to make significant personal sacrifices and exercise great faith.
As a missionary in Madagascar until June 2013, I had the privilege of helping and witnessing this great work. One afternoon during a meeting with the local church leaders, our mission president called and informed us that he felt the Besoa group of 35 members should be rejoined with the original Manandona Branch, 6.5km to the south. He asked us to begin preparing the people for the sacrifice they would be asked to make. This change would require the Besoa members to hike three hours round trip to the Manandona Branch for all of their church meetings. We were somewhat surprised, but began to make the special effort of strengthening the faith of the members of that area. We wanted to help them have a sure knowledge and testimony of fundamental Church doctrines such as faith in the Lord and in His leaders, the keys of the priesthood, and the blessings that come from obedience. After two months of regularly visiting and giving specially prepared lessons to all the families, we felt that the members were ready. All but a few had made attending the temple a priority and were preparing to make the sacrifice to travel to South Africa. We felt that the gathering of this group of Saints could occur soon.
Our mission president came on April 14, 2013, to meet with the members in Besoa. There was a special feeling as we walked through the rice fields to the wooden chapel for the last Sunday service that would be held there. Everyone came and greeted us on the path with beaming faces. The meeting commenced, and when the time came, our mission president announced the gathering of the Besoa Saints back to Manandona. Many members were unsure, as the three-hour hike seemed like too much of a weekly sacrifice. Yet, when we returned later that week, we found greater optimism and increased faith. Many were cheerful as they said  they would make the hike. Brother Rakotonirina Richard, recently released group president, confidently stated to us that he was going to take his family to the temple and would not let such an obstacle stop them. We decided to accompany the members on their first Sunday on the rugged road that wove 6.5km through the mountains and fields to the Manandona Branch building. 
Twenty of the 36 members made the transition that day, including many who struggled in their faith before. There were children as young as two years old with their parents and grandparents, the oldest of which was 75. In the following months, more members started coming. Manandona’s branch leaders were still visiting and praying for the last few stragglers.
Not two weeks after the change was made, swarms of locust began to plague the surrounding areas, but not in this valley. As is sung in the hymn Praise to the Man, “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.” That was only one of several swarms of locust in the coming weeks that spared this valley but destroyed the crops of valleys nearby. I witnessed one swarm begin to settle in the fields, but as they began to consume the crops, a strong east wind picked up and drove them out of the valley. After the locust swarms were past, 40 armed robbers from the south began to steal cattle, slowly moving northward. Many people made plans to leave if necessary, but the Saints expressed their faith to us that the Lord would protect them. He did, through a sudden and unexpected cold spell which drove the robbers back to the more temperate desert in the south.

Swarms of locust destroyed crops of surrounding valleys but spared the Saints' crops
The Saints were blessed yet again when a rare hard frost came one night and lasted well into the day. Many people’s potatoes withered away, but not those of the Saints. The branch president of Manandona was accused by his neighbors of using magic, but he responded simply that he kept the commandments of God. 
It was a great witness to me to see the increase in faith and commitment of those Saints in Besoa. It was not a simple sacrifice for them, but it brought forth great blessings. I pray that it will eventually help bring forth one of the greatest blessings of all: having the blessings of the temple in their lives.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Saradroa,  a remarkable place

This weekend we traveled south three hours to Antsiribe for a Saturday missionary zone conference and a Sunday visit to the branch of Saradroa. It was great to be with the missionaries in that area who are doing a great job. We were able to hold the conference in the home of Elder and Sister Todd, our senior couple in the area, who are wonderful tutors to the leaders of the member district and of the branches. This district is actively preparing to become a stake.

On Sunday we traveled with the Todds, the District President Pierre and the zone leaders an hour north of Antsirabe on the main "highway" (actually a fairly narrow, but paved windy two lane road) to an obscure unmarked trail heading up the mountain. In our four wheel drive trucks we followed this very challenging, deeply rutted and steep trail for several kilometers until we could go no further with the pickups. We then walked a footpath for another kilometer into the mountains to the "chapel".

This metal roofed building shown below is located next to two brick thatched-roofed homes typical to this part of the country. There is no village to be found anywhere close. The 100+ members walk from humble houses located all over these mountains. Many walk long distances to church faithfully every week. This building was built by the members and has a dirt floor and no glass windows. The nearest electricity is 40 or 50 kilometers away. The running water is from the river at the bottom of this valley where several people were baptized two weeks ago. 

In this photo you can see the little generator that provides what little power they use to power the CD player that provides the music for their meetings. 

As this is the only power source for any of the members, they take advantage during the meetings to charge their cell phones. Cell phones are the one connection with the modern world that they have, even way out here.


We were warmly greeted by the members on our arrival. These people are very poor materially. Many were bare footed is spite of somewhat chilly temperatures. We have never been among a group of people with a greater spirit and anxiousness to learn the gospel and serve in the church. The missionaries have never done "tracting" or contacting in this area. They travel up here an hour and a half, one day a week, and teach  people who are invited by the members or who just show up. It is the stuff of missionary legends.

We had 105 at sacrament meeting which is a little over 100% attendance. The average attendance for this branch is 96%. What is more remarkable is that this is also the percentage of tithing faithfulness. 

There are currently four full-time missionaries serving from this small branch out in the middle of nowhere, two serving in Madagascar and two serving in Africa. We met with the young women and young men, about twenty, and asked how many were planning on serving missions. All raised their hands. Below are the two homes adjacent to the chapel. Two of our full-time missionaries come from these homes. 

Because this is a one room church, most of the classes are held outside. There is a plan to build a larger brick church adjacent very soon.

Below is the branch council which meets each week with the presidents of each auxiliary and quorum. This was run with a written agenda, just like in the handbooks. These wonderful, humble leaders often make the hours-long journey to Antsirabe for leadership training. They frequently return walking up the mountain in the pitch dark. There are no lights out here. 

As we observe in many places here, it is the children that often touch our hearts.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A few classic Madagascar Photos

Pig on a bike

Ocean Baptism

House built on a rock