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

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Amazing sights in Reunion
Last month Anna and I with Elder and Sister Heap took a six hour hike to the Grand Benare, the second highest mountain on Reunion at over 9500 feet. From there we could see most of the island and look into two of the three "cirques" or incredibly deep canyons formed by the volcanoes. At the top we were literally on a cliff with a sheer drop off of thousands of feet. In the first cirque we saw way below us a small village that is only accessible by a steep hiking trail or by helicopter. We hope to hike there one day. In the other cirque is the beautiful city of Cilaos which we visited this week by car.

The following photos are taken from Cilaos

The top of the mountain in the distance is the Grand Benare

Friday, June 14, 2013

Many member district and missionary zone conferences.

It has been two months since the last post. We have been traveling every week. We returned today from Reunion where we greeted two new sisters and two new elders and sent one elder off for home.
In the past two months we have had three member district conferences. In May the Reunion District conference was presided over by Elder Collin Bricknell of the Area Presidency. These conferences are just like stake conferences. On two of the district conference weekends we also had a day of zone conference with the missionaries on the Friday before. Last week in Tomatave with the two conferences I ended up speaking and teaching about twelve hours over the three days, mostly in French. With additional interviews it makes for a pretty exhausting schedule. We flew home for a day and back on the plane for the islands. Over three months we end up presenting zone conference about ten times in the different areas. Just as we finish the last one the new round of zone conferences begins.

In nine days we say good bye to ten missionaries in Madagascar and welcome fifteen new ones. This is a hectic and bitter sweet experience. We will miss the missionaries that we have come to love and respect over the past year. Yes, in a few days it is our anniversary. This last year has gone by very quickly, yet it seems as if we have been here a long time. 

The photos are of the Antsirabe District Conference where we had over 650 in attendance at the Sunday session. This district is working diligently to become our next stake. 

Here is the children's choir.

The next photo is from our young men/ young women/ YSA fireside we recently held in Tomatave. We asked them who was preparing to serve a mission and almost all of them raised their hands. Currently we have over 100 full time missionaries serving from Madagascar in various places in the world. There are many more who are planning on going. This represents the real future of the church here. 

The following photos are of the countryside outside of Antananarivo taken during an inspection visit of one of the clean water projects overseen by our humanitarian senior couple missionaries.

Even though the temperatures were chilly, most of these school children were without shoes.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Last week we flew to the hottest area of the mission, Mahajanga which is a city of a few hundred thousand on the northwest coast. We have two missionaries and a branch there. During our weekend stay we visited a few families with the missionaries. Here is a photo of one of the new strong convert families in their small humble but quite clean home. The only furniture other than the bed they were sitting on was a small table and chairs.

This week we drove three hours to Antsiribe for a zone conference, leadership training and many interviews. Among these I interviewed three young women and two young men who had completed their applications for their missions. I was very impressed with these young people. Their greatest desire is to serve a mission. Each serves as a branch missionary and teaches with the full time missionaries three or more days a week. I have rarely seen young adults more ready to serve. We are seeing increasing numbers preparing from all over the mission, especially Madagascar. Most come from very humble homes. Some are fairly well educated and speak French as well as Malagasy, a few speak some English. Some have quite limited formal education. All have taken the study of the gospel very seriously.
Today we visited a branch 25 kms south of Antsiribe located in the village of Manadona. This is a growing branch with some members walking long distances to attend church. There is no electricity in this area and very little clean water. The branch president is a 26 year old convert of 2 years. As most of the people in the area, he is a farmer. With the help of some great missionaries, he is doing a remarkable job in leading this branch. They are meeting in a brick chapel without glass windows and a wooden classroom building. The Church has just installed solar power to run the LED lights and the computer which actually has 3G wireless internet. Here is a photo of the branch just before the start of the meeting this morning.

About 8 kms away on a walking path is the village of Besoa in which is located a small group under the direction of the Manadona Branch. This group is quite remote and difficult to support, so after much consultation with the branch and district leadership, it was decided to merge the two units and have everyone meet in Manadona. Though a difficult decision, this will help prepare the branch to further strengthen and eventually become a ward. After the branch sacrament meeting, we along with our senior missionary couple ( Elder and Sister Todd), the younger missionaries assigned to this area (Elders Moore and Baker) and the District President (Pres Pierre) and his wife loaded into our three mission four wheel drive trucks and headed to Besoa.  Driving there is much longer than walking overland. The "road" is deeply rutted, definitely a four wheel drive trail and not for the faint hearted. We also had to cross a challenging log bridge that had just recently been laid down. The logs were not nailed into place.

We could only drive so far and had to walk the rest of the way on a trail. Below is a photo of part of the village and of some of the group greeting us on the trail.

The members have built there own wooden, dirt floor chapel. Here is pictured the group at the beginning of the sacrament meeting.

Here is the group leader conducting. Notice he has no shoes which is common in these villages.
On the right side of this photo is a young elder who this week will be leaving for his mission to
New Zealand. He does not yet speak much English and will be first traveling to Provo for an extended MTC training. His world is about to completely change.

It was very humbling for me to tell them of the changes and to ask these devoted members to start attending church an hour and a half walk from their village. Most of them sustained the proposed changes, many of them did so resolutely. It is a big sacrifice which they are willing to make in order to have the blessings of a much larger branch and to help build the church. They are willing to do this because they have strong testimonies and a lot of faith.

Here is a photo of some of the village children with Elder Moore.