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.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Our first senior missionary couple outing occurred at the end of March when we traveled with most of the couples to Andasibe to the Lemur park and a stay in the rain forest at the Vakona Lodge. It was the first visit there for most. We traveled on the 1930s vintage Michelin Train. It is like a large bus which rides on the tracks, but which also rides on special Michelin rubber tires. The seating is individual padded wicker chairs which were quite comfortable. We even experienced two flat tires which were repaired by the crew of four repairmen.

The middle of March we were back in the islands with missionary and member interviews and  leadership training. Pictured below are the four missionaries on Mauritius, Elders Millar, Lambson, Cusick, and LeBlanc. It is very difficult for us to get visas for our missionaries there. We are expecting our first senior missionary couple to arrive in May which will use our quota of six visas. We will have to wait until two missionaries leave the island at the end of this month for us to be able to apply for the visas for their replacements, a process that will take usually at least three months. So we will have fairly long periods of time when we will only have two younger missionaries serving there.

With a few exceptions our work here in Madagascar is pretty much seven days a week. I am often making phone calls very late into the evening. We occasionally have done some walking near the mission home and do some marketing together. When we go to the islands we try and take a "preparation day", usually hiking or walking by the beach. As you have seen in previous blogs the sights are often spectacular. We will try to include more of the regular things so it doesn't look as if we are always on vacation. In Reunion we welcomed two new missionaries and said good bye to two.

During our interviews Anna found a new friend, an orange-tiger-stripped lizard. On one of our days there we had a great zone activity climbing one of the mountains overlooking St Denis.