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.