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