Monday, January 31, 2011

The Innocence of Children – January 10, 2011

Guest Blogger: Randy Gehlert

This afternoon after picking up the boys from school we stopped at the outdoor market on our way home. Megan wanted to buy some fruit. After buying some passion fruit and as we exited the market, we came across a man who was completely naked entering the market area coming directly toward us. Seth and Cole were in front of me and Megan was a few feet behind me. I, in a normal voice, said, “Oh my”. Megan, from behind said, “O, what a shame, we need to pray for that man”. The boys who went by the man first only said, “Daddy, why did you say, 'O my'?” and “What man mommy? What's a shame?” They never noticed the naked man. The man appeared to be mentally ill, and there were several men following him, gently calling after him. We kept going and do not know what happened to him, but we did have to spend the next five minutes telling Seth to 'never mind' the “Oh, my” and the “What a shame”? Megan lost her appatite for the passion fruit. New York City – Talatamaty – some things must be universal.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Amazing creatures and dead bugs, what more could the boys ask for? .January 10, 2011

 So here we Madagascar, in the middle of the rainforrest. We are so fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity. I don't even have the words to describe it appropriately. A picture is worth a thousand words, but even a thousand words doesn't do it justice.

The place we stayed at, Vakuno Lodge, had a little play ground and a nice pool.  They also had some great bugs to play with (Seth on the right playing with a dead dragon fly he was the highlight of his trip!)

On Friday morning we went to Lemur Island. This is a small island that Vakuna Lodge owns. There are about 20 lemurs on this island who are very used to humans. We took a canoe over to the island (the creek that you go across is literally about 10 feet wide and about 1 foot deep). Once you get over there you have a guide who gives you bits of bananas and instantly you have lemurs jumping all over you! It was WONDERFUL! Seth really enjoyed it. Cole was a little more skittish. He didn't have much of a choice though as you can see, one decided to just jump on his head even though he had no food!

Later that morning we went for a 1 hr horseback ride as a family. Seth and I on one horse and Cole and Randy on another. I thought we were going to ride through the rainforest, but we just went down the gravel/dirt roads. It was still beautiful as it was still in the forest. We didn't see any animals as much as we just saw people living and surviving in what we would call completely poverty stricken places right in the middle of the rainforest.
On Sunday we went to lemur island again because the boys thought it was so cool to have lemurs jumping all over them! We then packed up the car and drove to the park entrance. We went on a 2 hour treck through the rainforest. I really wanted to see the Indri (lemurs as big as a 2 yr old and they sing...that was the eerie sound we heard while we were swimming). Eventually we got to the spot where they were and were able to see them up close (no these guys didn't jump on our heads) and also got to hear them sing....AMAZING! (picture of Indri on right)  I really don't understand how CREATIVE and “outside of the box” my God is. I stood there listening to this amazing sound coming out of this amazing was REALLY loud! You can hear them up to several kilometers away!

All in all we had a WONDERFUL vacation. Now, on to school tomorrow....?

random thoughts... December 31, 2010

Every once in a blue moon I will have a day where I feel like I wish I were back home in America. Sometimes having everything around you, and I mean everything, be SO different can just be exhausting and slightly overwhelming. On the whole, I love being here. But today, well.... It doesn't help that I have family members back home who are going through very difficult things. My sister-in-law's mother has been in the hospital for several months and is basically fighting death. I can't explain how difficult it is to watch, from far away, a close family member, in deed dear friend, go through such a tough time and I can't be there to cry with her, listen, give a hug, make her laugh.....I miss you Yara. If you are of the praying kind you can pray for Yara's mother, Lenir. She needs a miracle and that can only come from the Lord.

Mom and Dad are here. It is such a blessing having them be able to come. Yet, it's strange. It's like having two totally different worlds of mine collide.   Now, don't get me wrong, I'm glad they are here and I don't wish it any other way, I'm just's strange. Our neighbors started harvesting the rice. I was so glad for this as mom and dad can see how they harvest the rice and do everything by hand. They spend the morning bringing up loads of rice on their heads and sweeping the dirt off the ground (if that makes any sense....they try to get the big clods of dirt and stones up before they lay the rice down). They then take bundles of rice and whack them over either a stone or an old barrel to get the rice off. They then let the rice dry in the sun and then sweep it up into sacks. A yoke of zebu then come and take a cart of rice stalks away and the adults take one sack at a time on their heads into town to sell. HARD work. We went out to watch them and see if it was ok to take some pictures. They asked us if we wanted to try wacking the rice on the rocks. SURE! Mom and I both tried. Wow, back breaking...and these people work from sun up to sun down until it's all done.....days and days....bless their hearts.

Anyway, back to my original thought. Sometimes it's just nice to have a few moments where you don't have to think in another language, think about what you say or do culturally....ya know? And we have it fairly easy here as there are several other missionaries around us who can speak English (some it's their native language some not). There are missionaries here in Mada. that don't have another English speaking person near them for MILES!

My parents leave next Wednesday and the day after we are going to Andasibe to the rainforrest for a vacation. SO excited. Going with Fiona (English) and her husband Narilanto (Malagasy) and their 2 yr. old son, Marcus (picture to the left). Should be very nice to get away.

I'm noticing that with in the last 2 or 3 weeks the boys have become very comfortable with playing with the neighborhood children around us (see top picture). For this I am very thankful, however, it's kind of sad as we'll be moving away from this neighborhood in 3 weeks. Yes, we can come back and visit, but it's not quite the same. Ok, I think that's enough random thoughts for this week. Sorry about my mind traveling in circles as I write! For those of you that know me well, you know that's quite normal but it can be hard to follow...especially in a blog!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sharing from his heart

Saturday morning, while we were still on vacation Randy and I lay in bed listening to Seth and Cole talk with the workers who were cutting the grass outside our bungalo with hedge clippers. It went something like this.

Seth – So, you know the sun, azanao ("you understand?" in Malagasy)...The sun is like a big ball of fire.  God made that.  Like, we couldn't do that, just say “cement” and have cement appear. But God made the whole universe. You see 250 years ago there were people who disobeyed God, azanao? So Adam and Eve had to work extra hard because they had sinned. We all have sin. But God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to come. Azanao Jesus? He could have gotten off the cross but He didn't because He loved us.  So all we have to do is believe in Jesus and we can be with God forever. Azanao?

Now, this man whom Seth was talking to understood some English and he was very patiently listening to Seth. Seth and Cole then began singing “Jesus, You're my firm foundation” and “My God is more than enough” for the workers. Too cute.  Amazing how God can use such little people with their amazing faith like a child. May I learn from them.

Monday, January 10, 2011

“This is a one way there's no sign stating that.”

January 4, 2011

One of the joys of life here in the capital city is the signage. We drive around town and try to obey all the traffic laws as best we can, but sometimes you just can't read the street corner's mind. Yes, sometimes there are clear signs which indicate “Do not enter”. All they are is a circle with a line through it. This usually is your clue that that is a one-way street. Sometimes this sign is hidden behind who knows what or off in some distant corner somewhere. But many, many times there just is no sign. So, we try and watch the other drivers and see what they do. Today, as we attempted to take Megan's parents to the Cookie Shop for lunch and to show them what downtown Tana was like we encountered one such “non-sign”.
There we were in sight of the Cookie Shop and turned left where we always turned left and where we had seen others turn left on other days and what did we hear, but two whistles. We got pulled over. The police officers were astonished that we would turn the wrong way onto a one way street. We contested (Megan in Malagasy and Randy in French) that there was no way for us to know it was a one way street. “Where is the sign?” we kept asking. This went on for about 10 minutes while the officers looked at our paperwork. The Jr. Officer eventually came over to the passenger side window and apologized to Megan quietly and said he would let us go, but the senior officer would not. So, the senior officer took Randy's drivers' license and the car registration and gave us a ticket. In Madagascar you have to go to the police station and pay the ticket to get your license and registration back. We asked if the police station was close by. He said it was far away. We asked when we could go get it. He said the next day. Then we said that we were leaving town (to go on our vacation) and needed our paperwork. So, they had us go park and come back to talk to them. When we parked at the Cookie Shop we had Megan's parents go inside with the boys. (There they prayed for God to do a miracle). Then we walked back to the policeman. Randy tried to figure out how much we needed to pay and if we could pay the officers there instead of going to the police station. But the officer was hoping for a bribe. He said we should pay him 200,000 ariary. (That is $100. The average Malagasy gets 7,000-15,000 ariary a day.) Megan told him (in as good of Malagasy as she could) that this was not good and that just because we are vahzahy (foreigners) doesn't mean that we have lots of money. We told them we are missionaries and that our money comes from many other people who sacrifice to support us so that we could come here and help encourage the people of Madagascar. The junior officer was still on our side, but the senior officer was not persuaded yet. Meanwhile, Megan thought it might help if she began to crying. She was so stressed that she couldn't so she started thinking about how she missed her Grandmother and that got the tears flowing. When the junior officer saw that she was crying he said to the senior office, “Madame is crying”. So, he asked what we wanted him to do. We told him we wanted him to show us grace. Eventually he relented and gave us back our papers and sent us on our way. When we entered the Cookie shop with the papers and license my Dad's hands went in the air with a big, “Thank you Lord”! We all felt the same.

Guest blogger: Bill Kirk aka Dad dad. Check out his view of things here after visiting us in Madagascar.

Our trip to Madagascar (or “How to travel from South Africa to the US in business class without paying for the upgrade”) by guest blogger, Bill (Megan’s Dad)

So, we (my wife Judy and I) had the privilege of traveling to Madagascar for a 10-day visit to encourage Meg, Randy, Seth and Cole and see the ministry that the Lord called them there to do. We left the USA on December 28th and arrived fairly refreshed on December 30th after an overnight stay in Johannesburg, South Africa. Meg and Randy got us a room at a small, lovely guest house about ½ mile from their house in the village of Talatatamy. It was a walled, secure villa with hot water and electricity (luxuries in that country) all within an easy 7 minute walk through small, rutted (and some unpaved) streets of the little village where they have been living and working since they arrived there in August. We got the best of all worlds – stayed in a decent, clean place with many comforts while also being able to walk safely on our own each morning and evening to/from their house but through the absolute abject poverty and filthy conditions in which the Malagasy of this little village live. I just can’t describe it in words – there aren’t any that convey what we experienced - but, I’ll try just a bit to provide this “ugly American” outsider’s view of what we experienced.
The Malagasy people live in extreme poverty and unhygienic conditions, for the most part, but they are basically at peace with where and what they are and have. They are, at the very least (at least the native Malagasy that we met throughout our 6-day stay) lovely and mostly hard-working people who just live in decrepit conditions and have been subjected to poverty by a failed government and many outside influences over the years of history that have depleted their resources and left them with very little in return. I guess “exploited” is the term that comes to mind when I read through their country’s history – but what do I know about that. I just know what we saw – lovely people who were dirt poor but basically content, perhaps because they just don’t know any better. And, just perhaps, they are better off than we are because they simply don’t have to deal with all of the fast-paced nonsense that goes on in the rest of the world – they just don’t have the time or resources to do so since they are basically busy every moment of every day just trying to eek out a simple living and stay alive and provide for their families. Theirs is a rice-driven economy….there are rice paddies EVERYWHERE and that is their main staple. We got to walk through several of the paddies and watch during the rice harvest season (all done by hand – manual labor). Judy got to thrash rice with some Malagasy women outside Meg and Randy’s house on the first morning we were in country – quite an experience.
Our time with Meg, Randy, Seth and Cole was wonderful from many perspectives. We got to see the various ministries that they are formally involved in (Anglican Music Institute and Africa Inland Mission), saw the boys’ school, met many, many people with whom they work (both in ministry with other missionaries and native Malagasy with whom they have had interactions and on whom they have had influence over the last 5+ months). We got to walk through dirty, hot village streets about 10 yards behind our two grandsons who were marching arm-in-arm with 3 or 4 Malagasy kids of various ages singing and saw the ministry that Seth and Cole are having without even knowing it! Just watching that was enough to move us to tears. Randy and Meg have been used mightily by the Lord to touch many, many people – plus, they have also been touched and changed by their interactions.
We got to travel on every type of road and dirt path that you can image (with the exception of any 4-lane highways b/c they don’t exist in Madagascar). The road from the guest house where we stayed to Meg and Randy’s house was a perfect example – large cobblestoned areas with ruts/bumps/holes big enough to swallow you followed very abruptly by a dirt “path” the last 100 yards or so to their walled house. I would never have believed that any vehicle could traverse this “road” let alone actually pass by oncoming trucks, cars, scooters or whatever – but, that’s how it happens every day. Mix that in with hundreds of people on foot with every imaginable thing on their heads or in bags or Zebu (cattle) cart (live ducks, Zebu heads, the live goose that we had for New Year’s dinner), and you have our morning and evening walk that we took by ourselves every day. Oh – I forgot to mention the hovels and family-run “shops” that were everywhere all along our route selling vegetables, rice, spices, brooms, rancid meat (complete with fly covering) and anything else you can imagine. They greeted us in Malagasy and we answered in the few Malagasy phrases we knew (taught to us by M/R/S/C)….of course, they all knew who we were since we’re white Caucasians and stood out like neon lights as Meg’s parents. We also walked through rice paddies, along the top of dykes that enclose the paddies, up steep, rutted hillsides from the lower paddy areas to the higher village areas above the valleys in which the rice is grown.
We were in Madagascar for 7 days smack in the middle of their rainy season – but, NO rain the entire time we were there. Unbelievable – good for us but not good for the rice paddies.
We left Madagascar on the afternoon of January 5th – two changed people who were very grateful for the opportunity to travel there, see and encourage our family, and be able to share first-hand their ministry in that difficult, struggling country. Who could not come away changed forever??
Little did we know that there was a bit more to come. Judy has suffered two episodes of vasovagal response over the past 3 years – basically it is a physical response of the body to some internal stimulus that causes one’s blood pressure to drop to extremely low levels almost instantly resulting in a loss of consciousness and other somewhat unpleasant bodily responses. The first one was in response to a gall bladder attack in our kitchen at home (about 3 years ago) and the second one was last May during a visit to her cousin’s in suburban Cleveland. Both resulted in ambulance trips to the ER, lots of IVs, tests, etc. You get the picture. After the second one, we sought some medical expertise with a local cardiology group but we were not satisfied (putting it mildly) with the 10-15 minute appointment that they gave us. Finally, we changed cardiology groups last November and found a wonderful woman (Dr. Ida Maza) who spent over 75 minutes with us, put Judy through every test imaginable, and thoroughly explained to us that this is how her body reacts to an adverse stimulus and what to expect if/when it occurred again – she said her heart was strong and fine, etc. I mention all of this b/c it turns out that her third vasovagal response took place on the 17-hour Delta flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean/Equator at 36,00o feet approximately 8 hours into a 17-hour flight. She turned to me and said “I don’t feel well”…….I have heard these exact words before and, frankly, had prayed that I wouldn’t hear them during the trip but certainly not in Madagascar. I prayed that we’d at least get back to Johannesburg without any complications. We did – we got half way home! I was OK with that.
Long story short, I popped out of my seat to try to get her to lie down before this hit but was too late – gone. One of the flight attendants was within 5 feet of me in the adjacent aisle – I tapped her on the shoulder and told her I had a medical emergency and she sprang into action, made two all-call requests for a physician. On a flight with over 250 people, no physicians – but God provided a South African EMT and a South African RN who showed up in seconds of the announcement. I explained what I thought was occurring (thanks to Dr. Maza’a having spent 75 minutes with us and explaining to us in layman’s terms so we understood – and, it happened EXACTLY like she said it would). They started oxygen, did all the vitals, and the head flight attendant said there was an open business class “seat” (it is actually a fairly spacious little cubicle that folds down into a full-sized day bed) that we could take her to in order to get her laying flat and allow the blood to circulate back into the upper extremities of her body. So, that’s how we got to ride the last 8 hours in business class without paying for the upgrade – Judy flat out with me sitting at her side in very comfortable surroundings. She regained consciousness in about 30 minutes and was walking (shaky but walking) to the bathroom a couple hours later, began taking fluids and we did a final medical evaluation as we approached Atlanta – decided that she would not need to be met by emergency medical personal, just a wheel chair. We walked off the plane under our own steam! Unbelievable. And, of course, Delta had been wonderful – not to mention the two medical people God sent us on the plane. But, no wheel chair at the top of the jet way in Atlanta – so we just took our time, walked to customs, went through with our bags and rechecked them for our flight to Philly and looked at the board to find our boarding gate with 60 minutes to spare. Oops – flight to Philly cancelled – we went to the Delta desk and they had rebooked us on the next flight 90 minutes later. I asked them to treat us to breakfast – they did. We got home 90 minutes later than originally planned. Not bad for a trip of over 22,000 miles.
So, what did God show us during all of this?
1.     He is in change and is worthy of our trust.
2.     He has called our kids and grandkids into a very worthy ministry in a very needy country where they are quite safe, respected by the people and being used for His glory.
3.     We will never be the same two people again – couldn’t possibly be. Question is – what’s next for us and for them? Patience will tell (and I, for one, was taught lessons in patience EVERY day of this trip – lessons I needed to learn).
4.     I memorized Psalm 121 on the trip over; I was amazed at how many times I repeated it on the trip home, especially verses 7- 8. When will I ever stop being surprised by the truth of His Word as it plays out in my life?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Christmas and New Years....already ?

 December 26, 2010

We are very blessed! In 36 years of life this is the first Christmas we spent without our family. Christmas Eve was WONDERFUL! My friend, Fiona (from England) and her husband, Narilanto (from Madagascar) invited us to come over to their house (just down the road from us) around 2:00 pm. We just hung out, talked, and cooked yummy things to eat while the boys played with their son Marcus, who is 2 years old. We then had a traditional English Christmas Eve! We had special “crackers” (no, not the ones you eat, ones you pull apart and you find funny hats, a small toy, and a joke inside). We then put the boys to sleep (at their house) and the adults watched “White Christmas”.  Ok, so we didn't watch all of it, we watched half of it because it was getting late. We then did a tradition that Fiona loves from her family. We took turns reading different scriptures and singing Christmas carols. It was just the four of us. It was such a nice time of worship and fellowship! We then woke up the boys and went home around 1:30 am!

Christmas morning was just our little family. We woke up around 8:00 am, went downstairs and had breakfast and opened presents! We didn't have stockings so we filled up my big rainboots for the boys instead of stockings!  We had a very wonderful morning! Around 1:00 pm our Malagasy family came over (my friend Helena and her WHOLE family). There was about 14 of us. We prepaired a “traditional” American Christmas dinner (chicken, mashed potatoes, beans, corn, mashed carrots (a tradition from my side of the family) and apple pie). Helena brought rice (I don't think Malagasy can go one meal without rice!), and a vegetable/beef dish. We then spent the afternoon eating, talking, and singing worship songs in Malagasy and English. It was a GREAT Christmas!
January 2, 2011
Well, Happy New Year! I can't believe that we were blessed enough to welcome the new year in in Madagascar. What a blessing. My parents are here and we were fortunate enough to welcome the new year in at Madame Florentine's house (the mother of my dear friend Helena). It was BEAUTIFUL! There were about 20 of us. We sat out under the mango trees in Fiona's back yard (Florentine and her husband live in the guard house there). They had prepared goose for us (which is the best meat, according to them, that you can have for a celebration).   We had given them the money to buy a live goose the day before and then they butchered and prepared it new year's day morning!  (We got to meet the goose to thank him while he was still honking.) What a lovely time. We just sat around the table eating food, talking, being together. The children all played together, climbing trees, playing soccer, pretending to build things...

After everything died down a little bit my parents, the boys and Randy and I left to get some presents ready for Helena's family. We didn't want to give them at the party as we didn't have something for everyone there. So about 1 hr. later we went to Helena's house. They were THRILLED! We got Haja a nice fleece sweatshirt, Helena a watch (which she's always wanted but could never afford), and their two girls dolls. It was great to see their faces!