Monday, January 10, 2011

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?

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