Close Yet Far Away

Close Yet Far Away

Well, here we are. Finally back in the Netherlands. Furlough at last. Enjoying all the luxury and do things that are otherwise impossible. Going to the theater; cinema; visiting family and friends; giving presentations and sermons; to the swimmingpool; museums and so on. But no, instead of nice and relax conversations, we are mainly talking about the miserable pandemic caused by Covit-19 (SARS-CoV-2) or the Corona virus. A virus from a family which was not unknown, but in the past was only limited to the Asian regions.

How we feel? That is a regularly asked question. Well, disappointed of course! Sad too. Both Katja’s parents and mine (Jurgen) all are close to their 80s and are at risk because of their health. At the time of writing, they are doing well and we are grateful for that. But what a sad situation for so many others.

We, as a missionary family, are not unknown to the life style we have now. We live fairly isolated in Maroamboka and are therefore somewhat used to it. Homeschooling? Not new to us. Not just going to the supermarket for a small thing? Not strange either. Sitting in the house for days? This is the rule during the rainy season. No toilet paper? … We don’t even have that in Maroamboka.

But for many fellow Dutch nationals. A sense of panic, powerlessness and disillusionment. In Holland we were no longer used to this kind of life. Now what? Everything that was so common is no longer possible. Writing and reading messages on your smartphone all day long is getting boring as well. What if I get the virus too?

Nevertheless, we consider ourselves lucky that we are in the Netherlands at this moment. Things are well organised here. Health care is given top priority. The social safety net for victims can take many blows. If one gets sick, one can get the care one needs. We can also just go shopping and, if everyone behaves normally, there will be enough. Our Prime minister Rutte said: “There is enough [toilet paper], we can [all] poop for ten more years”. In otherwords: Behave!

Of course we follow the situation on Madagascar with sorrow and concern in our hearts. How different it is there! Social distance? Wow, have you ever been to the market in a random town. Or have you ever seen how people live? Most homes in large cities are not affordable, so the whole family lives in one room. There, in that room, they can sleep and shelter during the rain, but locked up together all day brings greater dangers than Corona. Everything and everybody is social in Madagascar. It is unfair to say that they should stop doing that for a while. That would be like banning private internet use in Europe or any other strong economy country for that matter. Let that idea sink in for a while.

Last night we read the press release from President Rajoelina. Many people think of him as a big crook. But now it seems that this crook takes Corona very seriously. 12 infected people are now known and all have been isolated. Unprecedented measures have been taken. The capital, Antananarivo, and the large port, Tamatave, are completely locked down. No public transport; health checkpoints; all small shops and markets closed; people are only allowed to shop in their own neighborhood (1 person per household); forbidden to go outside between 20:00 and 05:00; food prices have been frozen under penalty of a fine. President Rajoelina addresses the people every night. At 20:00 on the national channel, the Malagasy can stay informed about the current situation. Madagascar is no stranger to epidemics. Epidemics such as, the almost annual, outbreaks of the plague. Let’s pray that the government can also curb this epidemic.

Our heart goes out to the Malagasy. Because of the (often) bad conditions in which people live, even young people are vunerable. They look strong. They carry 50kg of rice on their shoulders. But one-sided nutrition and unhygienic homes plagued by rats and parasites are a recipe for a weak immune system. In addition, many Malagasy are simply terrified and have a very fatalistic attitude. Too often we hear it said by our Malagasy friends: “Well, that’s the way it is. The Malagasy just die quickly.” How it hurts us when they speak like that. How we would like to see them standing tall in life. That they would realise how much they can do to change their ‘fate’ themselves. And above all, that they would realise that the Almighty is not far away but has come to the world to save her. Saving from Corona? Saving from the plague? Possibly, but I’m more thinking about the boldness that comes with the confidence that Jesus saved you for eternity. Below, a quote from Martin Luther in a time when the plague went around Europe like a roaring lion, devouring who it could devour:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me He will surely find me and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person I shall go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Luther’s Works; Vol. 43, pg. 132

Language as Ministry

Language as Ministry

Since this month we have a Malagasy teacher who teaches us at home several times a week. It makes a huge difference! Filmantra (pronounce: feeluhmantrs) insists we speak Malagasy like the locals do. That sounds logical, but she told us many foreigners learn to speak Malagasy as it is written – which is not quite how it is spoken. This ‘school-Malagasy’ sets the foreigner apart from the locals, and that is not what we want. An example: ‘I am happy’ is written: ‘Faly aho’. Pronounced as written you hear /fahlee ahoo/, pronounced as the locals do, you hear /fahlea/ (ea as in Andrea) instead. It is easy to see how you can sound ‘funny’ pronouncing words as they are written. We have noticed that – if we do a good job – our Malagasy neighbours instantly recognise what we say. Their eyes start to glimmer, a smile appears. It also makes a difference when bargaining, and that helps our finances!

The correct pronounciation takes some getting used to. In Dutch and English we try to say the whole word – in Malagasy not so. Some word endings seem to go missing completely, like in the word ‘inona’ (meaning ‘what’) which is pronounced /eenn/ with the prolonged n representing the last two syllables. Oh boy, what fun! We really love this language.

The children are taught Malagasy by us during short breaks and before and after meals. It helps both them and us, as we repeat what we have learned with them. We have found the children really need to be helped with their language, it does not come to them without effort. They enjoy their growing proficiency, as they are encouraged by our Malagasy friends and neighbours.

Another fun way we learn Malagasy is through singing children’s songs. We share our favourites with you here:

‘Tia zaza’ – a song somewhat resembling ‘Jesus loves the little children’ in lyrics.

‘Iza no namorana’ – Dani’s favourite: he loves the ‘funny’ policeman. The song is about God being the sole Creator of the earth, the water, the trees and YOU! See if you can find out which of the four he is singing about (hint: order matters).

‘Miantso anao Jesosy’ – a song somewhat more for teens and / or adults. The lyrics say that Jesus calls you and loves you. Return to Him, my friend.

But why spend so much time and effort on language learning? We are apt to believe it is necessary to minister to the people – later. On the contrary: we have learned that language learning is ministering to the people now. Through learning the language and culture we put ourselves in a humble position, as Jesus did. We position ourselves as learners and testify of the love of God, who came to this earth a helpless babe and became one with us in everything – even carrying the burden of sin on the cross. Language is the most important way to be one with the Malagasy, a means to somewhat understand our fellow man and feel what they feel, experience life as they do. During this process we will be on the receiving end for quite some time: we have not come as the know-it-alls, but as hands and feet of our Lord.

We have made a video about our language lessons. In it, Jurgen once more explains the importance of language learning. You will also meet our language teacher, see us try hard to communicate in Malagasy and help our children express themselves in this beautiful language.

Give Us This Day Our Daily…

Give Us This Day Our Daily…

We have lived in Tana for almost 2 months now. What is our daily life like? What is different? And what is the same?

Water – Rano

Our house has running water. It is not like that for everyone. There are many who have to go outside to a tap at the roadside. Sometimes it is a public tap, sometimes private (they have a lock).

We cannot count on the water pressure. Now that it is rainy season the pressure is often failing. Because of that we have a store of about 30 litres of water in 2 big lidded buckets in the kitchen. We use the stored water frequently.

We would rather not drink water directly from the tap. There may be too many bacteria, virusses or parasites in it. Many Malagasy also use filtered or bottled water. One of the children’s chores is to fill the waterfilter and the storage buckets.

The water does not taste great. Even after filtering the chloride  lingers. The colour is changeable. Sometimes it is more mud than water, but the water is clear most of the time. The filters from the waterfilter do reveal there is always the typical terra cotta dust.

Food – Sakafo

Our eating pattern has not changed much. Most of the foods we are used to are available, although it does cost more trouble to buy the ingredients to bake our own bread. Storebought bread is mostly white and we prefer wholemeal or at least brown bread. We have to travel about 7 miles to buy our favourite bread baking mix and about 14 miles to buy wholemeal.

The Malagasy diet is based on rice. Many families eat it at all meals: vary (rice) with loka (whatever you eat with the rice). Lunch is the main meal of the day. In the evening the leftovers are served. It is easy to buy the ingredients for vary with loka: almost every street has several stalls with vegetables, meat and rice. It is quite cheap to buy food in the street or at the market.

Before preparing fresh food it needs to be washed thoroughly. Sometimes the stalls are not more than a filthy plastic sheet spread out on the ground near a local waste dump or open sewer. We either rinse fresh food with filtered water or we let it soak in water with a drop of chloride. We are relieved this hardly affects the taste of the food.

Laundry – Manasa lamba

The laundry is done by hand. Whoever has a little money can hire a laundry woman – mpanasa lamba – to do the work for him. Washing machines can be bought, but for the same money you can help someone to a part time job for 3 years. We are very happy with our laundry woman as our laundry takes her and Katja more than a full working day a week. The downside of washing by hand is that clothing does not last as long: the scrubbing grates heavily.

The laundry is line-dried. It is clearly visible the sun’s radiation is stronger her: the colours are quickly fading. The other day Jurgen pulled out a black t-shirt and we both remarked we could easily see he had not worn it here yet. The clothes are dry quickly, but often the heavy monsoon rains surprise us – a free extra rinse so to speak.

Transport – Fiara

We do not have our own vehicle – fiara – yet and we are happy for it. Because of our walks and bus rides we make more contact with the people around us and learn more language. People are somewhat surprised to see white foreigners using public transport and we feel it is a witness to them that we respect them and want to be like them.

It is cosy and snug in the bus. Up front near the driver there are 2 seats. Behind the driver there are 5 rows with 2 seats on each side. In the aisle small seats can be lowered or short planks are used as an extra seat. That all adds up to 28 seats. Add to that the driver’s helpers who opens and closes the doors, receives payments and cries out the destination at every stop; quite a few children on people’s laps and the people standing at the back and on the bumper and the capacity of the bus is about 40 people!

When buying groceries at the local market we walk. This is not very healthy or safe: there are no footpaths and smog is filling the air. Some Malagasy cycle, but there are many safety issues there.

Traveling by normal car is also different. Seatbelts – if there – are hardly being used and there are no children’s car seats. The possible number of passengers is again quite flexible. Only a week ago we saw it no problem to fit 3 adults and 8 children in a car when using the back (a favourite place of our children). It is very baby-friendly: you can drink while traveling!

Language: Malagasy

Malagasy is very different from European languages, apart from the French words that are being uses like ‘fromage’, ‘olives’ and ‘taxi’. We are happy to find we are remembering more and more words. Syntax and grammar are quite mysterious to us. The subject usually comes last in a sentence. Verbs are only conjugated for the past and future tense. There are many adverbs of place, Malagasy are very precise in these matters. One of Katja’s favourite sentences is: ‘Manana zanaka dimy aho.’ which transliterated says ‘Have own children five I.’

The Malagasy are very happy to hear our limited Malagasy. They even brighten up more when Jurgen tells them he has absolutely no mastery of French. His favourite sentence: ‘Tsy mahay teny Frantsay i aho.’ which transliterated reads ‘Not to be good at language French I.’ The Malagasy are very encouraging when we are using their language. We witness first hand how language learning is a labour and a witness of love. We want to be known as friendly and humble people so we greet everyone we meet. It works: people like to great us back and chat with us, asking where the (other) children are. The market sellers already know we have 5!

Two Trips into Town

Two Trips into Town

Katja ordered two Dutch books. The were shipped to Madagascar. To collect the parcel she had to travel to Analakely, Tana (17km). Because all Buses were full she had to take a taxi for the first stretch. There she took a bus for the second part. With a second bus she arrived at Analakely. Ones there she had to walk up a hill to a post-office to get a stamp and a signature. With that she walked down to another post-office. There they wanted to see her passport and she had to give two signatures and after receiving another stamp and paying 2000 Ariary she received her parcel. She was able to take a bus that drove back home in one stretch. The trip to collect her parcel took her 4 hours.

Today Vanya and I (Jurgen) had to go to the pharmacy in Akorondrano, Tana (14km) to get Simeon vaccination. We left at 10am with the first taxi-bé (bus), Thirty minutes later we took the second bus and arrived at 12 o’clock. We bought some whole wheat flour at Jumbo (supermarket) and then walked to the pharmacy just to discover that they were closed until 13:30. So we bought some bread to eat and waited. After getting the vaccination we had to get back to Mandriambero. Not one bus stopped as they were all loaded with people. After an hour of waiting it started to rain and we decided to take a taxi. Just in time as it started to pour. The window of the taxi was not there any more and the roof did not cooperate with us (leaking). The taxi had to drive very slowly. The engine stopped several times due to water… All in all we arrived home at 15:40 AND best of all… we have the vaccination! It ‘only’ took us almost six hours total 🙂

Report first weeks

Report first weeks

ABO (Africa Based Orientation)
After an eight hours flight we arrived at 8 pm (Saturday the 10th of October) on Nairobi airport. The first three nights we stayed at AIM’s guest house. From there we travelled on to the ABO conference at Nakuru.

We were not alone! A total of 22 adults and 28 children joined us and they were all ready to serve the Lord at different places. To see a bigger version of the photo on the richt you can click on it. The first week at ABO we have studied the African culture and values. Among our tutors was a Kenyan man who lived in the UK for several years. This made that he could relate to our western culture as well as to the African culture. It was good to talk with other missionaries—some of who already work in Africa for several months or even years. We have learned a lot from each other.

Other subject were healthcare, safety and world-view… What to do when you are bitten by a snake or what are the symptoms of certain parasites. The last week we have discussed how missionaries can make a real change in people life and finally we looked at several world religions.

Visit Local Church
All three Sundays we were assigned to a local AIC (Africa Inland Church). We have introduced ourselves and Jurgen gave his testimony on the first Sunday. Our names are not that easy to pronounce so soon Jurgen became ‘babba Isaiah’ and Katja ‘mamma Isaiah’ (after our oldest son Issa, which is Swahili for Isaiah). Guests, especially mzungus (white man), can not make themselves scares. Obviously Jurgen could do the sermon and Katja would probably have good ideas to share on Sunday school… Uh? Yes, sure… of course, no problem.

After the church service we were invited to some ones home to eat lunch. That was a great experience. The lady of the house washed our hands and after that she served the food. We have noticed how proud the people were of there property, and thus they had no problem with us taking photos and recording it. The last Sunday one of the elders invited us to his home. It was a bit further away so the pastor suggested that we could take his car. ‘Babba Isaiah, you can drive… can you?’ Well, of course Jurgen can drive! That is to say, the road… Wow, rally roads are smooth compared to these! Anyway, they wanted to spare us the pain of walking as mzungus are not used to that (and they are probably right on that). The other elders came 40 minutes later and said that the walk did them good. On our way back the pastor drove us and his kids were coming along… 10 people will fit just fine in one car, in Africa it does! All in all, it was a great day and we have enjoyed the hospitality and kindness of our Kenyan brothers and sisters very much.

How Did the Children Like it?
Vanya said that she really liked it. They have made several nice crafts that had to do something with the African cultures. She said that the lessons about the “do’s and the don’ts” were very good. For example they have learned that for children, in an African setting, it would be considered impudent to look older people straight in the eyes. Vanya said that she is happy to know that in advance.

Issa: ‘There was a nice playground and the food was good! I also made new friends. We have learned lots about 14 different animals and countries.’

Abbey: ‘I liked the teaching about other countries. We also did fun projects. The snacks were great and we also played games.’

Dani: ‘The teacher gave me a book and that was all.’

Simeon: ‘…. ‘

Antananarivo, Madagascar
On the 6th of November we travelled on to our final destination Tana, Madagascar. We have a fine place to live and every now and then we make outings to the local marked. The children enjoy themselves in the garden and with the children of the neighbourhood.

We regularly make some video recordings which we will upload when the internet and electricity allows us to. You can watch them on our multimedia page.

Introduction and language learning
We are busy learning the Malagasy language. This is not a simple task. Jurgen never had France in school but still he can follow Katja’s France conversations. This is because our languages (France, German, Dutch etc.) have similarities. These similarities cannot be found in the language of Madagascar. Not a single reference point and a totally different grammar. Nonetheless, we did learn some words like ‘hello’ (manao hoana), ‘sorry’ (azafat), and ‘thank you’ (misaotra anao). Also some sentences like ‘my name is …’, ‘what is you name?’, and ‘how are you doing?’. We enjoy learning a new language but it is exhausting.

The AIM-Madagascar unit leader, Anna Jarmy, is helping us with the introduction. We discuss our tasks which will be mainly language learning for the first period. To speed things up, Anna will try to find us a language helper. Furthermore, she said that the normal procedure is to stay with a local family for a few days. This is less straightforward as it sounds because how do you find a family that can house seven persons extra. We will wait and see.

At the moment we are trying to get our work visa. This is quite complicated as we do not speak Malagasy yet and locals are not very good in France. We are happy to receive help from Parany, a man who works at the AIM office in Tana, who speaks English. Still, we try to do many things ourselves as this helps a lot in getting to know the people and culture. The walks to different offices is an adventure on its own. People initially greet us in France (bonjour), but are surprised when we greet them back in Malagasy (‘Manao Hoana’ or ‘Salama’). When we finish all preliminary works we will hand over the task of getting the visa to a man called Roland. He is a well known man at the official offices and will not likely be ‘run over.’

Buying food is fun. Delicious mangos for only € 0,08 and banquettes for only € 0,11. We can buy all sorts of things on the market. This week we bought  1 kilo tomatoes, 1 kilo carrots and about 400 grams of beans for 2400 Ariary (€ 0,67). Other things are more difficult to find. Full grain bread is hard to come by and can only be found in the supermarket but than you will have to be prepared to pay more.

Different culture!
That we have arrived in a different culture is obvious. We already received two spontaneous visits. This means that you just stop with whatever you were doing and make some coffee, offering biscuits or the like and chat. This chatting is less straightforward as you might have guessed but, because we do know some of the cultural rules, we have done well. You need to offer the guest some biscuits first and place them on the table. Of course all the biscuits need to be eaten, a tradition the children do not mind. Jurgen and Vanya were going to visit someone’s house as well. They prepared their table with six classes but where were Katja and the children? Jurgen told them that they were very tired and that he only brought along his oldest child. This was pleasing as Vanya was a good representative of the children and the host was relieved to understand that the others did not stay home because of him. On Madagascar it is not necessarily the oldest boy who is most important (like in Kenya) but the oldest child. In Kenya we were the ‘father or mother of Issa’ but here we are ‘dadda/mamma nie Vanya’ (father or mother of Vanya).

If you want to know more about these differences we can recommend Sarah A. Lanier’s book, ‘Foreign to Familiar’ (for sale at e.g. Amazon). Sarah lived for eleven years in Holland and she is very good in explaining the differences between cold climate culture (with Holland as a strong example) and warm climate cultures.

We love to see all the learned theory in action. At the same time we are very tired at the end of the day. This ‘end of the day’ is about 6 pm—the sun has gone under by then and will be up as early as 05:20. Thus our day starts at 6 am and around 9 pm we are already in our snug beds… talking about which…

It is time to stop. We could write on but we will keep that for next time.

We wish you Gods rich blessings or in Malagasy ‘Andriamanitra ny fitahian’.

About Our Work

About Our Work

When we arrive in Antananarivo (Tana) we will become part of the Tana FOCUS team. It is the vision and stategy of the team to reach the unreached of Madagascar through the training of local believers. The team will train Malagasy Christians as missionaries and will support them when they serve amongst an unreached people group on the island. After successful service in Madagascar the Malagasy missionaries will be encouraged to go back to their roots (Indonesia) to do missionary work there. We are much delighted about this approach and find it a privilege to take part in it.

While in Tana we expect to spend much time on language acquisition and study of the culture and history of Madagascar. Katja will continue educating the children.

AIM’s unit leader over Madagascar has proposed that we help him survey which people groups still need to be effectively reached with the gospel and how this can be achieved. We will probably visit various people groups and locations on the isle. In time hopes are that we may be involved in starting a new team amongst an unreached people group.

– As part of the Tana FOCUS team we will help train Malagasi Christians to be missionaries;
– We will study Malagasy language, culture and history;
– We will help survey unreached people groups;
– In time we hope to start a new team amongst such a group;
– Katja will home educate the children.

To read more on unreached peoples visit this page. To learn more about Madagascar and its people go here.

Different Location

Different Location

Last month has been intense for us. We got word that, on second thought, we could not join the Betroka team. It was a pretty hard blow to take. As we understand, the teamleaders feel that they will not be able to give us the support we – as newcomers – will need with. Apparently the current situation on the field is already demanding enough. This has been very disappointing to us.

The good news is that a very fitting solution has been found. The unit leader of Madagascar has offered us to start our ministry in the capital, Antananarivo (Tana for short). We will be part of a ministry that trains Malagasy Christians to become missionaries to unreached people groups in their own country. Meanwhile we will learn the language, study the culture and gain insight into the vision and strategies of AIM Madagascar.

There are still many unreached people groups on Madagascar, especially in the south where also the Bara are located. AIM is surveying what people groups still need to be reached and what means and methods might be suitable to that end. In time we will be able to travel to different locations and people groups to see for ourselves and to help in the survey. Lord willing, we will be part of a new ministry to an unreached people group.

We look forward to our envolvement in the training of Malagasy missionaries and – in time – in starting a new ministry amongst an unreached people group of Madagascar.

The ideal is that we leave for Tana in January 2015. To be able to go we need enough financial support. Would you like to be part of our ministry to the unreached peoples of Madagascar? We thank you deeply if you do.