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

Steady As She Goes!

Steady As She Goes!

It has been few months since our family visit to Sandrohy and the surrouding area. Many things have happened since: we bought a four-wheel-drive, received approval from AIM Madagascar’s leadership to move to Maroamboka, a village about a mile from Sandrohy. The construction is under way and the car is ready to make the trip. Jurgen hopes to travel down there this month with Issa, our eldest son, to take a look, maybe help some and meet with people we met previously.

The car

This is it: our Nissan Patrol, built 1999. We had to search a long time for this mechanical vehicle, but now we have succeeded. It is important that the car is not only a four-wheel-drive, but also that it is mechanical rather than electrical. Mechanical cars are easier to repair; if necessary even by non-mechanics. Some simple tools and a phone in hand will come a long way. For the car-lovers among you: the engine is a 4.2 litre diesel, 6 cylinders. Click on the photo to see more pictures.

We are tremendously happy about the car since it allows us to travel safely to and from Sandrohy in every season. We were able to purchase the car from the money in our car-fund. So far there even seems to be enough for the repairs and adjustments that are needed. We are impressed with the Lord’s provision. It underlines that we are not here on our own. Thank you so very much!

Although we can drive the car now, there are still some things that have to be done: we need a new dashboard (some meters don’t work); a strong grille at the front and extra steel welded underneath to support our extra high jack; a roof rack; a new steeringpump and some repairs to the front axle. On Madagascar it can take a while to find the needed parts, so in the meantime we are glad to put the car to use.

Home Sweet Home

The builders al ready started to build our house. A couple of weeks ago we heard that the house was al ready finished for 50%. Initially we thought that they meant to say that the builder collected 50% of all the material, but no! He send us some pictures, which amazed us. We have good hopes that the house will be finished at the end of this month. However, the builder told us that the rain does make things harder. Still, we expect that we can move, as a family, at the beginning of the new year.

We have provided the drawings for the house ourselves. The builder adjusted a few things… and, as you can see, during the construction things have been changed a bit more. The ground surface will be around the 40m2. On each side of the house we will have a second floor with two bedrooms: One for the girls and one for the boys. The master bedroom will be on the ground floor with at the other side a living room with kitchen. Outside the house we will get a toilet and a washroom. Attached to the house we will get a porch where we can sit and dry our clothes. The builders use local material: the house will be made of wood with a concrete floor and a tin roof.

Jurgen is planning a trip to Maroamboka to take a look at the building side. He will also take some big furniture along. We will keep you informed!

Friends Already

Friends Already

We had to wait a long time, but at the end of last month we finally made our family trip to Sandrohy and the surrounding vilages. Although we still did not have a vehicle ourselves, friends made the trip possible by lending us their four wheel drive family car. It was a long trip of 540 km that took us 14 hours, mainly because of road conditions.

Upon arrival we were welcomed by many people of the village. The people of Sandrohy take great interest in visitors, especially foreigners. We stayed in the centre of the village in a specially prepared room, adjacent to a local shop. We felt very welcome in many ways: the local chilldren played with our children and brought them so many flowers we felt we needed to tell them we had quite enough whereas the local women enjoyed chatting with Katja.

You can see a video impression of our trip here:
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The goals of the trip were to get to know the area, to meet with the local people and their headmen (mpanjaka) and to see where we might live as a family.

On a previous trip Jurgen had already visited several villages. This time we renewed these contacts as a family. A local friend helped us to say the right words (greetings and goodbyes are subject to good form) and help us communicate our meanings in coming to their villages. We emphasised that we are coming to share the Good News from the Bible with them, but that we need to learn their dialect first. We asked them for their friendship as we will need some people to stand by us.

The responses were heartwarming – especially in 2 villages. In Tsiombivositra (see picture below) the whole village said they wanted to be friends and asked for a photo as a confirmation between us of our friendship. We will print the photo and bring it to the headman on our next visit. We were touched by the fact that it was not just the headman pleading his allegiance with us, but it was clearly something in which everyone wanted a part.

We also spoke with our new friends about a place to live. The were concerned since they did not have a pomp nearby – and what would we do if we got sick? We were moved that our new friends did not so much worry about their own needs in this respect, but were thinking of us!

Our contact in the region, Sylvestre, had a solution for a place to live. He owns much land in his own village and has a small plot of land just outside the village he is willing to offer up for the purpose. We are very thankful that there is a place for us, central to many villages in the Sandrohy area. Before deciding we will discuss the matter further with AIM Madagascar’s leadership. Exciting times …

Photo Gallery Baby

Photo Gallery Baby

We had to wait 4 years on his arrival, but he has finally made it: Simeon! He was born on 29 July at 01:20 am in hospital. He weighed 3810 grammes and measured about 51 cm. It all went rather quickly: labour started at 10:49 pm, the arrival in hospital was at 00:30 am and three quarters of an hour later Simeon had safely found his way into this world. We feel very rich. Again we are amazed about 10 little toes and 10 little fingers. How small and fragile life begins!