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

Seven Weeks Maroamboka

Seven Weeks Maroamboka

At the time of writing we have arrived back in our new house a week ago from a trip to the capital. So we have started our ‘second term’ here. How did it go since the move in February? We share our ups and downs with you.

Circus Hofmann

Some of our new neighbours had never seen white people before we came, so there are children who are very afraid of us. But most found our every move most interesting. For the first three weeks there seemed to be a youth gathering right outside our house. When we went for a walk we were followed. Words uttered were repeated with many giggles. Mothers bragged to other mothers that their child was not afraid of the ‘vazaha’ (white foreigners), proving their statement by bringing their – sometimes screaming – child up close. By now most villagers are somewhat used to our appearance and we feel less like circus artists.

New Friends

Friends and good neighbours help make a house a home, and that certainly goes for us here. We already knew Sylvestre, our first contact here who allowed AIM to build us a house on a plot of his land. We regularly share a meal. We have also become acquainted with the president of the fokontany, a high local government official, and his wife.

A great blessing is the friendship with maman’i Prisca, who welcomed us from the beginning. She even gave us a life chicken, a traditional but costly welcome present. We see each other most every day.

 Then there is Menja, the local teacher, who has agreed to help Jurgen translate Bible stories into Tanala. They have already visited a remote village together.

New Foes

Or challenges at least. We had fervently hoped for running water in the house. The pump is there, the pipes are there, and the taps – but the water… As we understand the main pipe leading from the upper village to the lower villages had breaks or leaks, and nobody knows exactly where. Then the pumps that do work leak badly so there is no pressure left to make our pump work. We are working on a solution, but things go slowly on Madagascar. So we rejoice in rain and fill up as many jerry-cans as we can to avoid having to walk to the faraway pump all too often.

Water can be a friend, but a foe as well. In March a cyclone hit our area, causing flooding and land washes. We discovered our ark-like mansion is not so waterproof… Jurgen has already spent many hours fixing leaks. So long as the rain comes straight down we stay dry, but at an angle… The road was already bad, but has got worse since the cyclone. Travelling by night is no longer an option in our area, and we had to buy mud tires for the car. They have already helped us out of a ditch twice on our last trip!

Then the rats. When we asked our friend maman’i Prisca whether she had rats in her house she said “Yes, in the roof.” Did that not bother her and keep her from sleep? “Oh well, we Malagasy sleep together with animals.” is what she replied. We honestly have a little trouble there. So far the rats have put their teeth in our food, soap, bedding, pillow covers, clothing, schoolbooks, toys, and wood. We are not amused. We gave Vanya a kitten, but she is still somewhat young to be on the job. In the meantime Jurgen is making us a ratproof cupboard for storing our fresh foods. No more rats on our tomatoes!

Elaborate Greetings

The Tanala take pride in their elaborate greetings. When meeting, one should inquire about how the other person has fared before, ask for news and express joy over seeing each other again. The longer the time lapse between meeting, the longer the greeting. We have not quite worked out all the greetings, but we can follow the general patterns. When walking through our village, the villagers love to test us and see if we give the correct responses.

Far Away But In the Right Place

Of course, we already knew we were far away from Holland. However, being at the end of a mud road, living off-grid, having no internet to speak of and missing the postman on his rounds (where is that man?) makes us even more aware of the distance. At times, we have felt isolated and down, but over all we recognise Gods hand in our being here. He planned it and prepared it. He wants us here. He loves the Tanala. We are learning to love them too – and so far that is not so hard.

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 …

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.



We are very happy to let you know that quite some progress has been made in finances this last month. At the moment we have reached 65% coverage of our monthly budget. We need some additional 25% in support to reach the goal of at least 90% coverage, the percentage at which the mission organisation thinks it is responsible to let us go to Madagascar.

How does it work? Africa Inland Mission has made a monthly budget for us – based on experience – to live and work as missionaries on Madagascar. The mission organisation is not our employer, but is itself dependent on gifts. Consequently, we are not paid any wages but are responsible ourselves for finding sponsors to help us on our way.

You can support us periodically (monthly / quarterly / annually) or one-off. Find out more about how to give here. We value any support given.

On Finances

On Finances

A new year has begun: a good moment to share with you how we are doing.

As far as we are concerned we are ready to leave: suitcases and lesson materials have been purchased; our destiny and ministry are clear; and we are all quite eager to take the plunge. Then why are we still in Holland?

The only thing to be taken care of are the finances. AIM Holland’s treasurer has made us a monthly budget and a budget for start up costs. We are responsible for raising the necessary funds ourselves. AIM is not our employer, but a facilitating organisation. This means AIM organises missionary work, but does not provide the finances. Our home church in Den Helder is not able to support us fully either. Most of our budget is dependent on individual supporters.

So how far are we? The latest statement of our fund with the mission organisation showed we have reached 52% of our monthly budget. Those who are supporting us already are helping us save for the start up costs. These include air fares, visa, vaccines, the 3 week orientation in Kenya and some basic furnishings for our new home in Antananarivo. When we have reached 90% of our monthly budget in promised support, we are allowed to book the tickets.

Would you like to sponsor us? You can find out how on our Support – Financial Support page. Money donated will be received in our private fund. You will be helping us directly, not the mission organisation in general.

Now that we will be staying in the Netherlands and Jurgen has almost finished his Diploma level in Theology, he has gone back to work. He finishes his studies in his spare time. We are very thankful for the years of study and expect to reap the fruits of it on the mission field, as we have already been blessed so much by the knowledge and experience gained over the past few years.

A Cozy Little Cottage

A Cozy Little Cottage

On the third of October we moved from West Farm Cottage in England to a little cottage in Holland. The journey took us about 20 hours. The first few days were spent unpacking boxes, but now we have settled into our nice little cottage. The cottage, which used to be a pigsty, belongs to Katja’s mother who moved to the old farmhouse three years ago. The children have quite some room to play, and the ducks have found their way to granny’s pond.

Since last week the children’s lessons have been resumed. All goes well, although it is not an easy transition for us. We miss England and our friends there, and we have not returned to the Netherlands to stay. We all realise we are only here temporarily.

Please pray for our family as we settle back into Holland, especially for peace as we seek to trust the Lord to unfold His plan with our lives