Where Would You Like To Go?

October 29, 2012

You Speak English?!?

It is not very often that we get asked that question here in Madagascar!  The assumption is that if you are a foreigner you are fluent in French and when you aren't, people often think you are joking.  If then you actually speak Malagasy, the people are shocked!  The English speaking population here is minimal at best, so imagine our surprise to discover an ESL class being held near our house!  Our friends and co-workers, the Hailes family (their blog is on the list to the right), found out about the class first and began to tell us about it.  Immediately, I knew it was something I wanted to learn more about.  The class meets nightly (due to school being in session during the day), and there are about 150 or so students.  The students range in age from about 17-28.  There are two levels of classes and the second level is very proficient in English (writing, reading, & speaking). 
I went for the 1st time last week with Tessa (also a friend and co-worker - whose blog is also there on the right!) and we were shocked at the number of students and how well they spoke English.  Several, when we first arrived, excitedly asked "You speak English?!?".  It was slightly comical because we are never asked about the English language here!  It was a fun night of getting to know one another, explaining why we lived in Madagascar, and answering questions that they had about the Bible, Jesus, and temptations. 
This past Thursday night, I was eager to take mom with me because I knew she'd enjoy being able to communicate in her heart language with Malagasy people!  Mr. Harrison (a Malagasy man who is the lead teacher for the class), greeted us and set us up with the 2nd level class. 
We had about 50 students and enjoyed our time with them very much.  It's been amazing to me the questions that they ask.  Their comprehension level is astounding and they desire to know all they can about the Bible, a relationship with Jesus, and how to live to please Him here on this earth.  These students have been beyond encouraging to me for the past two weeks.  It's fun to be able to share His truths in my heart langauge even while in Madagascar!
We have explained to these students about Christians in the United States who are praying on their behalf.  We have told them that if they are already believers that you are praying for them to grow deeper in their walk with Christ and that if they are not that you are praying for their understanding and acceptance of how to be a child of the One True God.  Please also pray for this ministry outlet, that relationships will be built, and His truth would be proclaimed.  Also, I'd ask that you pray that as we share in English (our heart language) that it would be a reminder of how important it is to continue to learn the Mahafaly's heart language and dialect.

October 27, 2012

Spreading His name...

I know everyone who reads our blog is always excited about what Nickolee is going to type up next.  Well this time I, Steve, decided to change things up.  I am going to tell you guys about an exciting thing that happened just this week while we were in Mahafaly land.  Hopefully, you will not be too disappointed that it is me and stop reading this book, I mean blog post.

As a team, we have been talking to the village of Kilimary for a long time about going to a nearby village, Andohasatra, to share the gospel there.  We have been telling them that they could do it and they have always said they would go, but never got around to it.  Recently, we have been talking a lot more about it with them and on the way to the funeral that Doug and Nathan attended with Kilimary, some villagers from Andohasatra asked us, the white men, to come and share with them.  We decided that it was time to give Kilimary that extra little nudge to go and share, so we told them on Monday, of this week, as we were passing by to go farther south for two days, that we would be back on Wednesday afternoon to set up going to Andohasatra with them. 

Doug, Nathan, and I finished up all of our other teaching in the villages that we were working in and on Wednesday afternoon we headed to Kilimary.  Our plan was to show up and do the current story with them and then talk about going to Andohasatra; timing, story, and such.  To our surprise, when we arrived in Kilimary, the president (leader of village) greeted us at our truck and told us we were late for going to Andohasatra.  We were confused because we had set up to be in Kilimary at 2:00pm and that is when we showed up.  They informed us that they had gone to Andohasatra the day before and set up for us to be there at 2:00pm to share with the village.  Remember, we are in Africa and the time was not really that big of a deal, but we were excited that they were finally ready to go and had done the legwork without us pushing.  The president told us to sit down and wait for a few minutes while he and one of his brothers changed and put on their good clothes to go share.  So, we went and sat down and waited and after a few minutes they came out in their nice clothes and said they were ready to go.  We slowed them down a little bit to discuss what would happen after we arrived in Andohasatra.  We asked them what they would share with someone else to tell them about God or Jesus.  They shared the creation story with us and said they would share that.  We asked them if they remembered any of the other stories and could share any about Jesus.  We all agreed they would share the creation story and that we could share the other stories.  We also stressed to them that they were the leaders and we were following them and helping them in this.

So, the five of us piled in the truck and started driving the 3km to Andohasatra.  When we arrived, we pulled through the village and parked by the president's house.  We got out and greeted him and his family.  He told us to sit down for a few minutes and he would gather the people underneath the big tree.  He then went and rang the bell (tire drum hanging from tree) for the people to meet.  We sat by his house for a few minutes more and then made our way to the big tree.  As we got there the people started gathering and coming out from the huts.  In total we had around 45 people gather to hear what we had come to share.  The president of Andohasatra did the formal greetings and then introduced us and told the villagers why we had come: to preach the gospel.  The president of Kilimary responded in the traditional way of thanking them for letting us come and share.  After that, his brother began to share the stories.  He started with sharing the story of creation and then told about Adam and Eve and their disobedience and what that meant for us.  Next, he moved to Jesus and told about how He was God come to earth to be the sacrifice for our sins and His death on the cross for us.  Doug, Nathan, and I just sat and listened and watched as he told creation to Christ without missing a beat and did not ask once for us to chime in.  When he finished telling the story the president of Andohasatra said they understood and they appreciated the teachings they had heard.  They then began to talk about the story, for example; we all (Vazaha and Malagasy) came from one man - Adam, asking if we still need to sacrifice to our ancestors, can we use charms from witch doctor, and so on.  The brother answered all of the questions very well.  When asked about sacrificing to ancestors, he said that Grant had not come in giving them rules to follow, but that over time and through his teaching of the Bible stories that they had seen that it was wrong for them to do and they had stopped doing it.  One man asked what us white men had to say and Nathan answered that we agreed with everything that the brother had taught and just emphasized that following Jesus meant that He alone was Lord of our lives and that it was contradictory to say you trusted Jesus to help you and then go to the witch doctor for a charm.  The time went very well and seemed to be well received by the village of Andohasatra.  They asked us when we could come back and teach them again.  We told them that we would work it out with Kilimary to set up future teachings.

We then said our goodbyes and made our way to the truck.  The president of Andohasatra followed us back to the truck and emphasized again that they wanted us to come back and teach them more.  We drove back to Kilimary and sat down with them to debrief the time and set up future teachings.  They were really excited and told some of the villagers about what all had happened.  We told them to set up and go back next week to Andohasatra and teach just the story of creation.  We asked them to tell us the story like we had never heard it before and helped them practice it.  We told them that after they told the story, to then get two or three people from Andohasatra to retell the story to them and make sure they understood it.  Their eyes kinda lit up and they were like, "hey, that is what you do with us every time".  We then told them to ask us the six questions that we always ask them.  They told us they did not know the questions, but once we started telling them the questions they realized they did in fact know the questions.  When Nathan asked them about why they should ask the questions, the brother said so they (the ones listening) will talk about the story and not just sit there.  Once again, they lit up again and were like, "hey that is why you do that with us every time".  It was amazing to see them realize that what we wanted them to do in Andohasatra, Grant had been doing in Kilimary with them for years now.

Please lift up the believers in Kilimary that they will continue to share Bible stories in Andohasatra.  I did not put the names of the men because I do not know them and if I did, I would not be able to spell them and they would be impossible to pronounce.  We only know the leader of Kilimary as president because that is what everyone calls him and we only know that the other guy is one of his brothers.  Also, lift up the village of Andohasatra as they hear stories from the Bible, that they will see the truth and be set free from their bondage of darkness that surrounds them.

October 26, 2012

Jesus Loves Me

Most of you read the title of this post and a familiar tune arose in your mind.  It brings back some childhood memories or maybe you just sang it yesterday with a child that you are close to.  Since becoming a mother, I've been overwhelmed with the massive truths that are in the simple childhood songs that I grew up singing.  From a young age I was taught that..."Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world..." and that "Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so".  I learned that Jesus stopped and looked up in a tree to go to a "wee little man's" house that day and that He holds the whole world in His hands.  See, what did I tell you?  Big truths - yet that childlike faith never thinks twice...humbling isn't it? 
Well, this past Sunday, the scorching temps sent me outside of our tin church building to seek some relief.  Ryleigh and mom had already made their way outside which means there were also about 10 Malagasy children by the truck.  Mom was singing songs with them, praying over them, and to the joy of the kiddos laughing at their adorable smiles.
 Once I went out there, Mom wanted me to translate some of the songs she was singing to Malagasy.  So, we all began to stumble through "My God is so Big" and "Jesus Loves Me".  I'm not sure how effectively the message got across but we did have fun with hand motions while we were singing!
However, as the day went on my heart was burdened for how to truly communicate that Jesus loves these children to those children. I know that I can say it correctly in the language but how do they know what those words truly mean?
How or when does it become more than just vocabulary words to life giving words?
Heart breaking doesn't begin to describe the frustration I felt.
Then, my God, the One that  "there's nothing my God can not do" spoke.  He reminded me 1st of His love for me.  I will forever be thankful for people who allow the Lord to use them such as David Crowder.  His song "Oh How He Loves" moves me to tears everytime.  God's love is SO GREAT!!  It encompasses all of me - my fears, frustrations, failures, everything. 
 Next, He spoke through His word by using my sweet husband. 
Psalms 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." 
That is His promise.  His purpose is to make Himself known.  I do not have to worry about how the children or anyone else will understand.  I just have to tell them.  It's what He has commanded me (and all of His children) to do. 
So, to end in the words of a song..."How can I keep from singing Your praise?  How can I ever say enough?  How amazing is Your Love!" and I will keep praying that in the end their hearts will want to sing too.
 

October 24, 2012

Plans are always changing!

If we had a theme it'd probably be "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9.  No matter how much we can plan, the Lord is always in control and things definitely don't always go according to our plan!  Wednesday morning was to be spent in the village of Kilimary.  Steve was going to share the story of Stephen and plans for next week (now this week) were going to be discussed.  However, upon arriving in Kilimary, we were greeted by several children but only these two men.
It seems that everyone else had gone to pay their respects to a family who had lost a son.  The man was part of the military and had been killed by the local cattle thieves.  We had just seen many of the leaders of this village the day before at the market to set up coming - but apparently at that time they had not heard about the situation. 
We hadn't taken a family pic, so after snapping one in Kilimary, we loaded up and headed back to Tulear!  Thanks so much for all of your prayers - we had a great trip and are looking forward to many more.  Also - we'd love for you to be lifting up the guys as they are already back in the bush again!

October 20, 2012

Market Day in Betioky

Day #2 was spent in the town of Betioky.  Betioky is a tiny place that, as of now, seems to be the best option for living closer to the Mahafaly people.  There is electricity and running water (at least most of the time!) and every Tuesday is market day.  Most of the villagers from the surrounding areas come into town to sell and purchase supplies every week.  I didn't take the camera around with us through the market but you can just picture lots of people - EVERYWHERE! :)  Obviously, life would be different out there but we are excited about the prospect of being closer to the people!  Here are a few pictures of the town of Betioky...


 

In other news, Ryleigh now has her first "goose egg"!  Her forehead unfortunately connected with some cement at the hotel where we stayed.  But no worries, shortly after she was practicing her driving skills on the quad - watch out Doug she might start driving it back from the bush!



October 18, 2012

1st Day


Monday was a beautiful and HOT day to head out to Mahafaly Land but we were excited!  Ryleigh was a fantastic traveler on the rough roads and somehow even managed to take a nap despite the harsh conditions.  We had fun singing every song we knew and doing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" atleast 30 times!
We met up with the guys in Betioky and after eating some lunch of rice & beans here...

 We headed to the village of Besatra and on the way out we were met with this unexpected but very exciting sight...
Rain is so rare here and we were thankful - as were all of the people in the villages!  Ryleigh and I haven't been to Besatra since July, so it was fun to see everyone again.  Ryleigh loved being around all the children and quickly made lots of friends. 
I know lots of you were praying for me as this was my 1st time to try and share with the women in a village.  When Nathan finished sharing the story, I started talking to the women I was sitting with and asked if I could share a few of my favorite verses with them.  Filao (the leader of the village's wife) said yes and called a few other women over to join us.  I was able to share from Psalms 73 and what the verses meant for us as believers.  The ladies were gracious and patient with my language and overall said that the message was "mazava" (clear).  It was short and sweet but more than I've ever attempted in that type of setting and in Southern Dialect!  I was beyond grateful for each of your prayers!! 

 

October 16, 2012

Identity

From the time I could say "When I grow up I want to..." I'd finish the sentence with "be a missionary" or "live in Africa".  There may have been a random "be a waitress" or "be an actress" but for the most part the 1st two scenarios were the given answer. 

People told us how hard it would be to move overseas.  They'd explain the difficulties or try to imagine for us how sad it would be to live far away from our families and friends.  Others wouldn't say it out loud but you'd see it in their eyes as they gave you hugs and said "see you later".  I would always smile and say confidently "this is where the Lord has called us".  And praise to His name that hasn't changed and at the same time what people said has been true.  It is difficult sometimes to be far away from all we know and those who know us.  It is also extraordinarly wonderful to know you are exactly where He wants you to be.

However, what I wasn't prepared for, what no one ever mentioned, what has caused the most tears, and what has been the source of my deepest joys - is to be stripped of my identity.  If you had asked me in Whom I found my identity, I would have confidently answered, "Jesus Christ".  The truth, I'm afraid, has been slightly different.  There are things, I found my identity in, that I wasn't even made aware of until living in Mada.

Growing up, my identity was "Hi, I'm Nickolee, Flint & Lessa's daughter", "I worship at Midway Baptist", "I attend school at West Lauderdale"...etc.

Then while in college..."I'm an Education major", "I'm engaged", etc.

Then once I was married..."I'm Mrs. Roberts", "I'm a 4th grade teacher", "We're having a baby" etc.

There was nothing wrong with any of these and although I wouldn't have said that's where I found my identity - my continually stating these phrases along with 100's of others over the years- seemed to prove that was where my identity was found.

Here's the thing...

In Madagascar...
no one knows who my parents are
everyone speaks to me in French (because I'm a "vazaha" foreigner)
as a 26 year old college grad, I was reduced to the knowledge of a toddler
it is mentally exhausting to have an indepth conversation in Malagasy
no one "ooohs and ahhhhs" over my being married
people openly ask why we don't have more children

The ONLY thing that will make a difference here is Jesus Christ.
He is who they do not know about - He is the One they need to hear about. 
My identity has to be in Christ alone. 
He is the only one that makes a difference in this world. 
He is the only one that makes a difference in me. 
Without Him there is no life. 
Without Him there is no hope.
Without Him - I have no identity.

October 14, 2012

Headed out!

We're leaving bright and early Monday morning headed to Mahafaly Land as a family.  We'll be meeting up with Doug & Nathan who have spent the past few nights in the villages of Kilimary & Andremba.  On Monday, the guys will be continuing the storying sets in Kilimary or Besatra.  I (Nickolee) am excited because it will be my first time to be there when a story is presented.  Tuesday is market day in Betioky (small town between the villages where the hotel is located).  We will be exploring the town some on that day as well as possibily traveling farther south to the village of Tanatsoa.  Wednesday morning the guys will present the next story in Besatra or Kilimary and then we'll travel back home to Tulear.  We'd love to know that while we're "out of touch" that you guys are faithfully lifting us up to the Father. 

Want to know how??
* Safety along the roads
* Opportunities to teach the stories
* Language & Cultural learning/awareness
* Nickolee as she has prepared a short devotional to share with the women
* Bonding as a family as we are able to do bush ministry together
* Connections in Betioky as we seek out information towards moving there one day

Thank you!

October 9, 2012

Famorona

Both Roxana and Lusika have said that I (Nickolee) could visit with them this week and share a Bible story I've been working on in the Mahafaly dialect.  I will be sharing the story of "famorona" (creation).  Please be lifting up these times with each of these ladies.  Pray that my words would come across clearly and correctly.  Pray that every time I practice the story I would become more fluent in the language.  Pray that they would hear the truth in Who created the world and how He desires a personal relationship with His creation.  Pray for those who work around these ladies who will also be exposed to His truths.  Thank you for being so faithful to pray!!

** Update** Time with Roxana went wonderfully - praise to the Lord that she even said my Malagasy had gotten better!!  Compliments from friends here mean so much because they are always brutally honest...telling me when I need to lose weight, have more kids, my clothing choices for the day made me look like an old woman, or that I'm actually way too tall to have gotten a husband :)  So I'll take that compliment quite cheerfully!!
Also, we were invited as a family to eat lunch next Sunday afternoon at her house.  Please go ahead and start praying for this time with her and her family.  Pray for opportunities to present the gospel to the rest of her family (Muslim believers).  Pray also for a sweet time of fellowship and deepening this friendship!

October 8, 2012

Back to the Bush

Steve leaves today for a week in the bush with Nathan, Doug, & Adam.  Thankfully, due to a change in his school schedule, Brilliant is able to travel with them this week too!  Brilliant has been out with Steve before when the Vansant team was here, and we are looking forward to him going out as much as his schedule will allow.  He has been helping us with the Mahafaly dialect and has become a good national (Malagasy) friend. 
Steve, Nathan, Brilliant, & the Vansant team

The guys will be traveling to Besatra, Kilimary, Tanantsoa, and Andremba.  They will be sharing the next stories in the set for each village.  Please pray for the time set aside to tell these stories.  Pray that those who need to hear will be present.  Pray for clear communication through each of our team members.  Lift up Steve as he is still a "newbie" at sharing the stories among the Mahafaly.  He will be sharing the call of Moses with Andremba.  Thank you for interceding!
Kissing Daddy goodbye :)

October 6, 2012

Andranahare

"Andranahare" is the word for God in southern dialect.  The exact translation would be "The Prince Who Created".  The Malagasy (and the Mahafaly for that matter) acknowledge who God is...they are aware that He created everything.  However, they do not know who Jesus is. 
Growing up in a Christian home and in "Bible Belt" USA - that still blows my mind.  In my little box, I assume if you know who God is and acknowledge that He is indeed God then how in the world could you NOT know about Jesus?!?!  You can't know about one without knowing about the other.
The sad truth is that it is indeed possible.  We see it everyday.  We are living among a people that seems to not fit in my "little box" that I've categorized things into my whole life.  They believe in God - even the witchdoctors - they just don't believe they have access to Him.  They consult their ancestors, they pray for the spirits to be kind to the harvest, they follow custom after custom that leads them farther into a web of lies.  How great the Deceiver is! 
As I was reading in Isaiah this past week, I came across this verse..."Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?" (8:19)  It jumped off the page at me.  Should they?  Absolutely not.  Do they?  Absolutely.  They know of nothing else.  They do not know there is a pathway to the Creator.  The Mahafaly do not understand that they can communicate with the Creator instead of just His creation.  They must be told.  They must hear the Truth so that they can believe. 
The exciting thing is when they do hear, they want more.  They are hungry for His words and the freedom that His abundant life brings.  Please pray for His Truth to penetrate the darkness that surrounds them.  Pray that as they hear the stories they will trust in their Creator and ONLY in Him.  Pray.

October 3, 2012

SouthBridge Update

Well, the Southbridge Team has come and gone - but we are so thankful for their coming!!  This was a partner church with our supervisors, the Wallers.  They have made several trips out to the red island and we were grateful for the opportunity to meet them this year!  Steve (along with many other members of our team) went out with them to help with translating and such.  It was a really great time for Steve to see how teams can be used effectively in the bush and will hopefully provide a lot of insight for future teams who are wanting to partner with us in bush ministry.
The team spent the majority of their time out in the bush. They split the week up doing 2 days worth of teachings in three different villages.  The team did a fantastic job.  Their teachings focused on medical care, leadership, agriculture, and the book of James.  In each village they met with the elders and other men and women to discuss the topics and hopefully change the daily and eternal lives of the Mahafaly. 

Kelly, the PA that came, taught on what symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke looked like.  She also made "hut to hut" visits with Tessa to see different people with various illnesses.  Many opportunities were presented to pray over the sick.  In the village of Kilimary, she visited with two that were sick.  The first one was an older woman who had to have help to even sit up in bed.  The second was a baby boy who had an extremely high fever.  They were both prayed over before the team left for the evening.  The following night Steve spent the night in Kilimary.  He and the others who were staying the night there asked how the two who were sick were doing.  They were told they had been healed.  The woman had been up, moving around on her own, and even cooking all day.  The baby boy's fever was gone.  PRAISE HIM!!  He is the Great Physician!!

Michael, Kelly's husband, brought new seeds for them to try in their fields.  The seeds were for a type of tree that thrives in hot & sandy areas that also provides food.  He also taught them about how to use fertilizer and the benefits of doing so.

The team taught on seeking wisdom as King Solomon did when they are in a leadership position. Through teaching on this, we were able to gain a lot of cultural insight into how leadership works in a village.  Their Bible study focused on faith and deeds using James as a base to study from. 
All of the information was well taken and the villages were very responsive to the teachings. There was great dialogue about what was being learned and good questions were asked. Overall, the villages learned a great deal of new information and it strengthened their relationship with the Southbridge and Southwest team.
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