Monday, July 16, 2018


One year ago today, I left the island of Madagascar. With a full heart and tear-filled eyes I said goodbye. I said goodbye to a home and a family - sisters, brothers, friends, and a Mama. I ponder and pray for these loved ones each day. I think of my sister Esperance as I prepare dinner and my Mama Jeannette as I feel the cool breeze. I sense my friend, Rico, beside me each time I hear a guitar or a hearty giggle. Daily occurrences bring daily pangs of longing and daily praises for love and life given and shared. Yet, this twelve-month milestone implores particular reflection.

This past year has been one of slow and steady revelation. While on the island, I could sense a steady stirring - pieces of my identity, world-view, and understanding of God continuously shifted. These rumblings reverberated through my skin, but I could rarely recognize the reconfigurations taking place within my own being. Yet, the past twelve months have brought clarity and the ability to retrace the stirs and shifts - to sense the meaning behind the moments.

While still on the island of Madagascar, I tried to write a newsletter for my family, friends, and support back in the US. I had experienced a soul-stirring moment and deeply wanted to share the beauty. I sat down at my laptop and documented in great detail the events of the moment. However, when I reached the end of the story, I froze. I knew with great certainty the experience held importance - a spiritual significance. Yet, the precise importance escaped me. I reflected, wrote, and prayed. Still, I could not figure out why the moment had struck my heart with such impact. Eventually I abandoned the blog post. I left it to sit in the files of my laptop, and the memory solidified itself in the creases of my heart. Now, I offer that moment in full detail.

I occasionally glanced up at the crescent moon and countless stars glaring above me. I felt lost in the moment, but sudden and short jolts of pain ensured my mind did not wander far. After dinner, I had found a small bench in our dirt-covered front yard; I desired to watch the nighttime sky - a place I have always encountered God. Still slightly damp from my shower, my hair rested around my shoulders. I rarely wore my hair down; Zafy and my other host sisters quickly gathered to run their fingers through my long straight strands. Three of them started to playfully braid, twist, undbraid, and comb. However, what seemed like light play soon turned into a genuine endeavor. Zafy started to work with great concentration. She was only sixteen, but I could feel the expertise in her hands. Many braids has come before mine. Yet, my hair was particularly difficult. It was malamy - slippery. It was hard to hold onto and quick to undo itself. In response, Zafy seemed to pull with extra might, or perhaps I simply wasn’t accustomed to the strength with which Malagasy women braided. Each tug left my scalp with a twinge of pain, but I refused to say anything. This was an important moment. This provided a chance for accompaniment - to do life with my Malagasy loved ones. I needed to sit still. It was early in my YAGM year, and my language skills were still quite limited. I occasionally muttered something in Malagasy, but most of the moments passed in silence. Zafy and the rest of my host sisters didn’t seem to mind. They focused on my forming braids. Zafy would reach the end of a braid, step back, and examine her work. Then she would consult with my host sister, Esperance. Not straight enough. Zafy would unweave the entire braid and start again. Her tugs did not soften. Again and again, I thought Zafy had finished her work. Again and again, she saw opportunity for more beauty. She unwove and started again. Tug. Tug. Tug. I felt surrounded by love, and longed for Zafy to braid forever - if only she would stop pulling so darn hard. I tried to run my fingers over the braids. I had no mirror, but I longed to know what I looked like. I wanted to how the braids could possibly become straighter or tighter. I strained to understand whatever pushed Zafy to keep pulling and creating. Eventually, Zafy stopped. My sister, Esperance ran about searching for a hair tie. We both knew I had several in my room, but she was determined to find one of her own to offer me. Then, they determined their work complete - at least for the night. Once inside my room, I pulled out the small mirror I had bought at the market down the road. I glanced at Zafy’s work and smiled. It was unlike any braids I had ever seen atop by head, and I loved it.

Throughout my year, several of my dear loved ones took on the task of braiding my hair. Each time, they noted how difficult it was to work with my slippery and smooth hair - how easily it wanted to return to its original state of straight. Yet, each loved one pulled with enough might (and induced enough pain) to create as they pleased from my hair. The various hands and moments brought various styles, but they all brought winces and then great joy.

It required almost a year for me to understand these stories of braiding as more than simply moments and memories. I now see a reflection of God, my YAGM year as a whole, and a process of recreation and reformation. God and people of God pulled, tugged, and often yanked on my heart throughout my year in Madagascar. Some moments brought me to the edge of tears; some moments brought me tumbling past it. Throughout it all, I could feel something changing. I could sense myself being formed into a new creation. I had no mirror clearly reflecting my image, and running my fingers over the rough outline did not provide true understanding. Clarity would come later.
I often sensed an ease in the tugs - a completion of change. I would start to sigh with relief. I praised God for challenge and change but appreciated a respite from the persistently painful tugging. But the tugging would start again. Work remains, dear child. Room for beauty exists here.
I did not need to offer much throughout this process. In honesty, I would not have been able to offer much if I tried. All I could do was sit. Sit beneath the moonlight and know that sitting was important.
My very nature sometimes resisted recreation. More than my hair slips back to its original state. However, God persists - sometimes pulling with a bit more strength to ensure it all sticks.

All of the tugging, pulling, and yanking has not ceased since leaving Madagascar. In fact, life in the United States has sometimes felt even more jarring. Yet, I trust the hands braiding my hair. The painful pulls lead to new creation. Even when I cannot yet see that new creation, I know that it is good.

Monday, December 18, 2017

O Come, O Come Emmanuel - Part 2

Over four months ago, I set my freshly worn and worldly suitcases on the floor of my childhood home. I pulled on my duffel’s zipper wondering how the countless gifts from my Malagasy loved ones had survived my flight back to the United States. Still jet-lagged and filled with oceans of thoughts and emotions, I carefully unwrapped, unfolded, and un-nestled relics from my year in Toliara, Madagascar. I showed my mom the ring my host sister, Esperance, had somehow managed to buy for my birthday. I turned to my father and translated the Malagasy written on a large decorative cloth. Words foreign to him felt comfortable and natural leaving my mouth, and with them came a mental image of the friend who had gifted me the stunning fabric. A nearly endless stream of gifts unfurled from my luggage, but with each item, memories and love came tumbling out, too. In the midst of such a joyous mess, I looked at the faces of my family. My heart delighted in their presence, but my heart also deeply ached and unleashed a fury of questions. Were my loved ones in Toliara safe and happy? Had I communicated how much I cared for them? How soon would my Malagasy language skills start to slip away? Would I forget the things I had seen? Could I hold on to the fervent fire in my heart? What about the tears in my eyes? Would they stop streaming at night? What would life look like in the United States? My small suitcases already sat mostly empty, but I had barely started the process of unpacking.

Much like my year in Madagascar with YAGM, my transition back into the United States has brought both great joys and utter heartbreak. Reuniting with family and friends, engaging in new and challenging conversations, and small luxuries including soft toilet paper and a plethora of peanut butter have warmed my heart and refreshed my spirit. At other times, the transition has left me feeling shattered and overwhelmed. I deeply miss my loved ones in Toliara. When the plague spread across the island of Madagascar this Fall, I worried for their health and safety. I longed to know they were okay. Though the plague outbreak has subsided, my deep desire for knowledge of their safety has not. I daily try to imagine the size of my host sister’s nine-month belly. I wonder how soon she will go into labor. I hope I will somehow see a picture of those sweet newborn hands. Moments later, I cringe as heaps of food and plastic fall into U.S. trash cans, and I attempt to reconcile the sweet taste of my $3.00 ice cream cone with my awareness of how much rice and meat $3.00 can buy in Toliara. These thoughts and emotions come in waves - sometimes gently rocking and sometimes storming through me. They carry, urge, guide, bash, and batter. Sometimes they wash me back in time and I imagine my life one year ago.

Last December, I sent a newsletter entitled, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I had gained new insight into the Advent season. Never before had I so desperately felt the need for a savior - a savior for the world and for myself. My experiences in Madagascar had brought me to tears and most certainly brought me to my knees. Upon returning to the United States, I worried I would forget the things I had seen and experienced and simultaneously, the intensity of last Advent season. Perhaps in a country of incredible wealth and privilege - immersed in a sea of glistening stores, shining lights, and holiday goodies, I would fail to fall to my knees. How could I so desperately long for a savior in a place which didn’t seem to need saving? Yet, this Advent season, I cry even louder, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Our entire world lies broken and deeply in need of healing. Last year, I realized American actions and mindsets cause physical and metaphorical droughts in Madagascar and around the world which leave many wanting for food, autonomy, and basic human rights. I now realize those actions create brokenness not only abroad, but in our very own country and hearts. While inciting global drought, we, ourselves, drown in frivolous consumerism, debilitating over-consumption, and isolating individualism. Brokenness begets brokenness. Our self-centered ways deny us happiness and deny others life. We long for genuine human connection and happiness while ironically failing to acknowledge our global family and opportunities for abundant love and relationship. Yet, just like our brokenness, our liberations are bound up in one another, and I burn with hope for liberation this Advent season. We can emerge from seas of selfishness and turn our hearts and hands outward. When we do so, we will find hope begets hope and freedom begets freedom. May our coming and ever present savior, a sweet child asleep in the manger, grant us hope for life-giving and healing liberation, freedom, and love this Advent season.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Faces of Madagascar: Meet Ravo

When I first arrived in Toliara, I knew no one. Yet, one morning as the sun started to peak above the horizon a man greeted me while I was running at the local track. We exchanged pleasantries, and he learned that I know English. He immediately told me that his daughter studies English; he would love if we could practice speaking together. Still a bit overwhelmed by my recent move to Toliara, I never arranged to meet with the man’s daughter. Yet, each morning he saw me at the track, he would remind me that I should speak with his daughter. Eventually he brought his daughter to the track with him and introduced us himself. We chatted for a short time on the bleachers, and I thought our relationship might end there. Thankfully, her father had other intentions. He asked if I could give his daughter my phone number. That way we could continue to practice English together. Ravo has used that number throughout the year. I have been invited to Sunday worship and lunch with her family, New Year’s parties, walks through town, and hip-hop dance competitions. She has shown me friendship and introduced me to many people and sites of Toliara. Her father introduced her to me, and now I introduce her to you.

Name: ANDRIAMIANDRISOA Ravo Nomenjanahary

Birthday: March 21, 1999

Family: We are from the highlands but I grew up in Toliara. I have 2 brothers and one sister. We [my siblings and parents] live with our uncle and grandmother. My father is Rene, and my mother is Hery... They are kind [and] gentle. My father is outgoing; He likes speaking with everyone. My mother is contrary. She is not used to meeting people. She is a person who is used to staying at home… At home, we speak the French language [in order] to be adapted to the international language.

Education: Ravo studies both philosophy and management at universities in Toliara.

Why did you learn English?: Though Ravo likes English now, she did not always enjoy English. Time by time, I have realized that [the English] language can help me in my life. It is an international language. Everything you search on the internet [is] in English. I started learning English after my bac degree [equivalent to a high school diploma] in November 2014. Two weeks later I was in [tour]guide training. It was very helpful to know the [English] language.

Hobbies: My hobbies are reading books and then singing. I like romantic books especially from the Harlequin collection. I love singing every English song - English and French. Ravo particularly likes Westlife songs.

Favorite Place in Madagascar:  Maybe Diego. I like the landscape. I like the beach [and] the sea. I asked Ravo where she would like to live since her family is from the highlands and she enjoyed her trip to Diego. I think it’s better for me to stay here [in Toliara]. It is a calm city - not really in a rush [all the] time like in the capital.

Three wishes: I would like to learn another language - Spanish maybe or Portuguese and Italian. One wish is also to make a visit abroad - even just one time in my life. I would like to go in an American country. I wish that my family would know English more than I know it.

How would you describe Madagascar?: Madagascar has very good landscapes. There are some places that should be visited by foreigners - even [by] the people here. The problem - the most important problem here is the poverty. We don’t have enough [money] to spend on a visit. Because even… what we earn is not enough [money] to eat. So then for making travel - it’s a little bit impossible for us. Madagascar has outgoing people. They know how to receive guests. Even if they [Malagasy] are a little afraid of them [foreigners]. They can be opened to them when the foreigners ask for something.

What else should people know about you?: I am a little talkative. If you have a good conversation, a good subject, [or] a good debate, I would be happy to share my point of view with you.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


I stroll along the road into the center of town and carry my large blue sunhat in my hands. As evening sets in and the cool breeze rushes, I have no need to hide from the sun. I hear a street vendor call out, “Mahay mifoiky.” You know how to whistle. I realize I am whistling while I walk; I realize how comfortable am I in Toliara. I know the roads. I know the back ways and front ways, the ways that get muddy when it rains, the ways to avoid at dusk, and the ways that smell less like waste. I know which coffee vendor pours most generously and which mokary tend to be hot and fresh. I shake hands and make small talk without stressing about my language skills. It flows naturally. I can walk to the outhouse in the dark without a flashlight because I know where to step. I know the order of a Sunday service by heart and can even sing the offering song without looking in my hymnal. My stomach knows how to digest large quantities of rice, and my legs have learned to walk more slowly - in line with the relaxed pace of Malagasy life.

While strolling and whistling, I thank the Lord for the ability to adapt and feel at home. When I first arrived, everyday activities took incredible effort, energy, and focus. Everything was so new and thought-provoking. Now, I feel comfortable. I whistle while I walk.

Then, after thanking God, I pray for discomfort. I pray God would rattle my heart again.

In the midst of growing comfortable, the shock stopped. I no longer look twice when I see beggars on the street, clothes worn to pieces, or distended and malnourished stomachs. I am not surprised by insufficient food at dinner - when host sister gets only a small plate of rice. I am fed well and fed first; others in my family are not. I am not startled by a lack of money for soap, school fees, or even a snack. I have come to expect glaring differences in power between men and women, and I know what to expect when people see my white skin. I am not shocked by blatant expressions of tribalism. I no longer view the SALFA hospital facilities as inferior to hospitals in the U.S. but instead see them as some of the cleanest and nicest I’ve seen in Madagascar. I know how to act at a Malagasy funeral, and I know what it looks like to die and suffer due to preventable and treatable disease. I care little about the skeletal dogs which roam our yard. Their visible spines used to haunt me, but I give them little attention now.

Mama Jeannette says I have become Malagasy. She means to say that I have learned the Malagasy way of life. I agree, but her statement reveals more. I have learned to live with Malagasy expectations. I have accepted a new norm.

I cannot lie, this has saved my heart from pain. Walking past the same children covered in smut and longing for food each day wears on one’s soul. Accepting these children and their circumstances as a part of life diminishes the sting. I do not go to bed in tears every night. I do not weep on the road for those children.

But maybe I should.

I will continue to thank God for adaptability and comfort. God knows I cannot handle all the pain in this world, but God instead reveals that pain bit-by-bit. God shatters me in manageable pieces. Yet, I refuse to allow my heart complete comfort. We live in a broken world - not just me, and not just the Malagasy people. We all live in a broken world. Look around, my family and friends. See the pain. See the oppression. See how we hurt one another - in small ways and in devastatingly large ways. See how we can do better.

I pray your heart will be broken today. I pray the pain of this world will strike you and bring you to your knees. Maybe your heartbreak will lead to a solution. Maybe your heartbreak will simply sit with you. Let it. Let God awaken your heart and open your eyes. Let tears fall for the sadness and brokenness. Then turn to God and ask for strength to continue on amidst the pain and amidst the hurt. May God not relieve the weight placed on our hearts but instead use it to lead us on.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Faces of Madagascar: Meet Precious

The evening sun was peaking through my window when I heard the voice of my friend, Precious.
“Good evening, Morghen.”
I stuck my head out the door and told him I would be ready soon. I gathered my things and joined him in the front yard. Precious and I like to chat after my classes or on Sunday evenings. Our topics range from American politics to favorite foods to theology. However, tonight would be a bit different. Tonight, we would conduct an interview.

Precious led me just across the fence to his home and introduced me to his parents. He invited me into his room, and I immediately noticed two objects - his desk and his poster. The desk occupied the center of his room; I later learned that desk is where he taught himself English. The black-and-white poster hung on the far wall. It displayed the faces of General De Gaulle, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Margaret Thatcher. I smiled. His knowledge of world politics, current events, and history continually amazes me. Precious invited me to have a seat at his desk, and we began our work. We started with the basics.

Name: Rajaofera Precieux Guenole

(When I first met Precious, he asked me to use the English pronunciation of his name).

Birthday: June 10, 1994

Birthplace: Toliara, Madagascar

During our evening conversations, Precious and I have discussed our studies and career aspirations. Precious studies law at The University of Maninday - the university in Toliara. He has often expressed his deep passion for the law. I asked him about his choice to study law and what he plans to do after graduation.

I study the law because since … I finished high school, I have been interested in the issue of justice and all that it concerns. Everybody [in the high school] was asking themselves ‘What should I do at the university?’ When they asked this question to me, I placed my choice on … justice. Now I realize that I made a good choice. I love the law, and it’s a subject that I’m good at.

After graduation, Precious can become a judge, a lawyer, or take an exam to work for the state. For now, he intends to become a lawyer.

I asked Precious to describe his family - his mother, father, and younger sister. He said they can be summarized in three words: Christianity, solidarity, and discipline.

Christianity: First, we are a very Christian family. We, the kids of my parents’ house, are used to living in a religious environment. All of us are Lutheran, and we are attached to Lutheran convictions.

Solidarity: We love one another.

Discipline: This word is very hard for some people - especially young people… Yes, we [my sister and I] are young. We make faults sometimes, but they [our parents] always remind us of the right path.

Free Time:
When asked about his free time, Precious listed three leisures. First, Precious loves to read. As he described his love for literature, he pointed to the various books adorning his room. Through reading, he finds sanctuary from the problems, insecurities, and doubts of everyday life. Second, Precious likes to play basketball. He played for a team in high school, but his studies keep him busy now. Third, Precious enjoys movies and television - particularly movies and shows regarding justice, international affairs, or everyday struggles and conflict. He particularly likes the American series, Scandal and Lincoln, a movie which portrays the life of Abraham Lincoln. Precious also loves to laugh and enjoys a good comedy show. Precious finds one show particularly funny.

[T]here is an American show that I really like… It has distracted me a little bit when I am really busy or tired of my studies. I love the Jimmy Fallon Show. I have to say, that man was born to make people laugh. Everything that he does is funny. I thank him. From this country [Madagascar], I thank him. Your show is wonderful, Jimmy Fallon. Remember that here in Madagascar there is a man that is very interested in your show.

Role Models:
I asked Precious about his role models and wondered if he would list famous American presidents or philanthropists. He has often communicated his admiration for the Kennedys, Abraham Lincoln, and the Obamas. After I asked the question, Precious pondered for a moment.

Who are my role models? I have to say that my role model is my father. I say this not because he is my father but because when I look at him and look at all the struggles he has been through, I realize that his life teaches me a lot of things including hard work and resilience. To be honest, my father is someone who has seen a lot of problems in his life - a lot of crisis. Through all these problems he has stood up. This attitude deserves my respect. I have to follow his path - to be like him. I have to be realistic about life; life is not a dream. It is a place where we have to confront problems and struggles - a place where we have to be strong and resilient.

Favorite Bible Verse or Story:
It is a story we all know - the story of Jesus. I am not a pastor, but according to the story, we are all sinful. With all of these sins, God has said, ‘Get them away.’ … He sent us his precious child, and his precious child arrived here on the earth to save us. This has to get our attention - we who are sinful. We have been saved by God. He has sacrificed his one and unique son. We have to be aware of it. We have to embrace this love that God shows us.

One Wish:
After I asked Precious what he would do with one wish, he paused. Then he giggled. I wondered if he would provide a humorous answer, but his response evoked a very different emotion.

I would wish better for everyone - for this country [Madagascar]. I wish this country, someday, would [take] a step forward. By better for this country, I mean [many things]. First of all, we have to say that this is a country that is really poor. That is a reality. That is a fact. It is not a subject for debate. A lot of people say, ‘Madagascar you are condemned by this poverty. You do not have a chance.’ I do not think [the future] is written... I am not a dreamer. I am not saying that someday Madagascar will be France or the United States… But I think that this country can do better… We can alleviate the poverty a little bit.

By better, I mean this country stays true to its values. Here in Madagascar we have values - for example solidarity, love, and a word without translation which falls between solidarity and love. I wish that this country will stick to these values.

Precious continued on to explain that great struggles have worn on the people of Madagascar. They are tired, and as a result, they have fallen away from their values.

We have to stick to our values. We have to embrace solidarity. We have to embrace love.

An Important Moment:
During one of our evening chats, Precious and I discussed how God makes beauty out of ashes. Precious and I exchanged stories of tragedy and struggle while also sharing how God created good in those moments. I treasure that conversation, and I asked Precious if he would be willing to share his stories with others.

A few years ago, Precious battled Malaria. Before his illness, he had fallen into bad habits which he describes as some of the “whims of youth.” His long and painful illness and hospitalization pushed him to reconsider his life and choices. Precious thanks God for the changes and deeper faith inspired by his illness, and he advises others to closely examine their lives, too.

Everyone should look at his [or her] life, examine it a little bit, and ask, ‘Do I need to change? What are the bad habits I need to give up right now?’ … Ask this question and you will see that there are some flaws in your character. You have to fight against these flaws. Yes, as a human being, we will never be perfect, but that does not mean we cannot make efforts to perfect ourselves. I really believe that we have a moral obligation to ourselves, so I encourage you to fight against flaws in your character. You can be a better person.

Be aware of this life that has been given to you - a life where you should build a better story, build smiles, build something good. [You should] not share or cause pains for people - not cause tears for people. I think that if you want to measure your progress in life, [you should] not measure your progress compared to another person… To measure your progress, look at time. How was I many years ago, and how am I now? If you respond, I am the same, you should do a little better.

What else should people know about Precious?
I am going to use three words to [help] people know me. First, Precious is relaxation. I love to relax... I love to laugh. The second word that can describe me is maturity. Even though I love laughing, I have to say that I am also mature… The third word is love. Precious is a person who loves everyone. He doesn’t have a problem with anyone.

After this final question, Precious requested that I ask for his final words.

First of all, I want to thank you. Thank you for this wonderful interview. This has helped me to improve my English and to share some aspects of my life - some ideas of mine. Second. I want to address a message to American volunteers. Madagascar is a wonderful place. Don’t hold back. Come here. Your friend, the person interviewing me now, will tell you that when she [goes] back [to the United States]. Madagascar is a country of love… The beauty of Madagascar is not in structures, in roads, [or] in its appearance. The beauty of Madagascar is in its people, in its culture, [and] in its environment, so come here. Third and finally, thank you to all the persons who follow the blog. Thank you for reading this. I wish the best for all of you. I wish good days for you in the future.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Few of My Favorite Things

I firmly believe in the beauty and importance of the little joys and moments in life. Here are some of my “favorite things” in Madagascar.

  • The children who live across the fence from me strike a pose or dance each time they see me. (Imagine Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”). When I, too, strike a pose, they squeal in excitement.
  • Keyssi, Mama Jeannette’s two-year-old granddaughter, likes to dance naked in the yard. She may only be two, but that little girl can shake.
  • One of the neighborhood girls chases me down the street and yells good morning whether it is the morning, afternoon, or evening.
  • When we eat white beans (and rice, of course) at lunch
  • When Keyssi pretends to be a cow and crawls over my lap mooing and pretending to eat my hands
  • Josey, Mama Jeannette’s four-year-old grandson, spent an entire morning running around, swinging his hips from side to side and singing, “Bella soa Morgheny!” (Translation: Morghen is beautiful).
  • Each time I clearly hear and understand which hymn we will sing in church and turn to the correct page before the native Malagasy speaker sitting next to me. (Madagascar has certainly changed me, but my competitive nature remains).
  • When my friend, Ravo, invites me to go to church with her family and then eat lunch at their home on Sunday afternoons
  • When Mama Jeannette’s fourteen-year-old grandson, Rayan, challenged me to an arm-wrestling contest
  • The morning devotional which welcomes each new day at SALFA - the Lutheran clinic where I work. Doctors, patients, and families sit in the waiting room, sing, pray, and listen to a short sermon before beginning their work or treatment. It is such an incredibly beautiful way to start a day.
  • When I see a particularly cute baby while administering vaccines at the clinic
  • The overwhelming love and joy of the students and teachers at the Toliara Lutheran School for the Blind.
  • When Mama Jeannette complimented my laundry skills. I had no idea how to wash my laundry by hand when I first arrived. My amateur abilities used to inspire giggles, so Mama Jeannette’s compliment meant a great deal.
  • When I understand parts of the sermon.
  • When my students ask me about an English phrase they have heard, like what it means to be ‘a big cheese’ or ‘to bite someone’s head off.’
  • Moonlight dance parties in the yard with Mama Jeannette’s grandchildren

I pray your day is filled with small and beautiful moments.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

I finished writing on the blackboard and turned toward my students - a group of teachers at the Toliara Lutheran School for the Blind. Normally full of energy and smiles, they sat quietly today. They lacked their usual spark, and I knew I could not continue with my lesson. Learning how to discuss daily routines would not keep them awake or engaged. We needed some spunk. I turned back to the blackboard and began to write the lyrics to “Jesus Loves Me.” The mood immediately changed. As soon as I wrote the title of the song on the board, one of the teachers asked me to translate a Bible verse for him. I told him I could bring my English Bible to the next class, and the teachers nearly burst with excitement. We continued to translate and sing “Jesus Loves Me.” The room filled with joy.
I have witnessed that same joy at the Lutheran School for the Blind several times. The school overflows with genuine joy. Students singing hymns have left me with goosebumps. The laughter and abundant love of the teachers warms my heart each time I teach a lesson. I end each class period in prayer, and the teachers eagerly bow their heads. Those teachers and students have shown me time and again what it means to rejoice in the Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

I slipped on my sandals and wandered into the moonlit yard to look for water. Though our water spicket stops running during the day, the water normally flows in the evening. As I left my room, I noticed two of Mama Jeannette’s granddaughters at a nearby table, and I walked over. Kaissey, who is only two, lay uncomfortably on top of the table. Her head burned with a strong fever. Esperance, Kaissey’s twelve-year-old half-sister, stood over Kaissey. Esperance stroked Kaissey’s arms and whispered sweet rhythms. She knew just what to do. With love and care that reminded me of my own mother, she cooled Kaissey with a wet cloth and soothed her to sleep. Though Esperance is not yet a teenager, I watch her care for Mama Jeannette’s younger grandchildren with incredible gentleness and wisdom. She wakes before six each morning to go to the market, prepare breakfast, and ready the children for preschool. After cleaning and cooking all day, she bathes the children and takes them to bed. The same kindness she shows the children has often brightened my day. Her sweet smile and demeanor constantly remind me of God’s love and presence.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

I perched on the edge of a white lawn chair beside the hospital bed. I fanned a large hat near Rico’s face in an effort to cool him down. Suffering from Typhoid and parasites and under the influence of strong medicines, he lay only half-conscious. Every now and then he would mutter short phrases in either English or Malagasy. I tried to calm my worries. Unfamiliar with the illnesses plaguing my friend, I did not know what to expect. I had been visiting Rico every day, but I had seen little progress. In the midst of this concern, I witnessed incredible faith and reliance on God. Each day I visited Rico, I watched him and his family turn to the Lord. When Rico tossed about uncomfortably, his mother would remind him that Jesus was with him. Jesus would give him strength and rest. At other times, Rico’s mother and other family members would stand over Rico’s bed and pray. They nearly whispered, but I could hear power in their words. Though Rico remained in the hospital for nearly a week, a sense of peace never left his family. Every time I visited,  they would tell me how Rico was doing. Sometimes he had improved during the night. Sometimes he hadn’t. Yet, they told each piece of news with voices calmed by the assurance of Christ.
(Rico has since returned home and continued to recover. He will still take some time off from work, but he is excited to return to teaching ).

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Mama Jeannette’s words were simple yet beautiful. “Jesus will not leave me.” We sat on the pews of an outdoor church awaiting the start of the service. She had just told me some of her life story - a story which has included a great deal of struggle and strife. Yet, she continues to walk through each day trusting in the Lord. She said that even in her darkest moments, she knew God’s promise. He will not leave her. He will walk with her. I sat quietly, listening to the details of her story and admiring the beauty of her faith.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.