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Ending Well

These last few weeks have been a blur of activities as we come to the end of our current term in Madagascar. In this post we want to highlight several of these latest events for you.

Anchor Education Retreat

The top reason why missionaries leave the field is their children’s educational needs. With that in mind, Anchor Education, a multi- mission agency organization, was established to support missionary families in Africa. Last year, Tammy was asked to represent AGWM on the board of this organization. In order to see just how Anchor might best serve our AGWM families, we decided to host a retreat for the missionary families in Madagascar.

Tammy talking to the MKs about their being a little bit of their home country and a little bit Malagasy.

Tammy talking to the MKs about their being a little bit of their home country and a little bit Malagasy.

Along with a fantastic committee of other missionary friends, we hosted 4 Anchor Education Specialists from Europe for a 3-day MK education retreat. Seminar topics included Third Culture Kid issues, transition, schooling and resources options in Madagascar, math, reading and writing support, preschool curriculum, as well as preparations for university and much more.

A parallel program was offered to the missionary kids. Their topics included Third Culture Kid Issues, science and art activities, games, and making and presenting puppet plays. A broad range of testing (like the IOWA Basic) was offered for students as well.

Tammy holding a workshop for parents on education options in Madagascar.

Tammy holding a workshop for parents on education options in Madagascar.

We had eight 68 people from 9 nationalities and 11 different missionary agencies. The feedback was very positive. One of the greatest benefits was getting to know each other—both for the parents and kids. We have great resources within the country that we didn’t even know about.

FIRE Bible Training

The Full Life Study Bible/ Fire Bible has been available in Malagasy since 2007. It is the only study Bible in the Malagasy language, making it a Bible very much in demand across all denominations. But we have discovered that having the Study Bible doesn’t mean that our pastors and believers know how to use it.

The Fire Bible is such a great tool for understanding the Word of God!

The Fire Bible is such a great tool for understanding the Word of God!

Using a Malagasy translation of “Experiencing your Fire Bible,” we taught 95 pastors how to better use the tools within their Study Bible. It isn’t enough to know the Word of God. We want to live it!

Nearly 100 pastors and wives attended the training.

Nearly 100 pastors and wives attended the training.

25th Graduation of the Madagascar Assemblies of God Bible School

This year’s Bible School was a landmark year for several reasons. First of all, it marked the 25th graduating class. The school has grown and changed a great deal since its early days when it met in a tent!

The graduates together with the first and second year students sang and danced during the ceremony!

The graduates together with the first and second year students sang and danced during the ceremony!

We also had 30 teachers receive their official Level 1 Teacher’s Certification through The Association for Pentecostal Theological Education in Africa (APTEA). We are so proud of each teacher who took the training and submitted his or her project.

Once again this year the Bible School chapel was packed out!

Once again this year the Bible School chapel was packed out!

After two years of hard work, our Bible School is now an official APTEA recognized Pentecostal training institution. WE DID IT! We now have a 5-year action plan to continue making improvements at the school to better train future leaders for the Madagascar Assemblies of God.

Professor Douti Flindja from Togo presented the certificate of endorsement on behalf of APTEA to our church leadership.

Professor Douti Flindja from Togo presented the certificate of endorsement on behalf of APTEA to our church leadership.

What’s next? Pack the house! We’re looking forward to seeing you on the itineration trail!

Life Changes

Who Moved My Cheese? Remember that book from a few years ago? We feel like life is moving more than just our cheese! Changes in life are normal and to be expected. Some changes are exciting, while others cause sadness. Sometimes a change can be both exciting and sad at the same time. Some changes are within our control and some changes happen to us whether we are ready or not.

Ready or not here come changes!

Ready or not here come changes!

One big change in our life is that Becca will be graduating from Rift Valley Academy in Kenya in July and beginning at Evangel University in August. That is a very exciting change, although Dad and Mom are feeling a bit sad at the prospect of a REAL empty nest where she doesn’t come home every fourth month (like she did at RVA).

Another big change is that our son Caleb will be getting married to Alyssa Smith on August 9th in Missoula. Caleb and Alyssa met in Chi Alpha student leadership at the University of Montana. We met Alyssa and her family last October when we returned to the States for a missions convention. In January, Caleb and Alyssa came to Madagascar with a Chi Alpha team and were able to stay an extra few days with us. We are very happy to welcome Alyssa to our family!

Caleb and Alyssa visited Madagascar in January.

Caleb and Alyssa visited Madagascar in January.

For various reasons, rather than do a normal four-year missions term, we have served a rather long seven years in Madagascar. With Becca finally graduating, it is time to go furlough! We are excited to return to the USA for a year to visit our supporting churches, reconnect with friends and spend time with family. Yet, at the same time we are feeling quite out of practice at how to do this!

Every furlough, we have done it differently. The first furlough, in 2002, we traveled as a family, moving in and out of hotels and homes with 4 suitcases and 2 boxes of homeschool books. The second furlough, in 2006, the kids were in middle school. We decided that we wanted them to connect to with the American Assemblies of God church. We wanted them to be in Missionettes, Bible Quiz and Youth Group. So we rented an apartment in Polson, MT. Tammy and the kids stayed home most of the time, while Nate traveled and came home for quick visits throughout the year.

Becca and her favorite East African soda pop Krest Bitter Lemon.

Our graduate Becca and her favorite East African soda pop Krest Bitter Lemon.

Now with both kids in college, Tammy is looking forward to traveling with Nate to visit our supporting churches. Due to the size of Montana and the fact that almost half of our support comes from churches outside of Montana; we will be on the road most of the time this year. It doesn’t really seem to make financial sense to rent and furnish an apartment when we will on the road so often.

We are looking for solutions on where to stay when we do have some spare time, whether on the road or in Montana. We would really like to have a home base when Becca is home for school holidays, and we would especially like a place near Missoula, so that we could spend time with Caleb and Alyssa, in order to get to know her better!

One of Caleb & Alyssa's engagement photos.

One of Caleb & Alyssa’s engagement photos.

We really need a place to stay/rent in Missoula from July 26-Aug 17 for the wedding. Then as we travel Montana and have spare time we will need a place to call home from November 1-January 10. Then again in the month of April 2015 we will be in Montana again. During the rest of our itineration we will be visiting our supporting churches in Washington, Idaho, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Texas, and many other far flung places around the country.

Perhaps there is a snowbird that would be willing to rent to us? Or someone who has a summer home that isn’t being used? We don’t have all the answers yet, but we know that God has a plan! God has been faithful to us these past seven years with strong financial support and awesome prayer partners. We can’t wait to see so many of you and thank you personally.

Yes, quite a number of big changes are heading our way soon, but we know that God can handle it. As one of my friends wisely suggested, make a list of all the things you can’t figure out and cross them off as God takes care of them! Thank you for praying for our family throughout these numerous transitions.

The Long Road

This past month on a recent road trip to the west coast, I had a little problem with a big pothole, which resulted in my Toyota Land Cruiser being sidelined for a month while we wait for a new differential case and rear axle to be shipped in.

My Speed The Light Toyota Land Cruiser had an unfortunate encounter with a rather large pothole at a high rate of speed.

My Speed The Light Toyota Land Cruiser had an unfortunate encounter with a rather large pothole at a high rate of speed.

In the meantime, the work of a missionary doesn’t slow down. One aspect of missionary life that has been hampered by this unexpected car problem is travel. I really needed to go to the southeast coastal town of Manakara to meet with our missionaries Billy and Jo Wilson and our Tanzanian missionary Paul Balela. God has been doing some great things in the region and our church planting school there is quite successful. I really needed to sit down with them and talk through some things and plan for the future.

I decided to travel 12 hours each way by bush taxi since it is the most common form of transportation in the country. I figured if the Malagasies could do it, so could I. I arrived at the bush taxi station two hours early so that I could find the right taxi going the right direction and get the front seat for my long legs. After being led to wait on the wrong bus for an hour and a half by the baggage porters, I finally got on a bush taxi heading the right direction, just a few hours later than I had planned.

Our bush taxi in the early morning light during one of numerous potty breaks on the side of the road.

Our bush taxi in the early morning light during one of numerous potty breaks on the side of the road.

It turns out that this taxi was overloaded and was 15 cms over height limit on the roof rack. This resulted in our taxi rocking back and forth more than normal around the corners and a small payoff to the police at each random traffic stop. It also poured rain for the first 8 hours of our trip through the night. The gasket in the passenger side door was pretty bad and soon my right arm and leg were quite wet.

A few kilometers of the long and winding road south through the rainforest as seen in Google Earth.

A few kilometers of the long and winding road south through the rainforest as seen in Google Earth.

We drove on through the night and sleep was evasive. This severely overloaded 15-passenger van, which serves as a bush taxi, was slower than most and completed the serpentine 1000 kilometer trip in just under 18 hours. Surprisingly, that included an hour stop to change out the front brake pads halfway down the steep escarpment. Needless to say, I was very happy to climb out of that van and hug my missionary colleagues once I arrived in Manakara.

Our driver installing new brake pads on the disc brakes in the middle of the road.

Our driver installing new brake pads on the disc brakes in the middle of the road.

After great meetings, good food, and catching up on each other’s lives and the ongoing work, I was obliged to head back to the taxi station just 24 hours after having arrived. This time I chose the faster taxi, a Mercedes Sprinter, for the leg home. While on the way down to Manakara the roof rack was loaded mostly with plastic buckets, cooking pots, and thousands of flip flops for sale on the coast, the roof rack on the way back up to the capital was loaded with pineapples, coconuts, honey, and more than 6 dozen chickens in large woven baskets.

True to their word, the way home was much faster in the Sprinter. Arriving back home at 5 AM after only a 12 ½ hour drive, I was very glad to finally be back home where I could stretch my legs and get some sleep.

My ride for the long road home, A Mercedes Sprinter, loaded with coconuts, chickens. and cases of honey.

My ride for the long road home, A Mercedes Sprinter, loaded with coconuts, chickens. and cases of honey.

While I have traveled by bush taxi numerous times before, this longer journey was truly an eye-opening trip for me. I gained a much greater appreciation for all my Malagasy pastor friends who crisscross this massive island doing seminars, training leaders, opening churches, and visiting isolated places. These pastors do not get paid extra money and get no accolades for their travels. They have a burning passion to train others, and to see the church advance. Many of them travel thousands of kilometers a year in just such a bush taxi. I hold these pastors and their work in high esteem and I realize just how blessed I am to be able to travel with a Speed The Light vehicle. Can’t wait to get mine out of the shop!

Mary B. & Me

One of the funny things that people say to us when we are home in the USA is, “Oh, you live in Madagascar? You must know my cousin, Bernie, who lives in Nigeria.” Maybe people just don’t realize how big Africa is! It’s huge!

Churches in Montana and in the Northwest connect Africa with Mary Ballenger. We do too! When I, Tammy, was a child, I would listen to Mary tell stories of her work in Senegal and I wanted to do what she did.

Mary Ballenger in our home in Madagascar!

Mary Ballenger in our home in Madagascar!

Finally, this year, we saw her in Africa! Mary came to Madagascar as one of the site inspectors for our Bible School as part of our endorsement process with the Association for Pentecostal Theological Education in Africa (APTEA).

Mary has been one of my life-long heroes; although I think I admire her humble spirit and quick intelligence more now then I did then. Africa has rubbed off on Mary, she understands Africa and Africans in a way that I can only hope to do one day. Don’t tell anyone, but she might be more African than American these days.

Many of you have had the privilege of having Mary share a meal or stay in your home while she has been on furlough. Now we have had that same privilege on this side of the world!

Dr. Marcel Bomboko from the DRC, Mary Ballenger, and Nate on the Bible School campus during our site inspection.

Dr. Marcel Bomboko from the DRC, Mary Ballenger, and Nate on the Bible School campus during our site inspection.

Although Mary serves as the director of the West Africa Advanced School of Theology (WAAST) in Lome, Togo, which is 3600 miles from Antananarivo, Madagascar (keep in mind that the distance between Seattle and New York City is 2,400 miles), across all those miles these two Montana girls finally met up in Africa!

Please continue to pray with us as we wrap up this endorsement process. We have come a long ways and have just a few more steps to go. We hope to receive endorsement in time for graduation in June!

One of the highlights of being a missionary is hosting teams from home. We host many teams each year. Each team has a specific purpose. Some come to build a church building, or to do a medical, evangelical or children’s outreach. Some come to do seminars, trainings or teaching. It is always most exciting for us to host a team that comes from one of our supporting churches. It is a way for us to connect our two worlds. It is wonderful to have friends, family and supporters who have been to Madagascar, who can better understand and relate to our stories.

The U of M Chi Alpha Team at a leadership retreat with some of YCA's university ministry leadership.

The U of M Chi Alpha Team at a leadership retreat with some of YCA’s university ministry leadership.

This last month we had the joy of hosting two teams of special people in our lives. The first team was lead by the Chi Alpha missionary to the University of Montana, Scott Barnett and our own son, Caleb! Caleb has grown and matured in Christian leadership through the ministry of Chi Alpha. Caleb and his team came to work with a group in Antananarivo called Young Christians in Action, a growing group of Christian university students here in Madagascar. Chi Alpha shared and practiced strategies in discipleship, including small groups and one-on-one accountability and Bible study.

Malagasy students and Americans visiting a huge lecture hall together at the University of Antananarivo.

Malagasy students and Americans visiting a huge lecture hall together at the University of Antananarivo.

It was thrilling for us to see Caleb building a bridge between his new life at the University and the life of his childhood in Madagascar. It was also awesome to see God work through the students, as well as expand their worldview and ministry experience. Here are a few thoughts in their own words…

“I never imagined that God would call me on a missions trip, let alone across the world when I prayed to God to take our relationship out of my comfort zone, I didn’t think he would put me in situations where I had to completely rely on Him.” McKennah Andrews

Lots of fun as the Americans taught the Malagasy students how to play flag football.

Lots of fun as the Americans taught the Malagasy students how to play flag football.

“This trip was definitely life altering and I mean that sincerely. I learned more about life, love and God in one week than I have in six months. I got to see God’s love in action via the YCA students as well as the various churches. I also got to see how much God’s hand is over Madagascar and I am so thankful for each missionary He sends here. I can’t wait to see how much more YCA builds God’s Kingdom as well as the things He is doing in the individual students.” Crystal Hargiss

“Through this trip God has given me a greater passion to reach students on my own campus. I grew stronger in faith, openness to the Holy Spirit and people. I have never had to rely on God like this before and I will truly miss it.” Anna Managhan

Members of the American Chi Alpha team participated in a debate type inter-cultural exchange at the university campus open to all students.

Members of the American Chi Alpha team participated in a debate type inter-cultural exchange at the university campus open to all students.

The second team that joined us was a dear couple in our lives. When we were newlyweds at our first church staff position in Seattle, Dr. John and Joann Coppes led a weekly Bible Study for young married couples. We grew in our understanding of both prayer and the Word of God. But most of all we watched John and Joann relate to each other, parent their teenage children, and serve the Lord together. They were great mentors to us as a young couple.

Dr. John and Joann Coppes were such a blessing in our home and with our Chi Alpha team.

Dr. John and Joann Coppes were such a blessing in our home and with our Chi Alpha team.

John is an OB/GYN, and has a great spirit of adventure and curiosity to learn new things. Outside of his medical practice, he ministers with the Christian Medical and Dental Association, visiting many countries around the world doing medical training. He spent one week teaching at the medical university in Antananarivo. Joann, with her positive attitude and prayerful spirit came along to help wherever needed. John and Joann joined the Chi Alpha team whenever they could, listening, encouraging and praying with the students.

The Montana Chi Alpha team had such a great impact among our Malagasy university students.

The Montana Chi Alpha team had such a great impact among our Malagasy university students.

Serving God is ever rewarding! Our lives constantly connect and reconnect with believers from around the globe. Visiting teams come from as far away as 10,000 miles at times to strengthen and to encourage the Malagasy church, but they always bless us as well.

Return Rewards

Over a year and a half ago we had the opportunity, flying with Helimission, to a visit a part of the eastern rainforest that has really captured our hearts. The eastern rainforest is a place with literally thousands of villages, but so few churches and knowledge of God’s Word.

One of the thousands of villages in the eastern rainforest of Madagascar.

One of the thousands of villages in the eastern rainforest of Madagascar.

Because of our ongoing efforts, several times a year to send Pastor Zaka, a Malagasy evangelist, and other young pastors in training into these areas, we were greeted by open arms and warm smiles in these places. This was true for all the villages, but one. That village was hard to reach, had no church at all, and a preacher had never been there. In this place, we were greeted by crossed arms, skeptical looks, and a mocking tone from the young people.

18 months ago we were greeted by crossed arms and skepticism in this village.

18 months ago we were greeted by crossed arms and skepticism in this village.

It was a bit intimidating and sad to see this village’s reaction to us when compared to the joyful and happy faces we had encountered earlier in the day. This village was under a heavy cloud of fear, darkness, and ancestor worship. My heart ached as we lifted off from this area, I prayed silently for God to do something in this isolated, forgotten village in the forest.

Posing in the rain with the "King" of a village from our last visit. He remembered us and has become a believer over the past year.

Pastor Zaka and me posing in the rain with the “King” of a village, a friend we made from our last visit. He remembered us and has become a believer over the past year.

This past week, we were able to make a return trip after more than 18 months, to this same region of the forest and visit many of the same villages that we had visited in the past. Our final stop of the trip was to go back to the village that had been so dark and unwelcoming.

Sharing the a Bible story in a village with the help of pastor Zaka and Caleb who was back in Madagascar with a Chi Alpha team from the University of Montana.

Sharing a Bible story in a village with the help of Pastor Zaka and Caleb who was back in Madagascar with a Chi Alpha team from the University of Montana.

Because of a nearby tropical depression churning off the coast, the weather that day was cold and wet with heavy clouds. Flying in the forest with mountains and clouds is a bit dicey and as we flew along using a river valley as our guide it looked like we would have to abandon our plans to visit the last village. The clouds were too thick and the risk was too great. Then, just before turning the stick toward home, the pilot saw a break in the clouds and made a stomach churning right turn to shoot through the opening over the mountains while it presented itself.

This trip was marked by rain and heavy clouds, making flying in a chopper in the numerous valleys a bit hazardous.

This trip was marked by rain and heavy clouds, making flying in a chopper in the numerous valleys a bit hazardous.

Soon we were circling the village and looking for a place to land. As we landed the people poured out of the village and quickly gathered around us. This time, in stark contrast to the last visit, smiles and handshakes greeted us as the people listened as we shared the Word and prayed with them.

This time the welcome was much more friendly and the people gladly received the Word of God we shared.

This time the welcome was much more friendly and the people gladly received the Word of God we shared.

What was the difference? After the last visit we had made, a nearby church, a 6 hour walk away, had asked one of their believers, Claude, to move to that village and begin sharing Christ with the villagers. Selling laundry soap, salt, flour, and a bit of fabric out of his bamboo house to make a living, he began having a Bible study in the village square. It was this lone believer, with a vision and under the power of the Holy Spirit, who was helping to bring change and proclaim Jesus in this once dark and skeptical village. It makes a return to a village like this so rewarding.

Together with lay-pastor Claude (center) and another lay- church planter from a nearby village. They have a little business to make ends meet while they share Jesus with their villages.

Together with lay-pastor Claude (center) and another lay-church planter from a nearby village. They have a little business to make ends meet while they share Jesus with the remote villages where they live.

This is why we do what we do. Training pastors and believers to reach the last places, the dark places of Madagascar, so that the Kingdom of God can be manifest even among the remotest villages of this great island. Thank you for your continued prayers and support.

Tammy and I are so thankful for your prayers and support.

Tammy and I are so thankful for your prayers and support.

Are you tired of the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping? Does the thought of finding a parking space and standing in a long check out line leave you feeling exhausting? Then holiday shopping—Malagasy style might be for you!

Along the 156 kilometers from the capital city of Antananarivo to smaller city of Antsirabe on National Route 7, the shopping opportunities abound. The shopping can be done from the convenience of your car. We like to call it drive by shopping.

A bourne signifies the distance to the next town at each kilometer.

A bourne signifies the distance to the next town at each kilometer.

First stop—Strawberry Bridge, where big luscious strawberries can be purchased.

A Strawberry Vendor at Strawberry Bridge

A Strawberry Vendor at Strawberry Bridge

Beautiful bouquets to grace your holiday table can also be found here. (I admit that the bouquets are not very holiday-ish, but they are beautiful!)

Flower sellers near Strawberry Bridge.

Flower sellers near Strawberry Bridge.

Down the road, we find a plant nursery, where garden and tropical plants abound. The hydrangeas are especially nice this time of year.

Plant market

Plant market

Next stop—pineapples! 50 cents apiece.

Pineapple vendor

Pineapple vendor

The home decorator in the family will appreciate brightly colored coordinated rugs and storage baskets (great for laundry, toys or balls). The color selection is bright but limited; hopefully you can match her color scheme.

Color coordinated rugs and storage baskets

Color coordinated rugs and storage baskets

Just around the corner, you find the raphia toy department! Lemurs, chameleons, snakes, giraffes, baobab trees and much more. It’s all here!

Raphia toy animals

Raphia toy animals

You can never have too many baskets! There are many colors and styles to choose from.

Baskets of every size and color

Baskets of every size and color

Further down the road, we find the lawn decorations for your garden enthusiast uncle. I think the lions would look classy at our house.

Lawn decor

Lawn decor

Wonders never cease—a new strip mall going in. I am not holding my breath, but I am hoping for a Barnes & Nobles, Staples, Old Navy combination. I will keep you posted.

New strip mall

New strip mall

Down by  the river we come to the rabbit department—we could call this the pet department, but I think rabbits make good eating around here.

rabbit market

The rabbit market

Quelle surprise! Chickens are being sold in the rabbit department today! One never knows what surprises will be found along Route National 7.

Chickens in the rabbit market?

Chickens in the rabbit market?

The town of Ambatolampy is the manufacturing center for two shopping treasures. The first stop is at one of many of the aluminum stores—where kitchen and other household items can be found.

Aluminum in Ambatolampy

Aluminum in Ambatolampy

The teenagers in your life might enjoy their own foosball table (otherwise known as baby foot (baby soccer) around these parts).

foosball tables

Foosball tables

The bourne marker at kilometer 76 (the midpoint) rightly has a snack shack. While, Starbucks it isn’t, cold sodas do hit the spot.

Snack Shack

Snack Shack

Before you start thinking that we are behind the times, we want you to know that we have kobe beef too! We have yet to see proof that the cows listen to classical music through headphones and get daily massages.

Kobe beef

Kobe beef

On to the music department—banjos, drums, guitars and an occasional violin can be purchased for the music enthusiast on your list.

Music department

Music department

For the younsters of the family, how about a brightly painted wooden truck? Today’s selection includes dump trucks and semi-trucks advertising beer, coke, pizza or milk.

Trucks!

Trucks!

Around the corner, we find river rock for sale. At first you might wonder what you will do with river rocks, but I find that it makes great markers (letters written with white out) for an herb garden.

River Rock for Sale

River Rock for Sale

To the locals, Antsirabe brings to mind fantastic vegetables. As we near Antsirabe, this is evidenced by huge piles of carrots being washed and sorted along side the road. At this veggie stand we see carrots and potatoes for sale.

Veggie Market

Veggie Market

Last stop before Antsirabe—the fruit stand. Peaches are in season—how many baskets of peaches would you like?

Fruit Market-peaches

Fruit Market-peaches

Holiday shopping—Malagasy style. What a way to shop! Be sure to book your seat in the Speed the Light Land Cruiser early as it fills up quickly!

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