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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!

Praying for Change

In 2009, the duly elected president of Madagascar was forced out of office by the military and a transitional president was installed in what was deemed a coup d’etat. This transitional government has lasted nearly five years, during which time almost all international aid has stopped, the economy has plummeted, the education system is a shambles, and international mining and resource interests are exploiting a needy economy.

A Malagasy man stands in front of a wall plastered with political posters.

A Malagasy man stands in front of a wall plastered with political posters.

Finally, after years of pressure from the United Nations, the Africa Union and various other outside groups, Madagascar is having their first round of presidential elections on Friday, October 25th. The former presidents of the country are banned from running for office in this election, but that has not deterred people from applying as potential candidates. In fact, more than 50 candidates applied to stand for election, paying a rather hefty application fee. After review by the election commission that number was trimmed down to 33 candidates. I believe that 33 presidential candidates must be some sort of a record for a national election. The ballot is incredibly long, with each candidate having their assigned number, their name, and their picture on the ballot so that illiterate voters can simply put an X by their choice.

Malagasies are faced with so many candidate choices most have no idea who to vote for.

Malagasies are faced with so many candidate choices most have no idea who to vote for.

For weeks now, the streets have been jammed with political rallies and caravans. The radio and TV stations are blaring propaganda day and night, while every wall in every neighborhood has been plastered with posters that get covered over with more posters the next day. Everyone is wearing a new t-shirt with the face of a candidate on it.
This large number of candidates is indicative of the lack of trust in the current government and its leaders. A recently released statistic revealed that 92% of Malagasy people live on less than $2.00 a day. That is a significant increase in poverty. Child prostitution is way up, crime is increasing, bribery is commonplace, and food insecurity is climbing. Madagascar has so many resources and so much potential yet so much of it has been unrealized.

Poverty has increased dramatically in the past few years, especially in urban areas.

Poverty has increased dramatically in the past few years, especially in urban areas.

Madagascar needs a leader who has a heart for the people and not for personal or outside interests. The nation needs someone who can help the nation to be united and move forward. Would you pray for Madagascar in these coming days? Pray that Madagascar can find a way to get out of this political crisis that they have been mired in for the past 5 years. Pray for the people of Madagascar who have been suffering under the weight of poverty while living in a land of vast resources for far too long.

Two opposing campaign trucks full of supporters meet in the street. it is odd to see millions of dollars being spent in a nation so desperately poor.

Two opposing campaign trucks full of supporters meet in the street. it is odd to see millions of dollars being spent in a nation so desperately poor.

Pray as well for the church here. Pray that Christ’s kingdom could continue to advance so that every region and every tribe would hear the good news of the gospel. That is why we do what we do, so that all may hear!

Building Bridges

Karen, Christine, and Tammy, good friends together again.

Karen, Christine, and Tammy, good friends together again.

This past month we had a unique opportunity to visit northern Tanzania. We weren’t on a missions trip and we were not looking for exotic animals. We were building bridges, bridges between cultures.

Several years ago we were blessed to have the Tanzanian Assemblies of God send us their first missionaries to work in the island of Madagascar. Paul and Christine Balela soon became great friends as we prayed together and planned how to help the Malagasy church reach the unreached of their island. Paul is a very experienced church planter and has planted dozens of churches in Tanzania and Burundi while at times suffering tremendous persecution for the sake of the gospel

Paul and me ministering to a village in Madagascar that had never heard the name of Jesus.

Paul and me ministering to a village in Madagascar that had never heard the name of Jesus.

Many times over the past few years as Paul and I would be traveling and talking, he would mention that when he went on furlough back to Tanzania, he wanted us to come to Tanzania and meet his family and see where he grew up. Family and relationships are very important in African cultures and I was quite intrigued to see where he and Christine had lived.

Paul and me together again in Northern Tanzania near Karatu.

Paul and me together again in Northern Tanzania near Karatu.

Recently, Tammy, Becca and I had the opportunity to do just that, traveling by car from Nairobi with some other good missionary friends Scott and Karen Hanson and their girls. Scott and Karen had been missionaries for many years in Tanzania and were instrumental in introducing Paul and Christine Balela to missions and to the challenge of reaching unreached people groups.

Eating roasted goat with rice and drinking chai in Christine's brothers home. He is an A/G pastor.

Eating roasted goat with rice and drinking chai in Christine’s brothers home. He is an A/G pastor.

Being able to travel around in northern Tanzania and visit the places that were special to the Balelas helps us to grow closer to them as co-workers. It strengthens the bond we have as we labor together in Madagascar. As honored guests we were served meals and tea at every stop—we ate three lunches and drank 5 cups of chai (tea) one day and ate three breakfasts and drank four more cups of chai the following day. At every stop, with every cup of chai, we were building bridges between our cultures.

Christine and Paul with another of Christine's brothers and his wife. They are also A/G pastors in the area.

Christine and Paul with another of Christine’s brothers and his wife. They are also A/G pastors in the area.

Now we have met mothers, brothers, sisters, and good friends of these wonderful Tanzanian missionaries. Now we have walked where our friends have walked and seen where they spent their childhoods. I have seen the tree that Paul cried out to God under when he was kicked out of his home for accepting Jesus. It was interesting to note that an Assemblies of God church now stands next to that tree. His tears so many years ago were not wasted. Now I have a mental picture of these people and these special places.

Paul and Christine stand in front of the church that now stands near the tree where Paul once cried out to God.

Paul and Christine in front of the church that now stands near the tree where Paul once cried out to God.

In missions work we hear a lot about partnership and in Madagascar God is taking that further than we ever imagined. God is using Tanzanians, Americans, and others to work with the Malagasy church to advance his kingdom here. This recent trip to Tanzania helps us to build bridges with a dear Tanzanian family and draw us closer together as co-workers laboring in the same field. It is our privilege to work along side these and other national missionaries as we seek to make his name known in every region and among every people group in Madagascar.

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