End of Chapter 2

A Big Thankyou

As our second year in Madagascar draws to a close, we want to say a big THANKYOU to you for all your support – whether it be prayers, interest in what’s happening, finances, love, liking our famadagascar facebook page photos etc.  We appreciate it all!

This year has been a second confirmation that we are in the “right place at the right time”, and we marvel at God’s wisdom in His choice and calling.  There is so much to report, so we choose some exciting highlights (and realistic lowlights) to share with you.

Family

The kids have settled well into their new school.  We are so proud of their integration as “foreigners” into a completely new school system.  One example:  getting used to the strange stares as they open their lunch boxes and eat sandwiches with bread instead of a box of rice!  But they have friends from all over the world including China, Korea, Madagascar, Mauritius, South Africa, Canada and others and are beating their parents hands-down at language learning!  John has been training the teachers and managed to get the school officially approved to offer International GSCEs and A’levels, so Vision Valley School is now the first British Accredited School in the country. There is massive interest in Madagascar to offer British Education and John has been establishing important contacts through the British Embassy. This summer he has received an invitation to visit Cambridge University to discuss helping them introduce their teacher programs into the country and is currently working 2 days per week for the British School of Madagascar; implementing the curriculum, introducing marking and assessment,  inspecting lessons etc etc.

Madagascar in the News.

This year like most years has been tumultuous for Madagascar in a number of ways. The year started with a 5.5 earthquake, I (John) was in the loo at 1 am when all the walls started shaking! (surely that curry wasn’t that strong!) Cath jumped out of bed in a bit of a panic, wondering if the house would survive if there was another stronger tremor. There wasn’t, the kids slept through it and it passed as a minor event. Thankfully no one killed and only little structural damage at the epi centre 200km away.

In February we had quite another worrying night, as the plastics factory opposite our house spectacularly blew up, a scorching fire raged all night and blew tonnes of thick black acrid smoke into the night sky. Cath got the kids up, packed up our valuables into a box and evacuated down the garden to the lake. The kids were pretty scared and so they prayed; miraculously a wind blew the flames and smoke in the opposite direction to our house and not even one tree was harmed. If the wind had blown the opposite way, the whole house would have burnt down.

By January the “summer” rains have usually arrived, this year the clouds built but the rains did not fall. Day after day the rice farmers peered out of their ramshackle dwellings, totally dependent on the liquid from the skies for their harvest but it did not fall. The ground became harder and harder, the crops thinner and thinner and the price of rice (already un affordable for many Malagasy) went up by 50%. By the end of February we were sending emergency prayer requests home and then a week into March just as some of the harvest was beginning to die; cyclone Enawo came thunging straight through the middle of the island. It hit land fall with 120mph winds but deposited 12 inches of precious rain on its slow  journey south. Overnight the rivers and rice fields were filled to overflowing; the harvest survived and there was enough water for one more late summer rice planting, but sadly many people’s homes were destroyed.

These natural disasters, coupled with the every day struggle just to find enough food to feed the family highlight the fact that each year in Madagascar, the general population get poorer and poorer. Over 90% of the population now live on UNICEF’s definition of severe poverty less than $1.50 per day. We do what we can through our charity FAMadagascar but it really is a drop of help in an ocean of need! However for the dozen individuals or so who we are supporting it is life transforming.

Foster Care

We employed our first social worker and manager, Lanto, in January, who is an absolute God-send in the true meaning of the word.  He speaks fluent English (a rare thing here), and when we discovered his experience and training we were amazed (and so was he) at how he seems to have been prepared for his role with Famadagascar.org  He jumped straight into liaising with government officials, and child judges in order to get foster care officially off the ground here. We have formed an official approval committee with the purpose of approving foster families and placements, which includes heads of departments of police, education and health, a child judge, local government officials as well as two other Christian NGOs – Iris, and a maternity clinic that we work closely with.  Last month this committee officially approved our first 6 foster families.  Our six foster care families are all committed Christians. The government conducted the first training, and we have completed two more training sessions. Our training involves looking in detail at how God parents us, and we dovetail this with the latest research and up-to-date training on “therapeutic parenting” for traumatised children, using a model called P.A.C.E. (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy). Underpinning everything is prayer and impartation of the Father heart of God “who is a father to the fatherless” – a true expert therapeutic parent.   We are now awaiting for the final agreement from the Ministry of Justice, and our foster families will then start receiving their first placements. They will be the capital city’s first official foster carers.  There are just 4 child judges in the capital city here, all of which have told us that there is a crisis here, with overcrowded orphanages and many children in desperate situations, and that the need to start foster care is long overdue. When we told them that we are starting small, with just 6 foster families – they were disappointed!   But despite the pressure to grow quickly, we know that we must learn to walk before we can run and we hope our model will inspire other organisations to empower and equip Malagasy foster families.  We are currently looking for sponsors for these foster families.  If you are interested in sponsoring a foster family, and empowering them to reach out to Malagasy children in crisis, please contact us.

Family Preservation

We know that the child abandonment and abuse crisis here in Tana, will only be resolved when there is better support structures within the community.  Foster care is wonderful but is just a plaster on an endemic problem.  We believe children back with birth family where safe to do so is always the best child care option available, and we will be doing a lot of work with foster children’s birth families to maintain contact and leave the door open for future reunification.

In the meantime, we have been supporting a few families in the community at risk of child abandonment, who have been thriving under our care.  We work closely with a local Christian NGO who have set up a maternity clinic on the outskirts of the city, and they often refer mums and babies to us. Many women and children have come to them having suffered sexual and physical abuse and many are on the edge of malnutrition.  One young mum was referred to us, and when we first met her we were amazed to discover that she and her family could only afford to eat, three days per week.  Her mother works in a factory making baskets and earns about 60p a day.  We are taking back samples of her work to the U.K. to sell for her to help her start a crochet business . We plan on helping another 5 families start micro businesses when we return in September, skills the families have range from building pet kennels to making baskets! If we can help them with start up costs for materials and tools, these micro businesses will raise the entire extended family out of grinding poverty into hop.

Our small team has been working with the child beggars on the busy road near our home.  After visiting the parents of these children and conducting quite clever assessments, the sad truth became apparent, 5 out of the 6 families interviewed were not willing to send their desperate children to school (even when we promised to pay school fees, and provide a micro-business for them) as begging is so lucrative.  One family we met makes more from child begging than our social worker does!  Sadly, this is a “child’s rights” issue, which would need to involve the police and government who just don’t have the systems in place to deal with these sorts of issues at present. Thankfully, one child beggar family genuinely does want to help to get their kids off the street and into school and understand the importance of their children becoming literate and having the possibility of breaking the generational begging cycle. This family is one of a further 6 families FAMadagascar currently supports.  Here is the eldest girl looking forward to starting school in September instead of running alongside cars and trucks begging, in the punishing heat.

Church

We continue to enjoy attending Tana City Church which is not too far from our house. The church has been a great blessing in providing good spiritual food and insights as enabling solid links to be forged with other NGOs and missions working throughout the city.

John has continued to help out with the Malagasy House Church which sprung up 20 months ago. Four new believers were baptised a few weeks ago. The new indigenous believers are all maturing and doing well and the church continues to grow.

Homeward Bound

We are now returning back to the U.K. for 8 weeks to work at the Christian English Language School in Christchurch for the summer and save up for our Air fares ready to return for next leg of our Madagascan adventure in September.

We’ll keep you posted

 

 

 

Madagascar Musings Year 2

Madagscar Musings Year 2 So we’ve been back in Madgascar for a couple of months now after a week’s holiday in beautiful Mauritius and a 3 month stint back in the good old United Kingdom. We had a great time teaching English at the Christian English Language Centre to save up the pennies for our return air flights back out here and really enjoyed visiting relatives, watching the BBC coverage of the Brexit controversy and eating afternoon cream teas at the New Forest Rhinefield Hotel. We really enjoyed the benefits of a country where on the whole everything works in quite an orderly manner.  We have found 6 wonderful board members for our UK based charity FAMinternational (watch this space) that will support the work of FAMadagascar. 
Back here in Madagascar we were submerged straight away into the challenges of daily living in a developing world. The kids were thrown straight into the Malagasy primary schooling system which they found difficult to adjust to at first (they didn’t know what had hit them when they both received three hours homework per night after a six and a half stint at school starting with a 6am get up! Poor things) All four of us had the Madagascan runs and managed to completely block both of our toilets with overflowing blessings. After 4 days of constant diarrhoea and excruciating stomach cramps Cath called out the missionary doctor (who’d just got of the aeroplane after his furlough) and he came over and prescribed some antibiotics which thankfully finally shifted it. The local power company Jirama was still cutting the power everyday just when you need it at tea time and then giving you as much electricity as you want at 3am. (Thankfully we’ve not had a power cut for a few weeks now) and as usual bumper to bumper traffic congestion means it still takes an age to get to or do anything in the local city, but the everyday struggles honestly pale into insignificance when we interact with the beautiful, peaceable, smiley, local people here who jolt us back into our raison d’etre. So time for an update on what’s been happening…. You might remember that after countless treks into town we got our Malagasy charity FAMadagascar.org approved in late April last year. It has 2 main aims: to find caring loving families for vulnerable Malagasy children as an alternative to the 80+ institutional care homes which are the only option for children here in the capital city and to support needy families who could be in danger of putting their children in institutions simply due to financial constraints.
Last April then, we started supporting N’s family. They have already seen 5 children pass away and their youngest son, F has got a severe incurable degenerative bone disease. They are desperately poor. The local village Mayor (Fokontany) had given them a shed to live in and so we waterproofed it, kitted them out with mats, bedding and cooking utensils and bought them a duck business, in the form of 20 ducklings (for the princely sum of 25p each). The idea was that in 6 months ducks grow and start laying eggs. Hatch out a batch of ducks and then sell half of your original ducks for £2.50 each (1000% profit). Repeat the process, you’ve got a business for life! Trouble is the family needed rice support for about 6 months until their ducklings grew up. Whilst we were away, nobody delivered it; so we returned a few weeks ago to find that every single duckling had been sold, they did make 5p per duckling on the original price (30p) but this wasn’t the business model we were hoping to follow. Can’t blame them, for generating income when desperate. I would have done the same thing for my family if I was in their position but it does mean we will need to start again from scratch; (we’re thinking chickens this time rather than ducks) and we must ensure that rice deliveries continue for a good six months to support families until their businesses get off the ground.
On a more positive note we have been able to take special clothes for F to make his care easier, have had a special chair built for him, and we have enrolled the second youngest son into school and bought him his uniform and school utensils. He is 11 and was placed in a class with 4 and 5 year olds (since he can’t read or write). I thought that there was no way he was going to stay in the dusty room they call College, surrounded by pupils a third of his age , but everyone assured me, he would stay because everyone knows that no Education means no job which means no food. Sure enough I went back and he’s going strong, been moved up a class and produced his first written alphabet and 1 times table. His mum is so proud of Him and so am I! We have since started supporting 2 other families in the village; with preliminary monthly rice donations, the first family are grandparents looking after their twin grand children after the death in child birth of their daughter and the second family is an extended family whose father (and major bread winner) has upped and left, leaving the family in dire need.
The second purpose of FAMadagascar.org is to place vulnerable children in loving families . We arrived back in October to find that our good friends from the Netherlands had a major crisis on their hands. Their guard who lives on their premises was arrested and put in prison for involvement in an armed robbery; leaving his 5 year old daughter Ellie (not her real name), temporarily orphaned. The poor girl had already seen her mother pass away giving birth to a brother (who also died) and now she had no father either. The couple got in touch with FAMadagascar.org and we linked the girl up with a lovely mother (and grandmother) Marlie who is really keen to be a foster carer (in the city). They instantly bonded and the girl asked if she could stay. We photographed the house and carried out all the checks and Ellie and Marlie went to court to meet the judge presiding over the case. After 5 minutes with Marlie and without even reading any of the case notes, he stamped Ellie’s papers and parcelled her off to the local orphanage with the words “children in this country go to centres.” Perhaps he wasn’t aware that the law changed in this country in 2012 to give children the right to live in families, perhaps it was easier and less risky for him to do what he had always done, but for now Ellie is another one of ten thousand children in the capital city living in one of 80+ centres.   FAMadagascar.org is hoping to change that by working with the government to get the word out that there is an alternative – Malagasy families. We are having on-going meetings with the Ministry of Population and Unicef to work out a national plan (at their initiation and request, I hasten to add!). In fact, they have informed us again that we have come just at the right time.  They are on the verge of total reform of their child care system, and are looking to partner with us to start a pilot foster care program in conjunction with new reforms of “gatekeeping” that the government wants to implement (i.e. ensuring that children enter the care system only when absolutely necessary; finding families for kids – adoption, fostering being given priority; and ensuring that every provision is made for children to return to birth families wherever possible).  With about 10,000 children living in centres here in Tana alone, with centres packed to their limit, the government and UNICEF have realised that big changes are necessary. We are working closely with the government to recruit and approve the city’s first foster carers, and be part of an official foster carer approval panel. Our plan is to visit local churches to find those God is already calling.  Big changes afoot here, and we feel excited and privileged to be part of them.   We interview for our first full time social worker next week and she will get to work in January to create the very detailed and thorough dossier of information about our foster families to present to panel.  A further note about Ellie, we have learnt recently that her Father was released from jail (earlier than expected).  We are working on a solution to get him back on his feet so that he can have his daughter back to live with him.
Last year my gardener had a profound conversion experience and came to see what Jesus Christ had done for the world by dying on the cross. He accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as his own and experienced a cleansing away of his old life and received a new life. He was now free from his semi addiction to cheap rum which resulted in emptiness and instead has become full of love, purpose and joy. He became a bit of an evangelist and soon his whole extended family came into a right relationship with God (and each other) and we started to meet weekly in their little tumble down house by the canal in the city.
Just before I left for the U.K. Felix’s grandmother passed away. She had apparently been very sceptical and resistant towards Christianity all her life but it’s amazing how perspectives change when you are lying on your death bed. I was able to share my faith in the promises of Jesus concerning eternal life and she prayed and accepted the gift of eternal life just before she died. I was asked by the family if I would conduct the funeral and so on an almost inaccessible rainy, drizzly hill, overlooking the rice paddies of Tana city I had the privilege of preaching the good news of how grandma had made peace with God and was ready to face her creator and saviour when her time had come. Over 200 umbrella clad locals heard the gospel and a small crowd of enquirers came to find me afterwards to find out more. Despite the sadness of missing a family member, the family were very encouraged and amidst the tears was a strange kind of joy that all was well after all. Every week then, this family had met upstairs in a tiny shoe shaped, rickety house for fellowship. Everyone had started building each other up in the things of God, singing with all their heart, praying for one another, encouraging one another and learning from the scriptures. Out here spirituality (and community living) are much more a part of people’s lives rather than the compartmentalism and almost denial of all things spiritual which seems to be encouraged in the West. None the less some people (quite rightly) had questioned whether the motives of those attending the group were totally pure or whether people were just turning up because a rich Vasaha (white man) was involved and they might be able to get something out of it. My return home over the summer then, was the perfect time to find out if those meeting together were genuine or not. It was with some trepidation then, that upon returning to Madagascar,  that I walked up the rackety wooden steps onto the lopsided balcony overlooking the smokey canal to revisit the body of Christ who meet in Marie’s house. Would I find a room, mirroring the plight of Jesus disciples just after he had been crucified….empty, the followers scattered even their chief leader (Peter) denying he had ever known Christ at all? Nope; it was more like visiting the upper room after Pentecost. Crowded into the tiny shack, resembling a bed with four walls, were faithful followers. Whilst I’d been away they had continued to meet together to strengthen each other and read the scriptures and now they seemed more vibrant, enthusiastic and committed to the causes of Christ than ever before. I was so pleased and so for me my job is almost done, a Malagasy stalwart with a pastoral heart; who has been a Christian a good many years has got involved with overseeing the group and already the Lord is raising up a team within the body of believers themselves who minister one to another. I can take more of a back seat and just visit once per month or so and concentrate on another gathering of believers which is starting to emerge in another very poor village where FAMadagascar is working.

Schools Work. As mentioned Beth and Lydia are now attending Vision Valley School, a strong faith school of 285; 4-18 year olds; started by a South African couple who started the church we attend in Tana. They are wanting to offer a new syllabus offering International GCSEs and A-levels and I have found myself in an advisory role training teachers, and transforming the school from what can seem like quite a regimented chalk and talk “French” system to the more pupil lead (teacher facilitated) British system. A work colleague from the U.K. -Taj Penny is helping me rearrange classrooms, team teach and work alongside the teachers demonstrating outstanding practice etc. So my 25 years in education and 11 years as Head of Maths and Science has come in handy out here after all. In no way, however do we want to impose our Western teaching styles on the Malagasy schools, to be honest I was glad to move on from my super stressful middle management job in the end. The schooling in England has become so pupil centred that the teachers authority has been undermined (with often little or no support from the parents) and we’ve managed to create an egg shell society of high work loads and bureaucracy, I found it had become so important to demonstrate hours of so called preparation on paper (to show inspectors and head teachers) that I ended up too tired to teach the classes the next day! There was an expectation that I had to deliver outstanding, challenging, exciting top notch lessons to gifted and talented year 10s whilst perfectly managing and correcting the behaviour of the most challenging dis engaged pupils who just happened to be slumped over the same desk! Add to this hours of informative comment book marking, differentiation, in class progress assessment, GCSE coursework and a sprinkle of irate parents’ slamming phones down on me and it is not surprising that we’ve come up with a British recipe which now boasts the highest turn over of workers than practically any other job (even traffic wardens and refuse collectors in the U.K. stay put longer in their jobs than teachers!) So although Taj and myself have got experience of how to wear teachers out to the point of them quitting their jobs; we’ve also collected some great tips and tricks that do work in the classroom and I’m really enjoying working alongside the teachers to help them deliver better lessons where the pupils do all the work (and the teachers gently encourage). I have been humbled to see the humility of the beautiful Malagasy teachers as they take on the new ideas and bring about change in their classrooms. Madagascar really would benefit from a decent education system. At present pupils are only expected to complete primary school (to 11 years) and in rural areas 50% of the pupils don’t even achieve that. The girls drop out early to help out with washing and looking after younger siblings and the boys often make bricks or help bring in the rice harvest. Many really large towns still have no Upper school at all and so there is a massive percentage of parents in the country who are unskilled and illiterate, can only get very low paying jobs and can’t afford to send their children to school and so the cycle goes on.

So there we go, there is so much more I could write about. Funny stories of simple day to day living out here; which don’t seem all that funny at the time. I want to write a series of self help books; “How to empty a Malagasy house sewage system without soiling yourself” for example. I also feel lead to write “101 things to do whilst stumbling about during a Malagasy power cut” and “17 Terrifying, one car wide, sheer drop, canal roads to take to avoid traffic jams in Tana city.” Talking of which its  the Francophonie summit here next week. Although the name sounds like a conference about French mobile networks, its actually a meeting of all the Heads of State, of all the French speaking countries in the world which comes to around 80. Half of these Heads are arriving next week including the French President; Hollande and so all the schools have been forcibly closed for a week and all the buses suspended in a bid to clear the city of it’s critical road congestion problem. Not sure it will fool the heads of state into thinking that Tana city is a pleasant traffic free 21st century city, but hay, it might be a good week to venture into town and do the Christmas shopping before the impenetrable grid lock resumes again the week after. I’ll keep you posted and I’ll try not to leave it 7 months before posting on this blog next time. By the way apologies for any blank spaces where photographs should be (the internet is so slow that it often doesn’t upload them properly). Thanks for reading anyway.  John

FAMadagascar.org is now approved!

Hi everyone. Can’t believe the last post on this blog was our trip to Reunion Island over Christmas. Please forgive me for being so negligent. Thought it was about time I did a bit of a post to tell you all what we’ve been up to over the past four months….

Well we have now established a secure base here overlooking the lake in Ambohibao. We have finished renovating the out buildings and are providing a rent free home on site for a newly married couple which will be an emergency foster care home in the future. We’ve cultivated a field area and we’ve harvested stacks of corn, lettuces and cabbage and are very near to bringing in the courgettes and sweet potatoes.

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We continue to home school Beth and Lydia each morning (a harder task than it sounds) and every afternoon is pretty packed too. I teach Maths and English voluntarily two afternoons per week at the MCA school and Cath teaches Cello Wednesday afternoons at the Anglican Music Institute (where Lydia and Beth have piano, guitar and art lessons). Thursday afternoons I visit poor families with two of my workers and Friday afternoons are spent discipling and mentoring a new church which has sprung up in a poor area of the city through Felix my gardeners’ testimony of how he found a life transforming faith in Christ. We are thoroughly enjoying meeting together to study the scriptures, encourage one another and have some fun family times.

Over Easter we visited Andasibe National Park Forest; a three hour drive from here and home to 11 species of wild lemurs including Madagascar’s largest primate the Indri Indri. We all had a fantastic time and even met King Julian himself. Watch our video opposite.

FAMadagascar

There is a lot going on but it may well get even busier soon since after weeks of traipsing into town and back (think grid lock on a one laned M25) and much miscommunication in French (including accidentally arranging a meeting with the Mayor of Tana and then keeping her waiting) I am relieved to say that this week we received our papers back from the government and are now a state registered Malagasy NGO. Www.FAMadagascar.org

FAMadagascar’s primary aim will be family preservation and faciltating in-country foster care. Being the 10th poorest country in the world (see below link)

(https://www.gfmag.com/global-data/economic-data/the-poorest-countries-in-the-world?page=1)

some families make the drastic choice to abandon their children. Many children end up with little or no parental care, and are very vulnerable to abuse and child slavery. All of these facts have led to over 80 orphanages/centres/residential institutions springing up in the capital city alone. The government here and UNICEF, have recognised that this usual model of care for vulnerable children needs change so that children are given the chance to grow up in a family environment with secure constant care throughout their life.

The law changed in 2012 to allow foster families to care for children and the government have wanted to set this up since then. They were delighted to hear about our project and have asked how we can partner with them to see vulnerable children placed in local Malagasy families – foster care or “famille d’accuiel”. There has been one small pilot foster care project on the coast, but we will be the first true foster care program in the country. We plan to find foster families in the local churches, approve, train and support them to provide care for vulnerable children.

We have hit the ground running and are already seeking a foster family for 2 orphaned siblings we are involved with, west of the city, as well as seeking to find a solution for a very vulnerable 11 year old street child who has currently been placed in prison since there is no where else for him to go.

Alongside the foster care program, we will be supporting families at risk of abandoning their children. In a country with no income support, there are many desperate situations. This week we came across K’s family below. They are critically poor; living in a leaking shed; six of their eleven children have already died and their youngest has got cerebral palsy. We will be supporting families such as these by paying for school and medical fees, providing rice and buying chickens, giving micro-loans, and helping them start small businesses. Since our U.K. house rental provides for our day to day expenses out here, we can promise that every penny that is raised through FAMadagascar will go straight toward helping these families in crisis. If you can help, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Merry Christmas from La Reunion

Big volcanic Christmas greetings from the Indian Ocean Island of La Reunion!

Our 3 month tourist visa was due to end some time soon, so we had to leave Madagascar a few days ago and will re enter the country on 29th December on a one month renewable visa which we should be able to convert into a full time visa and prevent the need (and expense) of flying in and out of the country.

Reunion was the nearest and cheapest flight destination from Madagascar, but once we had got over our initial reverse culture shock (which took the total time it takes to eat one McDonald’s hamburger),  it has turned out to be a very pleasant and dramatic surprise!  We keep having to pinch ourselves that there won’t be a power cut sometime in the next 24 hours.  The roads are full of neat white lines and cars that form an orderly procession without having to negotiate human drawn carts.   How strange that this completely different French out post (they even use Euros) is just one hour flight away from Madagascar (by the way we are quietly chuffed that we can now hold a conversation in French) and how baffling that these worlds are so different. Having said that, out of the two….we are much more drawn to Madagascar with all its beautiful, ragged edges, and are looking forward to returning “home” in four days to see all our new friends and of course, Snowy (our fiercely friendly adopted guard dog).

So we’re really enjoying Christmas sitting on a huge active volcano in the middle of the Indian Ocean with it’s “Machu Pichu” type tropical forests clinging to its steep sides, its giant cascading waterfalls and cool, clear splash pools, with plenty of interesting Creole culture, history and pretty architecture to explore.  Pretty awesome!

Lydia and John got soaked to the skin in the freezing fog as they trekked the 600m descent (and ascent) into the Piton de la Fournaise volcano (one of the most active in the world -last blowing it’s top a few months ago). He was so proud of Lydie; being a true pioneer as she trekked for hours in the pouring tropical rain without a single word of complaint and we had a wonderful day, canyon climbing the amazing ravines to some stunning waterfalls yesterday (the pictures don’t really capture the grandeur and height of it all).

Four more days till we’re back in of Madagascar and all that entails in setting up an N.G.O. charity.

We’ll keep you posted.

All our love, have a blessed restful Christmas and New Year.

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Malagasy Christmas Greetings

Festive greetings from the Indian Ocean, although at 33°C surrounded by ripe banana and mango trees it doesn’t feel that Christmassy at present. The Malagasy don’t celebrate Christmas in a big way, however we have found a Christmas tree in the local Shop Right and there are a few shops here in the capital city that have managed to import  some festive goodies, like chocolate, fairy lights and Monopoly but we’ve been told to stock pile these items because we’re not likely to see them again for another year!

 We’ve been in Madagascar just over 2 months now (after a three week break in Mauritius) and after all staying in a one room guest house for 6 weeks we are very thankful to have now found a beautiful place to rent which will become the base for our NGO foster charity. Not only is it a beautiful location right on the edge of a lake (a bit like having a park and bird sanctuary in your back garden) but it has a number of out buildings which we are converting into accommodation for our first emergency foster families who we hope will accept children when they are first referred. This will be a safe place for the children to stay temporaraily whilst we are trying to trace any birth family and research the child’s history, before carefully matching them with any possible kinship carers or approved and trained community foster carers. Underpinning all our thinking and planning as the charity takes shape is the UN convention on the rights of the child – articles 20, 10, 25, 24, 19, 34 which state that a child has a right to grow up within their birth or extended family when safe to do so, and if not, then every child has a right to grow up within a family.  We have already met some wonderful potential Malagasy foster families in the community! 

(Some shots of the fauna and flora round the area of the house: stunning!)

 Renting a house in this country is very much like taking over a small business. In effect taking on the house commits us to supporting the five families (and all their extended links too) who depend on the work the house provides for their livelihood i.e. a house help, a gardener, a carpenter and two night guards.

We really did wrestle with the idea of having so many of people looking after the house (which isn’t really big enough to accommodate such a work force) after all we are in this country to serve the Malagasy not the other way round. Yet if we dispensed of everyone (and saved ourselves some money) we would be condemning these families to unemployment and a very bleak future. Jobs are tremendously scarce (read: impossible) to find and there is no benefit service, DHS, pension etc. 

 So we’ve rented the house, took all the workers on and decided in our heart to do our utmost to make this place the most pleasant place to work that we can. We have increased the salaries by 25%, and provided three good meals a day as well as giving everyone an extra day off per week. We are building an outside shower and toilet for everyone to use. We are determined to encourage a sense of community. I have managed to get hold of some Malagasy Bibles and every morning we all gather together to examine the scriptures. Hardly anybody out here owns a Bible and the strong catholic traditions often trump Bible teaching, meaning that people are eager to find out about the Lord but are ill-informed. However, the people are humble and have such a  genuine desire for spiritual things.

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  The other night Felix the gardener turned up with his wife and children explaining that his wife’s father was desperately ill (coughing up blood). They had taken him to hospital, only for him to be returned home because they couldn’t afford the bill or the medicine. We let the family stay in the little two room guards house which is free at present and gathered the next morning to pray. We looked at Acts 3; where Peter and John heal the lame beggar on the Temple steps in the Name of Jesus. The man is hoping for a hand out but gets a new pair of  working legs instead. Just imagine if Peter and John had given him a some money rather than commanding his healing! We decided to take The Lord at His word and trooped round to Felix’s brother in law’s house, where his father in law was staying. I encouraged Felix to lay hands on the extremely thin; fragile man, (so that people don’t think the westerner’s prayers are any better than theirs) we anointed him with oil (as the scriptures in James teach us to do) and commanded healing in Jesus’ Name. Zaka   (my maintenance man and translator) told me the family were expecting a hand out but  we gave them something much more important. He stopped coughing up blood and started to recover immediately and so we were all encourage. (Not least Felix).

This week catastrophe hit our night guards house. His little boy tipped scolding hot water all over his little two year old body. Word has got out that God answered our prayer for Felix’s family and so the night guard spent his shift at the hospital instead of working. He asked if I would visit and I said I would gladly visit and pray at the hospital. Hospital is a five hour round trip into town at this time of year and when I arrived his son was just having his dressing changed, his poor little back was still raw and bloody and areas had already started to get very infected; the doctors said blood poisoning is a real possibility.  The final results are in God’s hands although I do believe that (like Felix’s father in law) I will be able to report a positive outcome in my next newsletter.

 Moussa; our other night guard is the head of another family barely surviving on the bread line; he originates from the North West of Madagascar and has come to the capital city in search of a job. He is illiterate and can’t speak any English or French and so we can only communicate with him when Zaka is around. Despite this he has been able to ask us for a new pair of shoes and has ensured that his duties include breakfast and an evening meal! It is a bit unnerving to have someone wandering round your property all night with a flash light but unfortunately it makes us just that little bit safer than if he wasn’t around.  We have introduced all our staff to the armed Egyptian Embassy guards that protect next door! We do seem to be in a very safe neighborhood and living next door to the Egyptian and Swiss Embassies is an effective deterrent against crime .

 Ravo is our home help; an absolute delight. She is newly wedded to Jhonnie and both speak good English. They have been invaluable in settling us into Malagasy life and have got us out of a few tight scrapes  literally (when I crashed our new car into a local taxi bus and when I nearly got arrested by the police for inadvertently driving a car round with Illegal Belgian number plates on it) Don’t ask! We have had the privilege of being able to put them up in our spare room (to enable them to save some money to build their own house) and have thoroughly enjoyed meeting their delightful extended family who may well turn out to be future foster parents!

After Christmas we hope to get the ball rolling in terms of setting up the charity, visiting UNICEF office here, employing a Malagasy Social worker and beginning to train and access foster families. As far as we can tell, foster care in an official capacity is pretty much non existant here and the general response to our proposals is very positive. We would appreciate prayers for the right connections in government and the university of Social work.

 We are so thankful to be part of Tana city church; Kim and Sue; the pastors are a lovely South African couple who have helped us settle in and provided us with no end of helpful insights and advice as to how things work out here. The church has both a Malagasy and an English service and a congregation of about 400 individuals.

We are so thankful to God for all the answers to prayers, and a sense of peace and “at home-ness” that we feel here. We have seen God’s hand in the detail as well as the big picture. For that, we are also so grateful to all of you who pray for us.

 Have a blessed family Christmas time in wintry Britain with all our love from tropical Madagascar

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John, Cath, Bethany, Lydia and Snowy (our newly adopted ferocious guard dog).

week 4 – Cath’s ramblings

Learning Learning Learning Learnng Learning Learning….my “L” plates are still clearly marked for me and everyone around to see!  Before we embarked on our journey to Madagascar, I always felt that God was gently telling me…your first year is all about learning. Have you ever had a nightmare where you had an exam but you hadn’t revised enough for it…I went through a phase of my life where I had a recurrent dream like that, and I would wake up feeling greatly relieved that I was at a stage in life (or so I thought) where there would be no more exams or learning necessary….how wrong was I.  Here I am, having just hit my 43rd year on planet earth and feeling like stumbling, stuttering toddler again, with a steep, steep hill of learning ahead of me in every area of life!

I have been amazed how regularly I have felt like a complete “numpty” here, utterly clueless about culture, language and generally how everything works here…cringingly embarrassed at my own ignorance and cluelessness and utterly dependant on God and on the kind and helpful people he has brought across my path.  EXACTLY where God wants me to be.

LESSON 1 So, I’m learning how to home school.  Man, what a steep learning curve that is, and not just in terms of setting boundaries and expectations and routines (all my weak points in parenting). Take history, for example.  I am convinced I was fast asleep in all my history lessons at school. Or as my teachers observed “you are in the classroom, but just not present”.  So, I’m tackling history with the girls, and I am quietly quite interested to discover about “prehistoric Britain” (from the BBC history KS2 website), for the first time (but I’m not telling the kids that). Now, I pride myself in knowing the order of stone age; bronze age and iron age….and actually we’re really “getting into it”…I make sure the curtains are closed as we prance up and down our one room pretending to be stone age women skinning dead animals, and iron age men hammering their anvils and spearing their enemies.  So far so good, although I bat off their sometimes eager questions with “funny you should ask that, we’re going to look at that next week” (a useful technique I mastered with my advanced English classes, code words for “I haven’t got the foggiest idea”).

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Neolithic Bronze Age woman washing up.

LESSON 2 So I’m learning French and Malagasy, at an incredibly “thrown in at the deep end and sink or swim” rate. Without French (at the least) you are pretty up the creek without a paddle here, as most Malagasy people speak ok French but hardly anyone speaks English.  I have had days where I sink into bed exhausted after a whole day spent  stuttering and splattering out some kind of Cath variation of the Franco lingua…only to be met with an utterly puzzled expression on the poor person trying to work out exactly where it is I want to go in the taxi, or whether that was a yes or a no answer to their simple question of “would you like a bag for your vegetables, madame?”….EXHAUSTING…

Then the phone rings, and John and I throw it at each other like its a hot piece of coal “your turn”…”no your turn”…till the phone rings off…we can’t face another “this ain’t going anywhere” phone conversation, as we try to make out who it is and what they want..”immoblier? propriateur de voiture?” “Je desolais monsieur, je ne comprend pas…mon francais est….terrible!”   We have been minutes away from ending up the proud tenants of a 7 bedroom, 7 bathroom, swimming pool mansion due to a simple error of communication whilst negotiating a rental price …very simple difference between the words “blanche” and “grise” (white and grey)…then just in time – “mais non!  ce n’est pas las maison grise, c’est la maison blanche!”

Then there is Malagasy…we have a delightful Malagasy teacher, who (I am ashamed to say) has to say the same word maybe 50 times before I can get my brain around the phonemes and utter something close to it…and I am ashamed to come to the next lesson with absolutely no recollection of the words and phrases taught me in the previous lesson.  However, I am holding on to what many people have told me that it is an easy language to learn….apparently…I am fascinated to discover that verbs come first, and subjects come at the end.  I am so grateful for God giving me an interest in “unusual” languages at university where I studied linguistics…I just hope that this fascination turns into some kind of learning, or sticking to my brain. That would help.

LESSON 3.  Malagasy life…particularly for the poor and marginalised.  There are so many lessons I am learning here.  Here’s one.  Some lovely friends took us out for a trip into the city centre where we found an ancient Malagasy castle on the top of a hill and saw an incredible panoramic view of the capital city, Antananarivo.  I have to say, a stunning city, with red brick buildings, interspersed with splashes of bright green paddy fields, and spots of bright purple jacaranda (now my all time favourite tree).

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Stunning city.

After a fascinating trip to the museum, the kids were delighted to spend a happy hour or so at a Malagasy equivalent of Alton Towers (use your imagination there).  Whilst we were there, I had time to sit and watch and learn.  My eyes were drawn to a small groups of street children, who clearly stood out from the rest of the Malagasy kids there. No shoes, rags for clothes, pale faces, thin bodies and popped out tummies.  I watched them as they quietly held out their hands to ask any “Vaza” (white) person they could see for food or money or whatever. I dug into my bag and pulled out a packet of biscuits I had been keeping for the kids snacks and handed them to them.  Then I saw a man come up to them and snatch them from their hands…was this their father? or someone worse? Like a real life Fagin? Had he been watching them, and me from afar? Then I watched as the workers at the play park took sticks with sharp thorns on them, and whipped the street kids away like stray dogs…then to my horror I watched as these same workers threw stones at them to get them to run further away…one stone hitting a four year little boy.  I felt the pit of my stomach drop a few inches as a mix of grief/guilt/pain/anger hit my heart. I slowly walked over to the candy floss stand where my kids were getting a sweet treat.  Learning, learning, learning..and praying, praying, praying…use me to make a change, Lord, use me…I’m here….help me…show me.

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Malagasy Alton Towers

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Street kids prior to being beaten with sticks and stones.

Madagascar: Week 3

Hello again.

Hooray!  Internet access! The bi-daily power cuts continue and are becoming less and less endearing as time goes on. Its also terrible to admit but we’ve come to realise, just how dependent on the internet we really are and our enforced internet fasting is still proving quite a challenge. We’re now past the initial disorientation of landing in the capital city of a developing country, have made important “life line” friends and are now starting to look and pray further into longer term.

Last Friday I went out with the Iris Madagascar team to the local rubbish dump where an entire community are struggling to eek out an existence by salvaging anything they can find from the continually smoldering embers. There is an ingenious business of washing and cutting up all the old clothes found at the tip and processing them into strips which can be weaved into small rugs. Eight of us on the team each bought one of these brightly coloured bathroom mats for the princely sum of 100 ariary each (about 20p.) My estimation is that from collecting to washing to cutting to weaving there must have been about 10 hours work put into every mat. I still can’t really get a grip on how, as the 9th poorest country in the world, the economy works out here. Amenities such as gas, electricity and internet are more expensive than the U.K. and we’re spending more on food than we would on an average Lidl shop and yet jobs involving people cost practically nothing. A good weekly salary is about £10!  It doesn’t seem right that people are valued so lowly, (below commodities). I’m glad I’m able to share a message with people that from God’s perspective they are all invaluable. So intricate, amazing, unique and steadfast, that God gave up the most precious thing he had (his son) in order to buy them back from the ashes and include them in his never ending kingdom. Iris are doing a priceless work amongst the poorest of the poor, sharing hope, encouragement and ministering practically by offering basic first aid/ medicine to those without. A highlight for myself, was praying with a young man who had just come out of the latest fresh load of rubbish, he was covered in flies but as we prayed we both sensed the overpowering tangible love of God that came out of nowhere and rested upon us both. Supernatural joy and hope flooded our hearts despite the most hopeless and desperate of circumstances. I read a great facebook quote recently: “those poor rich westerners, all as they have is money!” Here was a man poor as poor could be but he seemed to have a rich vibrant faith. Just like the parable Jesus spoke about in Matthew, where the poor and lonely and destitute were finding God ahead of the rich, comfortable (and religious!). Jesus said “blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” and It really is. They are entering peace and rest whilst the rest of the busy world is left outside!

I’ve took a few pictures of some of the local characters on the tip and along with a friend of mine (Robin) who has snapped some pictures of Antananarivo life, outside our gates; We’ve stitched them together into a 2 minute slide show. They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so I’ll let the pictures say it all. I’ll write again when the internet works again in a fortnight. Until then thanks for taking an interest as we start to find out what God’s purposes are for the broken families in this land and what small part we can offer to help support and restore them.

Thanks for reading. John.

Madagascar: One Week in.

Hello from Mad Madagascar.

We’ve now been here just over a week, -apologies for not updating  the blog earlier but we’ve been suffering from a bit of a poor internet connection which can be excellent for about ten minutes and then suddenly collapse to nothing. We are all living in a one bedroom studio apartment, in a suburb of the capital city called Talatamaty, north west of Antananarivo city centre and are enjoying facing the new challenges that living in a third world country has presented (I’ve updated the photo on the front of the blog to the view out of our apartment window).

So far challenges have included the daily power cuts; currently two or three a day for as long as two or three hours each, which as well as knocking out the snail pace internet, also cut the water in the apartment, meaning no washing up or showers or coffee! We’ve turned these evening pitch black events into mini family discos (thankfully the laptop has quite a long battery life) which keeps us all sane and it’s lovely to see the kids playing out with new found friends by torchlight instead of stuck in front of  a games tablet all day. Beth says living here reminds her of one long Brownie camp minus Arkela.

Sustenance wise Shoprite supermarket is only 12 minutes walk away, and is fairly well stocked although pretty pricey, but I’ve found keeping a family of four well fed means an almost daily trek followed by the obligatory taxi haggle down from 60000 airy to 5000 (about £1) and then the semi death defying drive home in an endearing seat belt less, 1960s motorised sardine tin (which  I now actually quite look forward to).

We’ve met some fantastic people, and are delighted to be making some great friendships.  We have so much respect for such an incredible group of people, who have left everything behind in order to come out here and try and make a difference in this beautiful but very much developing country. We are also happy to see how our girls have been welcomed with friendly smiles and fun game ideas by a great group of outside loving, wholesome kids, as well as a small dog who has attached herself to our family. The dog is quite an amazing story. Before we left Lydie prayed that we’d get a white dog with black eyes, I was bracing myself for a disappointed little girl, because I couldn’t see how we could provide for such a request especially if we weren’t going to stay here too long (and I wasn’t sure we would) but when we arrived here the owner was looking after a missionary couple’s dog whilst they were away in America, the dog loves Lydie and currently sleeps in our room every night and believe it  or not, it’s got white fur and two black eyes! How could any one ever engineer a situation like that? (I am very aware for some of you reading that raises a whole load of theological questions about unanswered prayer!)

Accommodation wise our apartment is quite secure and adequate for our present needs but outside the gate we stumble onto a world of cockerels and goats and pigs and dogs and ducklings and geese, all scratting in the red dust for something to eat. I’m finding it hard to get my head round the lack in these lovely people’s lives but as seems typical in the third world everyone seems to cope unbelievably well with their meagre resources. We’re particularly moved by the plight of the elderly here, we’ve seen a number of old people staggering round town or sitting at the road sides begging and there seems to be no provision for them what so ever.

The people in general seem more generous, smile more and seem more content and grateful than your average stressed out Westerner. At present I have no idea what can be done to make any of these people’s situations better, I feel very much cut off from the general population, not only am I a rich white man, but I can only speak two words of Malagasy. I am not prepared to resign myself to the fact that nothing can be done however. I am sure that there will be some form of small contribution that I can make which will make a difference (jut like the boy in the bible who decided to give up his fish sandwiches one day and Christ used them to feed five thousand families!) this is something that I am meditating on. I honestly believe that things can be changed one person at a time. I’m sure some of you are aware of the “Starfish” story, where a little boy finds thousands and thousands of starfish washed up and dying on a beach and starts to throw them back in the sea one by one. A man comes along and tells the boy that what he is doing is a waste of time and in the long run will make no difference. “It will make a difference to this one” the boy replies as he throws another starfish back into the sea. I’m not sure yet what my little bit is that will make a difference, but I know in time my purpose here will crystalise and take shape. As things stand at present Cath and myself are learning patience as well as Malagasy and French and are very aware that anything we can offer will be because of God at work in our lives rather than any great plans we may or may not have.

So over all we’re settled in, the first week has been a steep curve of learning and enjoying and settling and resting and choosing to do less and become more. Internet and electricity generating company willing, I’ll write another post next week. Thanks for reading. …….John

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East Meets West

Into the third week of our Mauritian break and we’ve all started to relax and get used to our new pace of life. We’ve had a fantastic three weeks rest here, before heading off to Madagascar tomorrow. Nearly all of the beaches here are of the pristine white powder sand and shimmering crystal clear sea variety. (I’ve spent four days completing my Open Water Diving qualification at a very reasonable price and had the privilege of swimming with dolphins) -a hard life eh? Lydie has marvelled at the Parrots, Fodies (bright orange birds) monkeys, fruit bats, ghekos and the like and become a seven year old expert wildlife photographer (move over Attenborough) and Beth has managed to figure out how to Skype and play Minecraft with her friends over three thousand miles away in the U.K. on the flimsiest of internet connections! It has been wonderful to have time to re group as a family and to actually spend some time together, something which sadly is somehow placed at the bottom of the list back in the U.K. This spending time together has extended into The home schooling arena. Cath and myself are really enjoying schooling our own kids every morning -it actually feels like the right thing to do, rather than running round the house like maniacs looking for shoes and ties before parceling them off on someone else to look after for 6 hours a day! However home schooling can be fairly hard work and it’s amazing how often our kids suddenly develop a head ache or are hungry or need to go to the loo as soon as it is time for school to start. Fortunately their mother is “quite a strict teacher” (according to Lydie) and resistance is futile. All in all though we’ve made a good start in Maths, Science and English (with a little bit of French thrown in too) and I’ve found knowing exactly where my kids are up to in their education; precisely what they know and what they don’t; does enable a more personalised curriculum. This is something which in my experience as a teacher can be lacking in main stream school. Despite teachers’ best efforts, there simply just isn’t the time to differentiate for thirty different pupils and so there has to be a degree of “one size fits all” and often the slowest learners (as well as the fastest) have to travel at the speed of the average class member, which can cause stress in the least able and boredom in the most. So, so far home schooling has been good. As long as Beth and Lydie make some good freinds in Madagacar this is the direction we will move in education wise.

Apart from learning to home school our kids, what else have we picked up in Mauritius? Well time in Mauritius definitely has a slower vibe about it. I haven’t actually met anyone in a rush so far, I noticed the waiters in the hotels saunter to clear the dishes and stop to chat and smile, where as in the U.K. everything has to be done as quickly as possible. When I used to wait on in the hotels in Blackpool, time was money, I could have literally lost my job, if I didn’t shift a plate just as soon as it became empty; sauntering in Britain seems to equate to laziness and yet I much prefer the Mauritian approach: relational above financial. The down side of the Mauritian mentality is that things take a lot longer to get done (and on more than one occasion the kids’ chips arrived forty five minutes after our order -a long time if you’re a seven year old). The whole thing got me thinking again about world views. Who is right? Should we rush about, wearing ourselves out but being productive or saunter about not getting that much done but maybe living longer? The Mauritians do admire hard work and they are not lazy but they would probably have us slow down a little, us Westerners admire their stress free way of doing things but imagine they could be a little more productive. We both need to listen to each other and adjust a little if necessary. There is a boundary line however and there is a point below which a person is actually being lazy (and British and Mauritians know where that point is) similarly there is a point above which a person is just plain unhealthily stressed out (I’ve been there) and it is not good. So there is a degree of movement within a set of boundaries. Our cultures don’t actually allow us to change that much, a Mauritian working in a British Hotel would have to speed up some what or get sacked and a Brit working in Mauritius would have to adjust to the slower pace of life (although unfortunately this pace is speeding up in some areas, as western values start to take over)

At the route of these habits is a worldview. Eastern culture puts a real price on forming relationships with people.I find it absolutely endearing. Everyone is so helpful; going out of their way to serve. I dropped my shopping; a stranger not only picked it all up but repackaged it all for me in my bag (some westerners might find this intrusive). Strangers give broad smiles to you on the street, you don’t just look down and wonder what is the person on? You make eye contact and smile back. How lovely! The western world view (certainly in London and the South of England where I’ve been living) is all about productivity. Complete a productive hard day’s work and you have satisfied the cultural expectations. Unemployment is still quite a stigma! Work means money and it doesn’t matter if that means having no time to spend with friends. Work first friends second. “Sorry I’m really busy” is a valid excuse in the U.K. In fact work (certainly in the teaching profession which I have just left) is expected to be put before family. I was expected to prepare good lessons and stay up all night to impress Ofsted or my line manager (half the time this did not help the kids that I was supposed to be teaching by the way, because I was too tired after staying up all night preparing amazing lessons to be much use in the classroom the next morning!) but you get the work ethic idea, don’t you? Do a good job; first tend to your wife and kids second. Indeed in the U.K. the government will even pay for child minders so that mums can go out to work (and leave their kids with a relative stranger). Paying child minders, equals more mums working, equals more money, equals more taxes. Our Protestant work ethic is part of our world view of life, but its not necessarily the best or rightful world view. It’s certainly not the African world view.

It is very difficult to change a world view because that is how we see the world. We permanently wear our “world view” glasses. I wonder what other world view aspects I have been conditioned to think are true (or are the best) but may not be? I was talking to a Muslim and he certainly sees the world different to myself but he made some valid points, he correctly highlighted the fact that America are still the only country on earth to have ever used full scale nuclear weapons on their enemies (controversial but true). In cultures where it is still immoral for a woman to show an ankle, no wonder they have a problem with western “christian” films and some forms of even “Christian worship” which are being broadcast into their living rooms twenty four seven. So comes the inevitable clash of cultures here in Mauritius, not really a clash; that’s too strong a word, because everyone here is so ultra accommodating and desperate not to offend but evangelical Christians (like myself) are definitely in the minority (as they are in the U.K.) but here, the predominant religion isn’t secular humanistic agnosticism (I haven’t found God, not sure he exists, all very confusing, better not search too hard in case i get even more confused and better not ask anyone about it either  -I know, I will go and be nice to people and hope for the best; type mentality) but multi god worshipping Hinduism (about fifty percent) that involves full on sacrifices to Ganesh -the elephant God and Vishnu and hundreds of other deities to keep them sweet; throw in a ten percent Muslem population and forty percent fairly staunch Catholics and you’ve got quite a mix. It’s quite refreshing though to find everyone here believes in God. Where as in the U.K. you are looked on as a bit twee if you still believe in God, out here people are incredulous if you don’t believe in God. What I want to point out though is that our secular world view in the west is just as much a conditioned world view as any a God believing world view in the East. In fact I’m pretty convinced that the average Westerner has a conditioned idea as to what he thinks a Hindu is, what he thinks a Muslem is and what he thinks a Christian is.

Let’s start with the average Westerners thoughts on what a Christian is. How about if I was to ask you to pause for just a minute, go and grab a pencil and write down what you think a Christian is? I wonder if your view of Christianity is really what Jesus had in mind, when he called people to follow him (even to the point of death if necessary) in order to re connect to the Father in heaven and inherit eternal life? I wonder if he envisaged a series of cold stone buildings stretched across the world, where people had to go to mass and perform religious traditions in order to somehow appease their God (in case he was still angry with them), hang on that is sounding a bit like my Hindu friend, who has to sacrifice to Ganesh to appease Him and my muslim friend who has to go to Mosque five times a day, to get into God’s good books. Pretty strange when the scriptures clearly says that “God doesn’t live in buildings built with human hands.” What if Jesus’s death on the cross really was the final sacrifice for all on planet earth and now we can find God’s love and favour and purpose. What if death really isn’t the end but a new eternal beginning? (How is your Western World View coping with me being so blunt and asking such blatant questions at the moment?) In the scriptures Jesus didn’t seem to like religion very much, kept reminding people that if they were trying to get to God by being good, they’d never be good enough. He was much more interested in relationships, he seemed to have a lot of time for people who were honest in their estimation of themselves, who humbly knew that they had messed up, big time and needed some help. I wonder if anything has changed? My world view certainly is changing and that’s not a bad thing. I’ll write some more when we get settled in Madagascar until then happy world viewing.                       JohnDSC04971 DSC04986 DSC05078 DSC05173

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Me and my dive buddies under the Indian Ocean.
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A great Family Feet
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Play time after Home Shool.
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