From Madagascar…

Two weeks ago, Hilary and I were delayed at Heathrow, waiting for our flight to be re-arranged to get us to Tana (Anatananarivo, Madagascar’s capital) in time for a Mission Aviation Fellowship flight north to Mandritsara Good News mission hospital. We made it, via Amsterdam and Nairobi instead of Paris, we enjoyed a few days with grandchildren Phoebe and Jonah, waiting for Barnaby to be born (he was, on Fri 23rd, 7½ lbs) to daughter Katy and Mat Linley; “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” incidentally playing as I begin updating this blog.

It seems Hilary and I are expected to see lots of Madagascar wildlife – sadly, only one sleepy chameleon and a few bats so far. The end of the dry season is drier than usual, the fast growing population of Mandritsara struggles to find water, the few pools in river-beds are very stagnant, women and girls carrying dirty water long distances, and the hospital struggles. Keeping a newborn and siblings supplied takes time, at least we have water on tap, for an hour or two each day so grandma has not had to take buckets to the waterhole – yet! Any of the locals with spare time, makes bricks for the rapidly expanding town, scrubby trees for miles around are felled for firing the bricks. Terrain is very rough, the mountains surrounding the town are reminiscent of Oman, and Gindiri, near Jos, Nigeria. Only one metalled road out¸otherwise journeys to local villages takes bone-shaking hours by land-rover, probably only half the time by Umbi (bullock)-cart or walking. I have been cycling around a bit, and walking up some of the more accessible, and not-so-high local peaks.

The church grows fast. Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches were established 100-150 years ago. The local Baptist church has 70 cell churches in villages in the area around Mandritsara – the size of Wales, 35 send trainee pastors to son-in-law Mat’s, one month/ twice a year training.  Most of them walk in, most of them rice-farmers, some take 36 hours non-stop.  This last weekend, a ‘big meeting’ was held over several days at one village, on Friday evening I went with the open-air cinema (land-rover, generator, lap-top and projector) to show the Jesus film, recently dubbed into Malagasy. It was a good experience, to see the story of the human Jesus projected onto a white school wall watched by 1,000+, half of them children, while His further galaxies shone above.

Health-wise, Phoebe and Jonah have had a bug, but are back to school today. Hilary is pretty much OK, I thought I was until this morning I was asked to have a blood test prior to giving blood and ended up fainted on the floor of the lab. Madagascan staff felt responsible, foreign staff just laughed…. perhaps I had overdone it, mending two chairs in the hospital workshop.

There is time and distance enough, to reflect on the challenges facing the Western church, five of my seven churches there – I have Tom Wright’s “Surprised by hope” to help, and John Stott’s “The cross of Christ” book to prepare seminars from. Also a Bible study for hospital staff to prepare to lead. Whether I manage another blog before we get home, depends on a temperamental internet connection.