3 more grandchildren

It was remiss of me not to report the birth of Maeva to son William and Ophalie, just before Hilary and I left for Madagascar. Then Barnaby was born to Katy and Mat while we were there. At 3am this morning, Hilary was called to go to Battersea.  Rachel and Jason’s Reuben (Hebrew for “Behold – a son”) arrived two hours later – 9lb. That makes 12 grandchildren. God is great.

Pheobe’s 6th birthday – Madagascar 3

(Written a week ago, but I was unable to post until today…) Grand-daughter Phoebe’s memory traces are strong enough now to carry into adulthood. I wonder how much she will remember of yesterday? Her 4-year old and two-week old brothers, with her Mum & Dad and Grandma & Pops to share the day, together with a merry bunch of Malagasy school-friends. In two days’ time, we will be on our way home, hopefully to see one or two lemurs in a reserve an hour west of Tana.

A community health visit to a village (Ambodilengo, 7kms NE of Mandritsara) a few days ago broke the rhythm of life built round the school-run. On Friday, I cycled back to the village, with its little white church and school under a hill, a Land Rover can only travel at bike speed on the dirt roads. The village has a few brick houses but most have a basic wood frame, with walls of palm frond stems with mud in between, much like the wattle and mud huts of the Saxon village of Morden 1,500 years ago. The village health committee proudly showed us round, many new latrines constructed, some with a shower cubicle next door); the areas around the village previously used as toilets, have been cleaned up. Not now needed for shelter, trees are now used to supply the insatiable brick kilns as well as for cooking. Sitting in the church for a few minutes, an old lady, probably not so old as Hilary, said she had two children providing her with grand-children; probably other children would have died. In 1905, the population of the local Tsimihety tribe was estimated at 35,000. It had risen ten-fold by 1965 to 364,000 (Freedom by a Hairs Breadth – Peter J. Wilson, Uni. Michigan, 1992). It is probably now nearer 1.5 million (From http://www.peoplegroups.org/)

Son-in-law Mat (see Sept 27th blog for description of his main task here, he is also a water engineer…) has explained how deforestation causes the springs to dry up which could feed village water supplies. Burning off the scrub may provide short-term benefit for cattle grazing – providing new grass; if only a good reforestation programme could be enforced, but with weak government regulation it is impossible to impose. Recently announced elections just may result on a more stable situation nationally, and enable the Madagascar Action Plan to be re-introduced (written five years ago in a brave attempt of how Madagascar might meet the Millennium Development Goals), but it bit the dust after the coup, two years ago.

Generation Trust began life 40 years ago, to run a hostel for Christian young people concerned for evangelism in Newcastle’s West End. Now the vehicle for Mike Rustad, one of the students involved then, to channel family money and business profits to Christian work, particularly in poor countries. Mike is happiest when he sees that as meeting both social need and evangelistic opportunity, especially with the younger generation. Friends of Mandritsara, the The Good News Hospital, has been one recipient of Trust money, £10,000 three years running now. As Tearfund withdrew from working in Madagascar two years ago, hopefully Generation Trust can continue supporting the Friends.

Soon back to the West, and the challenges that await us there.

From Madagascar – 2

“There’s a light upon the mountains, and the day is in the spring” – so begins an old Gospel hymn. The room that is Hilary’s and my base this month in Mandritsara, Madagascar looks south and west onto mountains, dawn-light caps them first. I enjoy the swift cool dawn of another tropical spring day, just cock-crows and the occasional rumble of an early ox-cart passing, breaking the silence. May it be that the old hymn will have it right, even for the benighted western church?

This last week a tummy bug affects most of us variously, I think I am through it now! A few more chairs mended, more ‘Narnia’ read to Phoebe, Jonah and I getting the measure of each other, Barnaby settling in to the second week of life. Mandritsara is a classic meeting of the urban and rural world. The smell of smoke from the brick kilns fired from the cutting down of the few remaining stunted trees around the hospital. But as Dr Mann points out we criticise easily, forgetting how our European forests were devastated. The main street of Mandritsara is called the Champ Elyssee, Umby carts mainly delivering to the wayside stalls, but at the end the ‘bus station, and a huge lorry. Hopefully some pictures to illustrate, once I get back.

I came across the following in one of Katy’s Christian Medical Journals, by Richard Stearn, President of World Vision, USA: Address to the third Lausanne Congress on world evangelisation at Capetown. Quoted in the Christian Medical Journal by editor Peter Saunders, Christmas 2010…


I believe that the (American) church stands at a cross-roads. The world we live in is under siege. Three billion are desperately poor, one billion hungry, millions are trafficked in human slavery. Ten million children die needlessly every year. Wars and conflicts are wreaking havoc. Pandemic diseases are spreading, and ethnic conflict is flaming. Terrorism is growing. Most of our brothers and sisters in the developing world live in grinding poverty. And in the midst of this stands the church (in America) with resources, knowledge and tools unequalled in the history of our faith.

I believe we stand on the brink of a defining moment and have a choice to make. When historians look back… will they say that these authentic Christians rose up courageously and responded to the tide of human suffering to comfort the afflicted and doused the flames of hatred? Will they speak of an unprecedented outpouring of generosity to meet the needs of the world’s poor? Will they speak of the moral leadership and compelling vision of our leaders? Will they write that this, the beginning of the 21st Century, was the churches’ finest hour?

Or will they look back and see a church too comfortable and insulated from the pain of the rest of the world, empty of compassion and devoid of deeds? Will they write about a people who stood by and watched… of Christians who lived in luxury and self indulgence while millions died…

Sometimes I dream and ask: “What if?” What if we actually took this Gospel seriously? Could we, might we, actually be able to change the world?”

Ten days more, and we will be back in the West, with winter approaching. The affairs of Morden parish, London community and wider church inform my dreams. ‘Always winter and never Christmas?’ We’ll see…