Joys and challenges of serving amongst the Sakalava

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Elly Schoepp serving as part of the Sakalava Training in Ministry Outreach (TIMO) team with her husband Jed and children James, Elias & Ben shares her reflections on the practicalities of living in a Madagascan village.

Joys and Challenges

During the first year of our time on Nosy Be, Madagascar, it felt like every day each experience was either a joy or a challenge. There was no in between, no middle ground, no monotony. The day would often begin with joy. An amazing sunrise, a delicious cup of coffee and a quiet peaceful moment of sitting either alone, or with my husband Jed, or one of our sons, on the deck soaking in our new beautiful surroundings. This joy would quickly morph into a challenge upon the arrival of our Sakalava neighbors! Language barriers, hospitality blunders, and the stress of not knowing how to gracefully say, “Sorry, I just started homeschooling,” would raise my anxiety. The daily experiences seemed to alternate back and forth – the good days predominantly joys; the hard days full of challenges.


Taking Root

In April 2013, the Sakalava Training in Ministry Outreach (TIMO) team arrived in Nosy Be, Madagascar to start ministry amongst this unreached people group. Now as they finish their term, regular ‘gatherings’ of those who are interested in hearing the gospel have begun and the Sakalava even have songs explaining the gospel in their own language. ‘The Band’ are a group of local Sakalavan musicians who became friends with the TIMO team. When Scripture was translated into the local language the team shared it with The Band, who promptly turned it into song. Now the band members increasingly want to know more about the scripture they are reading and beginning to understand. ‘Gatherings’ of locals continue, and the team are leaving with the knowledge that scattered gospel seeds are taking root and having seen the beginnings of what we pray will grow into a thriving Sakalava church plant.

Joyous Challenges

Some of the simple, everyday joyous experiences that stand out include watching our older boys come home from catching birds, lizards, or cicadas in the ‘back yard’ with their band of Sakalava friends. They were hot, tired and satisfied with their catch, smiling and laughing, speaking in Sakalava with their slingshots hanging around their heads. I think of picking rice far up on the hill with a beautiful breeze in my face or planting greens in the garden by the river with my friend Laurette. We’d joke around and chat about life: children, husbands, cooking and working. I consider the stunning beauty of Nosy Be – the lush landscape, the tropical fruit growing right outside my door, the vanilla vines and coffee blossoms growing wild in the yard, the gorgeous blue and green shades of the Indian Ocean – and marvel at the privilege of living here.

Everyday Challenges

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Everyday challenges are harder to take on some days more than others. Depending on what else is going on in the village or in our family, something like not having a fridge can range from a mild nuisance to ‘the last straw.’ No electricity and no running water are my first thoughts of challenges, though they are less of a hardship now than they were at the beginning. Rainy season brings several challenges such as mud, no solar power, and cabin fever. It’s hard to get out of the house; difficult to get supplies from town; and infections from cuts, scrapes, and mosquito bites incubate and multiply in the humid conditions. With less than four months left in this village I’m trying to savour the joys, and count the challenges as endurance builders. I trust that God will use these challenges we’ve faced over the last two years to help mould me into a woman more like the one he wants me to be.

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