Caring in a Time of COVID

A Letter from Dan and Elizabeth Turk, serving in Madagascar

Winter 2021

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Write to Elizabeth Turk

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Dear friends,

The new year is off and running. As we head into a second year of uncertainty in this time of COVID-19, remembering God’s presence and our blessings gives us hope. We have been blessed to be close to family as we wait for the time when we can return to Madagascar. Our daughter Frances graduated from college in December and has now started teaching first-grade in person in Orlando. Our son Robert is in his second year in a master’s program in art therapy and counseling in Chicago. It is a blessing to work in partnership with the Fianangonan’i Jesoa Kristy eto Madagasikara (FJKM), PC(USA)’s partner church in Madagascar. We give thanks for the technology that enables us to be in frequent contact with our FJKM colleagues.

The contracted economy and lack of tourist revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to bring daily hardships for the vast majority of Malagasy people. In the far south of the island, many are experiencing acute malnutrition. In the midst of these struggles, we are encouraged by news coming from our Malagasy colleagues. Things to be thankful for in Madagascar:

• COVID-19 cases are still relatively few even though they are increasing,
• Over $16,000 was raised in COVID relief for the FJKM through an appeal from the Madagascar Mission Network,
• Successful completion of the first mango extension project with funding help from the Presbyterian Hunger Program,
• Successful return to training about HIV/AIDS at FJKM’s seminaries,
• Continued care offered by FJKM Development Department’s dispensaries,
• FJKM taking action to deal with famine-like conditions in southern Madagascar.

Particularly encouraging to my FJKM colleagues and me (Dan) are stories of the impact that the mango extension work is having on people’s lives and the life of the church. In the first project funded in part by the Presbyterian Hunger Program (November 2019 – January 2021), 82 pilot farmers from the three parishes closest to the Fruit Center at Mahatsinjo got training in how to grow and graft mangos. Each participant received four or five fruit trees, including at least two grafted mangos. Each participant also received a grafting knife, a sharpening stone, and bags for growing trees in the nursery. A further 17 low-income farmers received more comprehensive training to become volunteer technicians. The volunteer technicians each received more trees, watering cans, and a pair of snips. The volunteer technicians agreed to volunteer to help their local churches do tree-related activities. Some of the volunteer technicians have set up their own fruit nurseries. Romain Randrianarimanana, the volunteer technician at Mahatsinjo, has produced marcotted litchis, grafted mangos, and grafted citrus trees. Rahery Rakotoarimanana, one of the pilot farmers who lives not far from Mahatsinjo, is now growing mango trees that he grafted himself. He has trained his daughter and brother how to graft. The brother has grafted 800 citrus trees.

A broader exciting story is how the FJKM’s Maevatsara Synod has incorporated the activities of the Fruits, Vegetables, and Environmental Education (FVEE) program into the life of the church. This has been manifested through the official status given to the volunteer technicians by the Maevatsara Synod. After the first volunteer technician training, pastors from the Synod requested that they receive similar training. This took place in February 2021 in the form of a refresher course for the volunteer technicians. Seven pastors also took part. Each pastor received two grafted mango trees and an endemic palm tree to plant at his/her church. It was very exciting to note that the new President of the Maevatsara Synod took part in the training alongside his wife.

Please continue to lift up Madagascar and the FJKM in prayer as the country faces many struggles, and the church seeks to be salt and light in these challenging times. Please pray for the FJKM as it prepares for its General Assembly meeting to be held in August 2021. Please pray that we may be able to return to Madagascar in a timely manner.

It is hard to believe that we are already in the midst of Lent. At the site where our letters are found (Presbyterian Mission Agency Dr. Daniel and Elizabeth Turk), we have posted a traditional recipe from Madagascar (vary amin’anana – rice with greens) that could be used as a soup during Lent. There is also a brief write-up about how the FJKM celebrates Lent. If you make vary amin’anana this Lenten season, enjoy the dish and reflect how we are all one in Christ no matter where we live. Please note that you can sign up at the above site to receive notices when new letters are posted.

Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support. The work done together with our brothers and sisters in the FJKM is making a difference in people’s lives. It reminds them in these difficult, uncertain days that they do not walk alone. May we all remember this important truth – that God walks with us, and we are not alone. “I (we) can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (us)” Phil 4:13.

Peace in Christ,

Dan & Elizabeth

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