COVID Surge and Famine in Madagascar

A Letter from Dan and Elizabeth Turk, serving in Madagascar

Spring 2021

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Write to Elizabeth Turk

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Dear friends,

It is wonderful to be in the Pentecost season when we are reminded that God gives the church power to be God’s instrument in the world. When circumstances around us are trying, and change seems difficult, Pentecost reminds us that we have God’s spirit and power with us.

Elizabeth and I are still in Florida and still uncertain about when it will be possible to return to Madagascar. The PC(USA) travel ban remains in effect until the end of June 2021. Madagascar is currently not allowing people into the country on commercial flights.

While we look forward to returning to Madagascar, we are grateful to have been here in the U.S. for family milestones. We give praise to God for our daughter Frances’s successful completion of her college career. She received her diploma from Rollins College on May 8, 2021 with a bachelors’ degree in Elementary Education. She actually finished her studies in December 2020 and has been teaching first grade in Orlando since February 2021. She plans to go to Senegal in September on a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English for a year. Our son Robert is set to finish his master’s in Counseling and Art Therapy this June and plans to work in Illinois until he gets his clinical counseling license. His long-term goal is to work with third culture kids and those experiencing cross-cultural transitions.

Since early March, Madagascar has experienced a second surge of COVID-19 cases. Many pre-COVID activities had been allowed to resume after the first surge subsided in August 2020, but the new surge led to a new round of restrictions on travel and economic activities, including lockdown in the capital city on weekends. In the capital city, colleagues report that almost everyone knows many people who have had COVID and some who have died. PC(USA)’s partner church, the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), has been greatly impacted by the new restrictions, which include bans on worship services in the capital city and other affected parts of the country. The FJKM has very much appreciated donations for COVID relief collected by the Madagascar Mission Network. The FJKM headquarters is providing worship services over the radio. FJKM pastors are going into hospitals and COVID treatment centers to pray for those who are sick.

On March 26, 2021 Madagascar announced that it had decided to bring in vaccines and signed up for the World Health Organization’s COVAX program. The first 250,000 vaccines (AstraZeneca) arrived on May 8, 2021. Health care personnel, the elderly, the armed forces, and the police were prioritized for getting the vaccine. News accounts indicate that the vaccination program is progressing well. After a peak of active COVID cases on April 25, 2021, official data indicate that the number of active cases has declined rather precipitously. But with winter fast approaching and vaccination rates very low, further spread of COVID-19 is likely.

The hunger situation in southern Madagascar continues to be dire. The World Food Program (WFO), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and Amnesty International have all recently issued humanitarian appeals. Amnesty International’s is titled “Madagascar: Urgent humanitarian intervention needed as millions face hunger due to devastating famine.” The WFP and FAO report that over 1 million people in southern Madagascar face high levels of acute food insecurity, with almost 14,000 people in the worst category of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). The FJKM is participating in efforts to relieve hunger by distributing food and seeds and focusing on longer-term solutions such as digging wells, constructing water catchment systems, and sponsoring a school in the far South.

We continue to communicate several times a week with our colleagues via Skype, Zoom, and WhatsApp. In February and March, when COVID restrictions were relaxed, the Fruits, Vegetables, and Environmental Education (FVEE) program was able to hold several trainings at the FJKM church at Ankaramena in south-central Madagascar, where a new mango nursery is being established and at the fruit center at Mahatsinjo. At the most recent training, 50 people from the town of Tsarahonenana near Andriba learned how to grow and graft fruit trees (see our update, “Mango Training for Tsarahonenana”). All told, in the past few years, the FVEE has trained over 150 farmers. Recently, nursery operations began at the new mango nursery at the FJKM seminary at Mandritsara following the completion of the house where the nursery manager now lives and the construction of a fence around the nursery (see our update, “New Mango Nursery at Mandritsara in Northern Madagascar”).

In February, the FJKM AIDS Committee participated in FJKM’s 2nd annual Valentine’s week-long conference that uses presentations, skits, and prizes to promote healthy relationships for singles and married couples. Youth and adults attended, all wearing facemasks and being socially distant. Before the AIDS Committee could conduct its training for seminary students, the COVID-19 spike occurred. Both the AIDS Committee and FJKM Health Program’s trainings are on hold until restrictions are lifted. The FJKM dispensaries continue to care for patients. The Health Program is working on keeping the dispensaries supplied with needed protective materials and COVID medicines.

We greatly appreciate your support for us as PC(USA) mission co-workers and the work of the FJKM church. Please contact us if you would like us to share virtually. Please continue to pray for Madagascar and the FJKM church in this difficult time of COVID-19. May we all be renewed in this Pentecost season and find ways to serve God wherever we may be.

Peace in Christ,

Dan & Elizabeth

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