“I Passed the Test”

A Letter from Dan and Elizabeth Turk, serving in Madagascar

May 2019

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We hope you had a wonderful Easter! This year has been busy. Elizabeth had a nice visit in the States with Robert, Frances, and her parents in February and took part in two mission conferences. Thank you to all who prayed for my mother, Naomi, who was in the hospital briefly. She is back home now and doing well.

The Ivato seminary campus is especially beautiful as the rains have turned the campus into a green haven. The four-story seminary building constructed last year to commemorate FJKM’s 50th anniversary and the 200th anniversary of the first missionaries’ arrival in Madagascar is an impressive reminder of FJKM’s commitment to prepare more pastors to serve the growing church. The Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), the PC(USA)’s partner church, is the largest protestant denomination in Madagascar, with over 6000 churches but fewer than 2000 pastors.

We are grateful as we reflect on the FJKM’s desire to spread the Gospel by equipping their pastors with the ability to minister to the whole person. With over 80% of Madagascar’s population living in poverty, pastors have to be prepared to meet a variety of needs when they go out to serve. In addition to traditional seminary coursework, FJKM seminary students study many non-traditional subjects like AIDS prevention, ministering to the homeless, as well as gardening and fruit tree production. We have been directly involved in some of these courses through our work with the Fruits, Vegetables, and Environmental Education (FVEE) project and the FJKM AIDS Committee. These trainings help pastors deal with real-world problems that their congregations face: not enough food, crops that fail, diagnosis with AIDS, among others. My recent experience with Pastor Clara Ranorosoahanitra who graduated in 2012 shows how these trainings can really make a difference to pastors and those they serve.

“I passed the test,” Pastor Clara shared with church members who were attending the training in grafting that the FVEE project was conducting for her churches in rural Madagascar. My colleagues and I had come to the FJKM church in Ambalafeno east of Ambositra at Pastor Clara’s request to help plant trees and do training in raising worms and grafting peach and nectarine trees. This is part of FVEE’s new program to plant native and fruit trees at 50 churches per year. I explained to church members that we teach student pastors how to grow and propagate fruit trees, but we don’t expect all of them to get interested — after all, their chosen specialty is theology and pastoral studies. Their pastor, I explained, was one of the ones who really got interested and adopted tree planting as part of her ministry. Then Pastor Clara stood up and explained that she “passed the test” because when she learned how to graft while in seminary, the peach tree she grafted grew successfully.

It took a while for Pastor Clara to get this level of confidence. She received the fruit tree and native tree training during her last year of seminary at Ivato. After graduating from seminary, Pastor Clara received 10 fruit trees (see photo to the right) to plant at her first church, as did the other graduating pastors. She planted the trees at her first post near Soavinandriana in central Madagascar. She pastored there for six years. However, after being robbed by armed thieves three times in their home with their children present, Pastor Clara and her husband Fetra (also a pastor) asked to be transferred to new posts.

In January, we met Pastor Clara at the FJKM New Year’s worship service, and she asked if the FVEE project could work with her two new churches. So on March 1 at 5:20 in the morning, my colleagues Rolland Razafiarison and Germain Andrianaivoson and I, along with Pastor Clara, set out from Ambositra with a bag of worms, about 70 peach rootstocks, and bottles containing peach and nectarine scions. It took us almost four hours to drive the 26 miles from Ambositra to Pastor Clara’s main church. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by 48 members from both churches who had come to be trained. We began with a worship service in which Rolland preached from Ezekiel 36:30, “I will increase the yield of your fruit trees and your fields, so that there will be no more famines to disgrace you among the nations.”

After the sermon, we divided the 48 trainees into three groups: Rolland led the training on raising worms, Germain led the training on grafting peaches and nectarines while I helped members plant fruit trees and native trees around the church. We rotated twice so everyone got a chance to take part in all three activities. Among the trees we planted were several species of native palms, a jaboticaba, a grafted nectarine, a longan, a litchi, and several varieties of citrus.

To provide follow-up for church trainings such as the one in Ambalafeno, we are developing a new program to have volunteer technicians at the synod level. They will visit churches and follow up with community members after we do trainings. We will train the volunteers and give them mother trees so that they can set up their own tree nurseries and thus gain experience and income while being available to help the synod with tree-planting and propagation activities.

Seeing Pastor Clara take what she learned about fruit trees in seminary and bring this knowledge to a second set of churches was very inspiring. The communities she is serving now are very poor. If people can gain some income from growing grafted trees, this will improve their families’ lives. Fruits from the trees planted around the church may one day help pay part of the pastor’s salary. Often, rural churches do not have enough money to pay their pastors. So pastors go without, and some eventually have to move on to new churches where they can earn enough to support their families. For seven years, Pastor Clara has been sharing what she learned about fruit trees with her church members — a very tangible way to share God’s love.

Thank you very much for your support for our ministry with the FJKM church in Madagascar and for helping train pastors like Clara who are living out the Gospel in their communities. Without your ongoing prayers and financial support, these ministries would not be possible.

Peace in Christ,

Dan & Elizabeth

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