A Letter from Dan and Elizabeth Turk, serving in Madagascar
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Greetings from Orlando! While feeling a bit unsettled being away from our work and home in Madagascar, we are grateful that everyone in our family is healthy. We give thanks to God for this and the blessing of being together as a family since April. Son Robert recently returned to Chicago to continue his Masters in Art Therapy and Counseling. Daughter Frances will soon begin her teaching internship in Orlando. PC(USA) enacted a travel ban for all staff 2020, so we will be in the U.S. until then. This has taken some adjusting to – but changing plans seem to be the norm this year!
COVID-19 in Madagascar
Madagascar experienced a huge upsurge in COVID-19 cases beginning in late June. The health system is overburdened with the influx of COVID-19 patients. Testing is not keeping up with the spread of the disease. The economic consequences of the crisis are extreme, especially for people with low income who depend on today’s wages for tonight’s supper. A shop owner told us that people are now buying essentials in very small quantities, like half a cup of rice or 7 cents of cooking oil at a time. There will undoubtedly be far more COVID-19 related deaths from hunger than from the actual disease. National parks and many of Madagascar’s endangered animals and plants are also suffering greatly due to the absence of tourism and increased cutting of native trees for firewood.
FJKM and COVID-19
PC(USA)’s partner church in Madagascar, the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), is contending with the COVID-19 crisis. Student pastors, pastors, and FJKM staff have had COVID-19, and some have died. The government canceled in-person worship services for 5 Sundays in March-April and then again starting in mid-June. This has resulted in a huge drop in the FJKM’s revenue. Unfortunately, many FJKM employees have been put on half salary, including central office staff, personnel in FJKM’s five seminaries, and the 72 FJKM evangelists.
We are grateful for modern technology that enables us to stay connected with friends and colleagues in Madagascar. Despite modifications due to COVID restrictions, FJKM’s ministries continue. Here’s a bit of what has been happening:
FJKM’s radio is broadcasting worship services, and the FJKM president has been participating in televised worship services. Several FJKM branches, including the AIDS Committee, are producing and distributing masks. FJKM’s Development Department created COVID-19 flyers and training materials and equipped its 30 dispensaries with protective and cleaning supplies. Grants from PC(USA) funded many of these activities.
AIDS Training for Seminary Students
The seminar for FJKM Ivato seminary students scheduled for March was delayed due to COVID-19. When restrictions eased in June, the training was held with modifications. Instead of everyone going away to a retreat center, the training was held at the seminary. Students received hand sanitizer, sat socially distant in a large training room, wore masks, and returned to their homes for meals. The AIDS committee gave gifts of rice, oil, and soap to students from funds that would have been used for meals. They also made masks to distribute to students. The July trainings for other seminaries were delayed due to renewed restrictions.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Environmental Education Program
The work of FJKM’s Fruits, Vegetables, and Environmental Education (FVEE) program continues, especially activities at the fruit center at Mahatsinjo and the Ivato tree nursery. In early July, my colleagues traveled to the fruit center, where they did an inventory of the mangos planted in 2020. There are now 311 mango trees belonging to 57 varieties planted in the ground (187 planted in 2020). In addition, there are 27 other varieties planted in 20-liter pots where they are being propagated. All told, the FVEE now has 92 varieties, including 64 brought from Florida. Plans have been developed to expand the training of farmers and volunteer technicians that started in November 2019 with funding from the Presbyterian Hunger Program. In 2019, 17 volunteer technicians, 84 farmers, and five synod representatives received training in how to grow and propagate mangos and other fruit trees.
In response to COVID-19, the FVEE program is intensifying a cash-for-work effort to help low-income farmers get some income during this difficult time. Farmers will help with weeding and mulching at the fruit center and the Ranomafana Arboretum. They will receive vegetable seeds, soap, and education about growing vegetables and how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
• That the FJKM church will find safe and relevant ways to minister in this difficult time.
• For Madagascar’s health system, as it deals with the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
• For recovery from COVID-19 for colleagues who have the virus and protection for those who do not have it.
• For us, as we balance living with our hearts in two worlds and protection from COVID-19 for our family.
• For our nation as it wrestles with how to deal with COVID-19 and the need for racial justice.
While we cannot speak in-person right now, we are open to other ways of sharing, like Zoom, Skype, and videos. Another great opportunity to stay connected to Madagascar is by joining the Madagascar Mission Network and attending the MMN meeting, which will be held virtually this November 12th -14th. Thank you very much for your support and prayers—they help us continue our work with the FJKM and encourage our FJKM brothers and sisters in Christ in these difficult days.
Peace in Christ,
Elizabeth & Dan
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