A Holiday Greeting from Jan Heckler, serving in Madagascar
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I arrive at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida, knowing less than a third of the 30 or so people who are assembled there. Following Hurricane Irma, which had just passed through the area a fortnight or so before, these people have come from New York, Alabama, Florida — even from Canada and Madagascar! We are gathered to hold the second meeting of the Madagascar Mission Network (MMN).
I look around the room of people over the course of the next two days as they speak informally at the tables where we sit, as well as when nearly each has the opportunity to address the group. I am reminded of the first church of our risen Lord as described in the book of Acts:
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7Utterly amazed, they asked:
‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Acts 2:1-11
The Madagascar Mission Network (MMN) convenes for the 2nd time in as many years at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Orlando, FL. Participants included people from: three countries, a number of organizations (including the PCUSA, the FJKM, and the Outreach Foundation), and a large number of congregations and individuals. They gathered to clarify MMN’s vision/mission, its working objectives, its officers and other business relevant to work in support of the FJKM church in its holistic ministry and visionary leadership, while helping to improve the quality of spiritual and earthly life.
Each member of the MMN speaks, revealing their own concerns and issues, their own desires for the infant network to fulfill, their own ideas about the form and structure the young organization should take. Like those described in Acts speaking in different tongues, we all come to understand what the others are saying, and with the Lord’s guidance, we grow towards a common understanding and a common vision.
Our final vision of MMN’s mission reads: “To partner with the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) in its holistic ministry and visionary leadership, helping to improve the quality of spiritual and earthly life.”
While we are busy working to inform ourselves and to achieve a common vision for the MMN, we are painfully aware that the FJKM and its country are enduring one of the worst outbreaks of the bubonic and pneumonic plagues in decades.¹ Reports of new cases have in fact nearly doubled this past week while we pray and deliberate. We pray fervently for the suffering of these people to end as we also pray for our own guidance. As in the early church, we are asked to give to the MMN in accordance with our ability to give.
44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Acts 2:44
The FJKM, a church of the reformed tradition that serves one in five Malagasy people, serves God in one of the poorest countries in the world. It needs the help envisioned by the MMN to fulfill its mission in reaching out to the more than half of Madagascar’s citizens who still believe in traditional, superstitious beliefs.
As we depart from one another on Saturday, Pastor Ammi Irako leads us in a brief worship. Gathering us in a circle, he calls on us to go forward, proclaiming our love of God to all people everywhere and letting our fears associated with doing so be replaced by faith in Christ’s final victory. And, in our proclamations of our love of and devotion to God, he asks us to include people everywhere throughout all lands in the love we extend. Just as Jesus commanded us to love one another as we love ourselves and as He loves us.
It is a great reward to be able to help Pr. Ammi and the FJKM church build its capacity to reach out to the 12.8 million people who claim no faith in God and another 1.8 million who are Islamic in their beliefs. These people, the majority of Madagascar’s citizens, still pray to dead relatives and carry the burden of superstition throughout their daily lives when the promise of forgiveness is there for the asking — for it shall be given.
I hope you are aware that you are in Madagascar with us when you support our mission in Madagascar, a mission that, whether or not you join the Madagascar Mission Network, needs your help to continue bringing hope to these people. Your help, through your prayers, your correspondence, and your financial contributions, is most appreciated.
At this time of year, many of you will consider to which organizations you will give your tax-deductible donations in support of their work. Please consider making World Mission and/or my ministries (of management consulting with the president of FJKM, sharing effective methods of teaching in the EBMI Project, and helping to empower women and protect children) when choosing which good works you will support with your financial gifts.
Thanks be to God for the privilege of serving, and many thanks to each of you who supports and accompanies me in helping to transform the hope of today into the reality of tomorrow.
¹ The bubonic plague, the same as the one that killed at least 50 million people in Europe in the 15th century, is passed by the bite of fleas that have become infected by biting an infected rat. The bubonic plague usually has an incubation period of from 3-6 days, and without treatment, a person can die within 8-10 days. A sister variety, caused by the bubonic form morphing while in the lungs of an infected person, is the pneumonic plague, which has an incubation period of from just 1-3 days and can be fatal within 24 hours if not treated. This form can be passed human-to-human. For every three people infected by the pneumonic variety, about four can be expected to get it unless extreme precautions are taken. Both forms can be easily cured with antibiotics if caught in time, but as of this writing, “from 1 August to 8 November 2017, a total of 2,034 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of plague, including 165 deaths (case fatality rate 8%), have been reported from 55 of the 114 districts in the country.” Excerpted from ‘Madagascar plague outbreak tops 2,000 cases: WHO’ by Press Release 10 NOV ’17 http://outbreaknewstoday.com/madagascar-plague-outbreak-tops-2000-cases-who-98411/. The epidemic is expected to last possibly until April, but lately new cases reported have been subsiding.
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Tags: Acts 2:1-11, Acts 2:44, bubonic plague, ebmi project, fjkm, forgiveness, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, holistic ministry, Hurricane Irma, Madagascar Mission Network, partnership, Pastor Ammi Irako, Pentecost, pneumonic plague, service, superstition, tongues, tradition
Tags: Jan Heckler