A Letter from Dan and Elizabeth Turk, serving in Madagascar
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Sometimes spiritual lessons come when you least expect them. We were not expecting a real-life example of what it means to be a Matthew 25 church when we worshipped at the Ivato FJKM Seminary on Thursday, June 20.
Pastor Vero Raharinantoandro had come with a group of about 15 women representing the Women of the Church of nine rural churches. She preached a very encouraging sermon and then proceeded to present the gifts that the women had brought to share with the students: 310 cups of rice, 60 small bags of salt, 60 bars of soap and 3 kg of sugar. It was clear that women had brought what they had to share; the rice had been donated cup by cup. These churches were not wealthy city churches, but countryside churches where many members were likely earning less than a dollar a day. But they counted it as a joy to share what little they had to help the pastoral students and their families. (At this point, single seminary students receive a stipend of $7/month to live on, and married students receive a $14 monthly stipend.) Pastor Vero then quoted Matthew 25, stating that the women of the church felt it was important to support the seminary students.
We were profoundly touched by their example. Here were Christians from poor churches whom we in the United States would consider “the least of these,” yet they were giving sacrificially and joyfully to help the seminary students. How transformed our communities and world would be if we followed their example!
Partnering with the FJKM to transform the lives of youth in Madagascar has been a joy for me (Elizabeth). After nearly two years of planning, we finally held a training for 40 youth peer educators and four supervisors in Mahajanga during Easter break this past April. The program is a collaboration between the FJKM’s with funding from the PC(USA). Mahajanga has one of the highest HIV infection rates in Madagascar, which puts youth at risk. Mr. Mahefa, principal of the Ziona FJKM Middle and High School, is a member of the FJKM National AIDS Committee and was ready to support a youth peer educator program in his school and city. So back in 2017, the seeds were sown to have the next peer educator training in Mahajanga at the two FJKM schools, Ziona and Mangarivotra.
I joined the training team of five doctors from the Development Department and two members of the FJKM AIDS Committee. We held two parallel trainings, one for each school. Youth ages 12-19 learned about the risks of alcohol and drugs, teenage pregnancy, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as how to set goals and do long-term planning. The training was biblically based and challenged the youth to make life decisions that reflect a growing relationship with Christ. They learned methods of sharing with their peers at school one-on-one, in small groups and in large presentations using a variety of methods like songs and skits. Each school sent two staff who were trained with the students who will help the students as they share with their peers at school. A highlight for all was watching the youth give group presentations at the end of the training. Youth who were too shy to answer questions on the first day got up and did skits and answered questions from their peers. Despite the heat and long hours, we all enjoyed our time and were quite proud to see each student get their certificate at the end of the training.
The FJKM continues its witness in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS in Madagascar. Breaking the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS is another way that the FJKM lives out being a Matthew 25 church. Using FJKM President Irako Andriamahazosoa Ammi’s example of being tested for HIV to challenge others (see August 2018 newsletter), the FJKM National AIDS Committee offered free HIV testing at six events in 2018, with over 2000 people tested. This year they have conducted HIV testing at two FJKM events. From August 6 to August 8, all FJKM pastors will attend a continuing education conference. Included in the training documents is a one-page information sheet on the importance of promoting HIV testing. A color page with a photo of President Ammi being tested will be distributed to all pastors so that they can use this when they return to their own congregations to help decrease the fear and stigma of getting tested. To learn more about the FJKM’s work to prevent the spread of AIDS, see my Presbyterian News Service article.
We have enjoyed having our daughter, Frances, with us since May before she goes back to her third year in college to pursue a teaching degree. Our son, Robert, will be starting a masters in art therapy program in August in Chicago and could not be with us. We will be in the States from September through December 2019 for itineration. We look forward to visiting many of you during this time. Please let us know if you would like us to visit you.
One exciting way to get involved in supporting the FJKM’s ministries is by being part of the Madagascar Mission Network. The next Madagascar Mission Network meeting will be October 10-12, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. This will be a great time to meet with other churches and individuals who are partnering with the FJKM, to exchange experiences, to meet mission co-workers working in Madagascar and to come together to see how to strengthen the work of the FJKM in Madagascar. We hope to see you there! If you are interested in registering, please contact us.
Thank you so much for your support of us and FJKM ministries like the youth peer education program and National AIDS Committee. Together we are caring for those often forgotten and spreading God’s love as Matthew 25 churches should. Your faithful support enables us to continue to serve in Madagascar.
Peace in Christ,
Dan & Elizabeth
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