Nearly done on the Madagascar series. Don’t panic. Normal service will soon be resumed (which this term has amounted to very little!). But this is (probably) the last of my posts on Madagascar. And this is a wash up, a reflection on my time there. I imagined someone asking me ‘so how was it?’ and then framing an answer. This is what I’d want to say.
1. It was great to catch up with the Judkins
It was wonderful to discover more than I ever would through conversations with them on the phone and a careful reading of the prayer letter. Just being there gave us lots of relaxed opportunities to talk. It was especially useful to be able to reflect on the implications of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians for their own context, as we worked through the letter in my talks. But just by being there, I got to see things for myself. It’ll provide colour to my understanding of their prayer requests. I saw where they lived. I saw where they worked. I met the people they work with. I saw where Keziah went to school. I saw where they go to church. I appreciated how little there is to do there. I experienced what their life looks like. And we got to talk that through. I think that they think I get it more now. I do. And that’s a good thing.
I came away wondering whether we could encourage more of our own people at CCB to go and see Pete and Claire-Lise. I haven’t hidden from anyone the costs and hassles involved in going. But it would be hugely appreciated. But if we can’t, and I understand that for most of our crowd at CCB that’ll be impossible, we can take seriously the responsibility that we have to keep them in our prayers and to keep in contact.
2. It was hugely challenging to spend time with the missionary team.
They’re a lovely collection of godly families and singles from over Europe. There are representatives from France, Belgium, Ireland and England. And they get on very well. There are Doctors and Nurses. Not all of them are on the medical staff of the hospital. But they’re united by a common desire to serve the Lord in Mandritsara. That was characterised by three things.
- There’s a real sense of ‘team’ among them. It’s clear that Dr David Mann is the leader. But amongst those who look to him for direction and care, there’s a determination to encourage and support one another.
- They determinedly maintain their gospel priorities. The medical needs are real and serious. But they share a common conviction that they need not only deal with the physical but with the spiritual as well. Perhaps it helps knowing that the life expectancy is so short that medically they’re only patching people up for a few more years? But they maintain a single-minded determination to serve the gospel.
- They’ve embraced a level of self-sacrifice that gives credibility to their ministry. Some people go on mission because it means that they can end up serving the Lord somewhere nice. This isn’t it.
I did wonder whether that’s something that we could make more of at CCB. Our church ought to think of itself as a missionary team united in our desire to serve the Lord in Balham. If we did that, I wonder whether we might operate more as a team, whetehr we might not be distracted from gospel priorities and might be willing to give up more for Christ and his cause.
3. It was a privilege to be able to teach them God’s word
Starved of the kind of expository ministry with which many of us are familiar, the missionaries had a real appetite for God’s word (even substandard preaching like mine!). But it was humbling and encouraging. Many of the team confessed to struggling with not hearing good quality expository preaching on a regular basis. They go to a church where the entire meeting is understandably in Malagasy. They’re getting more proficient in understanding and speaking the language. But it’s still a big stretch for them. And the quality of the biblical exposition is mixed. As with all churches, some preachers are more experienced and have greater expertise than others. Some of the team supplement what they get by listening to talks on CDs. They can’t download them because the internet speed is too slow but friends send them out.
I did wonder whether we appreciate the quality of biblical exposition that we get from our own pastors. They may not be world beaters. Few are. And those that are we tend to download because they’re exceptional! But for many of us, our own pastor is a faithful minister of God’s word. And God will reward him for being trustworthy with the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). Some of the missionary team would say that many of us may not appreciate how good God has been to us in giving us sound, able and faithful teachers. They really miss what we often find a little uninspiring or ordinary. They’d give anything to be hearing an ordinary sermon on a regular basis. Let’s not neglect the kindness of God in feeding us through His word, even through average preaching!
4. It was wonderful to witness God at work in His world
The poverty and chaotic shambles of Madagascar could easily lead us to assume that this is a God-forsaken country. But nothing could be further from the truth. This is a country in which God is calling people to Himself and maturing them through His church. And though it’s hard and slow work, it’s very exciting.
Things seem to be going slowly in the UK. But I do wonder whether that’s down to our lack of appetite for the Lord. We can fool ourselves into thinking that satisfaction can be found in so many other places. Ultimately none of those things really fulfils but they satisfy our appetite for a while. Life is stripped back to the basics in Madagascar, as in many other woefully poor places. There is no entertainment. Life consists in working to live. Life is a constant struggle simply to exist; whether you’re a rural subsistence farmer or an urban worker. Life is hard. There are few alternative sources of fulfilment and satisfaction. Of course, the Malagasy people are still idolaters. But perhaps they have fewer idols. And their idols tend to promise liberation from the world rather than liberation in the world. And so they’re open to the other world; the existence beyond the grave. I came away from Madagascar thinking that they really have very little to live for except life itself. But the gospel makes it clear that there is something to live for outside of ourselves and that seems to be hugely appealing to Malagasy people. Perhaps that’s why many are reaching out and finding that God is not far from them.