A fitting end to an unforgettable journey…

Warning: This is a long blog. But I believe that if you stick it out and read it, you’ll enjoy it. At least I hope so. 😉

So as you know, our time in the bush has come to an end, but a very fulfilling end. About this time last year, my blog posts were centered around the story of an incident that took place in the bush, one that I tagged as “The Pilongo Predicament.” (If you want to revisit that, then feel free by checking it out here: The Pilongo Predicament.) So let’s fast forward 12 months, just one day after we left last July for our week long bush trip, and it’s that time again; time to embark on another week long bush stay.

Nathan and I were talking about the trip near the end of the week, and he commented that this trip seemed like a “book end” of sorts. After talking and thinking about it, we were both convinced that it was just that, as if things were coming around full circle, except for the being taken advantage of part. 😉 Our purpose was the same: share the gospel and Bible stories, help in laying a solid foundation through the Spirit’s work, encourage the people to meet, and help in preparing the way for a future church to be planted. It was also eerily similar in the fact that we were running empty on gas as we came into town, just like last year. Overall, I guess it was just the feeling of everything that struck a chord within us that things were coming full circle. Then again, when you’re living in the bush, there really aren’t too many changes. Just sitting, talking, eating beans, sitting, listening, sitting, eating more beans, sitting, and sleeping. #bushlife (For all you hashtaggers out there.)

As to how the work went, God brought about great success. We spent three days in Ampotake, 2 days in Etoboiny, and 1 day in Ankilibory sharing stories, preaching the gospel, teaching against ancestral practices, and singing songs. Pastor Toria from Beheloka and our friend Noelle were a dyamic duo! Noelle played his guitar to draw in the youth and Toria spent much time pouring into the adults and youth, teaching them the dangers of visiting the ombiasy (witch doctor), the slavery that ancestral worship brings, and the freedom that Jesus offers. It was such a blessing having them with us, for they were very helpful in clearing up our words and fully explaining the stories and the importance of following Jesus. By the end of the week, many had agreed with our teaching, few chose to follow Jesus, and tons of seeds were planted. Please pray for your new brothers and sisters, the Spirit’s continued work in those villages, and for God to prepare the way for the follow-up efforts.

We also had several laughs this past week, mainly due to Noelle. After a couple days, he realized the effect that beans (which we ate almost every meal for a week) have on my body, something I guess he’s not used to. So one morning in his very minimal English, he said to Nathan, “Doug. Problem. Morning. Beans.” It was hilarious. He then began to make fun of me the rest of the week, saying, “Tea’ko beans!”, which means, “I like beans!” Because I really do like beans, but every meal for a week is a little much for me and my body. 😉 We all had a great time with one another.

On the way back home, we stopped in Besatra and Kilimary in order to say our last goodbyes. There were heartfelt moments and words shared as we said goodbye, gave and received words of encouragement, and told one another that we would not forget, but continue to pray for each other. It was definitely hard saying goodbye, knowing that I would never see them again.

So this last trip out to the bush, along with packing up the house and preparing to leave, has really made me think back on all the good times the Father has given me and all the things I’ll miss about living here in the good ol’ “Armpit of Madagascar,” also known as Toliara.

I’ll miss life in the bush. I’ll miss my friends in Besatra, Kilimary, and Andremba; tough men like Kalaha, Emanda (baddest dude [in a good way] in the south – just think “Bad, bad, Leroy Brown…”), Emora, Emasike, Etsima, Esamba, Tsifehe, Mandimbe, and countless others who I’ve enjoyed a majority of the last two years with and who have taught me much about hard work, life, and faith. I’ll miss our times of storying the Bible in each village. Although it was a constant struggle for me, there is not much like hearing men and women truly understand a story from the Word. I’ll miss the insane amount of time we spent driving on the roads, and really not getting very far due to the awful conditions of them (I’m pretty sure our jam sessions in the car made the time go by much faster). I’ll miss the crazy, goofy, and sometimes annoying kids with there snotty noses, dirty faces and all. I’ll miss chasing them around the village, staring contests, throwing goat poop at them, dancing in the middle of a circle as they all scream and laugh at the goofy vezaha, and hearing my name screamed countless times, “Dooglassy! Dooglassy! Dooglassy!” I’ll miss bush food; an assortment of beans cooked to perfection, chicken sauce, tons of rice, sweet potato, fresh watermelon picked from the field, goat steak and fries (my favorite), and to some degree even habobo (spoiled milk that looks like cottage cheese), just add sugar. I’ll even miss showering butt naked in the middle of a field with 40-50 Mahafaly men, women, and children staring at the literally foreign sight of a white man naked and taking a bucket bath! Those are just a few of the things I’ll miss from my time in the bush.

[Some things I won’t miss: fleas, getting callouses on my butt for sitting countless hours at a time, and sheep. Stupid, stupid sheep…enough said on that topic.]

I’ll also miss my life in Toliara, even though it took me a year to warm up to this place. I’ll miss riding my bike around town, despite the added obstacles that potholes, water puddles, cow poop, herds of sheep/cows/goats, people, and cars, bring to the road. I’ll miss my friends Johnson, Milson, Leandre, Justin, Fabien, along with my church family. I’ll miss the relationship and the special bond that I had with each of them. I’ll miss being able to visit a friends house (planned or not) and always being received so well, served food or coffee, and being able to just sit and talk. I’ll miss the extremity of Malagasy peoples’ understanding of family; America could definitely benefit to learn from the way these people love one another and literally share life together. It is so awesome! I’ll miss the ease of sitting down next to a person I’ve never met and sharing the story of Jesus with him (the lack of personal space and individual time is a benefit to us missionaries). I’ll miss my friend Mana and the times we shared out on the water; fishing, chillin’, and talking about life. I’ll miss my guard’s 4 year old kid and his incessant talking and questioning of everything I would be doing at a given time, which I hardly ever understood anyways. I’ll miss the simplicity of living in a place like this, where schedule and time are not king, but spending quality time with family and friends is. I’ll miss the lifestyle of, “We’ll get there when we get there.” I’ll miss my good friend Clemontine and stopping by her little shop, drinking coffee and talking about life and the Lord. I’ll miss the chaos that is our church service; people singing off key, the guitar being out of tune, children singing and dancing to worship songs, and kids peeing on the floor in the midst of it all. (I hope you’re understanding the uniqueness of this place and why I’ll miss so much about it.) I’ll even miss, to a degree, the bleating of a 200-300 pound pig being carted around on a pousse-pousse or in-between two guys on a motorbike (a hilarious sight). I’ll miss the feel of the small town where everybody knows who you are, what you do, and they even take notice in those times when you’re gone for a while.

[Some things I wont miss: the smell of fish and feces everywhere, the situation of being constantly stared at and called out because I’m white, the words “Bonjour vezaha!”, and walking the streets when they’re flooded after the rain comes (you just can’t ever be sure of what exactly your stepping in, especially considering the the road doubles as a bathroom).]

Last but not least, I’ll miss my missionary family. Although I’ve shared just 22 months of my life with some of them (less than that with some of them), they truly are family to me. It’s amazing the bond God gives us while living together in an environment like this. Looking at it all now, I feel like I have known everybody on this team for years. I’ll miss sharing life with them; struggles, victories and all. I never knew how close I would grow to each one of them, how each one of them would play such an important role in my life, and now that I’m leaving them how hard it is going to be to continue on without them. I’m very excited to see my family in the states, but sad that I’m leaving another one behind. I’ll miss our times of English worship with one another, and the awesome food and dessert that we have shared with one another (probably too much dessert). I’ll miss all the kiddo; Eli, Titus, Jude, and Ryleigh. I’ll miss wrestling with them, feeding them, taking them out for ice cream, and cuddling with them on the couch as we watched kid movies, Dora the Explorer, or Finding Nemo for the thousandth time. I’ll miss being “Uncle Doug.” I’ll miss my little sisters as well, the Hailes’ girls, who I didn’t get to spend near enough time with. I’ll miss the countless game nights, playing Settlers of Cutan, Risk, Ticket to Ride, and Telephone Pictionary, as well as NCAA Football 2011 for PS2. I’ll miss the love, fellowship, and common purpose that we all shared with one another. I think you get the picture.

I’m going to have to stop there, for I really could go on much longer. If you have read to this point, congratulations! For you have reached the end of this blog, as I have reached end of my time here in SW Madagascar. I’ll never forget the friendships and memories this place has brought. God truly has changed my life through this experience. I’ll never be the same, just as His grace, love, and faithfulness will never leave my side. I’m thankful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for saving me, calling me His own, and leading me through this season of refining, testing, and growth.

Thank you all for following the journey, and praying along with us. You have played a truly significant role, and for that I am grateful.

As I leave Toliara today, I know I’m leaving behind so much, yet I also know what the Lord has planned for me in the future. One chapter is in the books, yet the next one is just beginning. These last days and moments in the bush and in Toliara have truly been a fitting end to an unforgettable journey.

Nathan’s new adventure…

My fellow compadre in the gospel, Nathan, is headed back out to the bush today, but he’s not going south. Nope. Instead, he’s heading up north to the Masikoro forest along with Pastor Jonoro and our friend Noelle. (Grant was supposed to go as well, but was hit with sickness last night. Pray that the Lord would give up a quick recovery.)

Back in September, the Lord really began to stir in Nathan’s heart, beckoning him to surrender his future to the possibility of career missions overseas. By God’s grace, Nathan surrendered to the call and said yes to the Lord. Since then, the Father has narrowed down his field of play to, you guessed it, SW Madagascar, and in particular, working with the Masikoro tribe who live in the forest several hours north of Toliara.

So for the next three days Nathan is getting the opportunity to tour several Masikoro villages with the help and direction of Jonoro and Noelle, who have both worked among those people for several years now, and a pastor by the name of Condray who actually lives in one of those villages. You see how God’s grace just covers His children? Good stuff! What an awesome opportunity to gain somewhat of a vision for an area of ministry way before actually moving to that place. I just think God is all over this situation, giving vision, making connections, and preparing the way to follow Him.

After spending the last 22 months of my life working alongside Nathan, there is no doubt in my mind that he is designed and gifted to do effective work in a place like this for as long as the Lord wills. The Lord will use Nathan in a mighty way as a catalyst and witness for Christ Jesus as he seeks to build the church where it doesn’t yet exist. It’s definitely cool to have the opportunity to watch it all go down.

My prayer for Nathan this morning was for the Lord to overwhelm him with a sense of confirmation, peace, and resolve as he scouts out these areas of possible future work. I hope that you will do the same. Please lift up your brother to the Father, asking for discernment, wisdom, and vision on his behalf.

June Video Blog Update…

Hey guys and gals!

Here is my blog update for the month of June as well as my last update during my time here in Madagascar. Bittersweet to say the least. Please watch and find out how you can pray for us during our last couple weeks here in Toliara.

Love you all!

From the Archives: Thoughts on discomfort and the normal Christian life… (Part 2)

Here’s part 2 of my ramblings and the resolution that came by way of revelation. Again, I hope this encourages you as it did me and still pushes me to endure as the end of my time draws near.

…This all has got me thinking and questioning: Why does it always seem, at least for me, that the things that are worthwhile, the times in which we grow and make leaps and bounds in our faith (although mine is weak right now), the seasons that produce an abundance of genuine fruit, and the circumstances in which Jesus Christ is most real to us, are the moments in which we experience the most pain and face the greatest obstacles?

I believe the answer lies in the very origin of our Christian faith. It lies in the Son of God being born as a baby in a cave. It lies in the constant pleads of desperate people always pressing in on Him. It lies in the Pharisees constantly calling him a blasphemer and attempting to stone him on more than one occasion. It lies in the Son of God being betrayed by one of his own disciples and arrested by Roman soldiers. It lies in his own people, the Jews, asking for the release of a convicted criminal in order to crucify him, an innocent man. It lies in the floggings, the spit, and the crown of thorns that pierced his flesh. It lies in the bearing of his own cross up to the mount of Golgotha. It lies in the nails that were hammered through his wrists and feet. It lies in the suffocation he endured as he hung on the cross and gasped for final breaths. It lies in him bearing the sins of humanity; past, present, and future — the absolute darkness of all hate, lies, lust, murder, adultery, greed, envy, slander, blasphemy, disbelief, and pride. It lies in his own Father turning His back and forsaking him because he bore the sins of the world on his shoulders and became the embodiment of sin. It lies in his death. It lies in the call he gave his disciples to be witnesses and the extreme outbreak of persecution they found as they began to live out that very call.

The point is that the Christian faith was born in the midst of discomfort and adversity. Perhaps the normal Christian life was intended to be uncomfortable, full of obstacles, and difficult circumstances, and the Christian life we’ve created in America is far from the original intent — a culture of comfort, easy living, and artificial circumstances. Why else would Jesus encourage his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), if he didn’t believe they would live lives of tribulation and discomfort? He was the Son of God. He knew their lives before they lived them. He knew the outcomes of their stories before they even started. He said those very words because he knew what was coming for each one of them, and that’s why he encourages them to “take heart” because everything that they were to face, from persecution to heartache, had already been overcome by him. The promise isn’t for no tribulation, the promise is that we can overcome tribulation, face the obstacles, beat discouragement, and live normally in discomfort in Jesus.

So the things we go through here on this earth, the discomfort we feel, and the spiritual oppression we battle against is merely indicative of the normal Christian life. And if that’s the case, then deep down this is exactly where I want to be, where I need to be, and where I was intended to be from the beginning. Although its been difficult and painful at times, I know that in Christ and only in Christ can I live the normal Christian life. And maybe that’s half the battle, not being able to succeed in my own power but becoming even weaker and more dependent on Someone else. So the bottom-line is this: Do I really want to be here? Who cares, considering that Jesus sacrificed his own life and lived in discomfort for me to have life, and have it abundantly. I’m coming to realize that my own discomfort is a small price to pay (maybe even a gift), for people who have never heard the name of Jesus to have an opportunity to be brought face to face with Him and experience His great love for them.

From the Archives: Thoughts on discomfort and the normal Christian life…

What you’re about to read is my journal entry about one of the toughest seasons of my time here in Mada. This entry is a look into my heart, my thoughts, and my emotions from April 2012, just after returning from a meeting in South Africa. As most of you know, if you’ve been following the blog, It is amazing how much God can change a heart over the span of 12 months. I went from hating this place and wanting to be back home, to loving this place and calling it “home” in the span of one year.

I know this is a little late coming, but I hope it encourages you to press on if you find yourself discontented or greatly struggling with where you are, knowing that God has called you to that place. He will transform your heart if you will continue to endure even when life sucks and you don’t have the motivation to keep going. Also know that this is a two-parter, and much of the resolve is discovered in the second half, so stayed tuned.

April 20, 2012

After being in South Africa for almost 3 weeks and enjoying every minute of hanging out with friends and American-like culture, I honestly didn’t want to return to Toliara. Fortunately, returning was nothing like coming here for the first time. When we arrived here in October, I had no idea what we were walking into and how extreme culture shock would hit us in the face. Like they say, ignorance is bliss, that is until you can no longer be ignorant of what’s coming. As we began our departure from South Africa, I began to fear and despair what was coming. I didn’t want to come back.

South Africa was comfortable and easy for me, which is the complete opposite of life in Toliara. In the initial moments of these thoughts and feelings I selfishly ignored the people and the call and thought only about my wants and needs. An internal struggle began between me and my flesh and the Father’s call. Like a stubborn child kicking and pouting, I didn’t want to leave what reminded me of home, I didn’t want to leave Disney World so to speak (for the sake of the kid comparison). But the more and more I pouted, the more God began to show me my stubborn attitude and bring me back to reality.

Deep down, I remained conscious of the fact that the Lord has called me to Madagascar. Yeah it’s not what I prefer and it’s not comfortable, but who cares? Since when are my wants and needs above all else? If I always received what I wanted, I’d either be dead or in a much more worse place than I am today. The Lord called me out of the comforts of America to the dirty, dry, sandy, and smelly environment of Toliara because that is His will for my life. His plan for me is not to be comfortable, but to feel out of place and struggle daily with adjusting to a new culture, and new people, and a new language.

Why is that? I may not fully know till I meet Him face to face in the “better country” that He has prepared for those who follow Him. And I’m learning to be content with that.

Initially, I can see that the discomfort draws me closer to Him. I can’t live this life alone, and Him sending me here has revealed that to me in a more intensified way. I’m seeing that the comfortable life that I was living in America was not good for my spiritual growth and maturity, but living in the discomfort here has intensified the process of sanctification – stripping me of pride and selfishness, and teaching me to be content in all situations. Sometimes I think that the Lord has brought me here not just for the people, but for myself. I’ve learned so much about myself (painful at times) and the Christian life and I still feel like I am scratching the surface. The last 6 months have been miserable at times, and desiring to get back home is regularly on my mind, but I can honestly admit that I wouldn’t trade this last 6 months of learning and growing for anything. I have learned about myself, ministry, culture, pain, difficult circumstances, contentment, people, and have gained a new perspective on many facets of life. The fact is that I will always look back on these last 6 months and the overall two years as monumental and life-changing…

Update on Fitanjaha…

So the meeting with Fitanjaha didn’t happen today. He called me about an hour before to tell me that he wouldn’t be able to meet because something had come up, which definitely isn’t typical of African culture (not the not showing up part, but the calling part. Haha).

But he also said that he still wanted to meet sometime next week. Like I mentioned before, the Spirit is definitely moving in his heart, for he is genuinely interested in hearing more about the gospel.

I really wasn’t too disappointed with everything cause I kind of expected it to happen. I also know that God is in control and He already knew that we wouldn’t meet today. His plans are bigger than mine and I definitely take confidence and assurance in that.

Please continue to pray for Fitanjaha like I know many of you already have. Pray that the Father’s will be done in His life and in our next conversation, whenever that may be. Thank you all for your faithfulness and support!