Stories from the Global Church

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

Project AVIA

Posted on October 29, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Anndi Russell is spending a year in Madagascar serving with the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. You can read more about Anndi’s experiences in Madagascar in her blog, “Madagascar: a path yet untrodden. To support someone in the Young Adults in Global Mission program or a longer term missionary, go to www.ELCA.org/globalchurch/donate

This is one of the villages that AVIA team works with.

This is one of the villages that AVIA team works with.

Salama!

Here in Madagascar, I do a lot of different work. One of my primary jobs is working with a nonprofit organization, AVIA. AVIA stands for Anosy Villages Integrated Actions, and the goal is to improve the lives of the people living in the villages surrounding Fort Dauphin through education about hygiene and farming practices, among other things. The organization works with 25 villages right now, and more are being added. I love the work that AVIA does, and I feel very blessed to be a member of this team.

I go out with AVIA two or three times a week, and each day is a little bit different. On Tuesdays I work at a rural center that pregnant women and new mothers can come to for consultations and infant vaccinations. The days at this center can be very mentally challenging for me. Many of the pregnant women are younger than me, and it is often their second, third, or fourth pregnancy. These women have never had the opportunity to learn how to read or write, and most are not married. Right now, my job is to record information, weigh babies, and try and understand the Malagasy that is being spoken around me. I am excited for the day when I can speak the language because I really want to be able to connect with these women and understand a bit of their story.

The other days with AVIA are spent visiting the different villages. On these days, the nurse that I work with and I educate the people of the villages about healthy lifestyles. We explain the importance of washing hands, and what a healthy diet for a child is. We talk about how to prevent malaria, and what the symptoms are. I use the word “we” very loosely, because right now I have exactly six phrases that I am in charge of saying (clean the yard, wash your hands with soap: before preparing food, before eating, after using the bathroom, after playing … I’ve really mastered all of those in Malagasy).

AVIA does many other things as well, such as building schools and teaching the most efficient methods for farming rice. The organization may be starting a program that will teach women the art of embroidery, which would help empower them to start small businesses — something that I am really passionate about.

The AVIA team often spends the majority of the day traveling — picking up lumber or bricks for a new school that is being built, getting vaccines, navigating the deteriorating roads, or walking between rice paddies to reach villages that the road doesn’t lead to. It’s not uncommon to spend five or six hours traveling, walking or waiting and to work in the villages for just an hour or two in a day. The amount of time we spend traveling for the small amount of education that we are able to offer each day in the field really speaks to how important this organization views their work. It’s really inspiring and humbling to be part of such a team, and I am looking forward to contributing in whatever small way I can to their mission.

Learning in mutuality

Posted on September 17, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Anna Guthrie is a participant in the 2013-14 ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. She and the 63 other volunteers in the program are undergoing orientation in their respective countries before going out to their host communities. Anna is in Madagascar. Here is an excerpt from her blog she is writing about her experiences. To read the complete entry, click here.   

Anna Guthrie has found that children, besides being friends, can be great teachers.

Anna Guthrie has found that children, besides being friends, can be great teachers.

Our three weeks of in-country orientation will soon be coming to a close. These three weeks of orientation have been all about learning. Lots and lots of learning. Word of the day: “mianatra” (to learn).

All this learning is certainly exciting and I love it, but it is also at times overwhelming. While we have been learning many things about Madagascar and Malagasy life here in orientation, the primary focus has been learning as much of the Malagasy language as possible in this short amount of time. … As we have learned more in class, we have been increasingly encouraged to practice our Malagasy with Malagasy people. …

Part of this encouragement to interact with the Malagasy came with an afternoon activity challenge from Austin and Tanya [Propst, the country coordinators]. We were asked to spend one hour outside the Lovasoa compound on our own. This was the only requirement — we could interact with the Malagasy community in whatever way we felt comfortable, whether it was observing from a park bench, sipping on a Coke, or trying out our conversation skills. …

I had noticed some kids running around the Lovasoa compound earlier that day, so I took my Malagasy notebook outside and sat by where I had last seen them. I sat making notecards, and soon enough, some little kids’ heads began poking around the side of the building, looking at me and giggling. I smiled and waved, and their heads would disappear, then peek around again. I smiled and waved, smiled and waved, until one of the boys apparently mustered up some courage and enough curiosity to come running at me full speed and then slide to a stop in the grass right beside me, laughing loudly. We had learned colors that day in language class, so we began to practice colors. What color is the grass? Maintso/green. What color is my skirt? Mainty/black. He told me the Malagasy words for me to repeat, and then I told him the English words. Soon his siblings came to join and they all enjoyed correcting my pronunciation and testing me. The oldest boy peeked in my notebook, and seeing my list of Malagasy vocabulary words with their English translations, asked for a paper and pen and began to copy them down and practice saying the words. These children were so eager to learn and practice English — I hope my students will be as willing to learn as they were. They were silly and fun, and great teachers. After this experience, I am pretty sure that kids will be my first best friends here in Madagascar. They are great teachers!

These encounters in learning and sharing language alongside the Malagasy were great reminders in not only the goals of the Young Adults in Global Mission program but were also reminders about my own personal hopes. I want to remember to learn and teach in a spirit of mutuality, with both parties giving and receiving. Larissa [a woman Anna had spent time with the previous day] and the kids, with their openness and excitement to learn and teach, encouraged me in this hope and made me even more excited to meet and engage my host community.

Reny amin ‘ny Batisa — Mother of the baptism

Posted on May 28, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Kate Griewisch is spending a year of service in Madagascar as an ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission volunteer. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.  

With the proud parents, Miko and Dera.

With the proud parents, Miko and Dera.

“I’m going to be a mother!” I happily informed my mom on the telephone after wishing her a happy Mother’s Day.

“A godmother?” my mom inquired, not thrown off by my proclamation that could have been taken to mean a number of other things.

“Yes!  Haha.  How did you guess?! I thought you’d at least think I was adopting a Malagasy baby when I told you the news.”

I was so excited to share this news with my mom, especially since it was Mother’s Day. The day before, Miko, the fiancé of Mama Jeannette’s son Dera, came up to me while I was washing my clothes and asked me to be her son’s godmother. “Tsy maninona!  Faly be aho,” (“Of course!  I am very happy!”) I told her. I felt honored and surprised that she asked me to be Joshuano’s godmother, especially since I’m going home in two months and won’t be around as he grows up. Even though I won’t be physically in Madagascar, this gives me another good reason to stay in contact with Jeannette and my Malagasy family and come back to visit. I also want to continue to pray for Joshuano and his parents as they raise him up to know God’s word. He is only 4 months old right now so he won’t remember me or know much about me when he’s older, but I pray that he knows the Lord and his love for him.

Joshuano was baptized on Pentecost Sunday along with about 40 other babies. As the godmother I got to take him up to the front of the church and hold him as the pastor poured the water three times over his head and gave him a blessing. I honestly don’t cry much, but I had to hold back tears as I took part in this joyful day. I was sad knowing that I wouldn’t get to see him grow up, but also happy that he was officially becoming a part of God’s family.

After taking lots of pictures, it was time to celebrate. Mama Jeannette hosted almost 50 people at her house for a delicious lunch of chicken, goose, carrot and cucumber salads, and lots of rice.  There was also a grand four-story cake that Jeannette had made. Miko helped me cut the first slice and then it was my job as the godmother to pass it out to the guests. The room was full of conversation, laughter and dancing, which soon spilled outside where all the kids had gathered. The kids really know how to dance!

It made me happy to see everyone having such a good time and reminded me of how thankful I am for my family here in Madagascar as well as my family back home and all those in the world who are my family in Christ through baptism. I am thankful for the Holy Spirit that connects me to this great big family, whether they are 9,000 miles away in America or right here in Tulear, Madagascar. I have been amazed at the way the Holy Spirit has worked in my life over the past nine months and pray that I continue to stay aware of God’s presence in my life during these last two months as my Malagasy family and I continue to accompany each other in this journey.

 

 

Feet to forest

Posted on April 16, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Jane Gingrich is spending a year of service in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar, as part of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. Here is an entry from her blog in which she records her experiences. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

This is where I live: Fianarantsoa!

This is where I live: Fianarantsoa!

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

The three days of Easter spill into four days in Madagascar. As in North America, each church celebrates a little bit differently, but among Malagasy Lutherans in my community of Fianarantsoa, this is how it looked:

On Maundy Thursday afternoon, people began to gather in the church as early as 3 p.m. Officially worship began at 5 p.m., but washing the feet of over 1,000 congregation members takes time! Every person’s feet are washed as they arrive, then prayer and the hum of singing begins as more and more people gather. By 6 p.m. most everyone is inside the church, freshly cleansed in an act of loving service. Singing, prayer, and the Meal mark the night and everyone returns home around 9 p.m.

Friday is a day of rest. At 6 p.m. worship begins and only a small crowd gathers for a solemn service of prayer, song, sermon and paschal litany. Jesus’ crucifixion is marked and all depart in silence. No stripping of the altar, no snuffing of candles — a simple liturgy of the Word to mark Christ’s sacrifice.

Sunday morning everyone wears new clothes and arrives for worship at 9 a.m.! The morning celebration of Christ’s resurrection is marked with lots of singing, choirs’ songs, baptisms (three at the church here), receiving of new deacons of the church, Eucharist and enthusiastic joy among members! Lunch is a time of gathering for families, relatives and friends. Then Easter Sunday is for relaxing, playing games and enjoying time with family.

Easter Monday struck me as being quite different from back home: It was a church picnic to celebrate Easter a second time! Gathering at 7 a.m. to pile into trucks and vans, as many congregation members as showed up traveled out of town into a nearby forest to lay out mats and blankets to sit on. Then food started to come out of baskets for preparation; women peeled carrots, chopped zucchini and made salads. Rice started cooking and homemade natural juices were pulled out of baskets. As the food cooked, we gathered in worship: prayer, singing, Bible reading, sermon, prayer and song! An incredible journey out into the woods to celebrate Christ’s return to creation! Being that the text was the “Road to Emmaus” story, it seemed most fitting to me that we were out in the world to celebrate Christ being among us again!

After worship, a meal — all shared what we had brought and enjoyed common food cooked together. Then the whole afternoon was filled with exploring the wooded area, singing and dancing traditional dances, and hearing jokes, stories and lots of laughter shared!

Happy Easter!

Feeling at home

Posted on February 12, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Austin and Tanya Propst are the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program coordinators for Madagascar. The program relies on the coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship. You can follow Austin and Tanya at their blog, “Sambatra.”

Tanya and the Rev. Austin Propst

Tanya and the Rev. Austin Propst

It has been one year since we set foot here in Madagascar! And I can say we are now home. Through much prayer, challenge, laughter, joy, wrong turns, ah-ha moments, quiet spaces, tears, noisy streets and handshakes, we find peace in our being here. This is our home. It has been a journey, and we continue to wonder what God has in store for us, but we know we have found our home here in Madagascar.

Austin and I have found ourselves talking a lot about what it means to find ourselves at home. We have done extraordinary things to create our home over the past year, some I believe Austin would say he never dreamed he would be doing! We rescued a street dog, live in a house with a yard, and planted a vegetable garden. We coordinated the set up of the new Young Adults in Global Mission program here and are mentors to six young people. We continue to learn a new language and battle against the stereotype that we are not of French nationality. We have learned new road rules and driving techniques, where to go shopping for household items, food, vegetables and clothing. We have made new friends, traveled, eaten delicious Malagasy foods, and the list could go on. All of these things have created our feeling of home as we intertwine ourselves in the Malagasy way of life.

As we find our feet firmly on the ground, we look forward to where our path leads us. What brought us to Madagascar was a program, through which we have discovered home. Sometimes others say it best, and so I leave you with the words of Wendell Berry: “And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.”

Tanya

Advent reflections

Posted on December 11, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Austin and Tanya Propst are the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission coordinators for Madagascar. From the blog “Sambatra,” Austin and the Madagascar  participants offer some thoughts during Advent. The program is reliant on the coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

The Young Adults in Global Mission in Madagascar gather for a Thanksgiving meal.

The Young Adults in Global Mission in Madagascar gather for a Thanksgiving meal.

Advent. A time of waiting, pausing, trusting and hope. I have lots to reflect upon and give thanks for after spending a week on retreat with the Mad young adult volunteers. What a humbling experience it is to be a part of such an amazing group. Seems like just yesterday God brought us together here in Madagascar, but it’s been three months that the young adults have been here. What a journey it’s been; a journey of new language and communities, a journey of light and dark, of learning and teaching, of humility and strength, and a journey of God seeking new ways to reveal the Holy Spirit to us, and most recently in the form of retreat. Spending a week in community walking with one another proved to be a time of mutual reflection, sharing, listening and of course play in God’s amazing creation. I am humbled to walk with the Madagascar Young Adults in Global Mission. Humbled to learn about what God is up to in the world. Humbled to be a pastor. Humbled to reflect. Some ponderings to share from yours truly, the  young adult volunteers, as we all wait, pause, trust and hope:

“I am choosing not to be overwhelmed by the needs of this world but rather to act out of humble compassion in the lives of those around me. How different the world would be if we could each wake up every morning and remind ourselves to ‘do justly … love mercy … and walk humbly’.” – Hannah Griewisch

“Androany tsy vazah aho fa vavi Malagasy (Today I am not a white foreigner but I am a Malagasy woman).” – Sarah Adam

“It’s been a time filled with experiences that seem to get more and more random, a time filled with mountain-top highs and soul-crushing depths, and a time filled with jaw-dropping awe.” – Luke Stappler

“Truth; truth is buying plenty of food in a western-style grocery store to walk out to a child begging.” – Jane Gingrich

“I continue to learn the incredible power of getting up, going out and interacting. The positive communication reminds me of ever grateful progress toward many, many things. The struggles remind me that I DO need to get up, get out, and continue to interact. I pray to never get complacent with the relationships I have, from my mother, to the lady selling fried bananas I pass every day.”  — Lee Kirberg

“May I help you?”  — Kate Griewisch

Austin Propst 

 

Rejoice with all the saints

Posted on November 20, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Kate Griewisch is an ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission volunteer spending a year in Madagascar. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Cleaning the graves for Fety ‘ny Maty.

Cleaning the graves for Fety ‘ny Maty.

On All Saints Day here in Madagascar we celebrated Fety ‘ny Maty, which literally means “Party of the Dead.” This is an important Malagasy holiday and everyone has the day off, so I canceled all my English classes.

One of my site supervisor’s family members, Marcellin, who is also an English teacher, offered to take me to the cemetery so I could see their traditions. I immediately said “yes” and we hopped on his motorbike and headed to the cemetery that I had passed many times before on my bike. When we got there it was completely different from the lifeless, abandoned graveyard that I had seen before. There were people and flowers everywhere!

I followed Marcellin to the grave of his younger brother who had died at age 19 from a blood disorder. The graves here are aboveground tombs and most of them have a cross at the head. Some, like the one for Marcellin’s brother, have a gate or cage around them. On Fety ‘ny Maty everyone comes out to clean the graves and remove the bones to rewrap them.  I didn’t see anyone remove bones, but almost everyone was scrubbing, repairing, or picking up trash at the graves. It is also customary to bring flowers to place on the grave. I didn’t know this so I came empty-handed, but I enjoyed walking around the cemetery to see all the graves decorated and clean.

When I asked Marcellin if this was a sad day for the people or if they were happy, he said that they were happy. I have a hard time imagining being happy about going to visit the grave of my brother (thankfully he is alive and well though!), but when I looked around I didn’t see anyone who looked upset or mournful. At least for the Christians, this was a day to celebrate the promise of eternal life after death and the hope that their lost loved ones are now in heaven. Despite the setting, I too began to feel my spirits lift and even enjoyed some food as part of the festivities. It was not at all what I expected when I arrived at the graveyard, but I am thankful for the reminder that I should celebrate life and rejoice with all the saints.

Experiencing Madagascar

Posted on June 2, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Austin and Tanya Propst are the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) coordinators for Madagascar. The YAGM  program relies  on the coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

 

Austin, center, gets a lesson in picking peanuts.

Austin, center, gets a lesson in picking peanuts.

Tanya and I have been here in Madagascar for three months now. As in all aspects of life, it has been a journey.  Eight weeks of Malagasy language training, a month of travels to visit volunteer placement sites, a quick trip to the States to meet the new Young Adults in Global Mission volunteers and, of course, our own adjustment to living in a new place.

There have been countless ways that I have seen God at work, what a blessing it has been to experience. The Malagasy people have such a passion to offer us, and all visitors, with an experience of culture. Malagasy always ask, “Ahoana no fahitanao an’ Madagasikara?” (How do you see Madagascar?) I have discovered Madagascar is not to only see with my eyes, but how to see, feel understand, know and experience with my whole being. And the passion of the Malagasy is to continue to offer us a deeper experience and understanding of their unique culture.

No matter where we find ourselves, or who we meet, we are offered a true Malagasy experience.  Maybe through a meal, showing us how to wash clothes, teaching us words and phrases, teaching us how to plant/grow/harvest rice, or in our most recent experience, how to harvest peanuts — click here to watch the video. The Malagasy want to share themselves unceasingly by offering us a glimpse of what it means to live here in Madagascar.  I have found that the foundation of what it means to be Malagasy is simple: relationship.

We are blessed to be happy and happy to be blessed, sambatra!

– Austin

 

 

A song of welcome

Posted on March 20, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Austin and Tanya Propst are the new ELCA Young Adults in Global Missions (YAGM) coordinators of Madagascar. They have recently completed their language studies. Here they share a video of a gift of song they were welcomed with at a Lutheran church near Antsirabe. The YAGM  program is reliant on the coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance.  To support a YAGM coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship

Singers offer the gift of music to Austin and Tanya Propst, who were visiting the congregation in Madagascar.

Singers offer the gift of music to Austin and Tanya Propst, who were visiting the congregation in Madagascar.

We’ve learned it is not uncommon for a congregation to share their gift of song with visitors.  We have been blessed many times with such beautiful singing.  Enjoy this (rough) video from a Lutheran Church outside of Antsirabe we attended. Click this link: Worship Music

Enjoy the tunes!

– Austin & Tanya

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just arrived in Madagascar

Posted on February 7, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Austin and Tanya Propst are the new ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) coordinators for Madagascar. They have just arrived in what will be their new home for the next four years. The YAGM  program is reliant on the coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance.  To support a YAGM coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

After 43 hours, from Asheville, N.C., to Tana, Madagascar, Tanya and Austin Propst arrived at 2 p.m. local time with no lost bags, very little sleep and hot sunshine to greet them.

After 43 hours, from Asheville, N.C., to Tana, Madagascar, Tanya and Austin Propst arrived at 2 p.m. local time with no lost bags, very little sleep and hot sunshine to greet them.

Madagascar!  Yes, we have been called to be the coordinators for the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program in Madagascar. We will walk with the people of Madagascar, as we work with young adults from the United States who feel God pulling on their heart strings, to experience God on a global level. So what does that mean? Stay tuned and we’ll find out together. We will be in Madagascar, living in Antananarivo (say it, three times fast!), for a four-year commitment, so we’ll have plenty to talk about.

There is a saying in Malagasy, “Tsihibelambana ny olona,which is roughly translated to mean that all people together are a great broad mat. That to me means unity; oneness that can be felt, enjoyed, and shared by all people. Tanya and I are super excited to be embarking on a journey in Madagascar, where the people understand that we are all from the same mat. We are one.

We’ll keep you up-to-date on our adventures to come!

Austin