Friday, September 20, 2013

He'll Wash Your Sins, Not Your Laundry

Today, I learned how to wash my clothes by hand! We learned once during orientation but I didn’t feel like I had a good grasp on it. At first, Salina said that the young women could wash my clothes but I insisted that I help and learn. You would think that such a mundane task would be easy but there is a lot of work that goes into it!
            First, you make some soapy water and put your clothes in the water. Next, you take a bar of soap and one garment. You rub the soap all over the garment and then rub the garment together against your hands. When you do it right it looks cool and makes an even cooler sound. I have yet to master it. After you think the garment has been scrubbed enough you wring it out and put it in a bucket of clean water. You continue this until all your clothes are in the second bucket. Now, you don’t use soap but you still rub the garment together and wring it out and place it in clean water. You continue this until the water is clean and the garments are no longer soapy. This part of the process can take a while. Today we rinsed and wrung out my clothes 4 times before they were finished. Of course, you can assume the next task is hanging everything out to dry. Reading this it sounds really easy but I promise you it is more work than you think!
While I was washing my clothes I began to think about sin. Yes, my sins are forgiven because Jesus already paid that price but it still takes some work for me to repent. My sins are my dirty clothes. The clothes are covered in dirt, shame, ugliness, hate…the list could go on. God meets me where I am with the soap of Jesus to scrub my clothes clean. Now, the dirt is washed away. The sin is cleansed and I am forgiven. However, in order for me to repent and change the way I act and believe there is so much more that needs to happen. That’s how I see each rinse cycle. Each rinse may be a scripture that pertains to the sin, a devotion, a sermon, a conversation with another believer, or a kairos moment from God.  These things make up the water, the water of life, and each time the garment is wrung out is a piece of the notion to sin leaving. Whatever the rinse cycle may be is helping me change and grow and hopefully do better next time. The clothes are hung out to dry, worn again, and eventually they become dirty and full of sin again. The cleansing process is repeated.
It is a continuous cycle. My clothes will always get dirty and I will always sin.  However, I’m always forgiven by the love of Jesus and the grace of God. I believe if I am spending time in the living water through scripture, prayer, devotions, sermons, and other believers I can make a difference. I will never break the cycle of sin but if I’m trying to live like Jesus lived, I’m happy. Jesus washed away my sins. Jesus washed away our sins. If only he would wash my laundry too. J

Arm in Arm

Over the last month in Madagascar I have learned many things. One of them is that I walk too fast for the Malagasy culture. I’ve always known I am a fast walker but here I am extremely fast.  I want to share with you two beautiful ways I have been reminded to slow my pace.
            During orientation on September 5th we were given the task to go on a “culture capture”. Austin and Tanya didn’t give us many parameters other than we had to be outside of the compound we have been living at for 1 hour and bring something back with us. The something could be a thought, an idea, or even something tangible. I set out having no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to go. I began to pray asking God to guide me and show me what he wanted to me to see. While I was praying I was quickly walking through the streets. Eventually, I ran into a group of students on what appeared to be a field trip. As you can imagine, they were walking pretty slow which slowed me down as well. I realized how quickly I was walking and decided to make a conscience effort to walk slower. I continued walking at my slower pace into a residential area. A pousse-pousse driver had been following me for a while now offering me a ride. I had politely declined several times but he was becoming quite vocal and rude. Two women who had been walking in front of me heard the driver and turned around to help me. After quite the exchange the pousse-pousse driver left and the women and I began talking. I stumbled through what little of a conversation I knew I could have and then we stared awkwardly at each other.  Then the most wonderful thing happened, each of the women took one of my arms and we began walking together.
            On Saturday the 14th, Rova, Hanta, Paulette, and I went out for a walk and to get some things at the market. Again, God gave me the kairos to slow down so that I could walk with these young women. I struggled to walk beside them instead of a couple steps in front of them but I did the best I could. We walked through the city and of course everyone stared at me. Rova must have sensed that I was uncomfortable because she came next to me and grabbed my armed. We continued the rest of the walk this way, arm in arm. Not only did this make me feel like I was part of the community but it helped the community see me as part of it too.
            These are two beautiful reminders that I have to walk, both literally and figuratively, with the Malagasy people this year. If I try to walk too quickly and do it on my own I wont get anywhere. However, if I walk arm in arm with my community and God who knows what is possible! So I am going to surrender my need to walk quickly and instead take the pace of those I am walking with, walking arm in arm. 

Around The Table

             I hesitate to sound like the old Nickelodeon campaign (Was it gather round the table?)…but something special happens around the table.
             Over the last week I have come to appreciate the time spent around the table. Of course it is great because I am getting nourishment and everyone loves food but there is more to it.  Before I get to the table it is always a mystery how many people I will be sharing a meal with. Then I get to the table and see how many places are set and begin to wonder who will fill those seats. After some time everyone gathers round and we pause to say a prayer of thanksgiving. Most of the time the prayer is in Malagasy and I can only pick out a few words but sometimes one of the young women will say a prayer in English. The meal always starts out quiet with awkward glances and smiles across the table but by the end we are laughing and having a good time. This has also been a great place for me to learn Malagasy and teach English in exchange. Cultural barriers are broken around the table. I feel as if we come to the table as strangers and leave as friends. I look forward to every meal knowing that I will get my fill of not only food but conversations too. This is not only true for meals at my house but for meals at Soatanana too.
            In Soatanana we had no table to gather around but sat on the ground in a circle. As always, someone would begin with a prayer. The young women from Amboaloboka would then dish each of us a plate. At first I thought it was a coincidence but later I realized that each meal the women would make a plate special for me. Graciously, they gave me a smaller portion than everyone else so I would have no problem cleaning my plate. Just like that the meal would begin and conversations would slowly follow after. The first few meals were uncomfortable for me. The conversations were all in Malagasy and happening way to fast for me to understand. So I sat quietly and ate.  After a few meals, my new friend, Nirina, exposed that she knew English and we began to talk. Eventually everyone began to take part in this conversation that consisted of broken English and Malagasy.  The time we spent together in meals made me feel like part of the community. Again, we came to the table as strangers and left as friends.
            When we come to break bread together we are in community. I can’t fully explain what happens but I am so glad it does. Like I said, there is something special that happens around the table. 

Coming Home

          The past few days I have had quite the cultural immersion. On Sunday the 15th, Salina (my host mom), Janette (a young woman who works at Amboaloboka), the wife of the guard at Amboaloboka, and another young woman who is friends with the other women set out to go to church to catch a bus to Soatanana. We went to Soatanana for a conference and a ceremony for men and women who completed their two-year sheparding training.
            When we arrived at the church there was one bus and tons of people. I quietly began to stress out in my mind because the number of people who needed a ride and the number of seats in that bus did not match up. Thankfully another bus and a truck appeared! We loaded all of our things onto the top of the bus and set out for Soatanana.
            From what I can tell, Soatanana is a very small countryside town. The town sits nestled in between mountains, which provides for an excellent view. All the members of my church stayed in one house. We were given two rooms to sleep and eat in. The room I stayed in was of decent size but we had about twenty people staying together. It definitely made for close quarters. We also shared a small concrete room to “do our business” and shower in. I was thankful for a place to sleep and eat but I wasn’t looking forward to staying there for three nights.
            The conference was held outside in an open area. There was a stage set up with chairs and a nice covering to provide those shade who sat under it. Everyone else was expected to sit on the ground, a brick, or something they brought to sit on. The mornings were always brisk but by the afternoon it was quite hot. I do not know how the people bared to sit in the sun for hours but they did. I was one of the fortunate who was invited to sit on stage. It doesn’t sit well with me that I was invited on stage because I am a foreigner but I don’t have enough language yet to communicate my feelings. The upside to sitting on the stage was meeting Pastor Dennis from Tana. He whole heartily welcomed Karis (another YAGM who is also in Finaranstoa and joined me in Soatanana for a day) and I to Soatanana and because his English was so good he translated much of the service on Tuesday. He let us ask endless questions, encouraged us to take pictures, and was a nice friendly face to see throughout the conference.
            Even with the translations from Pastor Dennis and Salina it was hard to fully comprehend what was going on.  From what I did understand, it was hours and hours of church. Most days were filled with five to eight hours of church. I found lots of time to read my Bible, pray, let my mind wander, journal, and write letters to all of you lovely people back home. As frustrating as it is not to know what is going on, it is nice to be able to take for me in the midst of it all.
After another long worship service, packing the bus, and sharing a meal with at least 200 Malagasy people we left Soatanana. I was tired, smelly, and hungry when we arrived back at Amboaloboka. I just wanted to go shower, skip dinner, and go to bed. However as the headlights from the taxi hit the house the door flung open and all the young women came running to greet us. Excitedly they opened the car door and helped me out. Each woman greeted me with, “Tongasoa”, welcome, a hand shake that is almost good as a hug, and kisses on each cheek. (Emily, this is nothing like we do. Haha J) The welcome I received was just what I needed to forget about my awful mood. After four days of feeling out of place it felt so great to be back to somewhere familiar. After a much needed shower we shared a meal together. The young women must have noticed that my favorite laoka (side) is potatoes with eggs because that is what had. We prayed, ate, laughed, talked, and taught each other new words but the best of all is that we were together again. For the first time here I felt at home. Together at home.