When Tanya Woodward felt the calling to serve in the missionary field, she answered. Just last month, Tanya returned from a 5-week trip to Madagascar, and Saturday evening she shared her experiences of that trip during a special presentation at the Broken Bow Berean Church.
Tanya is a junior at Northwestern University in Orange City, Iowa, majoring in English. This past summer she took the opportunity to participate in a service program through the college - an experience she says changed her life.
Tanya was part of an African Inland Mission (AIM) team of five young women who traveled to three locations: Tana, Antsirabe, and Toliara to teach English at language clubs. the team’s focus was on both the children they worked with and the ongoing relationships between the language centers and the AIM missionaries in Madagascar.
Tanya says the biggest challenge of the trip was dealing with the language barrier, as the team did not have an interpreter who traveled with them. While English is spoken, at least minimally, by many of the country’s natives, it is only the third most common language in Madagascar. First, of course, is Malagasy, followed by French. No one on the team spoke either of those languages.
But despite the language barrier, Tanya says she was able to learn a lot, share a lot and enjoy a wonderfully spiritual experience.
“The most exciting part of my summer was watching God at work in our relationships,” Tanya explains. “Our whole team had been praying that we would serve and love one another, and the way that the Holy Spirit moved in our interactions with each other was a powerful witness to God’s faithfulness. Another exciting part was watching our team grow and gain confidence in their Malagasy language skills, taking the crowded, public bus (complete with a few chickens!), and the “experience” of some of the food we tried.”
The diet in Madagascar, Tanya says, consists of lots of vegetables and rice, with some “fatty meat” thrown in. She says meat is not readily available and is not served with every meal.
It is a poor nation, mainly serviced by dirt roads. There is a great deal of Indonesian influence in Madagascar, evidenced by all the rice paddies. Farming is the main industry, which not long ago was followed closely by tourism. That, however, has drastically declined in recent years.
Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, and is located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. “It is sometimes called the 8th continent, because it’s not really Africa and not really Asia. it’s just kind of a mixture of the two,” Tanya explains. It boasts a large variety of eco-systems, with 80 percent of its plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world.
Tanya and her teammates had the opportunity to experience some of those varying ecosystems, with stays on the coastal beach area and inland in more dessert areas. They also traveled to the rain forest, a highlight of the trip.
In 2010, the population of Madagascar was estimated at around 20 million, 85 percent of whom live on less than two dollars per day. Most live in dirt huts, and while the majority of citizens have electricity and running water it may not always be hot running water.
The team did visit a fishing village which had no electricity or running water at all. Tanya says the villagers dig down through the sand to find water, but the team members did not drink it due to the bacteria, etc.
English used to be taught in schools in Madagascar, and some of the students speak English very well. However, the new president of the country has abolished English from the schools.
Tanya says 40-50 percent of the population of Madagascar is Christian, with traditional beliefs, Islam, and a few other religions making up the rest. While in the country the team stayed with missionary families or in a guest house, and Tanya says she always had a bed to sleep on.
She was deeply moved by the children she met, and says she loved the time she got to spend with them. She was also determined to make as much of a difference in their lives as they were making in hers.
“It was hard at first, but I realized it’s okay that I can’t do it all and that I’m not good at everything. It’s good to rely on the body of Christ in our weaknesses - that’s where we can really see Christ. I kept putting myself down, because I wasn’t teaching good enough, could have been better etc. But through my teammates, the Holy Spirit reassured me of God’s love and faithfulness and how he will always help me when I need it most. He really does have our “back covered”!”
There was one particular incident in Madagascar that had a profound effect on Tanya. She admits she felt a little fearful at times those first couple of weeks, and her fear had kept her from riding the bus to the English teaching site. She says she felt safer just walking, and that is what she had been doing.
“But, one day I got sick and had to take the bus back by myself. The ticket keeper and a random guy on the bus (though they couldn’t speak any English) made sure I got off at the right stop and really took care of me. Also, I had forgotten my key, but I met the gardener and another person associated with the AIM ministry in Tana on the walk from the bus stop. They let me in and made sure I had what I needed.
“It was just an incredible experience of God’s faithfulness - getting sick was awful, but if I hadn’t gotten sick I would have never experienced God’s faithfulness in the way that I did and I REALLY needed that.”
Tanya also had an encounter with a missionary there who made quite an impression on her.
“In Antsirabe, we stayed at Betty Lauber’s guesthouse. She’s a sweet, feisty, 83-year-old, Swiss-Canadian French-speaking testament to God’s faithfulness. She is a retired missionary who spent a little time in Madagascar, but had to leave early to take care of her ailing mother. She always knew she’d come back, and just trusted God through all the “bends in the road” that she encountered. Now, she has 17 Malagasy employees and reaches out to her community to show them God’s love. I wanted to be inspired by the stories I encountered, and Betty’s story was truly inspiring!”
“It’s hard to adjust to life back here - everything moves at a faster pace, which just makes it difficult,” says Tanya, reflecting on her return to college. “I think I’ve come to realize God’s faithfulness in the exciting and scary, and in the mundane in everyday work.”
“I wanted to see a glimpse of the global church while I was in Madagascar - and my request was answered! I saw the Malagasy, South Korean (most of the missionaries there are South Korean, which I thought was so cool), the Egyptian, Canadian, French, British, Dutch, Swiss, and Australian church. I enjoyed hearing the different perspectives each person brought, and learning what Christ means across cultures.
“It’s hard to describe, but it was a pretty incredible experience. I have also come to understand that I would like my role in ministry to be a supporting role, not directly evangelizing, but teaching and training native people to go and share Christ’s love with their neighbors.”
Tanya encourages everyone to be in prayer for the nation of Madagascar and its people.
“It is part of AIM Madagascar's vision to support and encourage the Malagasy to minister to the 16 different people groups there and to one day return to their roots - Indonesia. It was amazing to see the beginnings of their vision take root!”