Some days will spin you in circles, let you fly free and then tie you in knots. Sunday was one of those days…
I went to Betafo, a small town west of Antsirabe, Madagascar. Here the first Lutheran worship was held in Madagascar 150 years ago. Rightfully we were there with more people than I could count to celebrate the 150 years of Lutheranism in Madagascar and 500 years of the Lutheran Reformation. (This weekend would have happened in October, but the plague got in the way…)
It was quite the event. Church people from all over Madagascar, numerous choirs, government officials, some military and a few missionaries came to witness and to celebrate the endurance and hopefulness of the faith.
I have to admit to being a little overcome, maybe even a little star-struck when the murmurs rose as Marc Ravalomanana (the ousted former President of Madagascar) descended the center stairs. He waved to the crowd on the left and on the right, possibly a bit much for a church service entrance but then I wasn’t the only one making sure they got a picture.
He took his sit and then as if on cue, the Presidential helicopter flew over head to deliver the President of Madagascar, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, his entrance only different because of his close body guards, I couldn’t resist and got a picture of him as well…
Oh the separation of … never mind…
With the two most important and distinguished guests present the service began…confession and forgiveness, scripture, hymns, homily, offering and choirs all leading up to announcements and introductions.
The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) along with NMS (Norwegian Mission Society) and Dan Mission (Danish Mission) form the trilogy of what is referred to here as “traditional partners” to the FLM (Malagasy Lutheran Church). The Norwegians have been here 150 years, the Americans about 130 years and the Danes joined more recently. It was our time to stand up and be recognized. There is always a speech given by one of the partners, the Norwegians took the task. I just had to stand there and smile.
While we were still standing the Norwegian Official sang an old Norwegian hymn to the crowd. An interesting but endearing choice. From my vantage point I could see many with the look that says ‘what exactly is going on here?’ And then Marc Ravalomanana, seemingly just as surprised as many others, took out his cell phone to get not just one but two videos of the song while he sat their smiling. And then it was over, or so I thought… I turned around and there was President (of the country!) Hery Rajaonarimampianina standing with his hand extended to me, with a clear “Thank you.”
Where am I and how did I get here?
Later that night I went to dinner with a friend. We walked to a restaurant not far away. I told her about how my predecessors had introduced me to the place and how they had always made sure to take their leftovers and give them to some of the homeless street kids as they returned to Lovasoa (where I always stay.) I confessed that I had made it a bit of a habit to do the same. So when the meal was done we gathered leftovers and took to the road to return home. It unfortunately didn’t take long to spot a couple kids huddled up against a store front. I asked if they wanted the food. It was a girl no more than 8 years old with a second smaller child resting on her lap. I gave them the food and proceeded to tell them what was in the container. “Thank you, thank you madam.” The child was no more than 8 sitting on the street protecting another smaller child at night…maybe you can imagine the sense of the unimaginable, the sorrow, the injustice. This is life for these kids. I walked away in a deflated daze.
Not 50 meters further continuing down the road. A young man grabbed my arm, not violently but surely and suggestively. I spun around quite quickly to release my arm from his grasp and very loudly said, no! To which, he just laughed.
Some days will spin you in circles, let you fly free and then tie you in knots.
I’m not sure which part of the day I will remember the most, but I can say the range of reality – power and powerlessness, celebration and distress, faith and defeat, hope and injustice – came to show itself in awkward and vivid dichotomy.
Lord of hope, God of Grace and Spirit of Peace, come to dwell with your people. Protect, guide and enlighten us. Make us to see reality as it is, help us to embrace your truth and give us courage to stay awake. Amen.