On March 7 2020,   I left Miami for Madagascar with a team from Saint Andrew’s School Boca Raton, Florida.
I was the representative from the congregation of the Chapel of Saint Andrew, which is located on the school grounds.  

We were on a short-term mission trip to visit the children in the village of Manamby, too small to find on a map.  We flew into Morondava, on the west coast, from the capital, Antananarivo, and then drove to Manamby.  This visit was part of a larger plan to someday build a school for the children there.

The team was to return to Miami via South Africa and I would continue on to Toliara for a six-week visit with the Rev Patsy and Bishop Todd McGregor and the people in the Diocese of Toliara compound.

On March 17, Mme Holy (the wife of Bishop Samitiana) and I left the capital Antananarivo on the two-day overland trip to Toliara.  Little did I know at the time that my planned 6-week mission trip in Toliara would extend to 9 months and that I would return to Miami on December 15, 2020.

While in Toliara I stayed on the Diocesan Compound in the guest room in the Women’s Center.  

The second day I arrived, I was asked to quarantine for two weeks because there was a concern that Neny Holy and I had been exposed to Covid-19 on the trip to Toliara.  During that time of quarantine, my only interaction with anyone was through the window to the outside. I loved this opportunity!

I have always wanted to visit a cloister and here I was. It was a wonderfully quiet time for reflection and rest.  Plus, it was so hot that for the first few weeks I mostly slept. I later learned that the average annual rainfall in the spiney desert of Toliara is 16 inches. This was not a challenge for me. I grew up in the Central Valley of California where the average annual rainfall was 13 inches. However, I later learned from Google sources that the dewpoint of Toliara ranged between muggy, oppressive and miserable. When I arrived in March, it was definitely “miserable” 24/7.

By April, it became clear that I would be in Madagascar indefinitely.  A few days after my arrival in Toliara, the Madagascar borders had been closed due to Covid-19.  International flights had been suspended and interior travel was curtailed to commercial transportation of food and life-giving items.

I soon settled into a routine.  Each day started with my morning wakeup call by the roosters crowing around 5 a.m.  

Due to Covid-19 there were restrictions on the number of people who could gather in a single location.  So instead of regular corporate prayer which was the normal practice on the diocesan compound, a schedule was set up so that two households would meet for daily evening prayer.  During my visit, I joined different households in prayer depending on the rotation schedule.

About a week after my quarantine time, I was able to access internet and I started to communicate with my family and church community. The typical American question arose, “what do you do all day?” So, I would say that during my time there I developed relationships, by spending time with people.  I really came to experience the saying, “God uses us just as we are and wherever we are.”

With regard to the “doing aspects” :

  • I participated in the regular schedule of corporate prayer such as the monthly days of diocesan prayer and fasting and the intermittent Sunday services.  These were special spirit-filled times that deepened my understanding and experience of prayer.
Holy ( Bishop Samy’s wife) and Emily Nell making a presentation in the Cathedral
It is hard to talk and wear a mask!
  • I offered to tutor English, teach the basic Order of Saint Luke program of Christ’s Healing Miracles to the students of the Bible College, and introduce and teach the concept of Blessing Prayer developed by Roy Godwin, Russ Parker and others.
  • I helped to write a grant proposal to continue the Rooted in Jesus program and other spiritual and leadership development programs in the diocese. We learned on Thanksgiving Day that the proposal was funded for the next two years!  What jubilations!!
  • It became clear to me that I needed to suggest projects that required a minimum of sustained attention, so I encouraged xeriscaping  —  let’s support God by growing local plants that will survive without water or much attention. 
  • I encouraged the cleaning up of the land in the compound – clearing areas around the cactus rather than pulling out the cactus.  I kept saying “let’s support the way God plants this area”.  And indeed once the grass and vines had been cleared, the cactus really popped out and they were in blossom.  So it was very effective.
  • I paid Seliny 5000 Ariary to cut grass for 3 hours as my contribution to help maintain the compound.  She took the grass home to feed her zebu.
Doing this the Malagasy way…
Emily Nell and Fiadanana, sitting on a cement bench that Jacky Lowe gifted through a grant proposal
  • I wanted to clean up the area outside of Holy’s office.  And, as a result a bench was put out there so she could sit outside.  I do not think they would have even thought to put one there till the grass and vegetation had been cleared to show off the trees and the cactus.
  • I met with Rev Patsy McGregor on a regular basis, acting as her sounding board and editor as she created several devotionals, some of which incorporate reflections on life during this worldwide pandemic.

Most of all during this time, I developed friendships that will last a lifetime.

Emily Nell Lagerquist, Missionary Bridger

This post was originally published at the website of the Diocese of Toliara, Madagascar: http://dioceseoftoliara.org