By Kevin & Rev. Donna Steckline – Christ Episcopal Church, Gilbertsville NY, Episcopal Diocese of Albany.
When we arrived in Madagascar and got off the plane, we immediately saw poverty, garbage strewn streets, blank faces and stares at each street corner. We realized the reality of the starving world right in front of us, the same as if we were in Sudan, Haiti or any other third world country.
The same feelings well up inside me bringing me close to tears as in times past, asking the Lord, “How can I help these people? What can I offer in order to help this mass of poverty and illness that is before me?”
We soon arrived in Toliara, the 5th largest city in the country but has limited industry, and the poverty is starkly apparent, even more than it was in the Capital. Bp. Todd and Patsy started with 3 churches in 2006. They have established 80 churches in 10 years in a diocese that is the size of Florida. It takes 6 days to travel through the diocese. Unfortunately, the ratio is only one priest for 10 churches and transportation is mostly by foot or bicycle. The Diocese of Toliara has 1.5 million people who are “Food Insecure.” This means they do not know where their next meal is coming from, which became very apparent when examining the children and the elderly in the medical clinics.
We traveled to five different locations for the clinics, serving the many people who came for care. Many of the patients, both young and old had diseases that have progressed well past the available treatments. Many needed diagnostics that just are not available in the local area and people cannot travel to the capital nor could they afford to, so they suffer. We saw mothers with malnourished children with no social support systems to obtain food or formula for their babies, so they are fed a rice gruel that has minimal nutritional value.
We witnessed children who were 1-2 years old, not yet walking with flaccid extremities and could hardly keep their head up to nurse due to malnutrition.
Despite this turmoil, there is a community of hope, set in the midst of deep darkness and despair, severe poverty and starvation. It is a community which has been planted by Bp. Todd and Rev. Patsy McGregor as they planted this new diocese of Toliara. Today there is a cathedral and gathering place in the diocese. Malagasy have come to worship, learn skills to start their own business, and participate in training for evangelism. They are filled with the hope of Jesus Christ and they grow in their faith and come together as a community.
The Malagasy people, as a population are in the same situation across the diocese. Their faith gives them hope for the future. Perhaps God’s ultimate plan for us is a ministry of presence. We walk alongside our brothers and sisters assuring them that their toil is remembered by us, we have not forgotten them; they remain on our hearts. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen,” (Hebrews11:1) so we remain hopeful.
Click here for original story and more about Madagascar.