“The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” –Malachi 4:2
My favorite church holiday is Good Friday, strange (and morbid) as that may seem. Why would Good Friday be anyone’s favorite church celebration? Why would anyone choose the day Jesus died over the day he rose or the day he was born? For me, the answer is simple: without Good Friday, there would be no Easter.
I’m an optimist. I’m quick to point out the bright side of any situation, and I’m definitely not one to wallow in negative emotions. In fact, I usually do everything I can to avoid feeling anything close to sadness, anxiety, and fear. In the U.S., avoiding those feelings was easy because American culture thrives on distraction. There are endless stimulants available. All of the technology, sporting events, amusement parks, outdoor recreation areas, and malls make it possible for people to ignore and escape reality. Bored? Turn on the TV. Lonely? Talk to someone online. Stressed? Work out at the gym. Whenever I started to feel on edge, I would read, write, watch Netflix, hang out with friends, go for a bike ride, take a hike, surf social media, go to the movie theater, swim, play piano, go out to eat, wander around Target, drive, and more. Here in Madagascar, that inexhaustible range of distractions isn’t available. Of course, I can still read, write, watch movies, and walk around my city, but that’s about it. I live alone, so there’s not a roommate on hand to hang out with. I don’t have a consistent internet connection, so social media, Netflix, and the internet aren’t constantly available at my fingertips. There aren’t gyms, theaters, or department stores. I don’t have a car. Here, it is much more difficult to run away from reality. And for that, I am grateful.
There have definitely been times in my seven months as a YAGM when I’ve felt anxious, stressed, lonely, bored, and upset. Instead of shirking away from those feelings, I’ve been trying to live into them. Leaning in, not leaning away. Being willing to experience the not-so-great emotions continues to challenge me, but I’ve noticed that being open to the reality of my feelings has made me appreciate life’s joys even more. I’ve been able to be more authentically present in my community because I’m starting to be authentically present with myself. I’ve learned that I can feel negative things and still remain optimistic—because I have faith that the darkness won’t last.
We have to live into the hard times if we want to fully experience the beauty of the good times. And I think that’s what Good Friday is all about. We can’t just skip over the crucifixion and fast forward to Easter. If Jesus hadn’t died, he couldn’t have risen. And it’s because of the pain, the sorrow, the fear, and the despair that Easter Sunday is so miraculously wonderful. Good Friday serves as a reminder that life isn’t always full of sunshine. Sometimes, life can get pretty dark. Yet through the dark night, God promises that “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” The dark won’t last because the sun always rises again. Wherever you are, whatever “Good Friday” you’re going through, I pray that the healing sun rises for you this Easter. I pray that God resurrects you in the light of His hope. I pray that God gives you the strength to be present through the hard times and to keep your face turned to the rising sun.
See this post and other reflections from me, a fellow Minnesota YAGM, and the St. Paul Area Synod on their blog.
Fridays are my busiest workday. I usually teach for seven and a half hours, but some weeks I have an extra class, which extends the workday to nine and a half hours! (Thank goodness for two-hour lunchbreaks.) I spend the entire day at SALT. After chapel, I join my students across the hall in our classroom. I teach the same grade level three times on Fridays, twice before lunch and once in the afternoon; the class is divided into three groups based on the students’ language levels. During the first full week of each month, I also teach my Wednesday Master’s class in the afternoon. (SALT hosts a special afternoon church service on the first Wednesday of every month, so classes are cancelled and rescheduled for other times during the week.)
After my last class, I go home and either make dinner or relax. After dinner, it’s time for English Club! I head back into the chapel building and up to the same classroom in which I spent the rest of the day. SALT students, staff, university students, and other assorted community members come to attend English Club, which is a laidback, conversational event designed to give English learners of all levels a chance to practice their listening and speaking skills. Different people show up every week, which keeps our conversations interesting! Each week, a different English Club member prepares a topic or question for discussion. Usually, we talk about social conflicts, such as gender equality, controversies in Christianity, poverty, and more. The leader opens our time with prayer, then poses their question. We spend the next hour and a half sharing opinions and responding to the ideas of others. Sometimes we shake it up and learn English songs—we even had a Christmas party during which we sang Christmas hymns, participated in a gift exchange, and enjoyed delicious snacks!
When I go home, if I didn’t already eat, I cook a late dinner (although eating at eight or nine o’clock is average for Malagasy families) and, depending on how worn out I am, I go straight to bed or stay up to read, write, or watch a movie. My Friday nights typically end pretty early, though—there is still more to do on Saturday!
Thursdays are my day off, but they often end up just as full as the rest of the week. I always get up early enough to go on a walk with my host mom and then we join the SALT community for chapel afterwards. On some Thursdays, I head to the market right after chapel ends. Other times I go home and wash my laundry (by hand!) so that it has the whole day to dry on the clothesline outside. I might run errands, meet with students, help the SALT staff translate reports from French to English, or read in my hammock on my back porch. I often treat myself and go out for lunch, either with Krista, the other YAGM in Fianar, or on my own. Sometimes I wander around Fianar and explore the city. Back home, I catch up on my blog, work on my next newsletter, and post new pictures on Facebook (when the wi-fi in my apartment cooperates). I finish my lesson plans for Friday, and sometimes I have a meeting with my SALT co-teacher or Saturday English Course co-teachers. I might clean my apartment, visit with my host family and/or my neighbors, practice clarinet (which I’m teaching myself how to play), or check other various tasks off of my to-do list. Most Thursdays I also make time to Skype with family and friends back home. A day off it may be, but there is always plenty to keep me busy!
Most mornings, I wake up before my alarm clock. The day starts when the sun rises, so it’s not uncommon to hear the neighbor kids playing, power tools whirring, car engines starting, the water pump running, or One Direction songs blasting from outside well before seven o’clock. Wednesday is my day to “sleep in.” Back in the U.S., I considered waking up after 10 sleeping in. Here, I feel like I slept in if I make it to my 7:30 alarm without being woken up earlier. I don’t go for a walk or to chapel on Wednesdays; instead, I set out for Amboaloboka, a young women’s vocational school where I spend my morning. It’s a 45-minute walk one way, and it is, in fact, uphill both ways. (I’m not kidding—Fianar is built on many, many hills, so you have to go up and down no matter where you go.)
Every weekday morning at SALT, there is a short chapel service before classes begin. The chapel bell rings twice: once to summon people to chapel (I like to think of it as the warning bell) and again to mark the beginning of the service 15 minutes later. An assortment of students, professors, staff, and visitors gather in the chapel that used to serve as the neighborhood church—until the congregation grew too large. Chapel, like church, always begins on time. When the bell ceases its ringing, the day’s speaker announces a hymn. A different person leads the service each day and is responsible for selecting a hymn and a scripture reading, as well as leading a prayer and giving a short sermon. (“Short” sermons last roughly 10 minutes, minimum. The full-length sermons on Sundays can last for upwards of 30 minutes.) The speaker almost always speaks in Malagasy, which is a good time for me to practice my comprehension. Recently, though, my students have begun to offer to translate for me; it gives them another opportunity to practice their English. It’s exciting to see them so eager to put their language skills into practice outside of class. To conclude the service anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes later, Dr. Lotera, the Dean of SALT, gives the day’s announcements, followed by anyone else who has something to announce. On special occasions, if there is a guest, for example, the SALT choir sings. Then, we are dismissed. For the next five to ten minutes, we greet each other, shaking hands and checking in with anyone within reach. The students head off to class, the library, or the computer lab, and I usually head home.
On Mondays, I wake up at the same time as the sun. My host mom meets me outside my apartment and together we head out for a brisk morning walk. The scenery along our walking routes is incredible! Fianarantsoa belongs to Madagascar’s highland region, and I am still awed every day by the beauty of the mountainous landscape.
After class, I often stop in at the nearby supermarché, or grocery store, to pick up things like milk and pasta that I don’t buy at the open-air market where I do most of my shopping. If I have no other errands to run, I have the day to myself until early afternoon.
Tratry ny taona (Happy New Year) from Madagascar! Check out my latest newsletter here.