Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Clothed in Joy ... Thoughts from Madagascar

Hi Friends,

So I'm doing laundry this morning and my 8-year-old announces she has no pants she wants to wear.

"How 'bout these," I say.

"Those are too tiiiiiiight," she says.

"How about these."

"I don't like those."

"Okay, just put on these Christmas stretch pants until the laundry's done in two hours and you can wear whatever you want."

"But I only like to wear those at Christmas." (waa waa waa).

Me: "Good grief. Put them on. You need a trip to Madagascar where the kids are happy just to have clothes to wear."

(Big, heaving sigh) "Oh, all right."

And so I was reminded this morning of the kids I'd met in Madagascar - kids that taught me real joy - joy not tied to "stuff" or circumstances, ease or comfort. Just the joy found in Jesus.

It happened like this . . .

Bump, rattle, jolt - the land rover hiccuped over the furrowed lane of red earth as we made our way into the village of Morarano on the island of Madagascar. I’d come halfway around the world to help build a new church in this tiny village. Little did I know that God had even bigger plans.

We rumbled through the village of mud huts, topped with thick thatched roofs, while dozens of children raced from their homes. With wide eyes and pointing fingers, they scurried after our trucks as we traveled to the far end of the village.

Even as I stepped from the land rover, the beauty of Madagascar struck me - rolling hills, with rice paddies in every valley, trees dotting the landscape, turquoise blue skies, and red, red dirt like a swatch of crimson beneath the horizon. And there, in the valley below us, a little boy herded geese, just like in the fairy tales.

I smiled, slipped on some gloves, and got ready to work. It was then that I heard it. A tiny giggle, a snicker really. I turned. Behind me, a group of children stood with their hands covering their smiles.

"Vazaha.” Foreigner. I heard them whisper the word.

"Hello.” I took a step toward them.

Instantly, they scattered like dandelion seed in the wind. I shook my head and laughed. Then, my face sobered. Poor kids, I thought, looking at their matted hair, runny noses, and the tattered rags they used for clothes.

All that day, and the next, the kids watched and giggled and pointed as our team worked to lay the stone foundation for the 13.5 by 9 meter sanctuary that would service the 1,400 people in Morarano and surrounding villages.

By the third day, the kids had decided that we were okay, calling out "manao ahoana! manao ahoana!” (hello! hello!) as they ran, pell-mell, to greet us.

“Manao ahoana” we called back, pleased with ourselves for mastering one word of the Malagasy language.

As the days passed and the layers of mud and brick reached ever higher on the new church’s walls, I found the happy greeting of the children had changed. No longer did they just call out "hello.” Now they said "manao ahoana namana,” hello friends.

By the last day, the kids didn’t stand and watch as we worked. Each child, even those so small that they could barely walk, pitched in to help. Now, it was my turn to stare with wonder as these tiny children hauled one, two, and sometimes three bricks and handed them to us on the scaffolding.

All too soon, the sun waned in the afternoon sky. With final calls of "veloma" (goodbye) we left the village, our hearts filled with love for the Malagasy people and their sweet, dirt-splotched children.

As the red-mud huts of the village dropped from view, I thought about how the kids worked with us that day, how they had seen past our "foreigner” exterior and called us "friends.” They had stopped whispering "vazaha,” but had I stopped whispering "poor kids?”

I closed my eyes and allowed a hundred memories to sweep through my mind - little Rosa carrying her brother on her back and three bricks in her arms, a group of boys laughing as they pulled one another on the cart we used for hauling stones, the girls giggling as they pointed to themselves and said names that I couldn’t hope to pronounce. These were the kids I had pitied and thought, how sad. How could I possibly associate that word with those bright, joy-filled children?

What’s wrong with me, God? I prayed. Am I blind to happiness unless it’s wrapped in a pretty package?

As I sat and remembered the happy giggles of the children of Morarano, God broke through my blinders. He taught me to see as He sees, for "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1Samuel 16:7 NIV)

Now, I say, "Rags? What rags?” All I remember are white smiles like the adorning of jewels, glittering robes of laughter, and the unfettered, happy spirits of kids clothed in the joy of Jesus.


Smilingsal said...

I need to hear stories like this one so that I can more appreciate what I have and acknowledge the value of all.