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Adventist Mission

Stories From My Window

I have never stopped appreciating Madagascar’s beauty. Or its people. For as we pass them, I know that each one has a story.

I’m sitting on a bus, leaning left then right as it navigates the curvy roads down to the capital city, Antananarivo. It was dark when I left the university, but during the two- and-a-half-hour ride to the city, the sun spills over the terraced mountains, revealing a dozen shades of green. I have never stopped appreciating Madagascar’s beauty. Or its people. For as we pass them, I know that each one has a story.

I’ve turned this weekly trek into a special prayer time, interceding for those I see along my route. My first prayer today is for a group of children walking to school. Some of them walk five kilometers each way, even children as young as four years old. It’s a dangerous journey, for the roads are narrow and the traffic is fast. I pray for the children’s protection and that God will bless them in their studies.

When we reach the highway, it’s crowded with bicyclists of all ages. Some are taking their goods to market, while others are heading to their fields. A father pedals past with one daughter sitting on the back seat and another perched on the cross bar. They ride without a care in the world because Daddy is taking them to school. I wave to the girl on the back seat and she smiles at me. I wonder where the father will go after he drops off his daughters. I pray for the family’s safety and that God will bless this man in his work.

Soon we enter a busy village. The road is so narrow, it takes ten minutes to drive the two kilometers to the village’s other end. Minivan taxis are parked two deep on one side of the road, making it difficult for vehicles to pass. Trucks are parked on the other side, adding to the congestion. Street vendors move in and out between cars, selling their wares. The traffic slows to a trickle as one car and then another negotiates the obstacle course of taxis, trucks, people, and animals.

My eye catches a young vendor selling rice cakes. She looks no older than 16. I wonder about her life. Is she working toward a dream? Or helping her mother achieve a dream? They must have been cooking long before dawn. Their meager earnings for the day will only allow them to make more rice cakes to sell tomorrow. There is such poverty here. Yet it is not the poverty that concerns me nearly as much as whether these people can find meaning in their lives. The song comes to my mind, “People Need the Lord.” I hum the tune as I watch the girl vanish behind a taxi.

The village is more congested than usual because several herders are leading their cattle to market. I wonder how far they’ve walked. Having been a herder myself at one time, I know their work is difficult. I notice that one of the steers is limping. It must have been hit by a vehicle. I ask God to protect the herders and their cattle and that He will help them get a fair price, because they are often cheated at the market.

The saddest part of my weekly journey is passing a family who is manually breaking up a mountain. I long to stop and hear their story, to watch them hammer with such precision that they break the rocks into perfect building stones rather than shattering them. Sometimes the toddlers play on the mountainside while the older siblings and adults rhythmically hammer away at the rock.

God, do these people really have to work day in and day out like this? Isn’t there something more lucrative they could do than this endless pounding? Perhaps, I am looking at their labor in terms of economics, whereas the family sees it as their business and training school.

I don’t blink as we approach the family, for I want just once to look into their eyes. But, again, we pass too fast.

My weekly journey to the city is a powerful worship experience. It draws me into the presence of God as I wrestle with Him about His children. As I witness their daily struggle, haunting questions face me: Have I been preaching at people while neglecting their needs? Have I wanted to share the message of Jesus’ love from the safety of the mountaintop while avoiding entering the valley so that people can experience His presence through me? Have I been content with the view from my bus window? Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace, I pray. Help me to reach just one of Your people in the valley today.

Gideon Petersen serves at Université Adventiste Zurcher as academic dean and part-time educational director for the Indian Ocean Union. His passion is mission, touching lives with God’s love. He and his wife, Pam, are from South Africa.

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