Pictures from January and February

We've kept busy so far in 2017.  Wanted to share some pictures from around Mahajanga, trips to planting sites, computer class, Kids Club, and some fun (and not so fun) bugs that we've encountered.

End of Year Update and Request

a.k.a. Almost 1/2 way!

We have been here over 5 months and I still wake up most mornings in awe that we live in Africa.  Driving offers a daily reminder of the differences between Madagascar and home.  The main road into Mahajanga is a cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells and, at first glance, the road seems like chaos. There isn’t a working traffic light in the entire country, few road signs of any kind, and the police that stand in traffic blow their whistles in a laughable attempt to keep traffic moving.  Scores of pedestrians, tuk-tuks, taxi-brouses, ox-carts, pouse-pouses, cars, cows, goats, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, quads, and various other vehicles and creatures share the crowded space.  Over time, however, we have learned the rhythm of the road, if you will.  And have come to admire the order that emerges from the chaos.  This video doesn't capture the scale of craziness, but shows a typical drive: 

In many ways, the roads are a good analogy for our time so far in Madagascar.  Landing in Madagascar was a jump into chaos: no language, no identity, sensory overload, few comforts of home, and a rhythm very different than our own.  But we are slowly learning to communicate and navigate life.  Fortunately, we are blessed with the help of good friends and fellow missionaries that have helped and encouraged us in the transition.  It is still uncomfortable at times, but we are learning the rhythm of life in Madagascar in the midst of the chaos. 

As we find our rhythm, we are able to spend more time each day in the work that we set out to do. The ministries in Madagascar are growing and certainly need workers!  Over 180 kids showed up to the Kids Club Christmas celebration last week and were treated to a chicken lunch - a luxury that many families cannot afford.  Josh recently started the computer class for several Malagasy Eden employees.  Amanda will start an exercise class with the women at the Maternity Center after New Years. 

We also continue work on the guesthouse to get it fully operational with goal of being self-sustaining.  The guesthouse will allow more partners and workers to come and support the growing ministry.  Unfortunately, the number and expense of upfront home improvements exceeded our estimates.  From hiring an extra night guard, to getting a second refrigerator, to extra mosquito nets, we need your help with these one time costs for the guesthouse. A list of specific needs are below.  

Would you be willing to support our ministry with a year-end gift to help cover these expenses?


  1. $40 (x3) - Mosquito netting for the kids beds - Includes materials and wages for seamstress.  These had to be custom made because of the sloped roof in the loft.
  2. $47/month (or $564 for the year) - Salary for Night Guard #1 - We hired a dedicated night guard to improve guesthouse security.  This also provides living wage for another Malagasy in the community. 
  3. $47/month (or $564 for the year) - Salary for Night Guard #2 - Guards work every other night and every other weekend.   This also provides living wage for another Malagasy in the community. 
  4. $50 (x3) - Floor pedestal fan
  5. $67 - Shelving/Furniture for master bath
  6. $67 - Driver’s License for Guesthouse employee.   A drivers license costs more that a month's salary for Malagasy.  Tanjona is responsible for guesthouse maintenance and security and will be responsible for logistics once we return to the US.  He needs to able to drive the car that we will leave with the guesthouse.  
  7. $80 - New Kitchen screen door - Improve airflow in kitchen without letting mosquitoes inside!
  8. $85 - Water Heater for guest room.
  9. $100 - Vet bill to fix Guesthouse dog.  We just had a litter of puppies, and we don't want more!  
  10. $100 (x3)  Ceiling fan for kitchen and patio areas.  We use these constantly during the hot season to help cool off and keep bugs at bay. 
  11. $100 - Installation of fans, water heater, kitchen lights, air conditioner, washing machine.  All proceeds paid to local Malagasy handyman that supports the guesthouse, Sarobidy, and Eden.
  12. $115 - Printer and Ink - To support guesthouse operation.
  13. $125 - Guard House Improvements - We needed to enclose the small guard-house for protection from rain. Also provides place to sleep for weekend shift.
  14. $200 - Continuing language school - We hired a Malagasy teacher to continue language learning.  This teacher is taking a sabbatical year from teaching in the remote fishing village of Mahabana where Eden first started planting mangroves.
  15. $250 - Mosquito screen for porch - We enclosed the Guesthouse porch to extend the usable living space for the home.  While long-term missionaries become accustomed to mosquitoes and bugs, having an enclosed area at the guesthouse will help relieve the discomfort for visitors and short-term guests.
  16. $350 - Refrigerator - We purchased a second refrigerator for the house as the existing fridge was not adequate when all guest rooms are filled. The refrigerator was purchased used from another missionary family that was leaving the fields. 
  17. $400 - Wall Security - Only 1/2 of the guesthouse wall has security measures to prevent easy access.  We would like to add glass or barbed wire to the wall to secure the perimeter and deter thieves. 
  18. $500 - Washing machine - We purchased a new washing machine for the house.
  19. $525 - Air Conditioner for Guest Room - Only one of the guest rooms included A/C.  We’ve added much needed AC to the second of 3 guest rooms.

Please also continue to pray for our family.  Especially pray that we can stay focused on the work that needs to be done in the remaining 6 months!

Thank you so much for your continued support and encouragement!


The Jensen Family

The Guesthouse at Night

                                                                                                Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Madagascar!

                                                                                                Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Madagascar!


Walking the neighborhood

Walking the neighborhood

I’ve thought a lot about poverty since arriving in Madagascar this past July.  Every day when we step outside our home we are confronted with textbook images of material poverty: dirty kids with tattered clothes, trash and feces (both animal and human) lining the roadside, dilapidated single-room homes made of sticks, mud, and scraps of metal. 

But we have also been here long enough to grow somewhat accustomed to the poverty.  The same kids whose clothes are falling off now run up and say “Salama!” (Hello) with big smiles when we pass by.  We unconsciously step around the trash and are slowly getting to know our neighbors that live in these homes.  The initial shock of poverty has given way to an uncomfortable familiarity.  We know its not “right”, but we see firsthand how people can and do survive with so little.

There are many good books that deal with poverty that delve into the challenges and propose solutions.  The comments below are merely my (Josh's) observations about some of the manifestations of poverty that I've seen from our first 5 months in Madagascar.  This is by no means a complete list.  I won't surmise as to the causes of poverty here and will save this and the discussion about solutions for a future post.

Poverty is a lack of choice.  I previously mentioned that Malagasy eat rice three meals a day.  For the very poor, rice is all they eat.  They don’t wonder what to make for dinner tonight - the decision is made for them.  Choice doesn't exist when income is <$1 per day.  Wealth and steady income gives the opportunity to make choices. We (the wealthy) are sometimes overwhelmed with choice: where to live, work, travel, what to buy, how to spend time, etc.  The lack of choice often means a lack of opportunity to make change. 

Watering station just around the corner

Watering station just around the corner

Poverty is a lack of convenience.  There is a watering station just around the corner from our house.  Most Malagasy homes lack plumbing and those without a well must visit the station whenever they want to cook, clean, and/or wash.  Kids regularly push water-jug laden wheelbarrows down our street and women carry water-filled oil-cans with kids strapped on their backs.  Needless to say, this is extremely inconvenient.  Wealth allows us to dedicate relatively limited time to basic necessities of life.  Consider air travel, automobiles on paved roads (I will never complain about CA roads again!), washing machines, dishwashers, stoves/ovens, down to the simple things like individually-wrapped food packages(!). These are conveniences that ultimately give us the gift of time.  We, in turn, have the luxury of seeking whatever diversion that compels us.  

Madagascar Football Championship

Madagascar Football Championship

Poverty is a lack of respect.  Caleb and I recently attended the finals of the Malagasy Football Championship that was played in Mahajanga.  Upon arriving, we were ushered to the front of a long ticket line and bought tickets straightaway. Minutes after arriving in the standing-room-only grandstand, we were invited to sit in a roped-off area near the mid-line.  There are many similar stories where we have been treated very differently as foreigners.  (As far as I have seen, wealthy Malagasy are generally treated similar to "vazaha", aka white foreigners, which leads me to believe that wealth is more significant than race when it comes to respect.)   The poor wait for medical care, wait in lines for nearly any public service (ex. paying bills), are overlooked and ignored in many public settings, and are treated very differently than those with money.  Not unlike how a homeless person might be treated in the US.   I’m still not sure how to handle this gracefully - I was glad for Caleb's sake that we didn’t have to stand for the entire game, and thankful that we weren’t standing in the packed crowds when a fight broke out where we stood minutes before.  A key motivation behind Eden Projects, Sarobidy Maternity Center, and Sarobidy Creations is to restore dignity to people through jobs, health, and most important, through hope in Christ.   We are so glad to be a part of this incredible mission!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this complex topic.  Please leave a comment below or send me an e-mail.  I am certain that my perspective will change throughout the remainder of our year in Madagascar.   Please continue to pray for our family - that we will be used by God to share God's love through action and word and to do a small part in restoring this broken world! 

Just for fun, here is a short clip of some kids that live in the neighborhood showing off acrobatic skills.  Still trying to get my kids to try it!

A Day in the Life

Several people have asked what life is like in Madagascar.  Here is a glimpse into a typical weekday:

5:30am:  Amanda is awake and getting ready for a workout.  The heat comes early these days with the arrival of the rainy season.  Best to exercise early.  One of the missionary women living in the guesthouse joins occasionally, as do a couple of Malagasy friends.  There is talk about starting a class for women from the Maternity Center.  A fun opportunity for Amanda to help the women in an unexpected way.  Josh’s snores occasionally can be heard from across the house.

8am:  School begins.  The girls woke up 2 hours ago and got an early start on “self work” - workbook-based curriculum that they use for several subjects.  “Draw Africa” is teaching them to freehand draw the continent of Africa.  Do you know where Burkina Faso and Djibouti are located?  The kids do.  We trade teaching duties depending on the day and agenda.  I have newfound respect for teachers that keep 20+ wriggling kids engaged.  I am challenged with three.  Kids are doing well but struggle with the respect for parent-as-teacher role some days.  Sometimes I wonder how much they are learning, but am confident in the greater life experience as education.


10am: Tuesdays are shopping days.  We buy most fresh vegetables and fruits at the local open-air market or from street vendors, but are also thankful for the convenience of 3 western-style grocery stores in town that opened in the past year or so.  Some items are very inexpensive (domestic grown vegetables, white rice), some are expensive (cheese, tortillas, brown rice).  Mmmm, I love tortillas and cheese.   All fruits and vegetables must be soaked in bleach or vinegar when we get home to kill unwanted microbes.  Consistency is frustratingly elusive.  We get stuck behind an ox-cart on the way home.  Little else gets accomplished on Tuesdays.  Life in Africa isn’t as efficient as life in the US.

12 noon: Lunch.  School is finished for the day.  Nearly everything shuts down between 12pm-2pm.  The roads clear and most stores, schools, and offices are closed for lunch and siesta.  It is hot; I like siesta.

8am/2pm/8pm/Anytime:   Work. Our work is primarily focused on supporting the continued growth in the existing ministries.  Its awesome to see how lives are being changed.  The people are quickly becoming friends, not just pictures or stories from far away.

  • Guesthouse: The #1 project thus far has been the guesthouse.  A highlight has been getting to know the young couple that live on the property, Tanjona and Toky (pronounced ‘Too-ky').  They are key to day-to-day operation of the guesthouse and will help run it once we return to the US.    
  • Eden Projects: Sep-Nov is a key planting season for Eden as the seeds need to be planted before the rains come.  We have assisted with seed collection, working alongside the Malagasy employees and learning the ropes of Eden.  There are two new nurseries this year that support as additional 600,000 trees.  Thats a lot of seeds (and jobs)! 
  • Computer Training: We are developing a curriculum to teach basic computer skills to the Malagasy employees.  Classes include e-mail use, file sharing, creation of simple documents and spreadsheets, and basics of social media.  In addition to benefitting the existing projects, computer skills are important job/life skills for the people as the internet and mobile technology make inroads.   Classes start next week.   
  • Other activities: There are many other small ways that we get involved.  75-100 kids show up each Saturday for Kids Club - an outreach for community kids.  Weekly soccer games help build relationships with the community too.

6pm - Dinnertime.  Malagasy eat rice 3 meals a day.  I read somewhere that Madagascar ranks first in the world in per capita consumption of rice.  Literally everything else is considered ‘laoka', the Malagasy word for side-dish.  Many families cannot afford 3 meals a day and spend whatever they’ve earned that day on rice for the family.  Very thankful that we have variety in our diet.

7:30pm - Bedtime for the kids.  On extra hot nights, we turn on the A/C to help them fall asleep.  No fun to sweat yourself to sleep.  Its not uncommon for the power to be out, or the water, or both.  Who knows when they will come back on….  Amanda and I get ready for the following day - cleaning, reading, working, or catching up with life and friends in the US.  Thank goodness for Skype! 

10:30pm - If I didn't already mention it, it is hot.   A second shower is needed to get clean and cool off.   We drift off to sleep listening to the thump-thump of dance music that reverberates through the neighborhood.  Maybe its a circumcision party, or wedding, or some other celebration.  Doubt I'll miss the music when we are back in the US although there is a sense of community with it.

2am - We wake to booms of thunder and staccato rain which interrupt our dreams and cool the air for a few moments.  After the rains pass, the humidity rises as we get a few more hours of sleep.

Life here is not for the feint of heart.  Schedules are mere suggestions, efficiency is an afterthought, and convenience is a luxury of the wealthy.  We are very glad to be here and grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside the missionaries and people in Madagascar.  A big thank you to everyone that has partnered with us to make this happen!

The Amazing Race

Last Friday we decided to change up homeschool for the kids and do a scavenger hunt around Mahajanga.  What a great way for the kids to practice their Malagasy and learn the town.  The two missionary women living in the guesthouse joined in too.  We divided into three teams and gave each kid a list of tasks. 

The three teams:

The tasks range from simple - take a picture of an animal, of which Madagascar is teeming - to the more difficult - travel to the local clothing market and find something to buy.  The kids had to do all the talking and pay all expenses from money given.  

We travelled by bajaj (or tuk-tuk) to the first stop - the Frip - a local clothes market where they had to photograph a funny shirt and find something to buy.  Joanna snapped a quick picture of ubiquitous zebu on the way.

Next stop was the local supermarket to buy a snack and another bajaj ride to the open air market for a picture with the women from whom we buy vegetables every week.  Then we had to go to another grocery store for water.

The last leg of the race took us by pouse-pouse to the famous Mahajanga Baobab tree for a team selfie and mad dash to the finish line by bajaj.  We spotted one of the other teams ahead of us during the pouse-pouse ride. (can you spot them??)  So we had to call in the big guns and get a replacement driver/puller. 

The finish line was a favorite hotel for yummy lunch and a dip in the pool after all the hard work.  Congrats to all three kids for a job well done!

Destruction and Restoration

Earlier this week, I (Josh) had the opportunity to drive over 100km south of Mahajanga to Ankarafantsika National Park with Daniel, an Eden Projects employee.  We needed to deliver seeds to the nursery located in the park and planned to collect more seeds along the drive.   

My initial excitement for the day quickly abated as we drove south of Mahajanga through a large deforested area that was recently re-burned.  It was heartbreaking to see the damage to the land.  Villagers often burn the already denuded land to promote new green shoots for cattle to feed.  Sometimes they want to clear land for crops or simply to see their property.  Whatever the reason, the result is a barren landscape and damaged land.   Pardon the crude video, but it shows a small part of the destruction.

Many people have asked us: What does tree planting has to do with missionary work?  Ultimately, both have to do with restoring broken relationships.  Planting trees helps restore the broken relationship between people and Creation (the land).  Missions helps restore the relationship with the Creator (God).  Restoration of both is necessary.  This isn't my concept - it was developed by Fuller Seminary professor Bryant Myers and discussed in several excellent books including here and here.   But the weight and reality of this truth hit me over the head this week.

What a contrast when we finally reached the National Forest!  The dry deciduous forest is teeming with life and variety.   There is still poverty and many people take advantage of the park resources (and even start fires within the park), but the difference is obvious and palpable.   

During our trip, we also collected a truckload of seed pods from Flamboyant, or Flame Trees. This tree is common in many countries but endangered in the wild in Madagascar due to deforestation.    These seeds will be planted in Ankarafantsika and other planting sites later this season.  And our prayer is that everyone involved in the process - from the children that helped pick up the seed pods in the village where we collected, to the tree planters, to those that support the work from afar, and to anyone that enjoys the brilliant display of the Flame Trees in bloom will be drawn closer to both creation and our amazing Creator. 

Flame Tree Seed Pods. &nbsp;Each pod contains 10-20 seeds.

Flame Tree Seed Pods.  Each pod contains 10-20 seeds.

Seed extraction a few days later.

Seed extraction a few days later.

Back to School

October has been a very busy month here in Madagascar for our family as we transitioned from language school to living daily life in Africa.   I can’t believe that two months have passed since we posted on the blog but we should get caught up as we’ve now settled into a bit of a routine.  Check back soon!

September was dedicated to language school.  For 4 weeks, we were immersed in an intensive overview of the Malagasy language.  From 8am to 12pm every day, we learned nouns, verbs, sentence structure, pronouns, and memorized vocabulary. 

For all that we learned, we still have a long, long way to go.  You don't realize how critical language is until you can't use it.  Imagine going through your day without understanding anyone at the store, in the neighborhood, or on the street.  Communication is obviously required to create and build relationships.  Most Malagasy generally assume that all foreigners speak French.  Their faces often light up when they encounter a “vazaha”, or foreigner, speaking Malagasy regardless of how poorly we speak.  There is a lot that separates the vazaha from Malagasy; speaking the language is a critical way to bridge that gap. 

Please continue to pray that we continue to build our Malagasy and that we can build deeper relationships to the people we meet.   From the Guesthouse workers, to the kids on the soccer field, to the Sarobidy Center and Eden Projects employees, to the people we pass on the street, we want to share Christ’s love and meet the people where they are….and communicate with them in their language.

A few of my favorites things about the Malagasy language:

1) To be or not to be:  The verb “to be” does not exist in Malagasy.  Adjectives can stand alone with subject. “Faly aho.” is a complete sentence where “faly" means “happy”, and “aho" is the first person pronoun “I”.   Not sure how they translate Shakespeare’s famous line nor the “I AM” name for God.  Need to look into those two.

2) Funny money: the verb that translates “to pay” is “mandoa", the same word meaning “to vomit”.  “Mandoa vola” is to pay money, “mandoa” is to vomit.   Suppose its similar to how we say “to cough up” in reference to money.

3) Malagasy words can be very long, by making compound words and using multiple prefixes and suffixes.  For example, the word “bibilava”, or snake, literally translates long(“lava”) animal(“bibi”).  The word “bibikely”, or small(“kely”) animal(“bibi”) means insect.    

Another example using prefixes and suffixes:

  • The word “Natra” means “Learn”. 
  • The verb form, “Mianatra”, adds one of the ubiquitous “M” prefixes. 
  • Add “Mamp..” to the front to ‘make’ the verb. “Mampianatra” is “to make learn”, aka “to teach”.  
  • Change the starting “M” to “P” to indicate the maker:
    • “Pampianatra” is “Teacher”
    • “Pianatra” is “Student”.  
  • There are literally dozens of possible variations of each word using various additions. 

4) Spoken Malagasy often has little resemblance to written, official Malagasy.  There are at least 14 major dialects and many local idioms and mixture of French, especially in the coastal areas.  I recently finished reading “The 8th Continent”, a travelogue of Madagascar written by Peter Tyson.  His comments in Chapter IV, Section 11 ring true: “Unstressed syllables tend to evaporate” and “Our guidebook advises visitors who attempt to speak Malagasy to “swallow as many syllables as you can and drop the last one””.  So true, so true.  

Thanks for reading!  Check back soon for more!