Dear Friends and Family-
It has been a whirlwind summer and we don’t even know where to start. We have appreciated all of your prayers, support and conversations over the past few months.
In May all five of us traveled down to Florida to help prepare for the Boot Camp in Florida. It was a precious time that we were able to be together. Ryan spent his weekdays at the Teen Missions’ property working outside setting up the Boot Camp. The kids and I spent their time homeschooling. It was a learning curve for all, but a precious time together. On the weekends we were blessed with occasional trips to Disney World, which was a special treat for us.
Boot Camp began on Micah’s and my birthday. We were blessed to have my mom, Ben & Andree and family all come down to help watch Abby & Zeke during this time. The kids enjoyed trips to the beach, library and movies while Ryan & I were training with our team. This year during Boot Camp Ryan taught a Former Team Member class & some of the morning Bible classes and spoke at evening Rallies. I taught phonics classes. I had fun integrating more games and creative ways to teach phonics on the field.
Our team this year was amazing! We had 23 team members, most from the West Coast. They had great attitudes and loved Boot Camp, which would pay off for them once we were on the field. Micah and Ella, our niece, were on our team this year and they both did great. This was Micah’s 3rd Boot Camp as a team member, so he was quick to show Ella the ropes. One of the highlights of Boot Camp this year came on Commissioning evening when we received a generous gift from an anonymous donor who provided for our entire team to visit Disney World for a day while we waited for our scheduled departure to Madagascar, which was three days after Commissioning. It was such a joy to take many of these team members, who had never visited before, to Magic Kingdom.
Our travel to Madagascar was long, taking nearly five days to complete. After 36 hours of travel time via plane, we arrived in the capital of Madagascar where we were greeted by Ethan and Rae Gollehon, Teen Missions Bible School students from Portland who are serving their one-year internship in Madagascar. They graciously agreed to serve as our assistant leaders this summer and brought some much-needed experience with life in Madagascar, which was invaluable. After spending two days in the capital, where I was to purchase all my food/project staples because it was unclear what we could get in southern Madagascar, we loaded up into four small minibuses and took a two-day drive to the southern Madagascar, where the Teen Missions base is located in Vangaindrano. It was quite the adventure as the vans whipped through the windy Malagasy terrain to take us safely to our base.
Upon arriving at what we thought was the Teen Missions base we unloaded the vans and sent the drivers on their way. Then it became clear that we were actually three kilometers from the base. Through a series of vehicle breakdowns, it became evident that we were going to have to carry all of our 50 pound duffle bags to the base. It was quite the adventure for the team, who trudged through muddy paths carrying their bags. It was probably one of our hardest days in Madagascar, but God was in control. We had amazing Malagasy staff and Bible School students who carried the majority of the luggage. We were soaked to the bone and covered in mud when we finally arrived at the base nearly three hours later, but we were greeted by some of the most hospitable people we know and they even had freshly killed chicken waiting for us. But what was most impressive was our team, every one of them walked into the “big house” on the Teen Missions property exhausted and totally spent, but not a single one of them complained. They all were just eager to begin to serve.
The project for our team this summer was to conduct medical and eyeglass clinics. We had the privilege of visiting 15 different local villages, whereTeen Missions Motorcycle Sunday School Mission (MSSM) Circuit Riders do ministry,, to conduct the clinics. Every morning the team would head out on a 1-2 hour walk or tractor ride to a local village, where they would meet the village elders, conduct an evangelistic presentation (often drama, singing and preaching), and then they would organize in a local building to conduct the clinics. Oftentimes people seemed to come from near and far when they would hear we were holding a clinic, and they would line up for hours just to meet with us. It was humbling.
On the third day of clinics we met a young girl who would have a lasting impact on our team. The day was drawing to a close and we were preparing to leave. A young mother entered our clinic with her 7-year-old daughter who had a compound fracture in her upper right arm and over four inches of the bone was sticking out. Over the course of the next few hours, we discovered that this young girl, named Labaogna, had experienced a fall from a tree over a year ago and her family did not have the money to pay for the necessary medical care. Our team was heartbroken and wanted to do something, but we were not prepared for this level of care, nor did we think we had the funds to support Labaogna and the large medical bill that would be necessary to mend her arm. The team members were devastated. When they team returned to the base Ryan told them, “There are ‘good days,’ there are ‘bad days,’ and there are ‘hard days.’ This was the latter.” The team began to pray. We knew that we were not in southern Madagascar to provide major medical care, but we had to do something. Over the course of the next few weeks via email correspondence with our base in Florida we were approved to gather a cost estimate for Labaogna’s care & to return to the US to raise funds for Labaogna. We were then surprised to discover that Labaogna’s arm would not require amputation and could be repaired for as little as $435 USD. This was a daunting number to Labaogna’s family, who live on as little as $15/month, but to our team members who had brought that much in spending money along, it was more than possible. The team was burdened with the need to cover Labaogna’s medical bills and we took a freewill offering, the team donated $550!!! I was shocked, but God wasn’t. I worried about what we’d do with the extra funds, but God wasn’t. He knew exactly what Labaogna needed.
Since we left Madagascar, I have received reports from our Teen Missions staff there. Labaogna has had her surgery and it went well. Her recovery took longer than they anticipated, but she is now running and playing with the other children and plans to return to school in the next month or so. The staff is grateful for the additional funds that we raised because they have covered the extra weeks of care for Labaogna, a healthy diet to encourage bone regrowth, and her follow-up care in December. God is good and is sovereign, even when I can’t see it in the moment.
You must see the bigger picture: Through the ministry of the MSSM Circuit Riders visiting Labaogna’s village her family made the decision to follow Christ. Because of the MSSM Circuit Riders’ involvement in the village our team came to do the vision/medical clinics. Through our visit Labaogna received the necessary medical care she needed. Through the testimony of the TMI staff Labaogna’s mother heard about the free Bible School which is offered at that base. Today Labaogna is playing cheerfully with the other children who live at the southern Madagascar base while her mother is a member on a Teen Missions Boot Camp team and is preparing to join the Bible School in the next month or so. God is Sovereign!
Over the course of our three short weeks in Vangaindrano (it took us almost two weeks to get there and back) we had the opportunity to visit 15 different villages and gave out 1,100 pairs of glasses. We were also able to leave behind another 1,000 pairs at the Teen Missions base so that they can continue to conduct vision clinics. We saw over 1,000 patients in our medical clinics and gave out almost all of the medication we took with us and most of our personal over-the-counter medicine as well.
We had an amazing team and watched many of them grow closer to the Lord through this experience. We had the opportunity to walk alongside some as they wrestled with their faith and had the privilege to spend time in the Word of God everyday with the team and teach them about God. We watched both Micah and Abby grow closer in the Lord throughout the summer. A highlight for us was their decisions to be baptized at Lake Retreat, a family camp we attend every summer after our team time.
On the homefront things are changing a little in the Fast household. Zeke headed off to Kindergarten this year. He loves school and is slowly learning how to contain his high energy levels in the classroom. He also has started attending a weekly soccer clinic with the other kids from his class and is loving it. Abby is in 4th grade now and seems to be growing up right before our eyes. A few weeks ago, she convinced us that she was ready to learn to ride a motorcycle, she’s been begging for years, and she took it upon herself to try a jump on her first ride around the track. This unfortunately resulted in a spectacular crash and a broken left arm (her dominate arm). The doctors commented on her amazing attitude during the ER visit although the break ended her soccer season, which she was devastated about. Micah is in 8th grade this year and we have decided to allow him to try virtual/online schooling this year. He is really enjoying the curriculum which integrates live online and video based classes with 1-2 days of in person elective classes. It is definitely a learning curve for all of us.
We wanted to thank all of you for your prayers and support for us this past summer in southern Madagascar. Please pray for Ryan as he begins traveling to share about Teen Missions throughout the Western US. Pray for wisdom as we raise our family and pray that we will continue to follow the Lord’s leading in our lives.
Erin & Ryan
Micah, Abby & Zeke