Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fircrest, Wash.
Nurse and co-founder and executive director of Nofy i Androy (NiA)

I pray that people who can’t find food will have enough and have healthy food. I remember very well what it was like to be hungry during famines in the region from where I came, Androy in southern Madagascar. I pray that whoever strives in their life will receive the justice they need to thrive. I pray that everyone will have access to education because that is the road out of poverty and ignorance.

Emigrating from Madagascar to the U.S. was shocking because I grew up in a small town, and I never thought I would end up in the United States. Before we left Madagascar, my daughter and I promised each other that we would finish school, work toward financial independence and give back to our region. I worked two to three jobs at a time, found my independence and went back to school. My daughter was 13 at that time; she has since graduated from the University of Washington, majoring in public health.

The biggest difference between my Lutheran church in Madagascar and my congregation in Washington is the diversity of ages. My church in Madagascar was full every Sunday with children, youth, adults and our elders, all dressed in their best and brightest clothes. The women walked the sandy roads in their high heels, and men wore their suits and ties, regardless of the heat. Our offering collection alone was an hourlong parade with hymns and choral singing.

Something I wish ELCA members knew about their Lutheran siblings in Madagascar is that, even in our poverty, we are deeply serious about our faith, offering and worship. We are joyful in our singing. Our lives are full of laughter and bright colors!

I co-founded the nonprofit Nofy i Androy (the Dream of Androy) in 2012, and continue to run it with my daughter Mélodie, because from where I come, girls are raised to be mothers and housewives from a very young age. Girls may drop out before the fifth or sixth grade to get married and have children. I strongly believe this keeps our region and nation in a cycle of poverty. My and Mélodie’s goal is to support these young women to remain in school until they complete higher education so they can be independent contributors in their homes and communities.

People are surprised when they learn that, from my salaries as a janitor, food server and in-home caregiver here in the U.S., I was able to co-found, build and fund an education center—with six teachers and four staff members—in my hometown of Ambovombe, Androy. In 2012, Nofy i Androy started with 17 students. Now in 2020, we are supporting the education of almost 200 girls from seventh grade through their university studies.

In 2012, Nofy i Androy started with 17 students. Now we are supporting the education of almost 200 girls from seventh grade through their university studies.

I was motivated to start a program that encouraged young women to develop their dreams because I struggled as a teen mom, and it became my dream to empower young women to have a better life, to fight gender inequity, to maximize their opportunity, and to gain confidence, independence and dignity. At Nofy i Androy, we seek to educate families and young girls about the problems associated with early marriage and childbirth, a huge problem in Androy. We hope to change traditions that have repressed young girls from becoming leaders for future positive changes. We focus on girls and teen moms so that they may more freely express themselves and thrive in their classrooms and communities.

To me, grace is the most powerful gift you can receive. It fills your soul with thanks and gratitude, so that you have to spread that joy to people around you, everywhere you go.

I’m a Lutheran and have been since I was baptized in the Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy (Malagasy Lutheran Church)—the only Lutheran church in my hometown. I remember singing in the children’s choir and Sunday school and first communion classes. I grew up singing in this church until I left Madagascar. I’m a Lutheran here in the U.S. and anywhere else because—even in different languages—these are the songs, worship and prayers that I know.

I believe that God showed me his grace on many occasions so that I can’t deny his existence. When you do good things from your heart, without expecting praise, it opens you to more good things and opportunities.

After immigrating to the U.S., I wanted to study to become a nurse because I felt like I was already a nurse by nature, only I didn’t have the appropriate knowledge, skills—nor the diploma. Also, having been a college-educated and successful teacher back in Madagascar, I wanted to prove to myself and others that I still had the courage and intelligence to rise up again. So now that I am a nurse, I can live out my calling, and I don’t have to balance three jobs just to make ends meet.

What I’ve learned through providing education and leadership training to young women in Madagascar is that it’s very challenging and multifaceted. Neither I nor my daughter went to school to run an organization like this, especially with the fundraising, managing staff, networking, creating awareness, programs, etc. However, through passion and perseverance, you can learn from your mistakes and experiences, and make it better each time.

It’s important to me to be involved in my ELCA congregation because my family of origin is literally on the other side of the earth. I feel that every single person in my congregation here in the U.S. is part of my family. Besides worshiping my God, each Sunday morning I am driven to wake up to see my church family that I love so dearly. I feel blessed that I found a Lutheran church here in the U.S. that reminds me of my church home in Madagascar.

I share my faith by providing encouragement, advice and testimony, and by praying with my family, friends, students and anyone who might listen to me in person or on the phone and social media.

Megan Brandsrud
Brandsrud is a former content editor of Living Lutheran.

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