Caitlin Porter -
One grew up speaking Malagasy and French; one English. One has a dark complexion with black hair; the other is fair skinned with auburn hair. One is the daughter of a pastor; the other the daughter of a missionary.
Sarah Ravel and Lauren Johnson may appear different in every way, but both their hearts are deeply rooted almost 10,000 miles away in a small island country off the southwest coast of Africa.
Picture from Lauren Johnson of Madagascar village
These two girls are students at Trevecca Nazarene University and grew up in the Republic of Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world with a population of almost 22 million people. Both of their parents are employed by the Church of the Nazarene.
Sarah Ravel is a senior Music major at who plans to go back to her home city of Antananarivo, Madagascar to open a music school.
Lauren Johnson is a junior Social Justice major at Trevecca with a minor in Interpersonal Communications, who plans to serve overseas as a therapist to missionaries and their families. She hopes to obtain an internship in Kenya, where her parents are now serving, and work at a counseling center that has already been established there.
There is no official record of how many students at Trevecca are the children of parents who are employed internationally by the Nazarene church. The office of external affairs estimated there about 10 this year.
There is no formal support group. Some students are missionary kids who grew up abroad while some are international students whose parents work for the Nazarene church in their home country.
Most of them go a year or longer between visits with family.
Ravel has not seen her parents and two younger sisters in three years, and won’t see them until she returns home a college graduate.
Ravel was born in the country’s capital of Antananarivo where her family still lives. After learning about God from Nazarene missionaries, Ravel’s parents gave up the country’s tradition of ancestral worship and accepted Christ.
They planted the first Nazarene church in a country where the religious demographics indicate that 52 percent are indigenous, 41 percent are Christian and 7 percent are Muslim.
Ravel said that converting to Christianity often means being shunned by family members who still practice the country’s indigenous religion, which is deeply rooted in the traditional culture.
Her mother helped at the compassionate ministry’s Street Kids Center, which helped to provide food and education to the local children. Now Ravel’s father, Rev. Richard Ravelomanantsoa, is the Nazarene district superintendent of Madagascar.
Johnson also grew up in Madagascar, living there with her family from third grade until her high school graduation.
This red haired girl grew up paler and taller than those around her, but her physical dissimilarities plaid no part in determining her normal.
Sarah Ravel and her two younger sisters, Nyaiko and Melody
Johnson said it’s hard to describe growing up in Madagascar; she may bear a U.S. passport, but Madagascar will always be home.
Though Johnson and Ravel’s parents occasionally worked together in Madagascar, they didn’t live near each other or attend the same schools.
Johnson’s father worked with Ravel’s father administratively in book keeping, church planting and training the Malagasy people to do the work of the church, while her mother worked at the Street Kids Center helping to coordinate child sponsorships.
Johnson’s parents gave her the freedom to create her own life in a different country as a “normal kid.”
“I knew what my parents did and I got to experience a bit of it, but I was a normal kid and had my own friends and stuff,” she said.
Ravel learned of Trevecca through the Johnson family, and then met Kathy Huggins, a member of Trevecca College Church, who spent five months in Madagascar on a Nazarene Work and Witness trip.
Huggins encouraged Revel to consider attending Trevecca upon hearing about Ravel’s interest in music.
Ravel was determined to study music, and she now works hard to support her reality.
Ravel works daily at the cafeteria during the academic year and then full time during the summer at Trevecca’s Plant Operations to help save money for living expenses and her tuition. She is also a member of EverPraise, one of Trevecca’s music ministry teams.
Lauren Johnson, however, was determined to not follow her parents to Trevecca.
Both are Trevecca alumni and her grandmother was a professor at the university. Johnson laughed and explained that at first she was against coming to Trevecca because she wanted to do something different from her family.
But God had other plans, she said.
“I felt like God was saying this is where he wanted me to be,” Johnson said.
So, Johnson moved to Nashville, Tenn. to attend college at Trevecca.
Johnson’s parents took their furlough during her first semester of college so that they would be “close by” to help Lauren readjust to life in the States.
Both students Skype their families often, but rely on others for emotional support while they are away from home.
Upon arriving in Nashville, Ravel’s main support system came from Huggins who helped her transition to her new life and culture in the United States.
Huggins said that Ravel did not have a difficult time adjusting, but her biggest challenge was learning the many forms of payment. Huggins explained that life in Madagascar operates primarily cash only, which is quite different from a country like the United States.
“She had to learn how to write a check, she had to learn how to debit card, she had to learn how to balance and make sure she doesn’t get overdrawn.” Huggins laughed while she explained. “All those things we sort of grow into seeing your parents do.”
Johnson’s greatest support while being thousands of miles away from her parents are her relatives that live nearby, and the close friends she’s made at Trevecca.
“My friends have definitely helped make my experience, and make it easier being away from my family” Johnson said.
Both Ravel and Johnson have future plans that will carry them thousands of miles away from Nashville, Tenn., continuing to further develop their “normal.”