Missionary Matters: Junior grows up in two different countries nearly 10 thousand miles apart

Kaylan Ware


Since birth, Frances Turk has lived between two countries, Madagascar and  the United States. She abandons an hour-long commute, an abundance of traffic and a massive pothole to spend her junior year in Decatur.

Frances’ parents, Dan and Elizabeth Turk, serve as missionaries. Their work requires their family to move to Madagascar for four years at a time.

Dan traveled to Madagascar in 1992 to work on the research component of his doctorate in forestry. After completing her master’s in public health, Elizabeth joined Dan in Madagascar.

“We fell in love with the country and the people,” Elizabeth said. “While we were there, the FJKM church invited us to return as missionaries when Dan finished his doctorate.”

The two returned to Fiangonan’i Jesoa Kristy eto Madagasikara (FJKM), the largest protestant church in Madagascar, to become full-time missionaries in 1997.

Elizabeth now serves as a public health specialist in the field of community health and AIDS. Dan works as an environmental and development consultant in the areas of environmental education and fruit tree extension. They are employed by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Two months after Frances’  birth, the Turks moved back to Madagascar. As missionaries, Dan and Elizabeth are required to spend one year in the United States for every four years they spend in Madagascar. This is referred to as a furlough.

During Frances’ preschool years, her family lived on a seminary campus in Antananarivo, Madagascar. As the student population grew on the campus, housing was no longer available. PC(U.S.A.) built a house on the FJKM property for the Turks. The house is reserved for missionaries, and the Turk family has lived there since 2002.

The Turks are the only non-Malagasy family living on FJKM’s campus. This proximity allows them to build close ties with the Malagasy people.

“Over time, we have made very good friends and met many Malagasy men and women who inspire us with their perseverance amidst very difficult circumstances,” Elizabeth said. “The faith of [the Malagasy people] is incredible, and we are still learning lessons from them.”

Living among the Malagasy people, the Turk family learned the native language as well as French, the official language of Madagascar.

Frances and her older brother, Robert, attended a French school, École Primaire Talatamaty, until the end of her kindergarten year.

“We wanted to expose them to French in their early education to deepen their language learning,” Dan said.

“It was really awesome to learn the different languages and cultures,” Frances said.

On her return to the U.S., Winnona Park Elementary staff suggested having Frances and Robert attend an American school while in Madagascar. The transition between schools would not be as difficult if English were the school’s dominant language.

The next furlough was unlike any other for Frances. She only expected to spend her sixth grade year in the U.S. , not her seventh as well.

“That was my third year in the U.S. out of 12,” Frances said. “Madagascar is what I thought was home and what I still think is home. Staying for an extra year, when I had wanted to go back, was a little hard.”

Growing political opposition toward Madagascar’s president, Marc Ravalomanana, sparked violent uprisings that created a dangerously unstable environment in the country. The 2009 Malagasy political crisis forced the Turks to flee to South Africa for a month before their scheduled furlough to the U.S.

“I can still see Frances sitting motionless, with tears running down her face, when we told her and her brother that we would not be going back that summer,” Elizabeth said.

Though staying in the U.S. for an extra year was difficult for Frances, the hardest move yet was her most recent one.

“I am starting to realize that I’m going to move away from Madagascar permanently [after graduating], and that thought is hard because Madagascar is my home,” Frances said.

She plans to attend college in the United States after graduating from high school in Madagascar. Though college prep here seems more laid back than in Madagascar to Frances, she appreciates the amount of rigorous classes offered at Decatur.

Before returning to Decatur, Frances looked forward to being able to walk to school. In Madagascar, traveling distances can be a difficult due to the government not being able to promptly repair roadways.

Extreme poverty, political conflict and citizens’ lack of political awareness separate Madagascar from this country.

“People in the U.S. are privileged, I suppose you could say, and maybe either they do or they don’t think about what’s outside the country,” Frances said. “Either way [most] haven’t experienced a third world country. Being a missionary kid opens my mind to these different situations that I would not have seen otherwise.”

Frances values her experiences in both countries, but as of now, she plans to live outside of the country after graduating from college.

Although Frances has not decided on her future occupation, she appreciates the service aspect of the missionary work.

“Missionary work is a way, among others, that can help [people in need],” Frances said.

Elizabeth’s parents were missionaries in what was then considered Belgian Congo during her childhood. She grew up observing their work and the effect it had on her life and those around her.

“At the age of 12, I felt God’s call to be a missionary one day,” Elizabeth said.

Her children now have the same opportunity.

“My parents gave me a great gift by letting me grow up in another culture and showing respect to everyone regardless of race, nationality or economic status,” Elizabeth said. “My hope and Dan’s hope was that our children would have a similar experience, learning the Malagasy language and making friends regardless of race, nationality and economic status. We think that this happened.”