This is an account of Amy’s and my first visit to Madagascar, 18-23 January, 2010. We visited again 30 May – June 3, 2011. Our Nazarenes there are a committed group of people, and the joy of the Lord radiates from their lives. Please pray for Rev Ronald and Rachelle Miller and family, current missionaries in Mada. They replaced Rev David and Lisa Johnson (who now serve on the Africa East Field).
What do you think of when you hear the word “Madagascar”? Some of us probably think of the movie that came out a few years back, or perhaps the lemur or some other exotic animal. From now on, I’ll think of the Big Island as the place where God is up to Big Things.
My wife, Amy, and I arrived on a Saturday and were greeted at the airport by Dave Johnson and his teenage daughter, Amanda. As we wound through Antananarivo, the capital city with nearly two million residents, the bustling activity was striking. Many barefoot men muscled a “pousse-pousse” (French for “push-push”) laden with bags of rice or other staples. Women set up small tables along the road, wooden stalls filled with colorful fruits and vegetables, suspended plucked chickens or dried fish and beans. Others displayed their wares on the ground, including shoes in all shapes and sizes, brooms or soap.
We went to church on Sunday. More than two hundred gathered under a tent at the children’s center. A group of seven teenage girls made up the worship team, including a boy playing drums and one of the older men on the keyboard. The Lord’s presence was close, and though I expected the many children present to become restless during my sermon, they listened with rapt attention. At the end, two dozen or more came forward as a sign that they wanted to follow Jesus!
On Monday, I began to teach a course on Galatians, part of the pastoral training program through the Institut Théologique Nazaréen. Fifteen students came faithfully, morning and afternoon, as we studied Paul’s letter. I couldn’t have done it without Pastor Richard, who translated my French into Malagasy, the local language. Every day, we memorized another verse from Galatians. Between lectures, students broke into small groups of three or four and talked about how to apply what we were learning to pastoral ministry. In this way, older students became mentors for those who were younger, encouraging them as they took their first steps as shepherds of the flock.
A highlight for me was hearing the testimonies from the students. Many had been born into homes where going to church was only a formality. Only later had they heard the Gospel, that Jesus could change their lives and give them a purpose. Several of the female pastors tearfully recounted how their husbands had beaten them, sometimes just for daring to go to the Nazarene Bible study. Despite this, they prayed for them and some of the husbands had come to Christ. Others spoke of how they had participated in the “turning of the bones” (ancestor worship) but later abandoned this annual ceremony, putting their faith in Christ. This was a step of faith for them, since honoring the dead by digging them up is prevalent in Madagascar.
The day before we left, we visited the street center. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM International) sponsors this outreach to street children. Many live with parents in ramshackle lean-tos, in tunnels or under bridges. From Monday through Friday, they can come to the center and get a solid breakfast and lunch. There are primary school classes for those who are younger, and older girls can learn sewing or housekeeping. The building was completed with labor from five Work and Witness teams, and includes a basketball court and comfortable living quarters for Pastor Richard and his wife, Theresa, who is the center’s Director. As I toured the building, I thought of three students who had been in my Galatians class. They had come through the center, found the Lord, and felt the call to pastoral ministry. Those stories and many more were only possible because of the incredible work of the center, a work that is even more desperately needed as the economy in Madagascar has been crippled in recent days.
Before I knew it, our time was up. Amy and I said goodbye to our new friends. We left grateful for the many Nazarenes who continue to give sacrificially to the work in Madagascar. Most of all, we’re grateful for the Big Things that God is up to on the Big Island.