Madagascar - Country in Crisis

by Colin Crow

 

In early 2009, Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of the capital, overthrew Marc Ravalomanana, the elected president, and despite many subsequent meetings, at the time of writing no agreement has been reached on how to resolve the crisis. The population is left to pursue 'life as usual' while things become more and more difficult.

 

Poverty wasMadagascar widespread before the crisis and now it has increased. This situation has generated violence, disorder and theft throughout the country. Sometimes people will even kill for a cow, or for money. While we were in Toliara (formerly known as Tuléar), in the south, a French couple were assassinated - just for their money. State schools have been closed for four months because teachers were not being paid. At the moment, even people with good qualifications have difficulty finding work, especially if they are opposed to corruption.

 

SPIRITUAL DARKNESS

Our Christian brothers tell us that the crisis has led to a 'purification' in the Church. About half the people in the country would claim to be Christian. The main churches are Roman Catholic and traditional Protestant (predominantly Lutheran) but there are also many Pentecostal, Charismatic and Baptist groups - being a Christian is not a problem in Madagascar. However, practice is often very formal and many people mix elements of Christian faith and practice with superstition and occult belief. For example, one common belief maintains that ancestors are still present and influence daily life. The people feel obliged to respect and honour them and the custom of 'turning the dead' every five, seven or ten years is observed in many areas. The family remove the skeleton from the coffin and wrap it in a new shroud while offering different sacrifices. Sorcery is also widespread, divination in a trance, often enhanced by alcohol, is used to seek healing or guidance.

 

GOD IS AT WORK!

At the same time, Malagasy people are very open to spiritual things and therefore are interested and receptive when hearing the good news of the gospel. Their enormous economic difficulties and spiritual needs cause them to listen readily when approached by true believers in Christ. The 'purification' in the church has led many Christians to meet together across denominational lines to pray for their country and its people.

 

Collaboration between French assemblies and CEIM (Communauté Évangélique Indépendante de Madagascar), which started in 2005, seeks to help increase the level of Bible training for workers and improve their financial support. Their Bible school in Antananarivo, the capital, has about 15 students each year in their three-year programme. A dozen more join the discipleship training school in Toliara, which runs for six months. The leaders hope to extend the programme to a full year of study. Last year three students completed a Masters in Theology and three more graduated from the Bible school. This increases the number of indigenous teachers available. We are encouraging our brothers to develop projects which will raise support for their church leaders, and therefore give greater autonomy to the churches and decrease their reliance on foreign support.

 

The number of churches we have association with has doubled to about 70 in the last six years and evangelism continues courageously. Just one weekend of open-air meetings can sometimes produce sufficient contacts or conversions for the nucleus of a new fellowship. The leaders in bush churches often need more help, even if they are living very simply, because of the extreme poverty of the people in their area. Natural disasters are another factor compounding the difficulties, especially the cyclones which hit the island five or six times a year, destroying crops and causing damage to churches and homes.

 

MINISTRY TO CHILDREN

Children's work is a very effective method of outreach. With 40% of the population under 15 years of age and many single mothers, children abound. Helping children also opens the door to their parents' hearts. Legally, children should be in school but there are insufficient schools and teachers. Furthermore, many families rely on older children (10+) to supplement their meagre income. Some youngsters help to make or sell bricks, others sell a few vegetables in the market or collect convertible garbage, while others simply become beggars. In some areas, if a child dies at birth the body is wrapped, placed in a basket and put up in a baobab tree. In the east, certain ethnic groups consider multiple births a curse and twins are abandoned at birth.

 

EXAMPLES OF CHILDREN'S WORK

 

BIBLE CLUB

Near Toliara, the church leader and some enterprising Christian women organise a Saturday children's Bible club. They have a morning of teaching and then a simple meal (rice, a small portion of vegetables and meat with some sauce) which the women cook during the club. For many children this may be the only good meal they have all week. At least 120 children attend the club and half of them also come to church with their parents on Sundays. Surrounding villages also benefit from the well that the church has drilled to obtain fresh water. They are now preparing bricks to build a permanent building after just 18 months or so of witness.

 

KINDERGARTEN AND ORPHANAGE

Just outside the capital, an elder and his wife, a schoolteacher, took early retirement. They have now opened a little roadside store by their home and started a Christian kindergarten for the poorest children, since many poor parents work and are forced to leave their children alone all day. After one year they already have 20 children and are adding another class next year. The only other kindergarten in the village is a private fee-paying school and the poorest cannot afford it. This couple are members of a church led by Rosa, who, with his wife Pauline, opened an orphanage about seven years ago. It now houses 33 children, including a number of twins who were abandoned at birth. Rosa and Pauline also run a children's club for other children in the village. Half the church is composed of children!

 

So Madagascar is in a crisis which the rich and influential seem incapable of solving, but the light of the gospel shines and the Lord is saving men, women and children, and building His Church. People are being delivered from darkness and superstition, and are finding the way to the Father's house where grace and love transform their lives through Jesus.  

 

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