Since 2004, I have been visiting churches in Madagascar affiliated to Communautés Evangéliques Indépendantes de Madagascar (CEIM), (Independent Evangelical Churches of Madagascar). In March 2017, while visiting this beautiful island, I learnt that gold is to be found in almost every area of the country. Yet, the sad truth is that Madagascar is socially and economically one of the poorest nations in Africa, and has progressively been sinking into chaos. The presence of corruption, at all levels of society, exists in the face of poverty for the majority, which has resulted in considerable lawlessness and violence.
Groups of men called Dahalo steal zebu (Malagasy cows), and kill the owners in the process. Possessing zebu is a sign of wealth. People despair at the authorities’ incapacity to establish justice and are tempted to take the law into their own hands, killing the thieves. Recently, the weather has combined with other problems to complicate things. Rains normally fall between December and February. However, this year drought occurred until March, which caused the loss of the rice crop. Rice is the staple food, and rising prices and insufficient supplies have increased poverty.
The Malagasy people remain very open to the gospel. However, more recently, Middle Eastern countries have been making considerable efforts to introduce Islam. Representatives from these countries come with money and promises of social programmes, such as medical clinics, schools and other services, which are difficult for people to resist. Rumour has it that the government has signed a contract to grant plots of land for the building of 2,000 mosques. Christians are concerned for the future of their land.
Partnership, Progress & Problems
French Brethren churches have collaborated with the CEIM assemblies since 2005. This work continues to advance and more than 100 churches have been established in just over 25 years. Progress is slow in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, and its surroundings, but is rapid in the south of the country. CEIM has a Bible school in Antananarivo and a discipleship training centre in the southern city of Toliara. Headway has been made in training leaders, but, with the rapid multiplication of churches, leadership training still remains an urgent need. In 2016 a new summer course was started in Antananarivo: a collaboration between Geneva Bible Institute and the CEIM Bible school. The goal is to give concentrated teaching to young people, who have at least a high-school level education.
Another area of weakness is the high level of financial dependence on churches in Switzerland and France. The CEIM national committee is aware of this, and of the need to develop the means of subsistence for the local churches and their leaders. However, progress is slow and poverty remains an obstacle in remote rural areas.
“…public schools are lacking and classes overloaded, with 80 or more children in a class.”
A major challenge for the government and for the church in Madagascar is the 6 million children in the country. The education system is weak; public schools are lacking and classes overloaded, with 80 or more children in a class. Moreover, teachers’ salaries are not always paid on time. Many children are absent from school as they either help their parents work or beg on the streets. Often, parents are unable to pay the cost of school enrolment and materials. Private schools exist in the bigger cities for those who can afford them.
Dedication, Devotion & Diligence
Since 2008, my ministry in Madagascar has been mainly concentrated in the town of Ambohimangakely, a suburb seven miles from the centre of Antananarivo. The CEIM Bible School is situated in Ambohimangakely, along with a local church led by Rosa Zafimaroavy (national worker). Rosa and his wife, Pauline, began their ministry on Madagascar’s east coast before moving to this small town. They have worked with amazing dedication and diligence. In many ways their ministry is a model of what is needed in other parts of Madagascar. The most remarkable aspect of their work is the combination of their spiritual ministry and their social involvement in the community.
Alongside the ministry of the local church, Rosa and Pauline run a family-style orphanage called Tanjona (Purpose). They carried this over from their previous ministry with poor children and twins in particular, who are abandoned at birth because certain ethnic groups consider twins to be under a curse. When I met them, in 2008, they had just over 20 children at Tanjona. The family has grown to 38 children in addition to helpers. Despite their very limited means, they have built their work into one big family, all caring for each other. Through God’s grace, and as a result of sponsorship programmes – mainly funded by French assemblies – we have been able to cater for the daily needs of the children. In amazing ways, the Lord provided the means to buy a plot of land, then to build a temporary house for the family. The goal has always been to provide a home with basic education, clothes, food, medical care and the teaching of God’s Word. In the last four years, the Lord has enabled the construction of a building large enough to accommodate the family in relative comfort, as the children grow up. Today there are 48 people living together.
Thanks to the presence of the children, the local church has a thriving Sunday school run by the older girls. Rosa and Pauline have a daughter of their own. Recently, Bienvenue, one of their daughters, started a scout group for teenagers. This endeavour has been a great success with their own children at Tanjona and with many friends from surrounding families. These two groups are reaching increasing numbers of people in the area with the gospel.
Another aspect of the social work in the last five years has been the development of a nursery school, through the devotion and dedication of Joel, a deacon in the local church, and his wife, Sahondra. A middle-school physics teacher, Sahondra had a burden for the young children of poor families, who often spent all day at home on their own while the parents tried to earn what money they could. With her husband, Joel, she started the nursery school, Akany Salama. Her goal was to teach the children five days a week, provide a nourishing midday meal, a snack and to share the gospel with them. They started with 18 children across two classes, meeting in the outbuildings of their modest home. The families were expected to contribute something towards the schooling and meals, according to their means, but in reality more than half of them could not afford to do so.
When I first visited their work they had no money to pay the teachers’ salaries. With the help of friends in the UK, we were able to find funds for salaries for three years. At the end of each school term, a celebration takes place in the church where the children put on a programme of Christian songs, dance and skits, after which they receive their term reports. All the parents are invited and the gospel is shared.
Today the number of pupils has reached 148, which covers the whole range from preschool to primary education. In 2014 we built an extra dining room/classroom; however, by 2016, every corner of the property was filled and a new class was expected in September 2017! The only solution was to pull down some old buildings, and construct two new classrooms and one room large enough for all the children. But where would the funds come from?
In faith they started demolishing the old buildings and digging the new foundations. The Lord graciously provided financially in several amazing ways. The most unexpected source was a legacy from a UK sister, who stipulated in her will that a certain sum should be used for children’s work.
Today, all the private schools in the area are envious and wonder why so many families want to send their children to Akany Salama School. The first children will finish the primary programme this summer and some parents have started asking when the secondary school will open! The fact that the syllabus is based on the Bible brings great joy to the children and assurance to the parents.
We believe that what God has done in Ambohimangakely, through the devotion and diligence of these believers, provides a model for building Christ’s Church in such a needy environment. A lively, vibrant church – that reaches out to the whole family, and is linked with social and humanitarian involvement that answers the needs of the people and manifests Christ’s love – has a powerful impact.
• For the new president and committee for CEIM churches
• For an increased intake of students for the Bible school
• For new teachers at the discipleship school, in the south of the country
• For job opportunities for young people from the orphanage as they finish high school
• For committed Christian spouses for the girls in the orphanage
• For a strong witness against the spread of Islam