October 28, 2012
Our sister congregation in Tsiombe, Madagascar does not get the same publicity as our other two do. It isn't because it is less important. Getting there is much more difficult. Consequently, we have not had as many mission trips. Not only is it a long flight or flights to get there, it is a long way to Tsiombe in the south once we get to Madagascar. Nevertheless, the trip is worth the effort. The Lutheran Church in Madagascar has done a wonderful job. It runs schools, congregations, and medical centers throughout the country. There are as many Lutherans in Madagascar as there are in the US. Two things stand out if you should decide to visit: the extreme poverty and the relentless good spirit of the people. Norwegians and American Norwegians in particular, have been responsible for most of the conversions to Christianity of the Malagasy people. Missionaries that converted Pastor Hoda's father were classmates of my Dad. And the son of one of them was a classmate of mine. Ours has been a long association and partnership. We are planning to make a trip there in June of 2013. Because of the distance, we will need to take two weeks. I already have one family signed up. I would love to have more.
The Madagascar summer of 2013 Mission trip had a Power Point presentation on our mission goals and time schedule on September 15, 2012. Pastor Tom and Pastor Hoda shared photos and stories of his 2011 trip to the 4th largest island in the world and our sister churches in Tsiombe and Salema. We also had some light Malagasy food samplers, to get a flavor of Madagascar."
Forty-five percent of the Malagasy people are Christian. With almost 1,750,000 million Lutherans, Madagascar ranks 10th of the countries with the most Lutherans. By comparison, the United States is second with about 8,500,000.
Christian missionary work began when The London Missionary Society sent Anglican missionaries to Madagascar in 1817 at the invitation of the king, Radama I. In an effort to diminish the increasing arrival of Westerners on the island, Radama’s successor, Queen Ranavalona I, however, forced these missionaries to leave Madagascar in 1835. From the beginning of Ranavalona’s I reign in 1828, she worked to prevent the expansion of missionary involvement on the island and finally deemed Christianity illegal in 1835, banning the conferral of the sacraments and public religious meetings. Many English missionaries, however, continued their work in “underground churches” and even translated the New Testament into the native language. Many paid for their work with their lives.
Norwegians read accounts of the struggle of the English missionaries. These accounts were widely circulated and a movement to send their own missionaries commenced. After the queen’s death in 1861, Norwegians began to send their own missionaries to Madagascar. Norwegian/American Lutherans got into the act when they began sending missionaries around 1880.
I flew into capital, Antananrivo (nicked name Tana). Tana is a bustling city of 1,400,000 people. It occupies a strategic position some 4000 feet about sea level. The French captured the city in 1895 and all of Madagascar became a French Protectorate until its independence was granted in 1960. The French maintain a strong presence on the island and the second language is still French.
Every country has is own particular habits, religion, food, and traditions that make up its culture. Some things may seem small to an outsider but to a citizen they are essential. For Madagascar one such item is rice. In fact you can’t really understand Madagascar without appreciating the importance of rice. I remember Pastor Hoda telling me many times how the Malagasy eat rice three meals a day. I remember thinking, “Hm, that’s interesting,” and then filing it away in some cabinet in my head. But it is much more than an interesting fact about the eating habits of the Malagasy people. Rice is absolutely essential for the diet of the Malagasy. Most who live on the African continent do not eat rice. The rice comes from their eastern influence. Families own or rent plots of ground on which they grow rice. Flying into Antananrivo I saw rice paddy after rice paddy. Indeed they are all over the island. Pastor Hoda, in fact, buys special red rice in Madagascar and brings it home to Maryland. He is convinced that his children need it to get the proper amount of nutrients only found in that rice.
Growing rice is pretty labor intensive. The ground at the end of the dry season must be turned over, by hand. The clumps of dried earth are then stomped down. Sometimes, if water is not readily available, water is brought in from a river or other water source by hand. The rice is transplanted on plant at a time, the water level is kept at a constant 4-6 inch height, the paddy is weeded, and when it is ready to pick it is smashed down so that the husks are removed and the grain is left.
God go with you,