- The first United Methodist church on the island nation welcomed Bishop Joaquina Filipe Nhanala, who presided over the church’s first baptisms, Holy Communion and confirmations.
- Ambodifasika United Methodist Church began in 2018 under the leadership of Ratovohery Jean Aime, a local citizen who learned about the denomination during leadership training in the U.S.
- During the bishop’s visit, the membership rolls jumped to about 500 with the confirmation of nearly 100 new members and the baptisms of 65 children and 28 adults.
Hundreds of people packed into tiny Ambodifasika United Methodist Church to experience a series of firsts: the church’s first visit from a United Methodist bishop and its first baptisms, Holy Communion and confirmations.
The island’s first United Methodist church also celebrated its inaugural church council and organizational conference during the visit of Bishop Joaquina Filipe Nhanala, resident bishop of the Mozambique Area, who also has been assigned to oversee the Madagascar Mission Field.
Ambodifasika United Methodist Church began in 2018 under the leadership of Ratovohery Jean Aime, a local citizen who learned about the denomination during leadership training in the United States.
Over the past five years, the church has been growing steadily, but during the bishop’s late February visit, the membership rolls jumped to about 500 with the confirmation of nearly 100 new members and the baptisms of 65 children and 28 adults.
“What we are experiencing here is very encouraging and promising,” said Nhanala during the historic visit. “I feel very blessed to be here.”
Nhanala spent eight days in the country overseeing church ceremonies and business. Madagascar is an island located in the southwestern Indian Ocean — separated from the African coast by the 250-mile-wide Mozambique Channel. The country has an estimated 29 million inhabitants.
“This is an important occasion in the life of the church and people of Madagascar,” Nhanala said. “We have come to see and learn what the people of this country are doing in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”
Before leading Sunday worship, Bishop Nhanala oversaw the inauguration of a church sign along one of the busy roads in the Ambodifasika neighborhood, some 300 meters away from the church. Ambodifasika is on the outskirts of Madagascar's capital Antananarivo.
“We invited church members, sister church members, local chiefs and authorities to witness the unveiling of the church signage,” said Aime, who voluntarily serves as local pastor.
“We thank God for this episcopal visit. Bishop Nhanala is a wonderful leader who loves people and the church, and now has come to encourage, to guide us in many facets of the church,” he said.
Aime said now that the church building is completed, they need furniture and proper electrical installation. Initially, the congregation met in people’s houses, until Aime offered part of his land to build the church. While there is work still to do, church members said the inauguration ceremony was a celebration of things to come.
“I believe that with this inaugurated signage, many people will join The United Methodist Church in Madagascar,” said Rasomanatena Jullette, who attended the event.
While the church has been holding worship services and conducting other ministries, without an ordained pastor, the congregation hasn’t been able to receive sacraments.
During the Feb. 26 services, many people came to receive Holy Communion for the first time under Methodist auspices.
“We broke bread together as sisters and brothers, the first experience with this family of faith,” Nhanala said.
The bishop baptized 93 people and confirmed 98 as members of The United Methodist Church. She said she was pleased by the turnout.
“This was a week of encouraging work and ministry in Madagascar. First, we received everybody into the UMC family, before they were baptized or confirmed under the Methodist doctrine,” she said. “This was very good.”
Those who received the sacraments were trained by a trio of United Methodist pastors from the Mozambique Episcopal Area who visited Madagascar on three separate occasions.
Both baptism and confirmation candidates were eager to receive the ordinances.
“I am very pleased to have received the sacrament of baptism,” said Justin Rakotoarimanana, a young adult member of Ambodifasika United Methodist Church.
Rakotoarimanana has been with the church since its inception in 2018.
Parents and sponsors brought their children to the altar for Bishop Nhanala to baptize them.
“Today is one of my happiest days,” said Ravosoa Kadamasy, a 27-year-old woman who was baptized. “I started attending this church since 2020, when a friend of mine invited me. Since then, I never missed any church meeting.”
Toward the end of the Sunday service, Nhanala invited those who would like to join the ordained ministry, and eight candidates responded positively.
“At this point in time, we have started interviewing people among the local leadership to see who can be sent to seminary for training,” the bishop said.
“As you join in the UMC, some of you came from different denominations, others were not going to church at all. I welcome you all, so you are now joining the church not only here in Madagascar but around the world,” she continued.
Esdras Rakotoarivony is one of the young men who responded to the call of ordained ministry.
“I am very happy to be a UMC member,” he said.
Erica Tahiriniaina, a 22-year-old first-grade teacher and now full member at Ambodifasika United Methodist Church, said she hopes to use her communication skills to share the good work the church is doing in Madagascar.
“When I joined this church, my Christian life changed. I started working hard for the church. We need our church to be known throughout the country,” she said. “I am very excited to learn how to tell these stories and apply my experience as a teacher.”
Madagascar is a ripe field for evangelism, Nhanala said.
“We can say that there are enough motives to celebrate within our episcopal area ... when we see the growth of Jesus Christ’s mission,” she said.
About 480 people attended the Sunday service, including a few guests from the local government and members of churches within the same neighborhood.
Celebrating Ash Wednesday
Earlier in the week, church members gathered to celebrate Ash Wednesday.
“Ash Wednesday service was our first experience,” said church member Razafunduahibe Herilina. “We learned a lot through our participation in the Ash Wednesday service, and also through the explanation we received from the bishop.”
Tanjoriana Clarah, a 17-year-old member of Ambodifasika United Methodist Church’s youth group, said people were eager to deepen their faith.
“As you can see, although it is in the middle of the week, many people came this morning to attend the 9 a.m. Ash Wednesday service,” she said. “Our being here is because people want to hear the Word of God.”
Bishop Nhanala also presided over the first meeting of the church council with members representing the church’s various classes, including preaching points, women, youth and other ministries, such as finances and Sunday school.
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“This episcopal visit and its agenda of activities are very crucial for us,” explained council member Rakotoarivony.
“The first church council presided by the bishop helped guide, shape, strengthen and encourage us as a community of faith, to continue focused on (doing) God’s business in the right way the United Methodists do.”
Nhanala also presided over the first church conference.
“We are grateful for the experiences of this week,” Rakotoarivony said.
Aime said the church council is diverse with a variety of age groups represented.
“You will find the youth, women, men and everybody is very committed in advancing God’s work here,” he said.
Priorities of the church include capacity building, church planting, poverty fighting and assisting the many needy who come to the church’s doorsteps.
“We need to develop both the church and its leaders,” Nhanala said. “I have seen very committed people who just need training in matters of church and community leadership.”
The first historical conference was held on Feb. 25 under the theme “Go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the society” (Matthew 28:19).
The agenda of the conference was prepared during the first church council and it led the conference proceedings. All church council members were present along with about 100 others who came to witness the historic gathering.
“This is my first experience and presence in the conference plenary,” Kadamasi said with a smile.
Reports were presented by the treasurer, Sunday school ministry, finance committee, the youth group and Pastor Aime. All reports were approved with acclamation.
In assessing the visit as a whole, Nhanala called it a fruitful experience.
“It truly helped us to see, hear, sense and learn from different angles what the church and the communities of Madagascar are going through,” she said, noting that it’s a young country.
“What I foresee in Madagascar is a rapid church growth that has to be accompanied with the good leadership,” she said. “We therefore need to equip the leadership and the church members who come to our church.”
Sambo is Africa Lusophone correspondent for UM News. Makunike is director of communications for the South Africa Conference of The United Methodist Church. News media contact: Julie Dwyer, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5469. To read more United Methodist news subscribe to free Daily or Weekly Digests.
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