The large island of Madagascar, located between the Mozambique Channel and western Asia, is a fertile ground for evangelism and the establishment of United Methodism through education.
The country, with an estimated population of about 26 million, is currently under the responsibility of the Mozambique Episcopal Area, where Bishop Joaquina Filipe Nhanala is the resident bishop.
Recently, a representative from the bishop’s office visited the country to assess the development of the church and to meet with spiritual leaders.
“Our existence as a community of faith dates back to 2017,” said Jean Aime Ratovohery, one of the co-founders and leaders of The United Methodist Church in Madagascar. “This is the result of internet research on potential churches with doctrinal, social and practical principles that were consistent with the morals and practices of the Malagasy (natives of Madagascar) people.”
The church was officially recognized by the government on March 7, 2018, and Ratovohery said there are already more than 200 followers in two communities.
One of the places where they gather is at the Alpha Primary School, located in a poor urban area of the capital city, Antananarivo.
The community, which meets at the school every Sunday afternoon, ranges from 50 to 80 members. Here, people from various places, children and adults, come to Sunday services to hear the Word proclaimed and praise the Lord.
“At this place, not only are ABCs taught, but we also have Bible study. We sing and pray daily,” said Alpha teacher Francine Lovasoa.
Asked about the difficulties they face in that teaching space, Lovasoa shared the reality of the mission.
“As a school, we need a library, more desks and a space for sports. As a place for worshipping the Lord, we need our own chapel, and chairs or benches where we can sit while Sunday services are taking place.”
Felicita Nathanaela Momenjanahary, a 12th-grade student who plans to major in child psychology in college, said what she likes most about this school is the opportunity to take Christian education classes.
“With this program of studies, I hope to answer a large gap in the provision of basic psychological services to vulnerable children in my country, who often end up deviating from the moral precepts of life — some eventually drugging themselves and girls prostitute themselves or indulge in premature marriages,” Momenjanahary said.
“Our country is in dire need of the Gospel of Christ,” said Beby Sahondra Raharivony, a Bible study teacher at Alpha 2 Secondary School, outside Antananarivo. "If The United Methodist Church supports us, we can pass on the word of hope to these young people.”
“In this school, apart from normal subjects, I like the biblical part we are taught,” said Jocelyn Raherimalal Nambinintsoa, a 12th-year student and a Lutheran.
“Although I am from the Lutheran Church, I benefit here doubly: On the one hand from academic growth and on the other from spiritual growth,” Nambinintsoa said.
So far, there are two fully functioning United Methodist communities in Madagascar. The second meets at a church that is under construction in Antsahakely.
A third community is being formed in Antsiazopaniry, a rural area about 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) outside Antananarivo.
“Contacts are being made with local authorities so that they can provide us with space for our worship and worship meetings,” said Justin Rakotoarimanana, a local church board member.
This community meets at a crossroads. When the worship leaders arrive, they turn on the sound, play religious music using a laptop, amplifier and speakers, and people appear from their homes.
“We have thus held our services,” said Rakotoarimanana. “One particular thing about this community is that we don't do the offertory here.”
Rakotoarimanana said it’s important for people to understand what the church is about, how it works and what its plans and goals are.
“After teaching them, then alone they will be able to respond to what the church directs them to do,” he said.
That day at that crossroads, more than 100 people came to worship. Scattered around the worship leaders, they sang, prayed and heard the Word proclaimed.
One woman who lives in that village said she was enjoying the arrival of the church. “This is a new church in our area. We have the Lutheran here, but the United Methodist, we’ve never heard of.
“Although it is a new church to establish itself here, I am enjoying it and I think my family and I will join it.”
Sambo is the Lusophone correspondent in Africa for United Methodist News.
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