Last week, the connect-group was reunited in Antsirabe for a missionary meeting. Some of the oldest members of the group remember a time when there were 150 Norwegian missionaries in Madagascar, and next October there will be a celebration here in Antsirabe marking 150 years of missionary engagement through NMS. The Lutheran church today runs schools and hospitals. One of the teaching sessions was about the impact of the work on individuals and communities.
One woman, who used to live on the streets with her children, learned how to set goals for herself and manage money through SDL (a project in Antsirabe which targets two marginalized groups: Girls and boys between 18 and 30, and the unmarried). Now she is the proud owner of a small and thriving business, and the staff she has been able to hire have also gotten a slight lift out of difficult situations. Arild Bakke, previously a missionary for NMS in Madagascar shared this testimony. And he said,
Hjelper du èn har du ofte hjulpet 5-10 personer…det er det som er så fantastisk med dette landet .
Magne Smørdal, also previously a missionary in Madagascar, shared some more about the impact of the work of the church – and ultimately the work of God. He was over in Betafo, where the first Norwegian missionaries came in 1866. He asked: “What created faith?” The answer he received was “care for others” and the song. With “care for others” the respondent meant the care in the toby, the church-driven (FLM and reformed church) care centers for people with mental illnesses (“marary saina” – sick in the mind), addictions to alcohol or drugs, and who have “evil spirits”.
James 2:17 says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
It is not works, what we do, that saves us. We are saved by grace, but John 13:35 also says that people will “know that you are my [Jesus Christ’s] disciples, if you love one another.” In other words, according to this person, people started believing and Christianity spread (in more recent times) because of the care that believers demonstrated to those who had few other care options.
Secondly, the respondent said that singing helped people, by God’s grace, to come to faith. I have definitely noticed the importance singing seems to have in Madagascar. Every day I hear hymns of worship being sung from a church, played on the radio in the bus, or played from a dorm room in SFM (the teacher prep. school across the road from where I live). And every Sunday in church I am mostly at a loss when people start singing by heart (in harmony and with a loud voice), and the page number is not listed on the board on the wall.
To everyone who made the meeting good and thought-provoking, thank you! And now to Christmas vacation, and celebrating the gift of Jesus with another team from Hald in their Malagasy host family in Antananarivo.