When people heard Eric Swensson was headed to Madagascar they assumed he was going there to teach for ILT. While he did teach one session on several ways one could understand a commissioned office of Evangelist in a country like Madagascar, he approached this journey as a fact-finding trip. After two weeks of living and working with them, he has a deeper understanding of what our leader has been saying, that we have come to Madagascar to learn.
We are learning from the Fiangonana Lotherana Malagasy (FLM), or in English, the Malagasy Lutheran Church. It was founded 151 years ago by Lutheran missionaries from Norway. It continued to be nourished by pastors, professors, and doctors from Norway and America. Many people in our churches today have a connection to the FLM and the Malagasy people through missionaries who worked here. Some who are reading this may have a connection through pastors, professors, and doctors from Madagascar who are working in the United States.
Eric went at the invitation of Rev. David Lerseth, Founder and Director of Friends of Madagascar Mission (FOMM). Birthed in 2009 but only beginning to raise funds for projects in 2011, FOMM is providing prayers and financial support for seven programs. FOMM has been supporting a Malagasy couple while in the Sekoly Ambony Loterana Momba Ny Teolojia (SALT Seminary). The husband is a pastor and the wife is a teacher. She will be teaching the New Testament this Fall. She wishes additional graduate work, and Pastor Lerseth is interested to learn if ILT can provide that. He has another pastor who has asked for support. He is the administrator of a FLM regional Bible School that trains Catechists and Evangelists. The FLM requires people in that position have at least a master's degree, and FOMM would like to know if ILT can help there.
Eric and Pastor Lerseth met with the Dean of SALT, Dr. Lothar Fabien. They ended the discussion on a very warm basis. ILT is invited to send a letter proposing a course of action for him to consider and send along to his faculty, board, and the FLM. Eric stressed that ILT wants to listen and learn how we might help them in a way that makes the most sense to them,
FLM is a mature Evangelical Lutheran Church, confessional in everything they do. Yet they are a church in revival. Numbering 180,000 in 1960, their membership is now at 4 million. Their many churches are seen from the road everywhere we went. Eric was able to attended an evangelist training that FOMM helps arrange which was attended by forty-three evangelists who walk from village to village in their region. Their biggest need? Bicycles!
We don't have time to get into much more here. Eric made contacts with several churchmen and academics with whom we will continue to try and learn their Bible-centric methodology. All they do is from a biblical perspective. Everything there from their prison ministry to their ministry with the visually and hearing impaired was touching and was based in the word. In the West we probably think we do everything from a biblical perspective, but when you see Matthew 25 in action, we, in comparison, seem to be more of a consumer church, providing programs for what we think people are looking for.
Besides continuing to learn from the FLM, ILT is looking forward to working with Rev. Lerseth and FOMM in partnership to see how we can provide teaching assistance where asked.