Have you ever been to Madagascar? Not too many people have. I just got back. The whole time I was at the airport waiting for my homebound flight, only one other plane left. I told the Uber driver that the four types of people visiting there are the French who have some ties to this tropical island nation, ecotourists, a few church people, and NGOs. It’s a shame because the people and the land have a lot to offer.
I went there as part of a Friends of Madagascar Mission (FOMM) educational mission trip as well as to meet with the three graduate students now enrolled at ILT. Each of our students received books and two got refurbished laptops. I also met with the President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church, who recommended a pastor for our Doctor of Ministry Program, and I had an interview with another leader who was recommended to me for the same program.
There were thirteen people in our FOMM group. The first item was to accompany the Prison Ministry program FOMM supports. We then attended a SALFA 60th anniversary awards ceremony. SALFA is the health ministry of the Malagasy Lutheran Church consisting of fifty hospitals, clinics, and dispensaries. Retired American medical missionary Dr. Stanley Quanbeck helped found it. He, his wife Kathie, and son Glenn came back for a heart-warming tribute. The founder of FOMM, Rev. David Lerseth, also received awards for the substantive support FOMM has delivered to SALFA. In a land without a health care system, SALFA has saved countless lives and performed thousands of life-changing surgeries.
The group then journeyed to the hot, arid, southwest to Toliara where an evangelist training was held. Rev. Lerseth has been working on this annual training since 2011. The highlight this year was the delivery of bicycles to the 48 evangelists in the three participating synods, and three motorcycles for the evangelists’ supervisors to use. The bikes are mainly a time saving tool, allowing them to cover more territory in their rural areas. Each of the evangelists are in the church planting process, and another project was rolled out to pay for a steel roof for a small church if the rest of the building is completed. From there we journeyed two days in rough terrain to get to the mission hospital at Ejeda and the next day to Manasoa, the spot where much of the Lutheran missionary work in Madagascar began. FOMM has undertaken a renovation of the cemetery where many of our missionaries are buried and held a dedication service. We then went to the Manasoa Bible College, where we were received joyfully. Lastly, we inspected the drip irrigation project, one of three in the south that will allow the seminarians and the hospital community to have three crops of vegetables a year, something their diets very much lack currently.
I want to close with a few words about the training of pastors there. The Malagasy Lutheran Church is a growing church. It is, in fact, a church still in revival. It has grown twenty-fold since becoming independent around sixty years ago. They need more pastors as there is at least ten times the number of churches than pastors. Many of the pastors are keen to go beyond the Master of Divinity degree, the highest one offered there. There are only a few places for prospective pastors to study. They can study in Norway or the USA, which is not a great option due to the costs of international programs. The financial cost is not the only price tag to be paid by the families either.
ILT could be part of the solution, but there are mitigating factors. The main factor is the lack of supporters who are happy to chip in. ILT is passionate about Theology and Ministry. Many individuals and congregations get that and see us as the best option to train pastors for the future North American church. They agree in principle that we need to help the global church, and we have people who give gifts to our International Partners program, funding work in a few countries. So far only two have committed to support the costs to educate a Malagasy graduate student, and we may have five approved for study next year.
Madagascar and the Malagasy Lutheran Church have a lot to offer us. They could teach us how a church with few financial resources lives out Christ’s words in Matthew 25. They could even lead us into revival. The world’s wealthiest nation has a lot to offer one of the poorest, of course. I refuse to fall into the trap of laying a guilt trip on anyone, so I will just say that in my opinion, it is we in North America who will lose if we don’t take advantage of this opportunity. Let me hear from you if you feel the same way. God bless!
Rev. Eric Jonas Swensson