Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Situated off the east coast of South Africa, it is shaped like a large left foot, roughly 900 miles long and 350 miles at its widest.
Carey Outreach Ministries has been assisting with the work of training ministers on the island of Madagascar for the past three years. Its founder, Dr Bob Penhearow, has made two visits of two weeks each, delivering 50 hours of lectures and addressing the Bible Convention that follows. This year I went in Dr Penhearow’s place.
Pastor Rabenja Ramiaraka (known by all as Pastor Miara) is the key worker in the training programme among a group of Reformed Baptist churches. It is at his invitation that Carey Outreach Ministries assists in training in Madagascar.
Twelve men gathered in Antananarivo, the capital, for two weeks’ study, with two other men participating throughout by means of Skype. All the men showed great enthusiasm for studying the Word of God; all were preachers, some full time.
While some already had degrees in theology and others degrees in other subjects, it soon became evident that they were all well taught in the Scriptures. I was not a teacher with pupils, nor a tutor with students; I was a minister of the gospel with colleagues in the ministry of the Word!
The questions and discussions which interspersed the lectures were some of the most searching and demanding I have ever faced. These men know the Scriptures and relate everything to the Word of God. Oh that ministers’ fraternals in the UK were like this!
The ten days were exhausting and yet at the same time spiritually exhilarating. The hours of serious study were punctuated by humour, often arising from differences in culture and language between us.
The training sessions covered ten study days, averaging five hours of lectures each day. For the first week, the subject was the ‘Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament’.
Our studies included: the Suffering Servant (Genesis 3:15); the Lion of Judah (Genesis 49:10); the Infallible Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:18-19); and the Great High Priest (Psalm 110:4). In each case, the line of prophecies was traced through other relevant Old Testament prophecies to their fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The last session was devoted to a three hour examination, in which attendees prepared a sermon on the interpretation of Ezekiel 47:1-13.
On the Lord’s Day, I was invited to preach twice at Mahamasina Baptist Church in the city. This is a new church plant, only three years old. In the morning, after the Breaking of Bread, around 100 people squeezed into the room.
A good number of young people were present together with 25 children, some very young. The children were quiet and attentive throughout the whole service. Slightly fewer attended the afternoon service at 3.00pm.
The second week of study was devoted to the two letters of the apostle Peter. Again the questions and discussions were always stimulating and thought-provoking. It was hard work but most rewarding, as we engaged in interpreting and applying each chapter; bringing other Scriptures to clarify and confirm our conclusions.
The last session was again devoted to a three hour examination, where this time a sermon was to be prepared on the subject, ‘The sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of Christians in 1 Peter’.
On the Saturday, a baptism was arranged for 8.00am, to be held in the building of Ankadivato Bible Baptists. A surprising number of people gathered. Many were friends or family of those to be baptised.
Ten young people (18 to mid-30s) were baptised. Two gave their testimony. Pastor Miara ministered the Word of God from Acts 8 on Philip and the Ethiopian.
After a couple of nights’ relaxation on the north east coast at Mahambo, we journeyed towards Tamatave to see some land purchased by the church. The vision is to transform this 60×300 metres strip of land at Foulpointe into a site with facilities for training, Bible teaching and recreation.
The land includes a 60 metre stretch of coast, making it an ideal location for a camp-site. The church took possession four years ago and considerable work has already been accomplished, clearing 25 per cent of the near jungle growth into a large grassed area dotted by fruit trees and bushes.
A family of three lives on the site to work on the upkeep and transformation. It is a large vision.
The Bible Convention at Tamatave (Toamasina) began on the Saturday afternoon in the premises of Fiangonana Bible Baptist Church. I had been invited to preach at three assemblies over the weekend. Around 300 men, women, young people and children gathered for the first meeting.
Following the service, Pastor Miara gave an illustrated history of the work of God which began in Tamatave in 1960 and resulted in many conversions, churches planted and pastors trained. It was a thrilling, inspiring story, tracing God’s amazing grace and providence.
On the Lord’s Day, the convention continued in a different location. This time, a much larger room had been rented in a Roman Catholic school. Many gathered for the Breaking of Bread at 8.30am.
Then, at 9.00am, almost 600 men, women, young people and children gathered from 19 widely spread churches (all planted in the last 30 years). After the service, the congregation were invited to vacate the room so that the young people might rearrange the chairs and erect tables for the meal together at 12.15pm.
When the whole congregation sat down for the meal, Pastor Rasolofona, the associate of Pastor Miara in the Tamatave pastorate, introduced the other pastors and their wives. Members of each local church then stood to be recognised. There was a great sense of celebration — praising God for his amazing grace evidenced in the various churches represented.
The final meeting included contributions from the young people’s choir, with different men reading the Scriptures, leading in prayer and preaching the Word.
Throughout the visit, with the exception of the two days spent in Mahambo, I was accompanied by an excellent interpreter, brother Tsoa. He works as a translator for an international company in Tamatave.
He translated everything for me, including all the prayers. This enabled me to fully participate throughout, which was a huge blessing.
Before leaving Tamatave and flying back to Antananarivo, we visited the beginning of a different two week training programme. Here 51 ‘Responsibles’ were attending lectures given by ministers who had earlier been studying with us in Antananarivo.
Those termed ‘Responsibles’ include local preachers, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, helpers (the term ‘deacon’ is not used, because of its wide misuse within nominal Christianity).
The training principle among these churches is impressive. Firstly, there is training the trainers (meeting two weeks a year); secondly, the trainers train the ‘Responsibles’ (two weeks full time every three months); and then, thirdly, the trainers train the church week by week.
Training is always Bible-based. All are committed to teaching the doctrines and practices of Scripture. As so often happens on these trips, the overseas visitor receives far more than he gives. God be praised!
Dr Crossley is experienced in training preachers across the world, frequently with Carey Outreach Ministries (http://careyoutreach.org, UK director, Jonathan Bayes) and MERF