ELCA NEWS SERVICE
March 19, 2013
ELCA renews relationships with Malagasy, Malawi Lutherans
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Malagasy Lutheran Church signed a partnership agreement designed to strengthen the relationship “in a new time.” The signing took place March 13 at the Malagasy church offices in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
The agreement “is a strong foundation built upon the past but we sign it for the future,” said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, during the signing. “It is a document that reflects our partnership within The Lutheran World Federation and our deep commitment to growing together in Christ and our witness to God’s mission for the life of the world.”
The ELCA and the Malagasy Lutheran Church are members of The Lutheran World Federation -- a global communion of 143 member churches in 79 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.
“This is an agreement between Malagasy Lutheran Church and the ELCA (along with) our other partners. We have been studying it for a year and a half,” said the Rev. Rakoto Endor Modeste, president of the Malagasy church, adding that with Hanson’s visit, “we are very glad to sign (the agreement) together.”
In an interview, Modeste said that although there are differences between the churches, they are “not enough to cut relationship. We can go together on evangelism, development (and other ministries). We are working together.” Modeste and his spouse plan to attend the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh this summer. Modeste has a doctoral degree in New Testament from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
At the signing, the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, ELCA executive director for global mission, shared the value of the partnership between the ELCA and the Malagasy Lutheran Church, particularly when both denominations are “successful churches.”
“Why is it that we need one another? The reason we need one another is that through these very concrete partnerships, we make God’s dream a reality in our midst. We may be very successful (churches) but, without you, we are not whole. And that’s the reason we engage in this companionship,” said Malpica Padilla.
“The understanding of us needing you has opened up possibilities for mission engagement, which we did not have 50 years ago. About 50 years ago, Norwegians and Americans were sending missionaries (to Madagascar). Today, we in the United States open ourselves to receive your missionaries. You are helping us … to send missionaries around the world,” said Malpica Padilla, adding that the partnership allows for mutual support.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church is a “strong and growing church that is sending missionaries, mostly physicians to Southern Hemisphere churches in Cameroon, Bangladesh and Liberia, in partnership with the ELCA,” said Hanson. “We have much to learn from the revival movement in the Malagasy Lutheran Church and its training and consecrating lay people to serve as shepherds, whose ministry is one of prayer for those who are sick.”
During his visit in Madagascar, Hanson also met with five of the six young adults assigned in Madagascar under the Young Adults in Global Mission program of ELCA churchwide ministries.
“This is the first year of placement of young adults in Madagascar. As I often have said during our visit here, the Malagasy Lutheran Church is preparing these future leaders for American church and society,” said Hanson.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church has had a relationship with the ELCA and its predecessor church since 1888. The partnership agreement between the Malagasy Lutheran Church and ELCA is within the context of the “altar and pulpit fellowship” relationship shared as members of The Lutheran World Federation.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy) dates back to the arrival of Norwegian missionaries in 1863 and was formally established as an independent church in 1950, with 1,800 congregations and 180,000 members. Today the Malagasy Lutheran Church has a membership of more than 3 million people, which makes it one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world. The church places a high priority on evangelism, social ministry and leadership development.
ELCA, Malawi Lutheran church members ‘have a lot in common’
Following his March 10-14 visit in Madagascar, Hanson traveled March 14-17 to Malawi where he, along with his spouse and other ELCA colleagues, was greeted with a four-hour opening celebration of the visit.
“The fact that we have a lot in common in our faith is enough reason for us to be united in partnership,” said the Rev. Joseph Bvumbwe, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi, during the celebration.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi is a member of The Lutheran World Federation. In speaking to the membership, Bvumbwe said, “We are all equal before God. There is no church big enough that it cannot receive (another, and) there is no church too small that it cannot give. We all have the need to give and receive from one another. We are all The Lutheran World Federation regardless of where we are in the global village.”
In speaking about the relationship with the ELCA, “it is more based on the issues that unite us than issues that separate us. This means that we do not have to agree on every issue to be in partnership. The fact that we have a lot in common in our faith is enough reason for us to be united in partnership.”
“Allow me my brother Bishop (Hanson), dear sisters and brothers in Christ, to express our appreciation to Bishop (Hanson) and through him to the ELCA for its generosity in sharing its gifts both financial and otherwise,” said Bvumbwe at the celebration. “The ELCA is well known for its generosity and giving without conditionality. It is one church that respects mutuality, encourages and respects the autonomy of each church young or old, rich or poor.”
With 50,000 members, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Malawi is establishing and strengthening congregations in rural and urban areas throughout Malawi. Training clergy, lay evangelists and congregational leaders is a major focus, along with evangelism, health care and hunger programs and more.
“In the faces of the people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi, in their singing and dancing, through hands feeding children and lives dedicated to reducing malaria we have seen the face of Jesus,” said Hanson. “I give thanks to God for our shared faith, proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ and commitment to work together to confront diseases so often associated with living in poverty.”
Following the visit in Malawi, the ELCA presiding bishop is joining with members from ELCA congregations traveling March 16-25 in southern Africa. ELCA members are embarking on a “journey of listening and learning” from Lutheran companion churches working to help contain the deadly disease of malaria.
The ELCA has partnered with 11 churches across Africa to help prevent and treat malaria, and to educate communities about the disease. Through the ELCA Malaria Campaign, ELCA members have committed to raise $15 million by 2015 to support the efforts of the 11 companion churches. The funds will help provide mosquito nets, insecticides, medication, health care, education and more. To date ELCA congregations have raised $6.5 million to help bring an end to malaria-related deaths.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God's work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Melissa Ramirez Cooper
773-380-2956 or Melissa.RamirezCooper@ELCA.org
Living Lutheran: http://www.livinglutheran.com