Madagascar is a wonderfully diverse and unique place. It is at once influenced by African, Asian, Middle Eastern and European culture and history while existing very much as an island, separate and difficult to access.
Madagascar is located 250 miles east of Mozambique. It is the size of Texas and has varied topography ranging from high plateaus covering the central part of the island to dry dessert in the west to rain forests in the east to multiple microclimates in the north. Madagascar has a population of about 24 million people from 18 official ethnic groups, all of whom speak a dialect of the national language, Malagasy. (The Malagasy are undertaking a new census in 2018.)
As a result of its geographic isolation, Madagascar is home to a host of unique plant and animal life that continue to be discovered. Unfortunately, deforestation has claimed over 80 percent of the original forests. Madagascar is one of the poorest nations in the world; most Malagasy people earn a living as subsistence farmers in a country where rice is the main staple.
Madagascar moved from dictatorship to democracy in the 1990s. Madagascar has experienced political uncertainty since 2009, when the elected president was forced from office by a political rival. That political rival led the country while many countries of the world refused to acknowledge that president and government as legitimate. In 2013, while international observers watched, a new president was elected and many countries rekindled their former relationships with Madagascar. International observers watch again as we live through new presidential elections in November and December 2018.
In terms of religion, estimates are that the population is 42 percent Christian, and 50 percent are followers of traditional Malagasy beliefs, which include a strong veneration of ancestors. There is a small but significant population of Muslims, about 8 percent. Among the Christian churches, the Catholic Church, the Reformed Church (Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar) and the Lutherans split the 42 percent.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy) is a member of The Lutheran World Federation. The church traces its roots back to the arrival of Norwegian missionaries in 1863. It was formally established as an independent church in 1950, with 1,800 congregations and 180,000 members. Today, the church has a membership of almost 4 million members, which makes it one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world. The Malagasy Lutheran Church places a high priority on evangelism, social ministry and leadership development.
The church is led by a president and a general secretary, along with other officials elected by the church’s general assembly every four years. The church is organized into 26 synods with each synod led by a president, vice president and local leadership. Although the Malagasy Lutheran Church does not yet ordain women, theologically trained women serve in a variety of ministries at all levels of the church.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church maintains a large health care program, including both hospitals and dispensaries. Community-based primary health care is foundational, and special projects include a school of nursing, child survival, family planning, and AIDS prevention.
The church also ministers to the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical care of people who suffer from physical illness, mental illness or demonic oppression. Through an indigenous revival movement called the Fifohazana, called church members receive training as "shepherds," giving them skills for special ministries with the sick. Some villages are set aside to provide compassionate Christian care as well as instruction in the Christian faith.
The church has a deep commitment to providing a comprehensive education and training for its church leadership, including catechists, evangelists, pastors and female theologians. These leaders are trained in a network of regional seminaries and Bible schools. They can also earn a master’s level degree at the national Lutheran seminary (SALT) in Fianarantsoa. In addition, the church sends missionaries to support the work of other church bodies. Several Malagasy doctors and theological professors have served or are serving in places such as Cameroon, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Liberia.
In a society where education is highly valued, the church operates numerous schools at the primary and secondary levels. There are also schools and ministries dedicated to working with people who are blind or hearing impaired.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church has vibrant women and youth programs at the national, synodical and congregational levels. A National Youth Center for the church is located near Antananarivo and coordinates activities that include summer camps or vacation Bible school-type programs within synods. A Women’s Training Center called ILOFAV receives students from across the island and provides vocational education. Women’s vocational training programs also exist in some of the synods of the church. Singing and choirs are important parts of many to most congregations; choirs form much of the Youth ministry in the FLM.
The church highly values its historical partnerships. The church has had a relationship with the ELCA and its predecessor bodies since 1888. Today, the church maintains close partnerships with the Norwegian Mission Society, DanMission (Denmark), ANELF (the French Protestant Mission), and the ELCA. Four ELCA synods are companions with synods in the Malagasy Lutheran Church.
What opportunities are available?
Given that there is a very high level of interest in English in a country where French is the official international language, ELCA young adults serving in Madagascar can anticipate that each placement site will include the opportunity, formal and informal, to provide English instruction for either ministry leaders or participants.
In addition to English instruction, the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program in Madagascar is exploring a host of excellent placement sites. Keeping in mind that one of the primary objectives of the program is the development of servant leaders who are “more globally formed and globally informed,” ELCA young adults will have the opportunity to engage in one or more of the many dynamic ministries of the Malagasy Lutheran Church in a manner that will allow them to wrestle with the realities of economic justice in one of the poorest nations on earth, and the complexities of social dynamics in a country with significant but subtle ethnic diversity and deeply rooted spiritual beliefs and practices.
Service opportunities may include:
Madagascar is a multilingual society. While Malagasy and French are the national languages, Madagascar is made up of 18 different ethnic groups, with each having their own unique dialect of Malagasy.
All ELCA young adults serving in Madagascar will be given an introductory course in the Malagasy language, with opportunity for further study throughout the year. Given the country’s linguistic diversity, prospective volunteers who are familiar with French are especially encouraged to apply.
College degree or equivalent life experience is required for service in Madagascar.