Our Job

Our Job

When we arrived in Madagascar we lived the first year in the capital, Antananarivo (Tana). In Tana, we started learning the official national language (Malagasy) and we researched where we would live and work on Madagascar. Many on Madagascar live in remote areas. These groups, roughly subdivided into 18 tribes, often can not read or write and speak their own dialect and therefore have great difficulty understanding the official language.

It is our passion to tell people about the good news of Jesus Christ. This good news, that Jesus came to restore the relation between humans and God, is almost unknown among the Antanala of Madagascar. This is why the Antanala are considered to be a so called un-reached people-group. What is more, the Antanala are considered to be one of the least reached people-groups on Madagascar.

The Antanala worship the spirits of their ancestors, they do nothing without consulting the spirits. Do you want to grow vegetables? Only if it is allowed! Marry that sweet girl from another tribe? That will not make the spirits happy! Someone in the family sick? Somebody else has done something that made the spirits angry! These and other thoughts are incomprehensible to an average European but to the Malagasy it is part of everyday life.

From the capital we visited the area where we live now. We spoke with various village elders and asked whether we would be welcome to come and live with them. When the village elders heard that we wanted to tell the people about Jesus, they unanimously agreed to help us where necessary. “If your news is really good then you have to come soon!”

Now we have been living in Maroamboka since February 2017. Maroamboka is one of the bigger villages in the area. We started to do what our hands found to do (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Clean water supply was one of the first things that we have been working on. If you do not speak the language correctly, it is best to start with your hands and feet. Also, we are trying to create an awareness of the importance of a good hygiene. Things, such as good toilets ore keeping the rats away (fleas on rats can pass on diseases lik the plague) are self-evident to us. These basic things are taught in school. Schooling! Such a privilege, and in the West we take it for granted. It is good to be able to let people share in that knowledge.

We have become good friends with the local teacher Menja. Menja speaks both the official Malagasy and the Tanala dialect. We are teaching him English and in exchange he helps us with the dialect. Eventually he hopes to teach his students some English as well.

As we started to understand the Tanala dialect better, we also started translating Bible stories. Together with Menja we translated Please specify the URL of your media file that you wish to pop up in lightbox in Tanala during the first period. Besides the stories we also started to translate the gospel of Luke and the acts of the apostles. For the first time people see their own language in writing! As noted earlier, most people cannot read or write and have a hard time understanding the official national language, Malagasy. How beautiful is it to hear these beautiful stories in your heart language.

Armed with these stories we will go from village to village. Menja is already Christian and as the translations progressed, he became extremely enthusiastic. We sincerely hope that people like Menja will tell the Gospel of Jesus among their own people so that they can make their own choice.

We are convinced that the biblical truths bring true freedom. Free to plant what you want; to marry whom you want; think outside the box whenever you want. With Jesus as Lord you do not have to be afraid of the spirits anymore. These spirits all have one thing in common: They are the spirits of the dead. Jesus, He who has been dead for three days has returned from the grave, is stronger than death. He is the Lord of the living.

Modern Mission

Modern Mission

Mission in the 21st century, what is it all about? Many definitions can be given, such as this one: ‘the proclamation of the gospel amongst and development assistance to peoples in the third world’.

What we like about this definition is that it shows that words and deeds go together. A missionary proclaims the gospel and provides aid where necessary. The one without the other is incomplete. Where only foreign aid is given, often there are no lasting results. The aid remains something of the ‘white foreigners’. For successful development assistance a change of mindset is important. The gospel provides exactly that.

On the other hand, when the gospel is only preached whilst no actual help is given when needed, the words become hollow and void. A follower of a loving God will show love in his actions.

The last element in the definition is ‘in the third world’, in developing counrtries. We would like to say that indeed much missionary work happens in developing countries, but not exclusively. The gospel needs to be preached everywhere. The needs are often greater in the ‘third world’, whilst not all people have access to the gospel message. Hence most mission happens there.

Would you like to read more on the importance of modern mission? Read the full article here.

We also have the story from Emy on our website. She has written down what the arrival of a missionary meant for her.



Why Mission Matters

Why Mission Matters

Seen From a Secular Viewpoint 1

Introduction
A commonly heard statement against missionary work is to leave people alone: do not spoil their culture and belief systems. One should not bother people groups with alien belief systems.

This argument is understandable because many appreciate the diversity of cultures around the world. Rightly so, it is one of the many beautiful aspects of human beings. Humans around the world have developed their own style of music, dance, and other traditions.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned objection is not as obvious as it seems. This paper will accommodate the given objection with the necessary comments. Note that most of this paper’s focus will be on rural African situations. Yet, this does not mean that the discussed ideas are restricted to this setting alone.

World-view
Before we move on to the actual objection it will be valuable to be familiarised with the concept of ‘world-views’. Cultural diversities make a big difference in people’s understanding of the world around them—how one interprets diseases, prosperity, natural events, etcetera, depends strongly on one’s belief system. To illustrate how one’s world-view can differ from others we will take a look at a paragraph from Burnett’s book ‘Clash of Worlds’:

Jean La Fontaine tells the interesting incident of an anthropologist having a discussion on the Yap islands with a group of islanders who believed that the cause of conception is not sexual intercourse, but the entry of a spirit into the woman concerned. The anthropologist cited the example of the improvement in the quality of the pigs that had resulted from the cross breeding of imported European boars with native sows. The islanders were quite prepared to agree with this yet refused to accept the idea that sexual relations among humans resulted in pregnancy, citing various cases of married women without children, and ugly women, whom no man found attractive, having babies. The discussion caused puzzlement on both sides, until light dawned on a particular islander: “Ah,” he said to his companions, “this man actually believes that people are the same as pigs.” 2

 

Implications
People who state that it would be better to leave other cultures alone, often forget that their statements have come forth out of certain presuppositions. Firstly, to say that Christian missionaries are bound to spoil one’s culture seems to implicate that the culture in question is ultimately satisfying to its inhabitants. And secondly, it indicates an outdated idea of missionary work where missionaries try to ban the established cultures in order to Westernise the world.

Satisfying in Every Aspect?
The first implication basically states that people from other cultures are most content with their own belief systems and co-existing cultural traditions. This, however, is not as straightforward as one might think. Especially in many rural African societies, where people give a lot of weight to the worship of ancestors and nature spirits, people suffer many fears. Frequently the people consult so called witch-doctors or medicine-men, who prosper on the fears of their ‘patients’. Diseases and other misfortunes are quickly explained as being a punishment or as inflicted by an upset spirit or by a witch. 3 Often it requires a sacrifice to restore the delicate balance. To say that this cultural facet is satisfying to the inhabitants is far from the truth.

Missionary of Culture
The second implication seems to have some historical truth in it. True enough, in colonial times many (but not all) missionaries viewed their own culture as superior to that of the people they tried to evangelise. Christianity was not only a personal belief, it was embedded in every aspect of many Western societies. Thus, bringing the Gospel was, for many, equivalent to bringing one’s culture. This attitude, however, changed rapidly after the enlightenment period. Today the West is no longer predominantly Christian.

Today’s missionaries understand that the Modern Secular Western culture is not advertising the Christian faith. 4 In other words, Western culture is not the appropriate tool to evangelise people since it does not guarantee a sound understanding of Christianity. Thus missionaries will try to make the Gospel culturally relevant for people. They cannot water down the Gospel but they can highlight different aspects. Take Jesus’ sacrifice for example: In the West we tend to highlight the juridical solution. In a nutshell this view says that all people have sinned against God and deserve punishment for their wrongdoing, just like a thief or violent person needs to be punished by a judge. It was Jesus Who took the punishment for us and He fulfilled the juridical requirement. Those who accept His offer can go free. However, cultures that do not highlight the legal side of society tend to emphasise aspects like shame and traditional fears for ancestors or spirits. For these societies it will be more applicable to focus on Jesus’ victorious work over all evil. Jesus had authority over evil spirits, He was shamefully treated and hang naked on a cross. He took the shame upon Himself of being separated from the Father. He died, but after three days He came back to life thus defeated death itself. Both viewpoints are equally true but will not always resonate with the listeners. It is important to find the most relevant aspects to make people listen. Later one can always teach the other aspects as well.

Secular Gain Through Missionary Work
Language
Most rural Africans have their own language and will have great difficulties learning in the official language. Often one of the primary goals of missionaries is to learn the native language. Normally they will try to put this language into writing. It does not need explanation to state that this is a great advantage for the people. Many local schools started right after these writings were (partly) finished. By learning how to read and write, people are more armed against fraud when buying or selling their goods.

Healthcare
Another very important aspect is that of healthcare. Clean drinking water, simple remedies against diseases, AIDS/HIV prevention programmes, etcetera, are all part of many modern missionary organisations. The success rates of these programmes are hard to express in figures. However, many organisations are committed to stay on a long term basis. During this period they will seek to train the native Africans. This way the organisation shares its knowledge and consequently the people become less dependent.

Economy
Although missionary work starts with the longing of spreading the Gospel, it is often a great boost for the local economy. Missionaries do not consider profitable areas as more important than non- profitable areas. That is to say, secular Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will have to abide to strict regulations of where to go and what to do. 5 Furthermore, secular NGOs may do a good job in education and the like, but more often than not rural Africans are not capable, due to religious convictions, to fully profit from their help. 6 Parris says the following about it:

“Anxiety, fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.” 7

Missionaries, on the contrary, have the freedom to go to people groups who do not have access to proper education and/or healthcare. Additionally, Christians are not committed to a secular world- view thus capable to address the religious aspects more effectively.

The Christian faith strongly depends, in contrary to the traditional rural African religions, on individual decisions. The Christian faith emphasises the unique bond between God and human. Christians do not need intermediaries in order to have a relationship with God. No longer will the person have to be subordinate to others, which will result in a bolder attitude towards progression. A naturalistic and materialistic approach to a people, who are deeply rooted in religious traditions, will not help them. Their religious system will have to change alongside. Fears need to be addressed. The traditional rural Africans will not change certain habits because they fear the possible negative consequences—better not disturb the ancient spiritual order. Those who entrusted themselves to the Christian faith however, will abandon these fears because they know that their new Saviour became victorious over all evil. Parris testified that the Christians he met “were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world—a directness in their dealings with others—that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.” 8

Conclusion
Missionary work in Africa is not only about winning souls. It digs much deeper in the change everyone wants to see in Africa. Although secular NGOs are of great worth, they cannot replace the deepest longing in the hearts of many Africans. Many rural Africans have a deeply rooted religious system which is unlikely to change through secular education. Missionaries can offer a solid replacement of their, often fear-driven, religious ideas.

To change the beautiful African culture should not and is not the goal of most missionary organisations. Nevertheless, there are certain aspects in these cultures that need a head on approach. 9 Many Africans are illiterate because in their culture they never actually needed it. Times change and so do trades. A literate person will not likely be a victim of fraud. Furthermore, reading and writing is of great use when it comes to education. To read that certain customs are harmful can help to change their (often cultural infused) habits. 10

Instead of spoiling a culture it would do more justice to missionaries to state that they enrich one’s culture. Not only in spiritual aspects but also in materialistic ways. This holistic approach has proven to be very sufficient for economical growth—and economic growth that many Westerns wish to see happen among the people from this beautiful continent called ‘Africa’.

Endnotes

  1. Secular: Denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.
  2. Burnett, D., Clash of Worlds: What Christians can do in a World of Cultures in Conflict, London: Monarch Books, 2002, p. 15.
  3. Burnett, D., World of the Spirits: A Christian Perspective on Traditional and Folk Religions, London: Monarch Books, 2000, pp.126-128.
  4. Whether it ever did, is a different debate.
  5. Maggay, M. P., ‘Justice and Approaches to Social Change,’ in (eds.) M. Hoek & J. Thacker, Micah’s Challenge: The Church’s Responsibility to the Global Poor, Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2009, p.131.
  6. Ibid. p.123.
  7. Parris, M., As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God, Times Online, website (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece, 2008), Downloadable pdf: http://www.rootedinjesus.net/docs/Parris.pdf.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Maggay, M. P., ‘Justice and Approaches to Social Change,’ in (eds.) M. Hoek & J. Thacker, Micah’s Challenge: The Church’s Responsibility to the Global Poor, Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2009, p.123.
  10. Matters of nutrition, immunization, personal hygiene, family planning, child rearing, seeking early medical care, disposal of solid wastes and human excreta etc.

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Also read Emy’s story

Africa Inland Mission

Africa Inland Mission

Africa Inland Mission (AIM) is a missionary organisation with over 100 years of experience in Africa. It was founded in 1895 and works on the continent of Africa and the isles in the Indian Ocean (including Madagascar). AIM is an evangelical, non-denominational organisation: missionaries come from a wide variety of church backgrounds.

AIM’s stated mission is to see Christ-centered churches among all African peoples. The goal is to introduce those who have never heard to the One who died to save them – Jesus Christ. AIM seeks to help new believers to grow strong and healthy in their faith and to see new believers enfolded in a maturing church. AIM aims to invest in the lives of current and future church leaders so they can effectively affect the lives of others who can in turn reach out to the vast population of Africa and beyond.

From it’s very beginning, AIM has sought to work alongside local churches and local believers – if existing. AIM has succeeded to gain the trust of the people served through the perseverance and morality of its workers. Today, AIM still seeks to work together with local churches and believers. As an illustration: there are several teams with African team leaders.

AIM works in several countries, as shown below. Madagascar, where we hope to serve, is part of Southern Region. Would you like to learn more? Then visit AIM Europe’s website.

Unreached People Groups

Unreached People Groups

AIM focuses on unreached people groups, but what are they. According to Joshuaproject.net unreached people groups lack enough followers of Christ and resources to evangelise their own people. In other words: unreached people groups have no chance to hear the gospel.

An estimated 6,900 people groups are still unreached, 42% of earth’s population. That means almost 3 billion people! In Africa there are more than 900 groups still unevangelised, representing 27% of Africa’s people, or 316 million people.

Sometimes people groups are only partly reached, or it may seem they have acces to the gospel through the presence of a church. In Africa and other developing regions it is of the utmost importance to bring the gospel close to the people, to deliver it on their doorstep. There are tribes that live isolated from the outside world. Illiteracy prohibits people from taking in written information. To reach people in such circumstances, believers must physically visit the people where they live and work to tell the gospel in their own language.

The existence of a local church does not guarantee that people have a chance to hear the good news. An example is a small church in Betroka. Betroka, in South-Madagascar, is a central town in Bara territory. The church is not visited by Bara. Why? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the service is not in Bara, the only language they speak. The readings are from the Malagasi Bible, which they cannot read. The minister has no means to evangelise the Bara. In situations like these, AIM can come alongside (which has happened in Betroka). Read more here.

AIM expects its missionaries to learn the local language, study and – where appropriate – to live the culture of the people they serve. In that way the gospel message can be shared in a way that is culturally fitting, in the heart language of the people.