Area: 587,040 sq km (more than twice UK, larger than France plus Belgium) – the 4th largest island in the world
Location: in the Indian Ocean, 400km (at the nearest point) east of Mozambique
Population: 16 million. 75% of the population live in villages
Capital: Antananarivo, population 1.4 million
Description: Central plateau, strip of forest down the east side.
Climate: tropical on the coast, temperate on the plateau, arid in the south
The first inhabitants came from Indonesia in about 500 AD. Subsequent migrations have resulted in a considerable ethnic mix with Malayo-Indonesian, African and Arab influence. There are 18 main ethnic groups.
Malagasy and French. Each ethnic group has its own dialect of Malagasy. “Official Malagasy” is the dialect of the Merina. Malagasy is used throughout the island, and French is little understood outside the main centres.
Madagascar is one of the poorest countries of the world. Most people are involved in subsistence agriculture, mainly rice and cattle. There are few natural resources. Tourism is little developed. 70% of people are estimated to live below the poverty line. France is the main trading partner.
The Merina people, from the plateau, gained control of the whole island in the 19th century. This is still a cause of some resentment by the coastal peoples today. France annexed the island in 1896, and Madagascar became independent from France in 1960. A period of Marxism in the 1970’s was associated with a severe decline in the economy. During that period the French language was replaced by Malagasy in many facets of the country’s life, including education.
Multiparty elections in 1993 gave victory to the opposition, but in 1996 the former president, Didier Ratsiraka, who had led the country through the period of Marxism, was returned to power. Presidential elections were held in December 2001, but when inconclusive results were declared in January 2002, this was much disputed and led to massive demonstrations and a general strike. In April 2002, after international intervention and a recount of votes, a new president, Marc Ravalomanana, the mayor of Antananarivo, was sworn in. The former president, however, contested this, and a state of civil conflict ensued, with a blockade of the capital by supporters of Mr Ratsiraka and severe shortages of fuel and other supplies. Internal travel was severely disrupted and flights to Europe cancelled. In mid June 2002, Mr Ratsiraka withdrew to France and the blockades were lifted amidst hopes of a return to peace and stability.
Elections were finally held at the end of 2013 and Hery Rajaonarimampianina was elected as president.We praise the Lord that the election process was largely peaceful. There are huge economic challenges too with the vast majority of the population living in poverty. Following the elections there are promises of help once more from the international community. Please pray for peace and justice, and continued freedom for proclaiming the gospel. Pray that Christians may continue to see their role as pointing people of every shade of opinion toward the Author of true and lasting peace – to the peace of God through Jesus Christ.
Traditional ethnic 45%; Protestant 28%; Roman Catholic 20%; Muslim 7% (“Operation World”).
There is a wide variation with area – Muslims are largely on the NW coast. The plateau area has a higher percentage of Protestants and Roman Catholics. In some areas (eg Mandritsara), traditional ethnic religion would account for over 95%.
The first protestant missionaries were Welshmen sent by the London Missionary Society. Thomas Bevan and David Jones arrived in Toamasina (Tamatave) on the east coast in 1818. Each had a wife and a baby. Within 3 months, 5 of the 6 had died from malaria, and Jones went to Mauritius to recover. He soon returned and others came to join him. Much work was done, writing the Malagasy language in Roman script, translating the scriptures, preaching the gospel and establishing schools. By the 1830’s the whole Bible had been translated into Malagasy.
There followed a period of severe persecution by the Malagasy Queen. The missionaries all left the island and many Malagasy were martyred. However the work of God could not be extinguished and when missionaries returned they found that the church had grown.
The church which arose from that early work, the Church of Jesus Christ of Madagascar (FJKM) is now the largest protestant denomination in Madagascar. The Lutheran Church (stemming from Norwegian and American missions) is also quite large. In addition there are Anglican, Pentecostal (several groups), Baptist and Free Evangelical churches. Not all the protestant churches are evangelical, and many would be quite nominal today.
There are various para-church groups, including the Bible Society, Scripture Union and the student GBU movement which have all been quite influential. A Malagasy Bible can be purchased for the equivalent of about 2 days wages for a labourer. Very few Christian books are, however, available in Malagasy, and imported French Christian books are very expensive for most people, and scarcely available.
Evangelical missionary societies currently working in Madagascar include Mission Aviation Fellowship, Child Evangelism Fellowship, AIM International, Youth With a Mission and Bible Study Fellowship.
The Association of Bible Baptist Churches (FFBBM): Brynlee Evans, and his wife, from Aberdare in south Wales, worked in Antananarivo from 1932 to 1944. He founded the Madagascar Bible Mission, planted a church and trained leaders. As the church which he founded grew and reached out, an association of churches came into being which adopted the name FFBBM or Association of Bible Baptist Churches of Madagascar. This now has some 60 main congregations, mostly around Antananarivo, Tamatave, Antsirabe, Fianarantsoa and Mahajanga. There is a link with the Evangelical Association of French Language Baptist Churches in Europe (AEEBLF).