The Diocese of Toliara is the youngest and southernmost Anglican diocese in Madagascar. Led by Bishop Todd and Revd Patsy McGregor, it has a threefold focus on evangelism, education and economic development. Our connection with the diocese dates back to 2011, when Bishop Todd first invited us to provide training for Rooted in Jesus. We went back in 2013, and again in 2017 in order to train Sunday School teachers to use Rooted in Jesus Junior.
The Diocese of Toliara is linked with the Church of the Good Samaritan, Paoli (US), whose rector Revd Richard Morgan joined the Rooted in Jesus team in 2013. Last week Good Samaritan’s live-stream service included a video interview with Bishop Todd, who provided an update on the three-fold ministry of the diocese, shared some of the hardship caused by the coronavirus measures, and asked for our continued prayers.
Making disciples with Rooted in Jesus
When it comes to sharing the gospel, Madagascar offers unique challenges and opportunities. Revd Victor Osoro explained in a recent newsletter how the diocese sets about the ministry of evangelism:
The culture of Madagascar, especially in the rural southern area where the Diocese of Toliara is situated, is quite different from that in the UK, Europe, and the US. Many Malagasy are hearing of Jesus for the very first time when we go out to the small villages to evangelize. While Christianity was introduced to this island nation in the early 1800s, there have also been times when the practice of Christianity was banned. Today, we see a great many people who have never heard of Jesus. They more often practice their Malagasy traditional religion, led by a shaman and a medicine man. So we must start from a very different place. We start from the very basics of the Christian faith and the story of Jesus.
Victor continued with a story which has repeated itself in many places:
One day when we were evangelizing, we came to a village to share the gospel with the village elder. He surrendered his life to Jesus – but he did not stop there. He called all the villagers and shared what the Lord had done in his heart. Everyone present, knowing the past life of the man and hearing what the Lord had done in his life, they too surrendered their lives to the new-found faith. They committed to begin a new walk with Christ. Many of them gave up their trust in the medicine man and put their trust in the Lord. We had to burn all types of charms created by the medicine man for various purposes that they had in their homes! They are now growing as disciples of Christ.
In the interview, Bishop Todd tells Fr Ben that this focus on evangelism has seen the diocese grow from just 11 churches to 110. “We don’t have any problems in growing the church,” he explains; “it’s just in terms of having people growing themselves, and that’s what Rooted in Jesus offers.” There are currently some 200 Rooted in Jesus groups meeting in the various parishes, supported by CMS missionary Derek Waller, and the growth has been exciting.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic
At the moment, of course, the ministry of the diocese has been affected by the current pandemic and the measures taken to contain it – not just for those still waiting to hear the gospel, but also, Bishop Todd says, for the clergy, who depend upon the weekly offerings at church to support their families. Most churches have now been closed for two months, which is causing considerable hardship.
Bishop Todd and Revd Patsy have written more about the impact of Covid-19 on the life of the diocese in their recent newsletter, which you can read here. Please do join us in praying for them, for those who minister alongside them, and for the people they serve.