Give us this day our daily bread

As the international climate change conference gets under way in Glasgow, our hearts and minds are with the peaceful people of Madagascar, who continue to suffer the devastating effects of what has been described as the world’s first climate-change famine.

A single mother feeds her children, photo courtesy Bishop Gilbert Rateloson

Some of us have been able to contribute to a food aid programme run by the Diocese of Toliara which has seen a hugely positive response; but this is a problem which is not going to go away any time soon. Bishop Gilbert of the neighbouring Diocese of Fianarantsoa has been speaking out about the indescribable suffering of the people. “The situation has worsened since March 2021, especially for our women and children. We need short, medium, and long-term interventions,” he says; “and we will need to begin shifting from rain-fed agriculture.”

Finding a way forward

As we continue to pray for rain, Bishop Gilbert remains confident that the Church has an important role to play, even though it does not have the financial resources to feed the million people who are struggling with the effects of prolonged drought:

“As a diocese, we are offering pastoral care and encouragement. We have an opportunity to provide a Christian response, including a message of hope. We are the people of God. We must continue to teach and train in accordance with the Holy Scripture in these trying times. We are running programs for Sunday school and discipleship so that our people can become responsible in this situation, especially when it comes to civic-mindedness. We believe God is marching with us, because we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Many of the people in my diocese are children, so we are also laying a firm foundation for our shared future. We are learning to fortify the faith of our people and staying with them through prayer, fellowship, guidance, and counselling.”

Bishop Gilbert Rakotondravelo Rateloson
Sunday School teachers at the Rooted in Jesus Conference in Mananjary, October 2021

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord

To this end, in October, Bishop Gilbert invited us to help support a follow-up conference for the Sunday School teachers using the Rooted in Jesus Junior discipleship programme. With books now printed on the island, and a local team of facilitators providing training and support, Bishop Gilbert is confident that practical discipleship will enable people to come together in small groups to pray, to support one another, and to face the challenges of life together. He reports:

“Thanks be to God because our training with all teachers of our diocese finished last Sunday with a great celebration at St John’s parish Mananjary. The theme of our meeting was taken from the Holy Scripture of 2 Tim 4.2, ‘to preach the message, to insist upon proclaiming it whether the time is right or not, to convince, reproach, and encourage, as you teach with all patience’. During this training, Rev Canon Zaralahy Paulin, priest of Mananjary, taught the contents of the Bible, and Rev Canon Jean Flobert explained the methods and psychology of children with the importance of using tools from RinJ. I taught them again the nature of Anglicanism and the conduct of Sunday school teachers with their responsibilities because God calls them to be teachers. We have given all participants a book, and a certificate to mark the end of their training. All participants are ready to practice the training and wish for continuous cooperation with Rooted in Jesus.”

Bishop Gilbert Rakotondravelo Rateloson
Children learning to pray in Mananjary on our last visit to the diocese

It is desperately difficult to accept that our shared resources are inadequate to prevent the suffering currently being experienced in Madagascar, and to confront the probability that things will only get worse, not just in Madagascar but in many other places too. As we continue to serve some of the poorest people in the world, we can only pray for united and concerted international action, reminding ourselves that whilst everything around us may be uncertain, the reality of our faith is not. At the front of every Rooted in Jesus booklet are printed these words from the prophet Jeremiah:

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17.7-8.

Our prayer is that it may be so.

Posted 1st November 2021