Indigenous Christianity in Madagascar

Madagascar, this big but little-known island near the African continent, is brought to light and dissected under a theologian’s — and the world’s — eyes.

This is also a great testimony and authentication of what the author calls “indigenous Christianity” in this island nation. According to the author, external and internal political, cultural and social powers brought the powerless Malagasy people to the Unique who detains power, a power from above: Jesus Christ. Throughout her numerous approaches and analysis of opposite but active powers in action, Holder Rich exhibits striking objectivity and dexterity, even with sensitive subjects.

The choice of Toby Ambohibao is more than accurate, as this community is an evidence of “the Power to Heal in Community.” Effective and close relationship between shepherds, patients (mostly mentally ill) and the Divine is outlined here. Such relationship would eventually bring the sick to wholeness and identity restoration inside the community, therefore to healing. In another interesting part of the book, Holder Rich describes the Toby Fifohazana as a community-based movement, a possible model for use elsewhere in the world, though contexts are different. But what makes the Fifohazana unique is pointed out by the author as “one striking feature” of the movement, “which is its central Christological understanding of Jesus as the One who heals.”

As the Toby community’s role and its model of infrastructure have been identified and recognized as essential to the healing process, it is helpful to know that community buildings such as schools and/or hospitals always exist near the camp, integrated within the Toby’s life. Also, the identification of the Fifohazana as a “Christ centered” movement leads to saying more about the spiritual link, the Divine source of healing Himself. Characteristic “Fifohazana sermons” precede every ritual of healing (in or outside the congregation). These sermons point out sins and any kind of spiritual bondage, bring the audience to awareness of sin and then urge them to repent and come to Jesus to be healed. During Fifohazana sermons, many possessed patients exhibit evil spirit manifestation that often confronts the preacher verbally or physically.

The four basic Scriptures, read at the beginning of the “work and strengthening” part, are understood as commissioning Gospels. Jesus Christ is the Commissioner, sending all believers to cast out demons and to lay hands on the sick. These Scriptures are for the Fifohazana a guarantee of Jesus Christ’s authority and dwelling presence. They assure them victory in all spiritual battles throughout their mission. Yet it is also obvious that the Fifohazana movement was engendered (and is still sustained ) by historical facts and human power.

It might be interesting to investigate God’s “call” towards Malagasy people in other places and contexts, as the Fifohazana movement has expanded in European countries such as France.

 

JOELA RANAIVO, a Presbyterian deacon, has worked as a physician at Ambohibao Lutheran Hospital Toby in Antananarivo, Madagascar, for many years.

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