Missionary Diary: We're going where it's growing

Adam and Avril Friend, with their two children, Caleb, 2, and baby Anna, are new missionaries heading to Madagascar with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 2024. They are the first missionaries to go to Madagascar with CMS. Adam says, “We are definitely excited, but honestly, also pretty terrified.” He explains how despite their fears, it is Christ’s love that compels them to go to this hard place, knowing they have the prayerful support of many in Australia.

Just across the Indian Ocean, west of Australia, is a place where the Holy Spirit is moving. In the island nation of Madagascar, thousands and thousands are turning to the hope of salvation offered in the gospel. A God who is near, who cares, and who gives life and help in the face of suffering. Reverend Berthier, an Anglican church leader in the south of the country, reports that in the space of just one week travelling around his diocese, he and a small team baptised more than 2000 people. His comment at the end of the week? “I was tired.”

Along with the growth in numbers of people, churches are being planted at a phenomenal rate. In the space of two years, a region around the size of the Illawarra (to Sydney’s south) grew from having five churches to having 50.

Holding firmly to [God] is difficult for those for whom the hunger continues day after day.

Suffering is an ever-present reality for Malagasy believers. Madagascar is gripped by awful poverty. Drought and famine in its southernmost corner have been among the most severe in the world, with starvation and sickness plaguing the many who live there. The truth of a God who cares has been good news to many suffering in these circumstances, but Reverend Berthier reports that holding firmly to him is difficult for those for whom the hunger continues day after day.

A new church in Madagascar

When life is tough, and life doesn’t get much tougher than in rural Madagascar, there is a lot of pressure to return to old ways of doing things – things that have seemed to work in the past. When things begin to go wrong, it is easy to blame that new religion; perhaps the ancestors are angry that they have been abandoned.

Persevering in Christ in these circumstances requires deep roots and firm foundations in him (Colossians 2:6-7). So, Madagascar needs many leaders trained to teach the Bible and see this growing church know and hold firmly to Christ. And that’s why we’re going! To support the local Malagasy team there as they seek to train leaders.

A fledgling church in Madagascar.

A partnership between the Anglican churches in Sydney and Madagascar has been developing since then Bishop for International Relations, Peter Tasker, visited in 2009. It was strengthened through the ministry of Reverend Al Lukabyo from St James Anglican, Croydon, visiting annually from 2012 to teach Moore Theological College’s Preliminary Theological Certificate (PTC).

Now, ten years on, the PTC has been taught to people from each of the six Anglican dioceses in Madagascar, seven subjects have been translated into the local language of Malagasy and it is now the basis of the syllabus taught at St Patrick’s Theological College in Toliara. Since 2020, the Archbishop of Sydney’s Anglican Aid has further strengthened the relationship by facilitating programs providing emergency and development aid to regions in the south affected by severe famine. Anglican Aid is also now supporting theological education at St Patrick’s Theological College with both student sponsorship and infrastructure development. CMS is now sending us to teach at and support the ministry of that college.

“Sometimes we think that we are forgotten people, but that is not the case. We are not forgotten … so thank you so much.” – Bishop of Toliara

We’re excited to be heading to Madagascar because it really does feel like a great expression of the strengthening partnership between the Diocese of Sydney and the Anglican churches in Madagascar, particularly in the Diocese of Toliara. It’s a privilege to be able to step forward into warm and fruitful relationships already developed.

New church in Madagascar.

The Bishop of Toliara recently commented on how incredibly encouraged he was by the partnership between Sydney and Toliara, particularly those in Sydney committed to praying for his diocese. He said: “We are so remote, we are an island people, so sometimes we think that we are forgotten people, but that is not the case. We are not forgotten … so thank you so much.”

There is so much we’re excited for in heading to Madagascar. But if you asked us how we are feeling about heading out as new missionaries, well honestly, it’s not all excitement. There are many things that seem quite daunting. There’s the complexities of learning Malagasy with its 24 dialects, the sadness of leaving family and friends here, and the difficulties of raising our two children in a poverty context.

I’m convinced the work of Christ on the cross both compels and enables us to do things that terrify us.

We’ll be moving from a context here in Australia, where we are competent and able to do what we need to do, to somewhere where we will stumble over words and make many mistakes, and yet I will have to teach classes and preach sermons (let alone go to the shops and buy food!).

A new church in Madagascar.

So why go? Well, to put it simply, it’s because we’re convinced that the work of Christ on the cross both compels and enables us to do things that daunt and even terrify us. Just one aspect is the love we see there. An abundantly generous, sacrificial love. A love that is a model for what love is to look like for us. It’s why Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 can say that the love of Christ compels us to persuade others. The love shown on the cross is so deep and hard that people who share in it are shaped by it and compelled by it to love others deeply, even when that takes them to hard places.

We also know that we’re not the only ones God will be using to help grow and sustain his church in Madagascar. Indeed, we’re thankful that we’ll be working under the leadership of Bishop Samitiana and Reverend Berthier, and their wonderful wives as well, each of whom have been thinking very carefully through how we help this growing church remain rooted firmly in Jesus. It is a relief that much of what we will be doing is simply coming in and just being their biggest cheerleaders, seeking to support them in any way we can.

We’re also grateful for the training and ongoing support of CMS. During our training at St Andrew’s Hall, we were prepared to think theologically and practically about ministering cross-culturally in a poverty context. In particular, we were encouraged to think about how the cross shapes our approach at every stage and we were taught many practical ways to manage risks on location.

Now, as we head to Madagascar in 2024, it’s a real privilege and great help to know that we will be sustained by the prayers and acts of care of the CMS fellowship and our partners (both individuals and churches). Surely, wherever we go in the world, there is no place safer for us or our kids than being in the hands of the God to whom hundreds of people are praying for our care and protection!

New church in Madagascar.

Please pray that we will entrust ourselves to that God, knowing that he will keep us and will comfort us, even in times that are more difficult and trials that will inevitably come, but also trusting that he will bring us great blessings as well, in the form of relationships, the beautiful lives that we’ll get to see and be a part of. And the joy of seeing ministers trained and then sent out to care for and be equipped to love well these brothers and sisters.