Well, it’s been a while. Sometime soon we’ll try to go back through the past year and review how we got back here in Madagascar. But for now let us share about our Mahafaly friends:
I (Nathan) had the privilege of traveling with our national partners from the Malagasy Baptist church here to check-in on the Mahafaly. In a kind of miracle, with only two or three phone calls months before our trip, several church leaders and their wives were already gathered and waiting for us in Kilimary. They served our team and led us in a reading of God’s Word as we sat and visited with them, sharing their testimonies with those who had not yet heard them. I was excited to see Emora, one of the four guys we spent the last two years training, reading and teaching from the Bible.
The Mahafaly now have people like Emora who are being trained to teach themselves from the Bible instead of waiting on the arrival of the missionary for a word from God.As we sat and listened, a strange thing happened. Emora began passing our coffee cups and pouring coffee out of a large dirty bucket. For most of us the dirty bucket used to serve coffee to everyone would be strange, but it was Emora serving us that caught my eye. As Emora himself explained, “Mahafaly culture treats women very poorly.” Mahafaly culture is very patriarchal. Only women are allowed to serve. Chores like serving drink or food, washing clothes or washing dishes are unmanly and reserved for women. There is a very strong stigma against men who do these tasks. They are called lazy and weak and considered not manly enough to get a wife to do these things for them.
Our team spent a lot of time last year working with these guys to walk with them through God’s view of marriage found in the Bible. Implicit in biblical marriage is a loving adoration for your wife as an equal partner made in the image of God. Then, as Emora moved on to wash out all our coffee cups, he explained what happened when he and a few other leaders traveled three days north to the capital to attend a large Malagasy Baptist meeting. Suddenly when it came time for food there were women and men serving lunch for everyone. Then when it came time for coffee you served yourself! And everyone washed their own dishes! It was revolutionary for Emora to see equality between men and women, each respecting and serving the other, played out by the church. When Emora returned home he approached his wife and asked, “Would you like it if I helped out with washings and taking care of the kids?” He said he saw his wife’s eyes light up and her body grow visibly lighter. “Yes! Of course I would. I’m exhausted!” she said. Emora went on to say that whereas Mahafaly culture stipulated the women always serve the men, they now partnered together as husbands and wives to help each other and to serve others.
We watched the rest of that time as husband and wife came in and out of the tent, each serving with a new kind of joy. “Our customs were wrong,” said Emanda, another leader, “We are now Christians. We have a new fomba (i.e. culture or way of doing things).”
There are many debates about how missionaries and religion shape indigenous culture. What I saw on this trip was that God’s customs (his way of doing things as revealed in the Bible) and his church (where we put his way of doing things on display) are sometimes diametrically opposed to what we naturally think, feel, and believe according to our culture. But man is it a better way to live! In some way, we are all called into God’s culture: no longer as Americans or as Malagasy or as Mahafaly, but as Christians.