An Overview on the History of the FJKM
The 200th anniversary of the arrival of the first Protestant missionaries sent by the London Missionary Society (LMS) in Madagascar, Thomas Bevan and David Jones, was celebrated this year.
The history of the Gospel in Madagascar can be divided into 3 major periods.
The first period extends from 1818 to 1896; it was the time of laying the foundation and building. 1897 to 1968 focused on the propagation of the Gospel and the mission when the Church stood firm and bright. The third period, from 1968 to the present date, corresponds to the expansion and growth of the Church.
The First period (1818 – 1896): laying the foundation and building
At the time when LMS was created in late 1794 and early 1795, the Madagascar dossier was one of the first documents which came to their hands on 25 September 1795; it was submitted by a British officer named Andrew Burn (or Byrn). He happened to be on a short visit in Madagascar, and suggested that some LMS evangelists should be sent to Madagascar. The LMS leaders, such as Broksbank, Reynolds and Bogu, to whom the letter was addressed were struck by the letter. They brought the officer’s suggestion to the LMS Committee meeting of 13 May 1796. However, the outcomes of the investigations concluded that sending out missionaries to Madagascar right away was still complicated due to a lack of reliable information about Madagascar.
Dr Vanderkemp, a missionary working in South Africa, was charged with investigating the case of Madagascar and studying the mission of the Evangelists to be sent from South Africa. This plan could not be achieved for various reasons, mainly due to Dr Vanderkemp’s death in 1810. The Madagascar LMS project remained somewhat dormant for a while, but the political situation between the British and the French changed the course of history. Great Britain annexed Mauritius after Napoleon was defeated, and appointed Farquhart, a clergyman’s son, as Governor of Mauritius. As of 1814 Robert Farquhart kept writing to the LMS to ask them to send missionaries to Madagascar, a neighboring large island close to Mauritius. Due to problems within the LMS, however, it was not possible to send missionaries immediately.
On October 21, 1816 the LMS Committee decided to send missionaries to Madagascar. Three names circulated among the committee members: David Jones, Stefan Laidler and Thomas Bevan. At the last moment, David Jones and Thomas Bevan were accepted. They were both training to be ministers at the Academy of Neuaddlwyd and volunteered to be missionaries as they continued their studies at the Academy of Gosport. They prepared for missionary work in Gosport for a little over a year prior to their arrival in Madagascar.
On 09 February 1818, they left England with their wives. They arrived in Mauritius on July 03, 1818, stayed there a few days and landed in Toamasina on August 18, 1818; it will be 200 years ago this year. They set off with one challenge stemming from the proclamation of the Gospel, a tenet for the LMS regarding the mission of the Church as bearer of the Gospel light. The light here is twofold: the first is the Bible and faith in Jesus Christ, and the second is the development brought by the Industrial Revolution. These LMS messengers were still in their prime: Thomas Bevan was 23 and David Jones 21. When they arrived in Toamasina, their primary concern was education, and during the first few weeks of their work, they understood that the Malagasy people were eager to learn and could make good progress. They also decided to bring over their wives and children to do the work of the Gospel. Now, the wives and children arrived during the rainy season which coincided with the malaria season starting from January 1819. Thomas Bevan and his wife and children and Jones’s wife all died within a few weeks.
Jones attempted to stay in Toamasina, but eventually he too sought treatment in Mauritius and would not come back to Madagascar until 1820. There remained only Jones and James Hastie, the British government representative, who travelled up to Antananarivo in October 1820, to negotiate with Radama I to preach the Gospel in Madagascar. Radama granted Jones full permission to educate Malagasy youngsters and teach Western culture. King Radama even requested that the LMS send over more missionaries, especially LMS missionaries who would teach craftsmanship.
From 1820 to 1835, the year of the outbreak of persecution of Christianity, the main task of the LMS mission was to devote special attention to education and school construction. The work of missionaries started with the process of writing the Malagasy language in the Latin alphabet. It only took them 13 years to translate the Bible into Malagasy and Christian literature blossomed from then on. Unfortunately it did not last; not long after the death of King Radama I in 1828 his successor, Queen Ranavalona I, did not renew the LMS missionaries’ work permit in Madagascar. At the same time the number of LMS missionaries also decreased gradually. However, the Malagasy Christians were allowed to be baptized and take the Holy communion. So in June and July 1831 some Malagasy people were baptized and confirmed for the first time, including Rasalama who subsequently died as a martyr.
The persecution of Christianity broke out on March 1, 1835 as the Queen suspected that Christianity was a threat to her sovereignty and considered the missionaries as invaders. She forced her people to return to the traditional religions and from then on, following the Christian religion was declared to be a crime. The Bible was burnt, schools were closed down and those who claimed to be Christians were persecuted and executed. The first Malagasy martyr was a woman, Rasalama who was speared to death on August 14, 1835. The second was a man, Rafaralahy Andriamazoto, who was speared to death in 1838. After them, thousands of Christians died while on the run, were murdered, burned and suffered innumerable pains. The persecution was long and did not stop until 1861, when Queen Ranavalona I passed away.
In 1862, the LMS returned to Madagascar when freedom of religion was restored. The LMS drafted a new policy for preaching the Gospel this time, and focused on education and social services. They made a point to address the successive queens and kings. As a result the Protestant religion became the religion of kings, government officials and religious dignitaries. A beautiful protestant church was built next to the Queen’s palace. The missionaries built schools for children and youth, schools for boys, schools for girls, Colleges, a University and a Medical school, as well as hospitals, training colleges for ministers, a printing house, and so on … the Malagasy living in the upper land rushed to fill Protestant churches. It was during this period, in 1867, that the LMS invited the Friends (Friends Foreign Mission Association) to assist them in Madagascar.
It can be said that Christianity had taken root in the late 19th century when the French colonists arrived in 1896 and brought over severe storms, not only in the society, but particularly in the Church.
The Second period (1897 – 1968): extension and thriving
The late 19th century marked the history of Madagascar with the beginning of colonization. Before the colonial era, the British culture and the English language was dominant among the Malagasy intelligentsia, as well as in Malagasy society. Hundreds of British missionaries and businessmen worked in Madagascar, including LMS, FFMA, Anglican missionaries, and others. The Jesuits took advantage of the French arrival and nearly turned the country into a Catholic land as they conveyed the message that “Protestant” means “English” and “Catholic” means “French”. The Jesuits took by force hundreds of school buildings and Protestant churches so that the Protestant Malagasy nearly despaired. Therefore the French Protestant Mission came to rescue the Protestants Malagasy: they visited various parts of the country proving that it is obviously possible to be a Protestant; it has nothing to do with an anti-French attitude whatsoever. A number of missionaries, both English and French, died as martyrs during that period (1896 – 1897), including William Johnson, the representative of the LMS, and Benjamin Escande and Paul Minault, representatives of the MPF (French Protestant Mission).
After the storm at the beginning of colonization, when the 1913 Order on the secular nature of the state and colonization was enforced in Madagascar, it could be said that things evolved very fast as the Edinburg Conference in 1910 established a clear plan for the proclamation of the Gospel across the world. The scheme was equally implemented by all the organizations who sent missionaries to Madagascar; a number of bedrock principles enhanced the cooperation with the local people as was closer study of and empathy with the local culture, elimination of competition among missionary organizations, major focus on social services and education, and so on. An Intermissionary Conference was created in October 1913 which comprised the Lutheran Mission including three parties (the Norwegian Missionary Society, the American Lutheran Board Mission, the United Lutheran Church of America), the three Protestant Missions (London Missionary Society, Mission Protestante Française, the Friends’ Foreign Mission Association) and the Anglican Mission (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel). They would form the would-be FFPM or the Federation of the Protestant Churches in 1958. However difficult that period in the history of colonization was, it did not prevent the Church from standing as a witness of the Gospel.
The expansion of the Church work could be observed through three major programs:
First, the propagation of the Gospel and building of churches which very quickly reached the coastal regions through an organization called “Isan’enimbolan’Imerina”, causing the Gospel to reach faraway distant places.
Second, education through schools and educational organizations, especially targeting the young, through literature, sports and youth organizations.
Third, social services and community development. These projects included arts, education, health care, fight against drug abuse, agriculture, and poultry and cattle breeding.
The inception of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948 raised awareness among the Malagasy ministers and the missionaries. It caused them to strive for and engage further in union, or in oecumenism. The Malagasy Lutheran Church was born in 1950 through the union of the Lutheran Mission tripartite community mentioned above. In 1950, the Committee for the Churches Union was also set up; it comprised the LMS, the MPF and the FFMA. They came together to form the Protestant Churches; it was agreed that they were to work in Northern Madagascar as one church and incorporate all of the tripartite Mission Churches. However, they did not expect that it would be difficult to retain the values they were used to and the identity of the previous three missions. They experienced extreme difficulty finding a common ground: the Mission Protestante Française (MPF) was accustomed to the Presbyterian system, whereas the LMS and the Friends were more used to the Congregationalist system. The Committee for the Union of the Churches nearly fell through, and members considered that “’It would be preferable for the three Churches, i.e the LMS, the MPF and the FFMA, to remain independent from one another”. As a result of this stumbling block in the work of the Committee for the Union, each mission made a point in appointing Malagasy people as their respective heads and in adopting Malagasy names. The Friends were first to change their names: FFMA was now called FFM or literally the Malagasy Friends Church in 1958 and Reverend Andrianaly Ratavao was the President. Then in 1960 the MPF followed and was called FPM or Evangelical Church in Madagascar, headed by Minister Ralambomahay Jean Baptiste. Then in 1962 the LMS was named FKM or Church of Christ in Madagascar; it was headed by a Malagasy minister as well, Reverend Titus Rasendrahasina. So between 1958 and 1962 the Protestant Church was headed and led by Malagasy ministers. But the Malagasy ministered were not satisfied with the situation and urged the missionaries to accept the creation of one Church. The authority of the Committee for the Union of the Churches was strengthened.
They further worked for the initiative of joining into a single Protestant Church just like the Lutheran Church. The Committee worked day and night, sent a delegation to India to inquire and learn from the Indian Church experience, held conferences here and there, and decided in 1966 that the inception of the One Church in Northern Madagascar would mark the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Gospel in the country. Indeed, the 150th anniversary of the arrival of LMS should be celebrated in 1968. The Committee decided that the setting up of the one Church was to be completed by then. They met the challenge: in 1968, the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Gospel in Toamasina was a dual celebration as it was also the inception date of the FJKM, the result of a combination of three churches: FFM (former FFMA), FPM (former MPF) and FKM (former LMS). Thomas Bevan and David Jones had landed in Madagascar on 18 August 1818 and 150 years later, on August 18, 1968 a service was held in Toamasina for the public announcement of the inception of the FJKM Church. On the occasion, the Congregation sang a solemn hymn:
‘“Oh, what a joy,
We’ve come to live this moment;
Our wishes have been fulfilled,
So praised be the Father!
We offer you our bodies and souls,
As a sacrifice pleasing You,
Because we recognize and are hoping to be recognized
As new people.”
(Protestant Hymn 545)
The FJKM’s creation came from the worldwide favorable ecumenical movement, but it resulted also from the Malagasy Ministers’ longing for independence and a wish to no longer depend on foreign missions, and particularly the result of the missionaries’ awareness that the time shall come when the country would equally access independence. “The independence of the churches should be realized ahead of the country’s independence and the church should lead the nation to testimony and autonomy.” This attitude was the bedrock principle of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar and it was hard to achieve.
The third period (1968-to date): the expansion and promotion
When FJKM was established, the missionary organizations stood as stewards and counselors agencies; they willingly helped the Malagasy ministers and lay people in the Protestant Church in the actions and the newly-acquired independence. However the local Malagasy Government did not immediately acknowledge the FJKM in 1968 due to two articles in the FJKM Constitution and bylaw, in particular Art. 202, which they claimed were conflicting with the Malagasy Constitution. The discussions lasted four years, and in 1972 the FJKM was officially and legally established pursuant to Order n° 2175 of 06 July 1972.
The 50-year existence of the FJKM can be roughly divided into two parts.
The first period extended from 1968 to 1996
As soon as the creation of the FJKM happened in 1968, even though the Church was a newly created one, all the terms used in the past were still kept. The unity of the Church was preciously preserved. That was why the student ministers had been trained in one college, Ivato College named United College, and training institution prior to the union of the Churches; this is to say that the union of the Churches begins with the union of the ministers and the leaders, or a union of the Churches with a common same education and mindset. In order to strengthen this concept of commonality, not only was there one training College, but all the Sunday School lessons were the same, a common FJKM hymn book was compiled, the same liturgy was used during services, the FJKM had the same constitution and the same bylaws, or the common treasury, the same applied to the FJKM Schools, and all the rest.
The previous structures from the former system were given up: such was the case with “Lohavolana”, (formal monthly meetings at the beginning of the month), Fitandremana (parish), Isan’efabolana (formal four-monthly meetings), Isan-keritaona (formal annual meetings), the Great Synod; they were changed into Fitandremana (Parish), Synodamparitany (regional synod), the Great Synod. The 18 Isan-keritaona of the first SL now changed into 73 SP. FJKM chose as a motto “FJKM living for the congregation”; the SAF was created, all the various Committees were converted into Departments of the Church, as was the Dorcas Committee, and other initial committees.
In its early days, FJKM comprised three decision-making bodies: the Bureau, the General Affairs Council, the Council in charge of Education, and the Council in charge of the clergy. All of them were entrusted with missions that fitted them. They later merged into one Council which included the department in charge of the clergy and the department in charge of education. The various Departments within FJKM emerged from this organization of the Council, and until now this policy has governed the way FJKM is managed.
The first period saw the confirmation of the pastoral robe, the colors of stole, the number of deacons and parish council members, the strengthening of the Women priesthood, not only as ministers but also as deacons and parish council members. The focus on youth education work was very strongly enhanced during this period.
The Second period from 1996 until now
The 1992 Great Synod held in Antananarivo and that of 1996 held in Antsiranana can be considered as important turning points in the 50-year history of the FJKM. These two great synods were genuine measurements which assessed the sound unity of the FJKM; the longing for past times had completely disappeared. The structure of the Synodamparitany was then reviewed, The Church decided that the 150-year long practice of ministers election by the congregation was no longer accepted. Moreover, lay people were also given more importance and SETELA, SEFALA were created. In terms of working method, the importance of the parish bureau was given more responsibilities. At the level of the Synodamparitany (regional synod) the role of the Bureau was enhanced, and at the Central level, the Board was given more responsibilities. There was shared responsibility between ministers and non-ministers (deacons, parish council members, lay people, teachers). FJKM experienced rapid growth during the second period. Indeed, the concept and methodology of joint planning and strategy helped achieve different levels of development. To date, at least one FJKM church (or one prayer group) is created every week. More than 60 churches (or group prayers) are created every year. This has been the case ever since the 1990s.
However, the Protestant schools have experienced a most difficult period in the last 50 years. It is true that during the 18-year meetings of the Committee for the Church Union when the FJKM emergence was designed, not even once was the issue of Church Schools on the agenda. But the 1972 revolution, which changed the education system in Madagascar, had an impact on the Church Schools. During the 55 years of independence, the Government of Madagascar has made several changes in educational policy and educational systems. All that required skills and competence, infrastructure and equipment, which the Protestant schools could not afford. Consequently, their number kept decreasing: if there were more than 1200 schools in the mid-20th century, approximately 400 remained around the 1980s. The FKJM is now beginning to strive and rehabilitate the schools, we have now reached over 600 operating schools. However, more effort is to be made. A Protestant University already existed in 1873 at the time of the LMS. Unfortunately colonialism closed it down. Now we are still trying to rebuild the FJKM University. The latest vision of the FJKM is to spread the Gospel across the whole of Madagascar. More than 400 municipalities do not have any FJKM church yet.
Here was the motto of the Isan’enimbolan’Imerina, an organization of the MPF, the LMS and the FFMA Churches. It had as a mission to preach the Gospel in coastal regions 150 years ago: “Even if I have to make one of my hair as a bridge, or to use my clothes as a raft, may be lost whoever will be lost, may die whoever will die, if we do not convert into Christians all men and women in this country”. But it is still a long way to go, only 50 percent of the Malagasy people are reported to be Christians. Many young people are still poverty-stricken. Many are left aside and marginalized. This Jubilee year, the FJKM is renewing its commitment to meet the challenge of working for God and for the community.