By AIM’s Southern REO

I find I spend a great deal of my time in the future. Yes, I live in the present – answering emails, spending time with people, reading books, exercising, and so on–but my role as Regional Director for AIM’s Southern Region keeps taking me back to the future. I picture the future for thousands of Mwani, thousands of Makwe, thousands of Sakalava, thousands of Antakarana, thousands of Bara people “before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev 7:9) who “purchased men for God from every tribe and language and nation” (Rev 5:9). I dream of outreach teams among each of these groups, learning the language, growing together in their effectiveness as cross-cultural workers, sharing Truth with lost people, establishing Christ-centred churches among them. I make plans, I approach potential leaders, I budget, I do surveys, I dream with team leaders about the shape of their teams.

About 20% of my time spent in the future becomes present reality and this is where I get goose-bumps! I rejoice when someone agrees to lead a team, when a team is built around him/her, when that team moves into the area, becomes fluent in the local language and shares the Gospel. And I rejoice, with the angels, when even one person turns to Christ through all this effort. Yes, I live in the future but it often becomes a very satisfying present.

Come with me to the future and dream very specifically of outreach to the Antakarana. Who are they? Why are they so needy? What sets them apart from other groups? What needs to happen for our dreams to become reality?

Their name, Antakarana means “People of the White Coral Rocks” because originally they lived among these very striking rocky limestone peaks. Historically the Antakarana were isolated and cut off from the southern regions of Madagascar by this range of peaks known as the Tsaratanana Massif. This geographical feature has played a very important role in regional history, having served as a refuge for the Antakarana during various conflicts.  It also houses the graves of their first kings.

The Antakarana are a mix of Austronesian, African, and Arab ancestry. They are mainly cattle farmers although some live as coastal fishermen and the interior villages harvest rice, maize, cassava. Many have also gone to work in factories in the nearby towns.

When the Merina, the dominant tribe in Madagascar, conquered the Antakarana in 1820, the tribe was divided in two: those that accepted the Merina government with the consequent change in customs and religious ideas and those who never recognized this authority.  That division has lasted to the present .The Antakarana west of the divide accepted Islam although maintaining many traditional practices, while the Antakarana east of the divide accepted the Merina authority and have moved away from Islam. 

Most Antakarana beliefs and customs are a mix of folk Islam and animistic beliefs. Outreach to the Antakarana is sparse, and many hold to their beliefs in Islam. Current estimates say that approximately 14 % of the 140,000 Antakarana adhere to Christianity in some form and less than 2% of those are evangelical. A third of the tribe is thought to be Muslim.

Generally speaking, the north of Madagascar has not seen many missionaries or mission agencies. Christian missions work started on the southeast coast of the island but stopped before crossing the Tsaratanana mountain massif. There is a story of a northern tribal chief asking a missionary why they never got to the north. When told that there were many difficulties getting to the north and that there was a fear by the missionaries of the Muslim influence, the chief told the missionary that all of that was none of his business – it was the missionary’s business to give the people of the north a choice between Islam and Christianity.  Until then, they would have no choice.

The Antakarana are at tipping point. There are reports of Islamic missionary activity in Northern Madagascar targeting the animist and superficially Islamic peoples of this region. Islam and animism are very compatible and in the next few decades the strong possibility is that most of the group could become Islamic, adding an extra layer of darkness over them. The time to establish Christ centred churches among the Antakarana is NOW. The task is urgent.

We envision two church planting TIMO teams – one among the Western Antakarana and the other among Eastern Antakarana by 2013 reaching, mentoring and unleashing disciples from this group to make disciples of others in the tribe. For this to happen, we need to identify two team leaders soon. We dream of these teams unleashing gifted Antakarana church planters to start a church planting movement across the northern tip of Madagascar bringing Gospel hope and transformation to that region.

What needs to happen for these dreams to become reality? PRAYER.
Pray to the Lord of the Harvest…