In my part of the world, Madagascar is primarily known as the setting of clever animation, but it is a beautiful land, home to a hundred varieties of lemurs, birds, fish and reptiles found no where else on earth. Rich in natural resources and beautiful people, Madagascar is also listed as the 5th most impoverished country in the world. More than 50% of children under 5 are malnourished, and more than 80% of Madagascar’s 29 million people live in extreme poverty, barely surviving on less than $1.90 a day.* Back-to-back typhoons, a downturn in tourism due to the pandemic, runaway inflation, and government corruption will not make the situation any easier in the upcoming months.
I sat on a bench on the side of a church. To my right sat 40 families surrounded by their children. Babies slept, tightly swaddled, passed around among the grinning girls. Toddlers climbed across laps. A few teen boys stood around at the back of the church. It is winter, so most of the people wore long sleeves and layers of sweaters.
The building looked like many churches–rows of pews, a pulpit in the front, keyboard on the side, and a bulletin board in back announcing a pair of conferences. But this building wasn’t in some manicured suburb. This congregation was situated on the edge of a downtown slum in Antananarivo, the capital city of this island nation of Madagascar.
At the front of this room stood a pastor who has loved and cared for this community for the past 22 years. In 2021, a dozen churches in Madagascar began to partner with Children’s Hunger Fund to reach out to families impacted by poverty, and for the past six months, Pastor R and his wife have been distributing Food Paks to twenty families.
I met many men and women like Pastor R in Madagascar, extending the love of Jesus through the truth of Scriptures and Food Paks. One pastor shared that so many recipient families had come to their church that the elders planted another church. Another pastor spoke of his middle class congregation newly understanding the poverty that surrounds them. Church volunteers described the hand-to-mouth existence of those facing hunger.
Each Wednesday and Saturday, Pastor R and his wife spend time developing relationships with these families in their homes. On this day, Pastor R. had asked each family to invite another family to join them to meet the pastor and to receive a Food Pak.
One grandfather stood up, tears in his eyes, to share with those gathered that the Food Paks had reminded him that God has not forgotten him. Some of the families began to recite what Pastor R had been sharing with them in their homes:
The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want...
As Pastor R walked through these words with the families, the sun shone through a window on his face. With the Psalm on the wall behind him, I was reminded of Luke’s account of Stephen’s sermon, “All who sat in the chamber saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15) Thank God for His faithful servants who minister in hard places!