In August a team travelled from the UK and Tanzania to Madagascar, to introduce Rooted in Jesus Junior to the Dioceses of Fianarantsoa and Toliara, both of which adopted the adult programme back in 2011. The team was led by Canon Jacob Robert of the Diocese of Mara in Tanzania, which has been using Rooted in Jesus Junior to great effect for the last four years. Jacob is passionate about the potential for growth through discipling children, having seen its effects in his own diocese, where Sunday Schools have expanded and children are now active in memorising scripture and sharing their faith with their friends.
“I give thanks to our heavenly father, the Almighty God who by His grace enabled us to travel to Madagascar, an island country in the Indian Ocean with a population of 25 million, 18 tribes, speaking the Malagasy language. 4 million of the people are Christians.”
The Diocese of Fianarantsoa
“We landed in Madagascar at Antananarivo Airport. Revd Jean Flobert who is the Diocesan Rooted in Jesus Coordinator in Fianarantsoa came to pick us up from the airport. We travelled by night from Antananarivo up to Fianarantsoa Diocese, approximately 600 km. The road was mountainous, narrow with many corners, and plagued by bandits, but the bus driver brought us safely to our destination. The following day was Sunday, and we started enjoying life in Madagascar by attending a Sunday service. We were introduced by the Diocesan Bishop Rt Revd Ratelson Rakotondravelo Gilbert.”
Rooted in Jesus made a strong start in Fianarantsoa four years ago, and it was good to learn how it has become an established part of the life of the diocese, with one or more groups in every parish; “we no longer give out certificates,” Jean Flobert explained, “because everybody would have one.” Over the next four days the team worked with 87 keen Sunday School teachers drawn from across the diocese, offering the first training and the first resource material for use with children, painstakingly translated into the local language by Nolavy Arisoa, the Sunday School coordinator in the Diocese of Toliara. The teachers responded enthusiastically, throwing themselves into the workshops by day, and singing together late into the evenings. The conference ended with a magnificent evening of song, sketch and dance, which had everyone roaring with laughter and gasping with breathlessnessas in a vibrant community celebration of all that had been shared together. Flobert, who is also the Vicar General of the Diocese, summed up his reaction to the conference:
“The conference held here in Fianarantsoa over the last four days was fantastic! The team played their parts well, and we also saw the Sunday School teachers fully involved. They loved the practical exercises, and even for me as a priest there was one thing which completely took me aback. It was this: that there are lots of stories about children in the Bible! I hadn’t really taken that on board before. But here, in the Rooted in Jesus Junior conference, we looked at lots of stories about children from the Bible. That touched me profoundly. From here I will take home so many new things. When I get back to my parish I will do everything in my power with my team to improve the way in which we teach our children in the Province. Thank you very much!”
If you would like to listen to Flobert (speaking in French), you can watch the interview by team member Lucy Hefford here.
Team leader Jacob Robert concludes: “We gave 87 certificates to the participants who attended the conference. Bishop Gilbert led the Holy communion service, a fitting conclusion to the RinJ Junior introductory conference in the Diocese of Fianarantsoa. The next day we travelled by taxi-bus from Fianarantsoa to Mananjary, about 400 km away on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Revd Paulin hosted us, and gave us time to meet with children in the church. In Mananjary we went to the palace of the King of the area. His people narrated the history of how the tribe settled in the land. They are also church members. We also used our time over there to dedicate a church land for building a church.”
The Diocese of Toliara
On our return from Mananjary we set off on the long journey down to Toliara, on the southwest coast of the island, where we were welcomed by Bishop Todd and Revd Patsy McGregor. This is a very young diocese, inaugurated in 2013 and growing fast, with over 70 churches and ambitious plans for expansion in what is one of the poorest regions of Madagascar; just the kind of place, we feel, where Jesus himself would have been found.
Team member Katy Morgan, who at home is an assistant chaplain at Dean Close School in Cheltenham, writes:
“Around forty Sunday school teachers from across the diocese gathered with us at the cathedral for three days of training. We spent time talking about how to teach children to know Jesus, not only to know about him; worshipping and asking for the help and presence of the Holy Spirit; and practising the Rooted in Jesus Junior lessons in the course booklets we brought with us. The start of the conference felt a little faltering but as it went on the participants embraced the chance to receive from God and from the team, and in the end it was a very moving and joyful time. A highlight was the laughter which filled the room when the teachers were practising lessons with the kids they’d brought to the children’s Bible competition running at the same time. Our prayer is that they will continue to use these materials at home, being able to communicate to their priests and lay leaders what they have learned, and then to effectively pass on how it is going to Rev Donné, the diocesan coordinator; all with the aim of growing godly and genuine disciples among the children of churches across Toliara diocese.”
On the last day deanery representatives were appointed, and classes will begin in September. The conference concluded with presentations from the children’s choirs, and an inspiring performance of Miaraka, a modern day musical of Mary Magdalene written by Revd Patsy McGregor and Collette Maurel and presented with astonishing professionalism by local young people.
Jacob concludes: “The Bishop and his wife both showed us that we were not mistaken to come to their Diocese. The whole Diocese were prepared to adopt the Rooted in Jesus Junior program as a means of training laity and clergy to go out to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the Diocese. We met new friends (particularly our young translators Johary, Marc and Andrew), new people and a new atmosphere that enabled us to plant a new seed in the soil of the Diocese of Toliara. I want to thank God for what He has done; Rooted in Jesus Junior is now well known in the province of Madagascar.”
Posted on 25th September 2017.