W e’ve been living here in Madagascar for more than a year now and it’s been quite an adventure so far! In one short year we’ve been through some rough and scary times, particularly with raising our son Matimu here, but we’ve also had plenty of successes and causes for celebration. Well, our time of adventure doesn’t look to be ending any time soon and instead is taking a surprising new turn that we’re very excited to share with you.
We’ve recently received the opportunity to partner with another missions organization, Africa Inland Mission (AIM), to lead a new long-term outreach to one of the most untouched tribal groups in all of Madagascar, the Antakarana people. After a couple months of seeking God in prayer and also discussion and prayer with our current co-workers, family, pastor, and friends, we really believe this is where God’s leading us next.
We will still be missionaries through Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Madagascar, but we will be partnering with AIM to lead a team of mostly AIM missionaries to begin this pioneering work among the Antakarana people. The team will fit within AIM’s TIMO (Training in Ministry Outreach) program and will initially be made up mostly of new long-term missionaries. As Lora and I have more experience with cross-cultural development and missions work, we will be leading the team to both lay a solid foundational philosophy and strategy for long-term missions as well as actually begin the very first outreach to the Antakarana people in this location.
T his new work will begin on the remote and beautiful island of “Nosy Mitsio”, located about 20 miles off the northwest coast of Madagascar. Nosy Mitsio is small, only about 9 miles long and 2 miles wide, and still almost completely undeveloped with no electricity, no running water, no access to healthcare, no churches, and only one small single-classroom school building on the far south of the island. About 2000 Antakarana people live there in small villages, making a living through fishing and farming.
The Antakarana people, along with their tribal king, arrived on the island of Nosy Mitsio about 200 years ago, after fleeing the wars of the conquering Merina tribe from the central highland area of Madagascar. Before sailing across the ocean, they made a vow to follow Islam if they were able to successfully escape the Merina tribe. This island was their last hope and their last refuge to maintain their cultural heritage and tribal identity against those who tried to oppress them. To this day they honor the vow of their ancestors and claim allegiance to Islam. However, like most Malagasy people throughout Madagascar, they also worship their ancestors and other local gods and spirits, practicing witchcraft and animal sacrifices. Because of the remoteness of Nosy Mitsio and because of the Antakarana people’s resistance to outside influence, there’s absolutely no church or Christian witness among them at all.
As a team we will all live in the small villages of northern Nosy Mitsio, sharing life with the Antakarana people. Because of the Antakarana’s historical heritage and their cultural pride, they don’t formally allow missionaries to come and “convert” them, nor anyone from the Merina tribe to set foot on their island. However, they’re proud to share their history and culture and to teach it to outsiders who are willing to learn. That will be our team’s role, especially initially: learn their dialect, learn their way of life, and learn their culture.
Throughout that time, we’ll be forming relationships with the Antakarana of Nosy Mitsio and integrating into their communities. Then as a team we’ll discover the best ways to introduce the abundant life of Jesus to them, whether initially through small-scale community development projects or just through small talk in our casual relationships or something else entirely. As the people open up more and more and the Holy Spirit works in their lives, we’ll plant a church or churches among them and also initiate larger scale community development. The ultimate goal is to see the Antakarana people lead a church-planting movement that spreads throughout the island of Nosy Mitsio and then is taken back to mainland Madagascar and spread among the Antakarana people there and throughout all of northwestern Madagascar.
This new work and phase of our life will begin when Lora and Matimu and I move to the island of Nosy Mitsio next year around July. We’ll start settling in, learning the Antakarana dialect, building relationships, and preparing nearby village communities to accommodate the rest of the members of our team when they arrive the following year in July 2014. Then we’ll continue living among the Antakarana and learning as a team. We’ll start formulating a strategy for more direct Christian outreach to begin sometime in 2015. The TIMO team phase of the work won’t finish until the end of 2016. Then the goal is to see the larger-scale development and church-planting movement become sustainable over the next few years. Because this is a totally unreached group of people and we’ll be building on a clean foundation, we’ll need to work carefully and slowly to authentically bring Jesus and not our own cultural traditions to them. But we believe that the Holy Spirit will be in it to produce a lasting harvest and a multiplying work that will spread throughout Madagascar!
This is an ambitious task! We don’t think it will be especially easy, but we believe that where God wants to spread his Kingdom here on earth, he’s powerful and mighty to do it. We’ve already seen it ourselves and we trust he’ll do it again, and again and again. He’s a good God! And we truly believe we’ve heard from God that this is where he’s leading us next. Though we often feel ill-prepared and incapable to accomplish such a great work, especially as the leaders of it, we also know that if we follow where God leads us, he’ll take care of the rest. So that’s what we’re doing – following him, even to the ends of the earth!
O ur participation in this work will require dedicated time and commitment. We’ll also be involved in a few leadership forums and trainings with AIM next year to be better prepared to lead this TIMO team. Because of all this, we’ve realized suddenly that we’ll also need to push up our dates for our next time to visit the US and see all of you there.
So, we’re pleased to let you know we’ll actually be back in the US just in time for Christmas! We’ll be there until April 21st. Our main goal during this trip is to spend time with family (especially for them to be with Matimu!) since it will be quite a while before we can do that again. We also want to be sure that we can visit as many of our friends and supporters like you as we can.
During our time back in the US we’d love to take the chance to share with your church or Bible study group about some of the work that God’s doing way over here on this side of the world in Madagascar. This won’t be a fund-raising tour and we won’t be hitting you up for money. Our current budget should be sufficient even for this next phase of pioneering work on Nosy Mitsio, and our financial supporters have been incredibly faithful so far. But we believe that because God wants people from every corner of the earth in his Kingdom, then there must be something valuable for us to learn about who God is in the midst of that work and what he desires from all of us. And we’d love to share that with as many of you and your church groups as we can.
Most of our time in the US will be divided between the Fort Smith, Arkansas area and southwestern Missouri as well as the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. But we’ll also be travelling to Florida sometime in January or February and we’d love to stop anywhere in the general area along the way (including Mississippi) in order to visit some of you. We’re even thinking about a trip down to Texas, maybe as far south as San Antonio, sometime when we’re back. At this point, our schedule in the US from January to April is still very wide open, so if you’d like us to visit your church or Bible study group, please begin considering dates and let us know and we’ll do our best to work out every request.
F inally, we’ve made a few minor updates to our website! You’ll notice that all of our previous pages have had some small updates to reflect this new stage of work we’ll be beginning and we’ve rearranged the menus some. But we’ve also added a page specifically about the Antakarana people if you’d like to learn more and there are also links to some excellent video-stories that AIM has made to share more about them. We’ve also added a page where you can read news about Madagascar anytime, as it’s automatically updated every hour by Google News search. Both of those are under the “Madagascar” menu.
Last of all, we’ve added a page (under the “About Us” menu) which we’ll keep updated with our current prayer requests. Your prayers for us are something we very much appreciate and desire constantly. So we hope that this new page on our website will help you stay motivated and know what specifically you can be praying about for us. Currently we’d love your prayers during this season of travel for us, for peace and protection, as it will involve a lot of time by land, by sea, and by air. We’d also love you to begin praying for the TIMO team, during the process of selection that we and AIM will be led by the Holy Spirit to make the right choices regarding those who God has called to be his hands and feet to the Antakarana people on Nosy Mitsio.
Thank you for taking the time to read about what God’s doing in our lives and here in Madagascar. Thank you especially for being so faithful to be a part of God’s work here through us, whether through prayers or e-mails or financial support or care packages – it all means so much to us and reminds us that we’re not here alone, but we’ve been sent by our friends and family who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We look forward to seeing all of you early next year!
Adam, Lora, and Matimu Willard
Here is an excellent video developed by AIM, telling the story of both the Antakarana and the Sakalava (another mid-northern tribe in Madagascar).