Orlando congregation embraces unengaged people group in Madagascar
Apr 25, 2012
Florida Baptist Witness

VILLAGES Madagascar villages are largely unreached by any churches that are mostly concentrated along the road of developed cities. Courtesy photo
ORLANDO (FBW)—First Baptist Church in Orlando recently adopted the Antaimoro people group of southeast Madagascar through an Embrace partnership with the International Mission Board. The adoption came after months of prayer at every step in the process, according to Pastor David Uth.

Uth said the mission venture had been “a dream of mine several years,” so when the International Mission Board challenged churches last year to adopt the world’s 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups, Uth called First Baptist members to 40 days of prayer.

“I knew this was our moment,” he told Florida Baptist Witness. “I asked the IMB, ‘If you could send us to any people group you can’t get to for a while, where would you send us?’”

The IMB gave First Baptist the names of three people groups to consider, and one of the groups was the Antaimoro people living on the southeast coast of Madagascar. First Baptist members had met IMB personnel from Madagascar when the church hosted a cluster meeting for the IMB’s Two Oceans Region in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2011.

“It was amazing to hear their stories, to hear their hearts. They were so desirous of people coming to the island to help,” he said.

CONTACT In attempting to reach the Antaimoro people group in Madagascar, First Baptist Church in Orlando will be seeking persons of peace as contacts for their mission trips. Courtesy photo
When the church felt God’s leading to the Antaimoro, Uth and Missions Pastor Bill Mitchell focused on preparations for the new venture. They met with Madagascar Embassy officials in New York City and Washington, D.C., and received their blessing for the church’s involvement in Madagascar.

Mitchell journeyed to the island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa in October 2011. The 3-day, 10,800-mile trip from Orlando to Manakar, Madagascar, a city of 35,000, included 24 hours by plane and 12 hours by car along one of only four paved roads in the island nation.

 “Life along the road” is vastly different from life in the villages, Mitchell said. Mosques and churches—biblical and non-biblical—are located along the road but most never attempt to extend their influence beyond the pavement.

“You have a country there that allows and welcomes missionaries, so it isn’t that the government will not allow you to share Jesus. It’s because no one has gone into the villages. No one has gone to tell them about Jesus,” Mitchell said.

People on the island adhere to a mixture of folk-Islam, animism, ancestor worship and Christianity. 

Mitchell and Jeremy Newton, IMB strategy leader for southeast Madagascar, left the paved road and stopped to talk with persons they encountered to attempt to gauge the approximate boundaries of the Antaimoro people. They found the Antaimoro live in an area 10 miles north of Manakara to 40 miles south of the city.

Mitchell and Newton also earnestly sought “persons of peace” in the villages who will be personal contacts in villages that mission volunteers will visit. That search will continue when Mitchell and three laymen, all experienced mission volunteers, will travel to the region April 26. They also will select a village to be the starting point of First Baptist’s mission, along with mapping out travel logistics for volunteer groups.

UNREACHED Although Madagascar welcomes missionaries, no one has gone into the villages, said Bill Mitchell, missions pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando. Courtesy photo
Meanwhile the Orlando church continues to pray for the Antaimoro, and that God will call a couple from their congregation to serve in the Manakara region. Uth said the church’s goal is to have the first couple undergoing training with the IMB in time to launch a work there in 2013. The church is working with the IMB to develop a “profile and process” in selecting mission volunteers.

“I feel that it is churches’ responsibility to send out missionaries—not the IMB, and they have been so helpful in our doing due diligence in this,” Uth said.

As First Baptist Church embraces the Antaimoro people of Madagascar, the church will continue 14 other international mission partnerships, and the church’s commitment to the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon Offering and Annie Armstrong Offering will not change, Mitchell said. 

Uth is quick to add that adopting a people group through the Embrace emphasis is not limited to big churches. 

“Start by identifying a region you feel drawn to, then talk to the IMB. Ask questions. 

Use the IMB to come along side you, to help you go to the nations,” he said.  “Even if you can’t send somebody, you can pray. There are lots of ways to be engaged in missions.”

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