Compassion, culinary, sports and evangelization
Antsiranana is located at north end of the island of Madagascar, 24 hours’s drive from the country’s capital, a port city of a population of almost 300,000 people. Since August 2007, the Shalom Community’s mission has been quietly growing there. The missionaries seek to give an answer to the Church, which is constantly in need for laborers to its harvest, through the so called “first announcement” of the Gospel in a semi-urbane context.
Situated in a beautiful bay and surrounded by a rich natural park, Antsiranana paradoxically faces many challenges: prostitution, political instability, poor distribution of wealth, exploitation of natural resources, HIV / AIDS epidemic, malaria, abandonment of children with disabilities, child trafficking and exploitation of women.
Vanda Santos, 43, from Salvador, Brazil, is the head of Shalom Community in Antsiranana that has a total of eight missionaries living in Scama, a neighborhood in the outskirts of the city. She explains that Shalom Community came to this town by the invitation of Archbishop Michel Malo with the mission to evangelize through its own Charisma and run a centre for children and young people, especially those with physical disabilities.
“Prophetically, the Archbishop had an intuition that physical disability was only one of the many infirmities that had to be addressed and healed in that area where we work. There are so many wounds and illnesses within the local reality such as drug addiction, child abandonment, discouragement due to extreme poverty… realities that need the attention of the Community” – explains Vanda.
The missionaries who live and work in Scama are all Brazilians. Only one of them knew French before arriving. Vanda explains, “Usually, language is a great barrier, but we don’t give up”. She states that all the missionaries dedicate themselves thoroughly in learning the language. French is the main language of the former colonized country, although, the poorest people, those who received limited education, only speak the native language, Malgasy. “I am convinced that linguistic preparation is not the only element that defines the quality of a missionary. First of all, it is important to love the people and to will reaching out to them” – says Vanda.
The small community house where the missionaries live serves as an evangelizing centre for the general public. The main area is the dining-hall, where people get together, and the chapel which is always open to anyone who would like to visit and pray. There lies the secret of their missionary force. Vanda explains that the mornings are “watered by prayer, because it’s Jesus Who gives us the strength and impels us to overcome all human barriers and go to the people, to speak of His love“. She adds that the afternoons and weekends are filled with activities, “the true engine of our mission until now has been what we call the ‘Joseph of Egypt Project’. In the afternoons, we teach and evangelize 45 children at the centre. Along with this project, we started our daily missionary visits to the houses in the neighborhood, especially attending prayer requests for the sick and the families of the children who are involved in our activities. We also regularly visit the sick in the two city hospitals and we have a prayer group at the local jail.”
All this would be enough, but the group of missionaries is not completely satisfied. “Sometime ago, we’ve been thinking about how to get to more people to talk about the love of Jesus, to reach those who do not go to Church or who often feel unworthy of God“, – explains Thamires Pacheco, one of the missionaries who recently came to join the team. She adds, “so, an inspiration of God for the year 2015 came to us: start a cooking course and a small volleyball and soccer school“.
Eugenia Costa, one of the members of the Community who has been in Antsiranana since 2014, explains the purpose of the cooking course: “Because of poverty and the lack of education, meals are restricted to rice only. We’ve noticed, however, in the preparation of the daily meals that there are other sources of nutrients available which are underutilized. So we thought about gathering the neighborhood mothers to help them to enhance their daily bread.”
Vanda says that there are about forty women now participating in these courses, including some Muslim mothers, attracted by the unusual content of the classes. “I look at them,” – she explains – “and I feel they are thirsty for something more, for an abundant life. Therefore, our task is to have the courage to ‘propose’ the Gospel and to pray with them, thanking God for His gifts and care for us all. Practically, every week we try to give a testimony of the love of God in a new and attractive way,” – she concludes.
One participant testified during the course: “If Shalom were not here, what would be of us? What would we be doing now? Thanks be to God for loving us in an unique and different way; for giving us the opportunity to learn how to prepare our food with more dignity; and for giving the understanding of the food needed for the body, because our souls need a body to live. Thanks be to God for Shalom and the way they express their love for God… Thanks be to God for sending dedicated missionaries to our country who are willing to lead us to know and to experience the love and mercy of God.”
The Shalom Mission in Madagascar is not restricted to the kitchen. Gabriel Angelo speaks about the volleyball and soccer projects: “Actually it’s very simple, it’s a way to get to the young people who otherwise wouldn’t go to Church or who wouldn’t ever imagine themselves playing sports with a missionary. We use the moments of fellowship to offer them a chance to participate in a spiritual retreat according to their ages and social context. For many of them, it’s been a rekindling of faith.”
With her long missionary and social work experience in Brazil, Vanda concludes: “In this land I rediscovered the joy of being a missionary. It’s very challenging, but I see the merciful hand of God guiding my life and leading His people.“
Fr. Cristiano Pinheiro