How Many People Are There?

Lots of them.

Madagascar’s population is 20,653,556. Big numbers tend to lose real meaning in my mind sometimes, so are some comparisons to put that number into perspective.

  • Their population is not too far behind Australia’s (Australia’s population is  21,853,000).
  • Their population is higher than the population of any single U.S. state, except California and Texas.
  • Their population is higher than better-known countries like Greece, Sweden, Israel, Hong Kong, Cameroon, Zambia, and many more.
  • In fact, Madagascar’s population is the 57th-highest in the world (on a comprehensive list of 223 countries and territories).

Madagascar is growing…fast. The population growth rate is more than 3%, which is the 13th highest in the world (the U.S. has a population growth rate of .08%).  Average Malagasy moms have five kids.

Obviously, those are just numbers and boring statistics. But, whatever way you slice it, that’s a lot of people. The grim side of those numbers is that the vast majority of them are practicing animists, meaning that they worship animals, dead ancestors, and big trees, not the one true God.



07 2009

How Big Is It Anyway?


Until 2005, most Americans heard very little about Madagascar. Even today, two feature-length animation films later, singing lemurs and violent fossa are most of what comes to people’s minds at the mention of Madagascar. One common misunderstanding about the country is its size. Maybe this will help to put it in perspective:

  • Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in the world. Great Britain is number nine on the Biggest Island List.
  • Even though it is an “island,” please do not think “Hawaii.” This place makes Hawaii look like a sandbar. Madagascar is about 146 times bigger than the island of Hawaii.
  • From top to bottom, Madagascar is a little bit longer than 968 miles. That’s about the straight-line distance from Bismark, ND to Dallas, TX…or from New York City to Springfield, MO.
  • From east to west, Madagascar is as wide as 352 miles.
  • It’s twice as big as Arizona, the 6th largest state in the U.S.
  • It’s bigger than Spain, Germany, Japan, Iraq, Kenya, and Cameroon.
  • It’s the 46th largest country in the world (out of a list of 233 countries and territories)

More important than its geographical size is Madagascar’s population, something that I’ll write about later.



07 2009

Destination Fort Dauphin: Confirmed

Bay at Tolanaro

Today, I was able to purchase tickets from Antananarivo, the capitol of Madagascar, to Fort Dauphin, a city located in the extreme south of the island. Fort Dauphin, alternately known as Tolanaro, Tolagnaro and Taolagnaro, is a regional capitol, recognized for its beauty and economic promise. On my return flight to Antananarivo, I will have a layover in Tulear, another city I wanted to visit.

Countryside near Fort Dauphin.

Countryside near Fort Dauphin.

I choose to visit and research Fort Dauphin for the following reasons: Read the rest of this entry →


07 2009

The Test: Will the Filter Work?

Several days ago, I posted a poll: would you drink water from the Reedy River? I was happy to learn that none of the polled population habitually quaffs Reedy River water. This post explains why I asked the question.

Madagascar has a severe shortage of clean drinking water. Only 14% of the country’s rural population has access to water that is considered safe to drink. That’s a staggering number, considering that 80% of Madagascar’s 20+ million people live in rural areas.

When Keren visited Madagascar a few years ago, her team drank water carried from a well and hand-pumped through a filter. The filter they used to purify their water was designed to last for three months. It lasted just over 2 weeks before it needed to be changed. Here is a picture of a young man on her team holding up a new filter next to the 2-week old filter.

Left: new filter. Right: filter used for 2 1/2 weeks. Center: young man.

Left: new filter. Right: filter used for 2 1/2 weeks.

We will be traveling to rural areas that do not have a clean water source. If we were to drink the available water, our delicate (translation: wimpy) western immune systems would do even worse than the Malagasy immune systems. (In fact, even with the filter, everyone on Keren’s team did get quite sick from water/food-borne pathogens.) Thus, we will need to bring or supply our own purified drinking water. To prepare for this, I purchased a water bottle that is supposed to filter out harmful bacteria and other impurities. My plan was to test the bottle’s effectiveness by using it to drink water from a known harmful source. Read the rest of this entry →


07 2009

Would You Drink from the Reedy River?

Peaceful Pathogens Floating Through Greenvilles Downtown

Peaceful Pathogens Floating Through Greenville's Downtown

For Greenville’s present dwellers, erstwhile residents, or sometimes visitors, the Reedy River is a scenic cesspool. It is a place where children laugh and play, while parents cringe and desperately keep their children from plunging in, wading, or even touching the living, moving stream of death.

If you don’t have any familiarity with Greenville’s famous Reedy River, click here to find out.

This poll is intended to discern whether you think the Reedy River is worthy of your consumption. Why do I ask such a question? You will soon find out what the raging river of bacterial destruction has to do with Madagascar…

Would you drink from the Reedy River?

View Results

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07 2009

Malagasy Wildlife in Greenville, by Hana Kate


Last week, I got to take Daddy and Mommy on a mini-survey trip to see some animals from Madagascar. But we didn’t even have to leave Greenville! If you take a visit to the Greenville Zoo, you might be surprised to find MANY animals from Madagascar. I think my favorite is the lemur! My daddy has a book that has a lemur on the front cover, and at first I thought it was a cat; but now I can say “yemurh.” I hope Daddy gets to see one this summer. Maybe he will bring one home for me? When many people think about Madagascar, a lot of them think about lemurs and baobab trees, two things that Madagascar is famous for.

Read the rest of this entry →


07 2009

John Calvin: Missions Killer?

John Calvin

July 10, 2009 marked the 500th birthday of John Calvin. There is a sad notion, begun somewhere a long time ago, that views John Calvin as sort of a Missions Killer. Somehow, the doctrines of grace, often labeled as “Calvinism,” are suspiciously viewed as pious and intellectual-sounding excuses for those who refuse to share the gospel. This anti-missions thinking plagued William Carey’s religious world of the 1790s. One old pastor, hearing of Carey’s crazy ideas on foreign evangelism said, “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.”

Don’t blame John Calvin.

What follows is not a scholarly defense of John Cavin’s missiology, but a little (belated) birthday present to John on the occasion of his 500th. We can thank God for his profound impact upon church history, among which includes a significant contribution to world evangelism.

1. In a very unmissions minded age, John Calvin was himself a missionary. He left his native France and ministered in Switzerland.

2. John Calvin pastored a missionary-sending machine. His church sent hundreds of missionaries to Catholic-blinded France, into England, Germany, Scotland, and even  far-flung Brazil.

3. John Calvin taught missions, because the Bible teaches missions.

God certainly desires nothing more than for those who are perishing and rushing toward death to return to the way of safety. This is why the gospel is today proclaimed throughout the world, for God wished to testify to all the ages that he is greatly inclined to pity. (From his commentaries)

We must labour as much as possible to draw those to salvation who seem to be afar off. And above all things, let us pray to God for them, waiting patiently till it please Him to show His good will toward them, as He hath shown it to us. (From a sermon)

The gospel does not fall like rain from the clouds, but is brought by the hands of men wherever it is sent from above. (From his commentary on Romans)

The principle thing we have to look to is to teach the ignorant and to show them the way of salvation. (From a sermon in Ephesians)

“Our duty is, to be employed in sowing and watering, and while we do this we must look for the increase from God.” (From his commentaries)

So please, do not blame Calvin (or even biblical Calvinism, properly defined) for being a missions killer. Most importantly, listen to what the Bible has to say, not just John Calvin:

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 18:19-20)



07 2009


A picture of the Mahafaly landscape, near Gogogogo.

A picture of the Mahafaly landscape, near Gogogogo.

My 17-month-old daughter has a new-found fascination with saying, “GO! GO! GO!” (also the title of one of her books). While doing some research among unreached areas of Madagascar this afternoon, I came across the name of this city: Gogogogo! I love that name.

Besides having a unique moniker, Gogogogo has a deep need. It is located among the Mahafaly tribe. The Mahafaly, or “those who make taboos,” consist of 300,000+ tribal peoples whose violent resistance to Western influence, and tenacious grasp of traditional animism make them a prime target for the life-changing power of the gospel. They are among the most spiritually and physically needy people groups in Madagascar.

So…if you were looking for a ‘sign’ or fleece telling you to GO to Madagascar, there it is: Gogogogo.

Click here to hear Hana Kate discuss the need..


07 2009

What do they believe?

In a country with millions of practicing animists, what are the prevailing beliefs like? Here is a brief explanation:

At the beginning of time the Creator was Zanahary or Andriananahary. Now the Malagasy worship one god, Andriamanitra, who is neither male nor female. (Andriamanitra is also a word for silk, the fabric of burial shrouds.)croc

Many rural people believe in ‘secondary gods’ or nature spirits, which may be male or female, and which inhabit certain trees, rocks (which are known as ody) or rivers. People seeking help from the spirit world may visit one of these sites for prayer. Spirits are thought to possess humans who fall into a trance-like state, called tromba by the Sakalava and bilo by the Antandroy. Some clans or communities believe that spirits can also possess animals, particularly crocodiles.

The Malagasy equivalent of the soul is ambiroa. When a person is in a dream state it can temporarily separate from the body, and at death it becomes an immortal razana. Death, therefore, is merely a change and not an end. A special ceremony usually marks this rite of passage, with feasting and the sacrifice of zebu. The mood of the participants alternates between sorrow and joy.

(From the Bradt Travel Guide, 9th ed.)

Jesus died and rose again so that these people, living in bondage to evil spirits, sin, and fear, may be changed. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24)..


07 2009

Finding Interpreters


Right now I’m trying to locate an interpreter who can accompany us on our travels. The primary language spoken in Madagascar is Malagasy. (No, they don’t teach that in any language institutes in the United States.) To truly profit from a survey trip, it’s essential to communicate with the nationals, not just English-speaking missionaries. Please pray that God will lead me to a believing interpreter who understands the importance and purpose of our trip, and who can speak English, Malagasy and French.

I just got off the phone with a man living in Antananarivo who has served as an interpreter for missionaries on bush survey trips before. We had a six-minute conversation, in which my Malagasy calling card chewed through about fifteen minutes of call time. He graciously told me he would think about it, and asked for a call back tomorrow.


07 2009