It is the 8th of September 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
I am forever fascinated with the stories of the Malagasy Lutherans- that is, the Lutherans on the island nation of Madagascar. It is a hub of Lutheranism, but it doesn’t look like your grandma’s Lutheran church somewhere in the midwest. Of course, it isn’t unusual to have African Christians- as they outnumber Americans in total. And in the 19th century, the missionary fervor saw Christians of all stripes take the gospel to the ends of the earth. It was the Norwegian Missionary Society that sent Lutherans to the island in 1866, followed by the American Lutheran Church missionaries in 1888.
Our story today surrounds the life and ministry of Daniel Rajaofera, who was born in 1885 in the Antisrabe region, where Lutheran missionaries were active. His father was a convert and then became an indigenous Lutheran minister.
Daniel, following in his father's footsteps, attended the Teachers College of the Norwegian Mission Society and then was a teacher for a year with the mission.
Due to ill health, he took leave of his teaching position and, in 1912, contemplated leaving the ministry altogether. But, due to his knowledge of local dialects, he was sent out to a region without any missionaries or church workers. It was then that he heard of the “fifohazana” movement- an indigenous renewal movement that filtered people from healing services into the traditional churches.
Daniel heard of the work at the Manolotrony revival center with mother Ravelonjanahary. At the center, while waiting to see the healer, he began singing, and as the story goes, she heard him and laid hands on him. He was filled with peace, no longer desired wealth for its own sake, and eventually stayed on at the center to receive training and work for the mission.
Stories abound of his healing services. His message was one of turning from local idols to Jesus. Stories of healing and diviners rejecting their pagan traditions made their way to Ramiaramanana- a diviner who was the guardian of the tomb of Andriambodilova. Ramiaramanana- we’ll call him Rami wanted to challenge Daniel to a test of their Gods to see which one was superior. Daniel was coming to his town to preach on this, the 8th of September in 1929, which also happened to be a feast day for the God Andriambodilova.
The service at which Daniel Rajaofera presided ended with him praying for the people to witness the glory of God. Let me read from a report as to what happened: “A light in the form of a rainbow entered the room and descended on the pulpit where he was officiating. White smoke came from the pulpit and spread about, especially among the people who were praying and repenting. Outside, the crowd saw that the sun had been covered by a white cloud that made it look like a full moon that was descending while revolving. It came very near the spire of the church but did not touch it, then went back up."
Outside the tomb, Rami had people playing drums and dancing. But, according to one source, the animals for sacrifice ran away, mosquitoes swarmed the tomb, and then the people and the local God did nothing.
As the story is told, this lead to a large service on the following day in which many locals brought their idols to be destroyed.
It’s a remarkable story, and it isn’t documented in the manner that historians would like. Once again, I will say that I don’t write anything off because of supernatural aspects- the story may have occurred just as the one source tells us or something very close to it- nevertheless, the Malagasy Church- natives who embraced the faith while also embracing their own culture saw continue growth throughout the century, with stories such as this of Daniel Rajaofera and his showdown with a local shaman that occurred on this day in 1929.
The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and Romans 10:
15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of September 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who told me last Sunday at his church, “a light in the form of a rainbow entered the room and descended on the pulpit where he was officiating. White smoke came from the pulpit and spread about,” but it was part of his weekly pyrotechnics budget… he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who finds the strange connection between low church smoke machines and high church incense… It’s like a horseshoe… I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.