As told by Olivier Randriamora
“I know indeed how to be low on provisions, I know indeed how to have an abundance. In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger . . . For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”—Phil. 4:12, 13.
THESE words of the apostle Paul have long been of great encouragement to me and my wife, Oly. Like Paul, we have learned “the secret” by relying fully on Jehovah while serving Him here in Madagascar.
When Jehovah’s Witnesses started studying the Bible with Oly’s mother in 1982, Oly and I were already engaged. I too accepted a Bible study, and Oly joined me later. We were married in 1983, got baptized in 1985, and immediately thereafter commenced auxiliary pioneering. In July 1986, we became regular pioneers.
In September 1987, we began to serve as special pioneers. Our first assignment was a small town in northwest Madagascar where there was no congregation. There are some 18 main ethnic groups as well as countless clans in Madagascar, and social customs and traditions vary considerably. Malagasy is the official language, but there are also distinct dialects. So we set about learning the dialect spoken in our new assignment, and that helped us to be more readily accepted in the community.
Initially, I gave a public talk every Sunday, after which Oly would dutifully clap. We were the only ones present. We also had the full program for the Theocratic Ministry School, with Oly using an imaginary householder. How relieved we were when the visiting circuit overseer kindly suggested that we modify the meetings!
Because the mail was unreliable, we did not receive our monthly allowance regularly. Thus, we learned how to be low on provisions. On one occasion, we did not have enough money for the bus fare to attend a circuit assembly, held about 80 miles (130 km) away. We recalled some good advice from a fellow Witness: “Tell Jehovah about your problems. After all, it is his work that you are doing.” So we prayed and decided to go on foot. Just before we left, however, a brother unexpectedly visited us and gave us a monetary gift—just enough for the bus fare!
In February 1991, I was appointed a circuit overseer. By then, our small group had grown to 9 publishers, 3 of whom were baptized, and we had an average meeting attendance of 50. After being trained, we served a circuit in the capital, Antananarivo. In 1993, we were reassigned to a circuit in the eastern part of the country. Living conditions there were very different from those in the city.
To reach congregations and isolated groups, we traveled on foot, sometimes up to 90 miles (145 km) through densely forested mountains. We kept our luggage to the bare minimum. Of course, whenever the circuit overseer’s public talk included a slide presentation, as it sometimes did in those days, our load was heavier. Oly carried the slide projector, while I lugged a 12-volt car battery.
We often covered about 25 miles (40 km) a day in order to reach the next congregation. En route, we tramped up and down mountain tracks, traversed rivers, and sloshed through mud. At times, we slept along the roadside, but we usually tried to find a village where we could seek lodging for the night. Sometimes we asked total strangers to let us stay overnight. After finding accommodations, we would begin to prepare a meal. Oly would borrow a cooking pot and go to the nearest river or lake to fetch water. In the meantime, I would borrow an ax to chop firewood for cooking. Everything took time. Occasionally, we bought a live chicken, which we then had to slaughter and clean.
After the meal, we fetched more water for bathing. Sometimes we slept in the kitchen. When it rained, we might sleep leaning against a wall, trying to keep ourselves dry from the leaking roof.
We always made it a point to witness to our hosts. When we reached our destination, the kindness and hospitality of our Christian brothers and sisters were overwhelming. Their heartfelt appreciation for our visit made up for any inconveniences we experienced along the way.
When staying in the homes of fellow Witnesses, we enjoyed helping them with the household chores. This, in turn, freed them to join us in the field ministry. We did not expect luxuries or special food, which our hosts could not afford.
VISITING ISOLATED GROUPS
We enjoyed visiting isolated groups, where brothers welcomed us with a schedule packed with activity. We rarely had time to “rest up a bit.” (Mark 6:31) At one place, a Witness couple had invited all their Bible students—40 of them—to their home so that we could share in their studies. Oly joined the sister in conducting 20 or so studies, and I was with the brother for the other 20. As one student left, the next study commenced immediately. Later in the day, we took a break to have the congregation meetings, after which the Bible study sessions resumed. The marathon day might end after eight o’clock in the evening!
When we visited another group, all of us headed for a neighboring village about eight o’clock in the morning. We were all wearing old clothes. After a long trek through the forest, we reached the territory about noon. We put on clean clothes and immediately began preaching from door to door. The homes were few and the publishers many. So we covered the entire territory in about 30 minutes. Then we headed for the next village. After preaching there, we faced the long trek home. At first, this pattern made us a little discouraged. We had expended a lot of time and effort but had engaged in the house-to-house work for only about an hour. However, the local Witnesses did not complain. They remained enthusiastic.
One isolated group at Taviranambo was located near a mountaintop. There we found a Witness family living in a one-room house. Another small structure nearby served as the meeting place. Suddenly, our host began to call out in a loud voice, “Brothers!” From the next mountaintop, a voice answered, “Oh!” Our host called out again, “The circuit overseer has arrived!” The response came, “Yeah!” The message was apparently relayed to others living still farther away. Soon people began to gather, and when the meeting started, more than 100 were present.
In 1996 we were reassigned to a circuit closer to Antananarivo, in the central highlands. This circuit also had its share of unique challenges. There was no regular public transportation to the outlying areas. We were scheduled to visit a group at Beankàna (Besakay), about 150 miles (240 km) from Antananarivo. After some negotiation with the driver, we boarded a small truck traveling in that direction. There were some 30 other passengers in and on the truck, some lying on the roof and others hanging on the back.
As so often happens, the vehicle soon broke down, and we continued on foot. After we had trudged along for some hours, a large truck came by. It was already packed with people and goods, but the driver stopped anyway. We got on, accepting the standing-room-only situation. Later we came to a river, but the bridge was under repair. Once again we set off on foot and finally arrived at a small village, where some special pioneers were living. Although no visit was scheduled, we spent the time preaching with them while waiting for the bridge to be repaired and for another means of transport to pass.
It was a week before a vehicle came by, and we resumed our journey. The road was full of huge potholes. We frequently had to help push the vehicle through knee-deep water, often stumbling and falling in the process. In the wee hours of the morning, we arrived at a small village, where we got off. Leaving the main road, we continued on foot through rice paddies, waist-deep in muddy water, toward our destination.
That was our first visit to the area, so we decided to witness to some who were working in the rice fields and to ask for directions to where the local Witnesses lived. How delighted we were to discover that those workers were, in fact, our spiritual brothers!
ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO ENTER THE FULL-TIME MINISTRY
Over the years, it has brought us great joy to see the results of encouraging others to enter the full-time ministry. While visiting one congregation that had nine regular pioneers, we encouraged each pioneer to set the goal of helping one other publisher to enter the pioneer ranks. When we visited six months later, the number of regular pioneers had mushroomed to 22. Two pioneer sisters had encouraged their fathers, who were both elders, to become regular pioneers. These brothers had, in turn, motivated a third elder to join them. A short while later, the third elder was appointed a special pioneer. Later, he and his wife began in the circuit work. What of the other two elders? One serves as a circuit overseer, and the other is a Kingdom Hall construction volunteer.
We thank Jehovah every day for his help, as we recognize that we cannot accomplish anything in our own strength. True, we sometimes feel tired and become ill, yet we are happy when we reflect on the results of our ministry. Jehovah makes his work progress. We are happy to have a small share in it, serving him now as special pioneers. Yes, we have learned “the secret” by relying on Jehovah, “who imparts power” to us.
[Blurb on page 6]
We have learned “the secret” by relying on Jehovah
[Map/Pictures on page 4]
Madagascar, called the Big Red Island, is the fourth-largest island on earth. Its soil is red, and numerous unique species thrive there
[Picture on page 5]
We enjoy sharing in Bible studies
[Pictures on page 5]
Traveling was one of the biggest challenges we faced