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, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want. For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”—Philippians 4:12, 13.
MY WIFE, Oly, and I have always found encouragement from these words of the apostle Paul. While serving Jehovah in Madagascar, we have learned what “the secret” is by relying on Jehovah in all circumstances.
In 1982, while Oly and I were engaged, Jehovah’s Witnesses started to study the Bible with Oly’s mother. Later I began to study the Bible, and after that, Oly started studying as well. In 1983 we got married, and in 1985 we got baptized. Immediately after that we began to serve as auxiliary pioneers. In July 1986, we became regular pioneers.
In September 1987, we started to serve as special pioneers. The first place we were sent to was a small town in northwest Madagascar where there was no congregation. The population of the country is divided into ethnic groups who have different customs and traditions. There are about 18 main groups and many smaller groups, or clans. Malagasy is the official language, but in some places people speak different forms, or dialects, of that language. So we started learning the dialect that the people spoke in the town where we were serving. This made it easier for the people who lived there to accept us.
In the beginning, we were the only ones who attended the meetings. I gave a public talk every Sunday, and at the end of the talk, Oly would even clap! When she gave her talks on the Theocratic Ministry School, she would pretend to be speaking to another person. So when the circuit overseer visited us and kindly told us that we could adjust our meetings, we were very happy!
We did not always receive our allowance every month because the mail did not come regularly. So like the apostle Paul, we learned how to live on very little. One day we did not have enough money to take the bus to go to a circuit assembly, which was about 130 kilometers (80 miles) away. Then we remembered the good advice a brother gave us. He said: “Tell Jehovah about your problems. After all, it is his work that you are doing.” So we prayed about it and decided to walk to the assembly. But just before we left, another brother came to visit and gave us some money. There was just enough to pay for the bus ride!
In February 1991, I was appointed as a circuit overseer. By then, our small group had nine publishers, and three of them were already baptized. But most of the time, there were about 50 people at the meetings. After I received some training as a circuit overseer, we were sent to a circuit in the capital city, Antananarivo. In 1993, we were sent to another circuit, which was in the eastern part of the country. Living there was very different from living in the city.
To reach congregations and groups of publishers, we had to walk about 145 kilometers (90 miles) over mountains with thick forests. When we traveled, we tried to take as few bags with us as possible. In those days if a slide show was part of the circuit overseer’s public talk, we had to carry heavier things. Oly carried the projector, and I carried a car battery.
To get to the next congregation, we often had to walk about 40 kilometers (25 miles) a day. We walked up and down mountain paths, crossed rivers, and walked through mud. Sometimes we slept on the side of the road. But we usually looked for a village where we could find a place to sleep for the night. We even asked people we did not know if we could sleep in their home. After we found a place to stay, we would begin to prepare our food. Oly would borrow a pot and go to the river or lake to get water, while I would borrow an ax to chop wood to make a fire. All of this took a long time. Some days we bought a live chicken, which we then had to slaughter and clean.
After we ate, we went to get more water for bathing. Sometimes we slept in the kitchen. If the roof leaked when it rained, we had to sleep leaning against the wall so that we could keep dry.
We always tried to witness to the people we stayed with along the way. When we arrived at the homes of our brothers and sisters, their kindness and hospitality touched our hearts. Because they appreciated our visit so much, we did not care that the journey was difficult.
When we stayed in the homes of our brothers and sisters, we enjoyed helping them with the work around the house. This helped them to have time to come out and preach with us. We did not expect our brothers and sisters to give us expensive things or special food that they could not afford.
VISITING ISOLATED GROUPS
We enjoyed visiting isolated groups, that is, groups of publishers who lived in rural areas. In those places, the brothers had made a busy schedule for us. Often, we did not even have time to “rest up a bit.” (Mark 6:31) In one place, a Witness couple invited all 40 of their Bible students to their home. Oly helped the sister conduct about 20 of the studies, and I helped the brother conduct the other 20. When one study was finished, the next study started immediately. Later in the day, we took time to have the congregation meetings, and then we continued to conduct the Bible studies. We were often busy until after eight o’clock in the evening!
When we visited another group, all of us left at about eight o’clock in the morning to go to a nearby village. On the way there, we all wore old clothes. We walked a long way through the forest until we reached the village at about 12 o’clock. When we got there, we put on clean clothes and immediately started preaching. There were not many homes, but there were many publishers. So we finished the territory in about 30 minutes. Then we went to the next village. After we preached there, we had to walk all the way home. We felt discouraged because we spent a lot of time to get to the territory but preached for only about an hour. But the Witnesses from that area did not complain. They were happy.
One group of publishers in Taviranambo lived close to the top of a mountain. A Witness family was living there in a house with one room. They had the meetings in a small building nearby. Suddenly, the brother we were staying with began to call out in a loud voice, “Brothers!” From the top of the next mountain, someone answered, “Oh!” The brother called out again, “The circuit overseer has arrived!” They answered, “Yeah!” The brothers kept passing on the message to others who lived farther away. Soon people began to arrive at the meeting place. When the meeting started, more than 100 people were there.
DIFFICULTIES WITH TRANSPORTATION
In 1996 we were sent to a circuit closer to Antananarivo. Here we had some other difficulties. There was no regular public transportation to the areas far from the cities. One day, we were planning to visit a group in Beankàna (Besakay), about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from Antananarivo. We saw a small truck that was going in that direction. After we discussed with the driver what we would give him for the ride, we got onto the truck, which already had about 30 other passengers. Some were lying on the roof, and others were hanging on the back of the truck.
As so often happens, the truck soon broke down, and we had to walk. After walking for a couple of hours, a large truck came by. It was already full, but the driver stopped anyway. We got onto the truck even though there was no place for us to sit. Later when the truck came to a river, it could not cross because the bridge was being repaired. So once again we had to walk. Finally we arrived at a small village, where some special pioneers were living. Although we had not planned to visit them, we preached with them while we were waiting for the bridge to be repaired and for another vehicle to pass.
After a week another vehicle came by, and we continued our journey. The road was full of big holes. We had to stop many times to help push the vehicle through water that came up to our knees. We often fell while we were doing this. Very early in the morning, we arrived at a small village and got off the truck. We left the main road and walked through rice fields where there was muddy water that came up to our waists.
Because that was our first visit to this area, we decided to witness to some workers in the rice fields and to ask them where the Witnesses lived. We were very happy to find out that those workers were our brothers!
WE ENCOURAGED OTHERS TO BECOME FULL-TIME MINISTERS
It has always made us very happy to encourage others to become full-time ministers. For example, one congregation that we visited had nine regular pioneers. We encouraged each pioneer to help one other publisher to become a pioneer. Six months later, there were 22 regular pioneers in that congregation! Two sisters who were pioneers had encouraged their fathers to become regular pioneers too. The fathers were both elders, and they encouraged another elder to become a pioneer. This third elder soon became a special pioneer. Later, he and his wife were assigned to the circuit work. What happened to the first two elders? One of them is now a circuit overseer, and the other is a volunteer who builds Kingdom Halls.
Every day we thank Jehovah for his help because we know that we cannot do anything without it. Even though we sometimes feel tired or get sick, we are happy when we think about the results of our ministry. Jehovah makes the work that we do for him successful. We are happy to serve him now as special pioneers. We have learned “the secret” by relying on Jehovah, “who imparts power” to us.