ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar More than four years ago, Henintsoa Josephson, who had just been sustained first counselor in the new Antananarivo District, exclaimed: "The sun has finally risen on Madagascar!" His exclamation was an apt phrase for what has happened in less than a decade on this island nation off the southeast coast of Africa. Even more progress has been made since Brother Josephson's declaration.
Just nine years after the creation of the Antananarivo Branch, some 1,100 members attended a conference on Sept. 17, 2000, when Elder Ray H. Wood of the Seventy and president of the Africa Southeast Area created the Antananarivo Madagascar Stake, the first stake in the country. Assisted by Elder Christoffel Golden, an Area Authority Seventy and member of the area presidency, Elder Wood dissolved the Antananarivo District and created the stake with its six wards and a branch. Sustained as stake president was Dominique Andriamanantoa, with his counselors, Henri Buisiere Paccard and Edmond Razafimandimby.
"This was a truly wonderful moment," according to correspondence sent by the Africa Southeast Area presidency. "Many had tears in their eyes. Some commented that the performance of the choir transported those in attendance to heaven."
Members attended the special conference in the Madagascar Hilton, the most prestigious hotel in this capital city.
Located in the Indian Ocean east of Africa, Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island. Its population speaks Malagasy and French and follows traditional, Islam and Christian beliefs, with Christianity being a majority. The population originally came, for the most part, from Malaysia and Indonesia. The republic gained its independence in 1960.
The history of the Church in Madagascar presents a fascinating story of faith and spiritual guidance. The first member in Madagascar was Razanapanala Remeandricso. He, at first, was loud in his opposition to the missionaries, but experienced a change of heart. He was baptized in France in 1986 and ordained an elder in 1987.
Returning home to Madagascar, Brother Remeandricso dedicated much of his time and energy to missionary work. He began teaching the gospel to a small group of people in his father's house. A short time later, President Girard Giraud-Carrier, then mission president of the Mascarene Islands Mission, met 15 friends of the Church for the first time in this improvised chapel. Rafenonirina Jean-Claude, a 23-year-old young man, was baptized, the first baptism in Madagascar.
The first missionaries to the country were Elder Fred L. and Sister Eileen Forsgren, who arrived in 1991. The Antananarivo Branch was organized in a restaurant that year with 33 members. The Church received legal status in Madagascar in 1993, with membership near 375. In 1994, seminary was started and the auxiliaries began to function. On April 14, 1996, the first Antananarivo District conference was held, when Brother Josephson expressed his exultation. The organization of the district meant a transfer of responsibility of the leadership to the local priesthood leaders.
Elie Rajoanarison was called as district president, and Sahondra Rasoanaivo was called as the president of the district Relief Society. Sister Rasoanaivo declared, "The task will be hard, but following the example of Nephi, I will go and do what the Lord commands me."
With this new breath of life, the Church grew. Soon the chapels were cramped, and it was decided to buy and build buildings. During this process of acquiring and building structures, many spiritual events were experienced by the members. They felt the Lord was helping with the building of the kingdom.
The translation of the Book of Mormon into Malagasy was completed in February 2000 and members received their own personal copies, thanks to a gift of the Prescott Foundation.
The material sent by the area presidency related: "After the conference creating the new stake, everyone congratulated each other and embraced and were moved to tears. It was as if they had won a battle, because many times this phrase was heard from that popular song, well known by the Malagasies when they gained their independence in 1960: Azonay, tsy avelanay. 'We have it, we guard it!' "