John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

The sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light online

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interfere with the work of all the Protestant soci-
eties in the island ; and all have suffered at their
hands — save that a measure of leniency has been
shown to the work of the Society for the Propa-
gation of the Gospel

They were aided by the prestige they obtained
from the fact that France is a nominally Catholic
country. Accustomed to slavery, and slavish in
their spirits still, the Malagasy have been largely
educated to simply follow the customs of those to
whom they owe obedience. Consequently, when
the French conquered the island, many tribes sup-
posed that Romanism was the established relig-
ion. This idea was zealously fostered, and fre-
quently, when the disturbances were quieting
down and the Protestant missionaries were going
through the villages seeking their congregations,
they were met by some such exclamation as this :
" We belong to the Roman Catholics now, be-
cause the French are our masters." Had the
Jesuits confined themselves to active missionary
efforts, comparatively little harm might have
been done ; for the Protestant teaching given the

288 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

people, and the deep-seated love for the Bible,
would have prevented immense numbers of the
Malagasy from consenting to become even nom-
inal Catholics.

Now that the changed conditions had opened
the way for stronger measures than preaching or
teaching, a season of persecution began. The
very first efforts were in the direction of getting
rid of the Word of God and the Gospels and
hymn books. With the open Bible in the hands
of the people Romanism could not flourish. It
must be gotten rid of ; and to this end their sub-
tlest energies were bent. Fraud and force were
both used for this purpose; insomuch that many
of the natives resorted to the method of former
years, and saved their Bibles only by burying
them. After four years of anxious waiting and
suffering, many a grave in Madagascar has been
opened in the past year, and the Bibles and hymn
books which were the companions of the Chris-
tians in former times, have been raised and once
again brought into use.

The next step was to spread lying reports con-
cerning the Protestant missionaries, and the priv-
ileges accorded to Romanists by the government ;
and these were followed up by threats of penal-
ties, such as fines, imprisonment, and loss of land
in the event of refusal to embrace Romanism.
When these means did not suffice, stronger meth-
ods were devised to spread a reign of terror
among the people. The priests took care to see

The Sign of the Cross Again 289

that in public appointments, and especially in the
matter of petty local chiefs, few, if any, Protes-
tants should be selected. These chiefs, owing
their positions to the influence of the Jesuits,
abused their powers and commanded the people
to become Catholics, and to send their children
only to Jesuit schools. In this way considerable
injury was wrought upon the country, and the
schools of the Protestant missionaries.

Efforts were also made to interfere with the
medical work of the hospitals and dispensaries,
the people being constantly warned to keep away
from such places and the Christian influences
which, in connection with their medical work, the
missionaries sought to bring to bear upon the
people. But when all these milder measures
failed to fully accomplish the designs of the Ro-
manists, they unhesitatingly resorted to sterner
means, while the authorities looked on with cyn-
ical indifference.

Before the French conquest, when the war was
in progress, the Jesuit Fathers at Antananarivo
were saved from murder by the friendly action
of Protestant missionaries. Their return for such
kindness was, so soon as French rule was estab-
lished, to seek the destruction of those who had
saved their lives, and to destroy their work.

A French Protestant missionary exposed one
of the methods used to compel the people to be-
come Catholics. A man was induced by a priest to
sign a paper joining the Catholic Church. But

290 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

a clause, of which he was unaware, was inserted,
binding him to pay $50 fine in the event of his re-
turning to his former church. When the poor
man, having discovered the hollowness of Ro-
manism, was about to return to his earlier faith,
the priest confronted him with his bond, holding
him to the payment of the amount.

In many localities they circulated papers, the
acceptance of which involved adherence to Ro-
manism, but saved the possessor from the charge
of being a rebel. When difficulty arose in deter-
mining who were Protestants, the priests hired
spies and sent them to their meetings to report.
Another French missionary states that an evan-
gelist at a village near Antananarivo was seized,
imprisoned and bound in chains. His offence
was that, when a Jesuit Father had sought to en-
ter a Protestant church under his care, for the
purpose of terrorizing his people, and if possible
seizing the property, he stood in the door-way
and prevented him. As if this were not suffi-
cient, he was afterwards tortured till he was a
mass of bruises, and then exposed to the ridicule
of passers by. Having thus put the evangelist
out of the way, the Jesuit Father returned to the
village school, forced an entrance and took away
the children. In another case the local chief and
governor were arrested and placed in chains, for
being Protestants ; while near by, a pastor and
teacher suffered the same fate. A Jesuit told the
Malagasy governor of another district that he

The Sign of the Cross Again 291

would have to become a Catholic or lose his life ;
and in many localities the Romanists threatened
they would arrest and confine in chains every
Protestant pastor, teacher and evangelist. Many
did actually suffer death; and in the moment of
fiery trial proved themselves worthy successors
of those who, thirty years before, had counted
not their lives dear to them for the sake of Christ.
Murdered at times by hired brigands, and at oth-
ers by the hand of the law, on trumped up
charges, they were truly the victims of religious

One of those so slain, Raindriamampedry, was
publicly executed in the presence of some 50,000
spectators. He was an officer in the Malagasy
army, having sixteen honors, and so ranking
next to the prime minister ; therefore he was shot.
We are told that as he fell, pierced by eleven bul-
lets, his face shone like that of an angel; while
the multitude of Malagasy wept at the sight. The
secret of his murder was revealed when, as a
Jesuit approached and offered to baptize him in
order to save his soul, the officer calmly and
clearly answered : " No ! I will die in the simple
faith in which I have lived." Possibly some will
be almost incredulous as to such things being
done by Romanists in the last decade of the nine-
teenth century, and in a country under French
rule ; but the evidence is to be found in the devas-
tated mission stations, in the scarred and broken
Protestant teachers and evangelists of Madagas-

292 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

car, and in the testimony of British missionaries
whose word is beyond doubt; while some of the
most damaging evidence is furnished by French-
men themselves, and the reparation which the
French authorities have had to make.

Late in 1897, M. De Seynes stated, in a crowd-
ed public meeting in Paris, that while the out-
break on the part of the heathen tribes in Mada-
gascar was a most serious event, a worse insur-
rection threatened Frenchmen in the island — an
insurrection against justice, the rights of con-
science, and the faith of treaties ; and marked by
Jesuit intrigues.

Persecution also arose from another quarter.
The French conquest was immediately followed
by the outbreak of a rebellion of a politico-relig-
ious character. That conquest of the Hovas set
free the heathen tribes which had been for gen-
erations under Hova sovereigns ; yet always hat-
ing and chafing against their power. They at
once seized the opportunity for avenging them-
selves upon their former rulers, and at the same
time for striking, what they intended to be, a
deadly blow at the Christian faith. The govern-
ment was very slow in recognizing its responsi-
bilities in the midst of these perils, and failed to
afford complete protection; with the result that
hundreds of churches have been destroyed, and
Christians slain in numbers which will probably
never be known.

Toward the midsummer of 1896, we are told,

The Sign of the Cross Again 293

" in every part of the island rioting, robbery and
murder were rampant." The object of the re-
bellion is thus stated by another : " They intended
to release themselves from the French and return
to their old ways and idols as formerly; and the
Christians were in the way, and the missionaries
an easy prey, so they commenced with us." Two
or three instances must suffice to illustrate the
condition which prevailed throughout the land.
Though repeated attempts were made to destroy
them, in almost every case the European mission-
aries escaped with their lives, while suffering the
loss of all else.

Notable exceptions were the Rev. W. Johnson
and his wife and child. These workers were
amongst the most highly honored agents of the
Friends' Foreign Mission Association, and their
work had been greatly blessed of God. But the
first fury of the storm broke over the western part
of Imerina, in which they were located and swept
them and their child into eternity. Hitherto little
anxiety had been felt for the safety of the Euro-
pean missionaries, as their lives had been respect-
ed in the past, even in the outbreak of the great
persecution. So that, although it is said that the
Johnsons were warned of approaching danger
and urged to escape, they felt safe in remaining
at their station. They merely took the precau-
tion of sending away the native teachers for
whom, they understood, search was being made.
Suddenly the mob surrounded Mr. Johnson's

294 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

house, and the leaders called him out, asking for
money. He, not suspecting any more evil de-
sign, took some of them into his bedroom and
gave them what he had. Whether their intention
had been to kill him, or whether, being disap-
pointed with what they received, a dispute arose,
and in a moment of passion they over-reached
their purpose, may never be known. At any rate,
they slew him in his room, threw his body out
of the window and cut off his head and legs.
Alarmed by the attack upon her husband, Mrs.
Johnson and her little girl sought to escape, with
the help of a servant ; but while fleeing in another
direction they were met by a second mob, who
at once cut them all down, tore off their clothing,
and mutilated their bodies. That the anger of
the mob was not directed specially toward these
missionaries, would seem to be indicated by the
fact that they were aroused by the presence of a
number of Hova officials, who had come from the
capital to settle some law-suit ; and no fewer than
fourteen of these, including the Governor of the
district, were killed in the same attack. Thus,
for the first time, the peril, as well as the joy, of
preaching the gospel to the people of Madagas-
car was brought home to the heart of this mis-
sionary society. Some portions of their work
were in consequence thrown into confusion; but
faith and Christian courage have outlived the
storm, and new success has since crowned their

The Sign of the Cross Again 295

Having dipped their hands in the blood of these
Europeans, the mob seemed to grow more des-
perate, and prepared to destroy other missions.
Many were the narrow escapes of Europeans
from cruel and terrible deaths ; while many of
the native teachers and Christians were ruthless-
ly slaughtered because of their faith. One of
the most remarkable examples was that of Mr.
McMahon and family, who were laboring under
the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of
the Gospel.

News of the outbreak reached them on the
night of Nov. 22nd, 1895, and they had just time
to escape with their lives, leaving all their prop-
erty behind. They had scarcely fled ten miles
when, looking back, they saw the flames arising,
showing that the settlement at Ramainandro, with
the church, school, mission and teachers' houses,
were being destroyed.

Disappointed at failing to catch the McMahons,
the leaders offered a price for their heads. Be-
ing warned they continued their flight all night,
reaching another station early in the morning.
Here they found a few friends ; but toward the
evening matters assumed a threatening aspect,
and again they were urged to escape. While
doing so they were followed by a crowd of five
hundred people, who frequently surrounded them
and refused to allow them to go farther. Having
a few guns and spears, they prepared to fight rath-
er than suffer themselves to be thus detained;

296 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

and this had the effect of opening the way.
Darkness set in, and a severe storm of rain and
lightning came on; but through rain and dark-
ness they pursued their weary way until after
midnight, when they reached another station, and
were kindly received by the people, who burst
into tears when they saw their teacher in such a

The rebels were pursuing, only three hours be-
hind them; and so there was little time for rest.
Again they pressed forward, and again deliv-
erance appeared for them. Word came to the
rebels that French troops were moving to attack
them, and the majority of them turned toward
Antananarivo, marching to engage those troops.
This gave the missionary a respite, and enabled
him to make good his escape. After five weeks
of weary wandering he and his family reached the
capital on Dec. 29th ; but along the line of their
flight and pursuit, lay the smouldering ruins of
fifteen mission stations — churches, schools and
houses ; and the mangled bodies of a large num-
ber of faithful native teachers and Christians,
who had fallen in their steadfast loyalty to Christ.

Among those who thus fell were a remarkable
disciple and his two sons. On the approach of
the rebels they made good their escape from the
village and safely reached the French camp. But
instead of finding a refuge and full protection,
they were sent back, being advised to use their in-
fluence to keep order and peace amongst the vil-

The Sign of the Cross Again 297

lagers. They had no sooner arrived than they
were seized, and the alternative given them was,
to bow and swear by the idols or to die. The
question required no parley. The father's an-
swer was, that he had ceased to have any faith
in the idols, had renounced them once and for all,
and nothing could persuade him to worship or
swear by them. Immediately the three men were

As the months sped by, the conditions became
worse, and over an ever-widening area the devas-
tation and bloodshed spread.

When the midsummer of 1896 arrived, strife
and murder prevailed in every section of the
island; but while the forces of heathenism had
broken loose, and the Christians were suffering,
many remarkable instances of divine succor were
witnessed. In addition to those already given
one other may be noted.

The Norwegian Society had a station at a
place called Tsira-be. The day came when the
settlement was attacked by a large robber band.
Many took refuge in the mission house, which
was quickly surrounded and preparations made
for destroying all. Large quantities of wood
were gathered and piled around the house. A
barrel of gunpowder was placed amid the wood.
For three days and nights the heathen were en-
gaged in dancing round the house, scoffing at the
Christians, gloating over the awful fate threaten-
ing them, and blaspheming their Lord. They

298 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

taunted them with their helpless condition and
asked, reviling, " Where is your Christ? where is
He that can save ? " Verily they knew not in
what unexpected ways the God of the Christians
can save; for even while they taunted them, and
delayed to light the fire, suddenly a small force
of French soldiers rushed into the village, drove
off the rebels, and saved the mission and its in-

For many months a veritable reign of terror
wrought havoc all over the land. Hundreds of
well-built and beautiful churches and school-
houses were completely destroyed; only charred
ruins, or heaps of red clay, marking the sites
where these sanctuaries for the worship of God,
reared by the willing hands and the self-sacrific-
ing offerings of the native Christians, had stood.
In all parts of the island Sabbath services were
largely suspended, and the Christians driven into
exile to escape from the perils surrounding them.

It is almost impossible to estimate the fearful
consequences of this double persecution — the loss
of confidence in the civil rulers on the part of
multitudes of the people; the angry passions
aroused, which will take many years to obliterate ;
the set-back to Christian work of all kinds; the
loss of valuable lives and of the power to assist
in replenishing the field, because of the destruc-
tion of so much mission property ; and the poverty
induced by the laying waste of the homes and
lands of the Christians.

The Sign of the Cross Again 299

Again has the sign of the cross, in suffering and
loss for the sake of Christ, in this last decade of
our century, fallen on Madagascar ; and to multi-
tudes of the present generation, the words of the
Lord have acquired a new meaning : " If any man
will come after me, let him deny himself, and take
up his cross and follow me."

The persecution has now apparently spent it-
self. Law and order have been largely restored.
Mission work has been re-organized; and new
arrangements made, which it is hoped will help
toward bringing back the brighter days of gospel
light and liberty, and in spreading them over the
whole land. Can the Church of Christ recuper-
ate? Can the desert rejoice and blossom as the
rose? Can these later shadows pass? The
grounds of hope which inspire a strongly affirm-
ative answer to all these questions will be set forth
in our concluding chapter.



When the storm has been long continued, the
clouds inky black, the earth windswept and de-
luged with rain, our eyes look eagerly for the first
break in the clouds and the bright rays which tell
us that above all the raging of the elements, the
sun still shines, and that, sooner or later, the
shadows will flee and his glory transfigure their

Such, figuratively, was the situation as we
closed the last chapter. God's hand was reveal-
ing itself during the dark days of persecution;
divine light was shining through the mists which
enveloped the suffering Christians; and already
the clouds were breaking, and signs appearing
that noonday brightness might yet be hoped
for. Upward to the throne must be our gaze,
and forward to the light our spirit, as we con-
template the prospects of Madagascar's redemp-

We may, with glad hearts, thank God for the
passing of the bitter persecution by the heathen.
Once again the powers of evil have risen in their
strength and pride, and once again have they been
defeated. In many parts of the island, heathen-

Looking to the Noonday 301

ism seems to have made its final struggle to re-
gain the ascendency over Christianity, and has
failed. Large numbers of those who followed
the leaders of the rebellion have recently acknowl-
edged their wrong, and their repentant hearts will
probably prove to be prepared soil to receive the
truth of God.

It is also a cause for deep gratitude that, dur-
ing the past year or so, there have been great im-
provements in the relations of the government to
the agents of the various societies, and their
work. A kindlier spirit, a truer interest, a more
generous confidence, and a willingness to avail
himself of the able services of the missionaries
for the advancement of the people, have marked
the attitude of the governor-general and many
of his officers. The visit of a deputation from the
London Missionary Society; the assumption of
the responsibility for a large share of the work by
the Protestant churches of France ; and a visit, as
a deputation from the Paris Missionary Society,
by MM. Boegner and Germond, may have done
much toward bringing about this result. The
discovery by the governor-general that the mis-
sionaries were men of sound judgment, ready for
any good work, and loyal to French authority, has
also done much to dissipate suspicions ; so that
the government has twice requested the co-opera-
tion of the medical missionaries of the capital, in
efforts to improve the sanitary conditions, to
stamp out smallpox, and to induce the people to

302 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

quietly submit to vaccination. This has created
mutual confidence and enabled the missionaries to
prove the physical, as well as spiritual, advan-
tages of their work. The London Missionary
Society reports for last year, that the government
has " loyally kept its promise to give the mission-
aries of the London Missionary Society the same
freedom and recognition, as is accorded to oth-
ers ; " and on several occasions the resident gen-
eral has gone out of his way to make it clear that
he appreciates their work.

Here then, are rifts in the clouds of suspicion,
indifference and intolerance, by which the relig-
ious horizon in Madagascar had been overspread,
on account of political changes; and these assist
in inspiring our hope, although there are clouds
still hanging above the horizon. Notwithstand-
ing its more friendly attitude, the government has
recently created a new perplexity for the native
teachers. They have been released from the ne-
cessity of giving free labor, in constructing roads
for the country ; but, on the other hand, the gov-
ernment has required that, in every school, horti-
cultural teaching shall be organized. The en-
forcement of this decree has been made so op-
pressive as to cause many of the teachers to give
up their duties. Yet a way will be found to sur-
mount this difficulty, as has been done in every
other case. If Pharaoh will have bricks made
without straw, then, until the Lord removes Pha-

Looking to the Noonday 303

raoh's decree, we can trust the missionaries under
God to find a way to accomplish the work.

Since the French conquest, a very important
departure has taken place in the prosecution of
mission work. For many reasons it appeared
desirable that a new agency should be brought
to bear upon the life of the Malagasy. The new
political conditions ; the need for exerting direct
influence in the French Senate so as to secure
liberty and toleration; and the spiritual advan-
tages, to the Protestant churches of France, of
being called upon to recognize their great op-
portunity and enter the field of service open to
them; these, among other reasons, led to steps
being taken which have placed a good deal of
the Protestant mission work in Madagascar under
the direction and care of the Paris Society of
Evangelical Missions. This society has entered
upon its labors with much vigor. In France it
is maintaining an earnest struggle to secure full
religious liberty for the converts in the colony;
for missionaries of other nations, who are loyal
to the laws, to settle and labor there; and is
seeking to conserve to the Christians the Bible,
and the free church life in which they have been
nurtured. At the same time they are sending out
many laborers into the field. Last year, 1899,
eighteen missionaries were sent to Madagascar;
and all their agents are working in harmony with
those of other Protestant societies. In these new

304 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

departures, probably, will be found a factor which
will prove of immense importance in the future of
the country, and which cannot but re-act, in a
quickened spiritual life, on the churches of

Gradually the breaches made in the work of the
several societies are being repaired. Churches
and school-rooms are being rebuilt; others are
being restored and strengthened; the schools are
being reopened and the children attending
more regularly ; while from many quarters, tid-
ings come of the growth of congregations, and a
large demand for Bibles and other books. These
are facts to quicken the hopes of the church,
and to stimulate her to greater diligence in re-
sponding to her call. There are further signs

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 16 of 17)