John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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VI. Light in the Darkness.
VII. The Idol Maker.
VIII. This New Sect.



The passing years brought changes and devel-
opments in those with whom we have already be-
come acquainted. That friendship which sprang
up so naturally between Rafaravavy and Rasal-
ama, had deepened with the flight of time. In
the meantime Rasalama had suffered the loss of
both of her parents. Her father first squandered
almost all his wealth on heathen vices, and then
died, leaving Rasalama and her mother but mean-
ly provided for. Shortly afterward, her mother
died, and Rasalama, reduced in circumstances,
and bereft of the affection of both parents, was
cast upon the world. In this time of trial she
learned to know the depth of the affection cher-
ished for her by Rafaravavy. Calling her to her
side, Rafaravavy sought to comfort her with such
consolations as her heathen faith afforded. But
the best comfort, at this time, was yielded by the
love of her womanly heart toward the orphan
girl. In Rasalama's loss, she found an opportu-
nity for gratifying her own sense of joy in the
presence of her young friend ; and the friendship
between these two deepened, so that they sus-
tained toward each other much of the relation of

46 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

mother and daughter. All the brightness of dis-
position and attractiveness of person which had
marked the girl became more fully developed as
she grew toward the period of maturity. Such
was the thought of, at least, one of the young men
who was early to come under the influence of the
gospel; one who had been her friend and asso-
ciate for several years, and to whom her com-
pany was now even more acceptable than when,
as a girl, he had first been introduced to her. He
had marked, with growing interest and apprecia-
tion, the changes which manifested themselves in
her as she approached the threshold of woman-
hood ; and for some time had regarded her with
feelings different to those of mere friendship.
Nor had there been wanting signs, on her part,
which could scarcely be explained on the grounds
of friendship alone. Without betraying any idea
of immodesty, Rasalama had made it plain to all
her associates that this companion was regarded
by her with special favor ; and this state of affairs
had come to be recognized as giving him a par-
ticular right to her friendship and company.

Another change had reference to Rafaralahy,
who had been making progress with his duties,
and already stood high in the esteem of the offi-
cials. Since his position seemed fairly assured,
it did not appear strange that he should seek to
establish a home of his own. Quietly the
friendship between himself and one of those to
whom we have referred, as amongst the remark-

Strange Messengers 47

able group who rallied to the house of Rafara-
vavy, had been growing.

Meanwhile Rafaralahy had been securing land,
building and furnishing a house, and establishing
his rice fields, so that, when the heathen rites of
marriage made them one, it was to a home of
comfort, if not of luxury, he took his youthful

Such was the state of things when a new hope
began to dawn, and the first rays of a new light to
shine, for Madagascar — a hope old, yet ever new ;
light, pure, radiant and strong, yet at present, for
this land, only pale as the streaks of dawn.

Across the channel, human hearts had become
filled with a yearning to help this dark land. To-
ward it eyes were being strained. Ears had
caught the Macedonian cry, " Come over and help
us." Minds were awakening to a sense of duty ;
and lives were being consecrated to the effort to
introduce amongst those benighted people the one
uplifting influence for the nations, the one gospel
of glad tidings, the one sure source of peace and
joy and life — the message of the love of God.
Merchant vessels had come to this shore, repre-
senting the trade of almost every nation. Ships
had arrived from so-called civilized lands, for the
vile and degrading purpose of transporting hu-
man flesh and blood to other countries, that their
demands for labor might be supplied by the unre-
quited toil of heartbroken, oppressed and defense-
less slaves.

48 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

But one morning, toward the end of 1818 a. d.,
the watchers along the shores of the dark island
saw at daybreak the sails of an approaching ship,
which brought to their country messengers who
came on a different errand.

Quietly the vessel entered the port of Tama-
tave, and dropped her anchor. Presently one of
her boats was lowered, a party entered it, and
when it was rowed into shore, there stepped forth
a man with his wife and child. The name of
Jones will remain forever enshrined in the hearts
of the Malagasy. Many curious eyes were fixed
upon them, and many eager speculations were
made as to the purpose of their coming. But,
perhaps, the greatest surprise of all was created
when it became known that they had come as
the bearers of a message from the living and true
God — a message of His love for the Malagasy ; a
message of peace and goodwill for their country ;
a message of hope and deliverance for all its

It did not take long to convince the people that
these messengers had come to them as friends,
and everything about them, and their message,
seemed to arouse the interest of the Malagasy in
their errand. Gathering companies of people
around them daily, they began to gradually un-
fold to them the strange and wondrous message
they had come to teach. Such was the character
of that teaching that each day witnessed a deep-
ening interest, on the part of the people, in the

Strange Messengers 49

things spoken ; each day marked more and more
clearly the astonishment with which the supersti-
tious heathen heard the wonderful tidings pro-
claimed by these messengers. The people had a
conception of a Supreme Being, but only vague
ideas of His relationship to them, or of theirs to
Him. That fact is clearly indicated in many of
their proverbs, in which the Malagasy are rich.
For example, one of their proverbs, antedating
the commencement of Christian work in the Is-
land, utters this warning : " Sin not in the silent
valley, for God is there/' — a beautiful commen-
tary, surely, on the statement of Hagar, when in
the wilderness : " Thou God seest me."

When these teachers told them that the Being
they feared — of whom they almost dreaded to
speak — was the Father of men, the friend of men ;
that He loved all men and would be loved of
them, their hearts were amazed. The nearest
approach to the Supreme One which they had
deemed possible was to come before a charm, or
idol form, and offer sacrifices and petitions. But
now they were told there was a living God to
whom they could draw near in prayer, and who,
although they could not see Him, could see and
hear them, and would surely answer their re-
quests. Nay ! they even heard these messengers
speaking reverently to their God, and expecting
help from Him in answer to their prayers. All
the message was strange and new. To be told
that they might become the friends of God —

50 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

sons of God ; that all the evil of their past lives
could be blotted out, not by the sacrifices they of-
fered to the idols, but by the mercy of the Su-
preme God, because a sacrifice had been offered
for them which He had accepted ; that " God so
loved the world, that He gave His only begotten
Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not
perish, but have everlasting life," this seemed to
them beyond belief.

The story of the life and sufferings of this
Jesus, the Son of God, and the call to follow Him,
presented to them a new and higher ideal than
they had ever before conceived or heard of. The
doctrine that there is a day coming when all the
dead shall rise, and that in another great day all
men shall stand before the judgment bar of this
Jesus, were ideas that filled many of their minds
with alarm. Had not many of them slain some
of their fellowmen ? And would those murdered
ones arise again to confront them? Had they
not been guilty of drunkenness and theft, of for-
nication and idolatry? And was the great God
going to call them into His presence to answer
to all these things? Yet, amid their fears and
wonder, they also heard words of hope and com-
fort ; for did not these messengers tell that " God
sent not His Son into the world to condemn the
world, but that the world, through Him, might
be saved " ? Did not they announce that who-
ever, even of the Malagasy, would accept these
tidings of salvation would be forgiven and re-

Strange Messengers 51

ceive a life that could not perish? And did not
they tell of a land far fairer than Madagascar ; of
a city, grander far, than any in their country ; of
a home that should last forever; and of joy and
brightness and glory, unending?

It is impossible to conceive of the wonder with
which these strange tidings fell on the ears of
men and women who knew, or understood, but
little of love, friendship, liberty, joy — whose
whole lives were spent in fear and devoted to the
gratification of selfishness and passion.

What wonder that they who heard these mes-
sages from day to day talked freely about them?
And so, swiftly, and often with gross and absurd
additions, these tidings spread along through the
country, till, far away in the capital it became
known that strange messengers with a strange
message had reached the land.

Away in Antananarivo rumors of the teaching
began to circulate ; and one of the first to hear of
them was Rafaravavy. For a time she held her
peace that she might learn more.

But it was not many days before confirmation
was brought her that the rumors were all too true.

About a week after the news began to circulate
in the capital, a deputation of idol priests arrived
from Tamatave, and made their way straight to
the palace, where they sought an immediate pri-
vate audience with the king and his council. The
audience was granted, and before long the priests
were on their way back to Tamatave. So great

52 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

was the secrecy preserved regarding this visit of
the priests, that, outside the palace walls, little or
nothing could be gleaned. That morning, as it
happened, Rasalama had gone forth early to
spend the day at the home of a friend. There
she had heard many of the rumors spoken of, and
had herself seen the deputation of priests depart.
So that, when she returned in the evening, she
rushed into the inner apartment with the cry,
"Oh! Rafaravavy, have you heard the news?"
" What news, my child ? " asked the elder wo-
man. " Why, the strange rumors that are being
circulated all about the city. Do you not know
that every one is speaking of some men who have
come to our country and are setting forth new
doctrines ? It is said they denounce all our idols
saying they are not gods ; and are calling on men
to repent and to return to another God, whom
they declare to be the living and true God. There
are also many other strange things, which, it is
said, they teach."

" Well," answered Rafaravavy, " we do not need
to be excited or alarmed in regard to these mat-
ters. Are not our idols able to protect them-
selves? Who is able to harm our god, Kelema-
laza ? Who can hope to share the power of Man-
jakatsira ? They who have cared so long for this,
our country, can surely care for themselves."

" But," replied Rasalama, " it really seems to me
there is some cause for alarm; for some of our
idol-keepers from Tamatave, have arrived and

Strange Messengers 53

had a private audience with the king and coun-
cil, and this evening they returned in haste. What
can it mean ? "

" Well," said Rafaravavy, " we will wait pa-
tiently till to-night. The Prince Ramon j a will
be here, and whatever is to be known we shall
hear from him, and whatever he may tell us we
can rely upon."

So that, notwithstanding her great excitement,
Rasalama was compelled to wait as patiently as
she could until after supper had been served that
night, and the slaves had retired, when at length
it became possible to open the subject and ask
Prince Ramon j a what truth there was in the
strange rumor.

Rafaravavy introduced the matter by reporting
to the prince the statements Rasalama had
brought in earlier in the evening, and asking if he
could give them any information. " Yes, indeed,"
replied the prince, " there is all too much ground
for the rumors that have been circulating in the
city." " Why did the priests attend the palace
and return in such haste to-night? " asked Rasal-
ama. " They came to represent matters to the
king's council, and to invoke the advice and help
of the king in regard to suppressing the mes-
sages these strangers are proclaiming." " But
what are the statements they are making ? " in-
quired Rafaravavy. " Well, the priests informed
the council that these men are setting forth that
the gods we worship are helpless idols, which

54 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

can neither see, nor hear, nor smell, nor walk,
nor handle; that the Being they speak of is the
only living and true God; that they know His
will, and possess a book in which He has caused
His will to be written; and that they wish to
teach our people how to worship Him in spirit
and truth. They proclaim that this God is not
to be feared as we now dread His presence; but
that He is to be loved and trusted, and that we
may call Him our Father. They declare that
God loves the whole world, and sent His Son long
ago to save the world, and to make men know
His Father's will and help them do it. And they
teach that our worship of the idols, and sacrifices
to them, cannot in any way assist us ; that only as
men believe in this Jesus as their friend and Sa-
viour, and strive to please Him, is there help and
hope for them. They teach, further, that men
are to be pure, kind, forgiving, temperate; that
no man should have more than one wife, and that
the name of God's Son, whom they call Jesus, is
above every name, and in that name alone men
are to worship. There are a great many other
truths of this kind that they appear to be teach-
ing — indeed, they are setting forth strange doc-
trines, which, if received, must lead to the utter
abolition of all our idols." " But," asked Rasa-
lama, " why did the priests want advice and help ?
Have any of the people believed these tidings ? "
" That is the danger," replied Ramon j a. " The
priests have seen that very many are strangely

Strange Messengers 55

taken with this new teaching, and inclined to be-
lieve in it. They seem to be drawn by its doc-
trine of love, and their religion seems to promise
so much of comfort and peace, after which so
many have been vainly seeking, that they seem as
if they would accept it. Moreover, these mes-
sengers speak of filling the whole land with the
sound of this name Jesus; and the priests hast-
ened to advise the king of these things and urge
him to see to it that the tidings spread no far-

" And what has the king done for them ? "
asked Rafaravavy. " Oh," said the prince, " the
king and his council seemed little disturbed by
the news the priests brought. He told them that
if these men had come as friends, and have no
hostile intentions toward the country, he was not
willing to interfere with them. For, said he, ' I
would my people should learn all there is to be
known from all kinds of teachers. And as for
the idols, while I myself believe in them, and still
mean to reverence them wholly, if they cannot
take care of themselves in these times of upheaval,
I am not going to lay hands upon any man for
their help.' Upon these words the priests with-
drew, that they might speedily return to their
company. But I understand they had another
source of hope. For they said that, before they
left Tamatave, they were told sickness had al-
ready visited these messengers, and evidently the
idols were going to be avenged upon them."

$6 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

At length Rafaravavy counseled that none of
them should be over-alarmed, but that they should
await patiently the development of affairs. Surely
the idols will be able to defend themselves ! She,
at least, had no fears of the issue of the struggle
between the gods of the country and the God of
the strangers. In this manner were the first tid-
ings of these strange messengers and their
strange message received by those to whom, in
days to come, that same message would become
the sweetest sound on earth.



It was not long before the heathen priests had
grounds for rejoicing. In the wide belt of low-
lands that extended around the island were many
swamps. The arrival of the rainy season soon
caused these swamp holes to be filled with stag-
nant pools of green, slimy water. And as the
blazing tropical sun streamed down on masses of
decaying vegetable matter, the air became
charged with malaria ; and the sickness laid hold
with a fatal grip upon the teachers.

Eagerly the priests listened from day to day to
hear of the effects of the sickness ; and when, one
morning, news went forth that one of their num-
ber was dead, the breasts of the heathen swelled
with triumph. Here was the trial between Jeho-
vah and their gods, and Jehovah was being
beaten! Again, during the next few weeks, the
same tidings were circulated ; and as one by one
the messengers sank, and were laid to rest on a
heathen shore, the confidence of the priests in
the power of their gods grew. They began to
congratulate themselves, that even if the king
would not exert himself to help the gods, the gods
were well able to take care of themselves and of

j8 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar


the country. For a moment their exultations
were checked, when, just as they thought the last
of these visitors was about to die, another vessel
arrived, bringing some of his friends — Mr. and
Mrs. Bevan and child. Thus did it seem as if
Jehovah not only knew what was transpiring at
Tamatave, but was also able, in the nick of time,
to fill the places of the fallen.

But soon their feelings experienced another
change. For, in less than four weeks three new
graves were made, and the earth seemed to have
opened her mouth and swallowed up the rein-
forcements so lately arrived ; and again, they be-
lieved, the idols were victorious.

In the course of a few weeks only one of these
messengers remained to tell the story of God's
love to the dark and needy souls around. Friends,
wives, children, were sleeping in Jesus, and he
was so overcome by sickness and the repeated
blows of sorrow that had fallen upon his heart,
that at last, as the only hope of saving his life
and making it possible he should again proclaim
the glad news of salvation in that country, he de-
cided to leave the island for a time.

As the vessel that bore Mr. Jones away to the
Mauritius sailed out of port some of the people
who had begun to feel that these men were their
true friends looked on with sad hearts, and wrung
their hands in grief. But to the majority of the
heathen, and especially to the priests, that day
was one of rejoicing and victory. And with

In a Mighty Faith 59

feasts and sacrifices they honored anew the idols
who had exerted their power, and driven the last
messenger of Jehovah from the island.

This good news for the heathen was soon car-
ried up country, and reached the palace. Rada-
ma showed no signs of special pleasure at the
news. In truth, he was rather disappointed; for
he had hoped for some temporal good to accrue
to his people through the coming of these men to
teach them. He was not quite sure that, since so
many good things came from Europe, there
might not also be something good in the reli-
gion that came from that part of the world.

To the great majority in the capital the tidings
brought feelings of gratitude, and a new con-
fidence in their gods ; while to Raf aravavy and
her friends there came, if not actual rejoicing,
a great sense of relief. There had been in their
minds some misgivings as to what might be the
result of the message these men had to proclaim,
and it was a relief to them to know that their
voices were no longer to be heard calling on the
people to turn from their idols and worship the
Jehovah they proclaimed. So for the moment
idolatry seemed triumphant. Jehovah was van-
quished !

But that sad and lonely messenger retreating
from the island was not cast down — he was not
despairing. In his heart there was no sense of
defeat, and no thought of failure in the great
work he had undertaken ; but rather a faith, a

60 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

mighty faith — even the faith that leads to victory
and overcomes the world.

The heathen might pride themselves in their
confidence in their idols, and encourage them-
selves as they thought of what their gods had
done. But little did they conceive of the faith
that dwelt in the heart of the lonely messenger;
little did they know of the mighty acts of the
Lord which formed the foundation of hope on
which he built. Those mighty acts had not yet
been uttered in the hearing of the Malagasy.
That Christian faith has been the marvel of the
ages; and, again and again, its marvelous mani-
festations have struck awe and wonder to the
hearts of heathen and unbelievers. What was
the faith that supported this messenger ? It was
unconquerable trust in God — trust based upon
experience, and which could not be shaken ; which
would not yield or be dismayed in presence of any
circumstances, however adverse or overwhelm-
ing they might appear. It was inexhaustible
patience in God's work — a spirit that would
watch, wait, pray, even though blessing should
tarry and discouragements gather thick ; patience
that could endure anything, save to utterly re-
linquish a duty undertaken. It was an un-
quenchable hope— a hope that, through the dark-
est night, the bitterest sorrow, the keenest disap-
pointments still dared to look for the day. It
was an irrepressible zeal for the service of Jeho-
vah—a zeal that consumed, so that the messenger

In a Mighty Faith 61

could cheerfully say, " Let me burn out for

Given these qualities, and a God who is worthy
of such trust and patience, such hope and zeal,
and you have the elements of a mighty faith.

In that faith the lonely messenger would yet
return to claim Madagascar for Jehovah. That
faith in heathen lands has repeatedly overcome
prejudice, and awakened admiration and trust,
and ultimately the barriers of suspicion and su-
perstition have gone down, and faith has gained
the victory. The faith-filled teacher seemed for
a time defeated. But as the repulsed general,
whose army still lies around the besieged city,
sometimes retires with his staff to the hills, that
from a distant vantage ground he may watch the
city and detect the first sign of weakness, or the
first breach made by his artillery in the walls of
the citadel; so was it with the messenger of the
cross to Madagascar.

Month after month passed along, and the mes-
sengers with the strange message had become
almost forgotten. The silent graves by the sea-
shore were covered with the rank growth of
grass and weeds, and the idol priests had almost
ceased to speak of the grand victory of their gods
over Jehovah. But all this time the spirit of
that repulsed messenger was brooding over
Madagascar, and from the Mauritius a lonely
watch was being kept for the first breach in the
citadel — for the first opportunity of again en-

61 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

tering the country. And plans were being
formed which, when they came to be carried out,
would fill the hearts of the rejoicing idolators
with consternation and dismay.

In a mighty faith the effort was to be renewed !



After many months of waiting and prepara-
tion, the long-looked-for breach appeared, and
early one morning, in the autumn of 1820, Tama-
tave awoke to a state of excitement; for again
that lonely, yet no longer sad but hopeful, mes-
senger stepped ashore, and once again that
strange message began to be heard.

A hastily summoned meeting of the idol-keep-
ers was held to decide what should be done. And
it was agreed upon that no time should be lost
in appealing to the gods to defend themselves
once more. Already some of the people had
shown clear signs of pleasure at having this
teacher again among them. Some had welcomed

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 3 of 17)