"The Northern Church of Madagascar is quite inexplicable except
by belief in the Holy Spirit."--Bishop O'Ferrall.
THE story which I write has, I believe, an interest and importance of its own. Special attention is being paid at the present moment to the initiation and early growth of indigenous Churches in India, in China, in Africa, and indeed throughout the world. And here in a small corner of the extreme north of the little-known island of Madagascar there is offered the tale of an Anglican layman, who, unaided by any missionary Society, evangelized a district, founded certain churches, ordained presbyters and deacons, and who, in order to do this, declared himself a bishop.
The groups of Christians who drew together under his leadership may in due course grow into a strong and thriving Church; indeed, the signs are not wanting of a remarkable degree of growth and development in the past twelve years; but as they come into the tale which is here told, they were few, small, and primitive, retaining none the less a large measure of evangelistic zeal and close brotherly love. And not the least instructive part of the narrative is that which shows the steps by which a Church possessing an irregular ministry--one, indeed, which we regard as invalid, consisting of priests and deacons, ordained by Anglican rites at the hands of a self-constituted bishop--was led without demur to accept a truly Catholic and Apostolic order.
The man whose story is here told was named John Tsizehena: to avoid worrying the reader with names hard to pronounce I shall call him "Bishop John." In calling him bishop, I am merely giving him the title which he claimed; I do not, it is needless to say, regard him as a bishop. It will be seen, however, as the story proceeds, that he acted as a bishop and did a work which can only be rightly described as apostolic. If he had wished, he might have applied to himself the words of St. Paul, and have said to the tribe which he evangelized: "If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you: for the seal of my apostleship are ye in the Lord."
Bishop John's diary is in my hands. What I have to offer in this little book is partly drawn from that source: the rest of the narrative gives my own impressions of the man and his work, gained during three visits which I paid to the district in the years 1910, 1911, and 1916, which lasted each of them a full month. He died in 1912 or 1913. I have not felt able to avail myself, except to a very small extent, of what is found in the diary and reports, interesting as they are, of Archdeacon McMahon and of Bishop George Kestell-Cornish. This little book is an appreciation of a man, and not in any sense the history of a Church or a mission.
G. L. K.
Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, 1933.
WE are about to give some account of a very interesting person, named John Tsizehena. We find in his diary two titles which he assumed: the one is "Reverend John Tsizehena, Mission Lord Church," and the other is "Lord Bishop of the North, D.D." Neither title is lacking in dignity, for John took himself seriously. It is enough for the moment if we say that he was a self-dedicated apostle and evangelist, whose efforts resulted in the formation of a certain group of Anglican churches in the far north of the great island of Madagascar. To enable the reader to understand the story which follows, it is necessary to put down a few geographical facts. They shall be given in as few words as possible.
Madagascar lies, as most people know, along part of the eastern coast of South Africa. It is shaped like a huge cigar, one thousand miles long and rather over three hundred miles across at its broadest part. The special district with which this narrative is concerned is the extreme northern tip of the cigar, consisting of the province of Diego Suarez, with parts of two other provinces. Thus, it forms a roughly-drawn triangle, with two of its sides one hundred and fifty and one hundred miles long respectively, and its base from the east to the west seaboard one hundred miles. It was visited in 1876 by Robert Kestell-Cornish, first Anglican Bishop of Madagascar, soon after his arrival. Accompanied by the Rev. R. T. Batchelor, he made a long and apostolic voyage of discovery round the north of the island. He travelled partly by canoe among the creeks and little bays of the West Coast, and partly by palanquin and bearers. The knowledge thus gained of the wildest and least civilized districts of Madagascar was of great value, but the time for planting mission stations was not yet. He crossed the mountainous neck of the peninsula to the extreme north of the island, and ended his tour at Vohémar on the East Coast, where a mission had already been established. We shall in due course hear more of Vohémar.
At the present time the district here described has roads and telegraphs and a service of motor coaches; but when the writer first knew it the paths, though well marked, were narrow, rough, and steep. Men had to use canoes on the coast, and a horse or a native palanquin for travelling inland. The climate is tropical; there are very few trees, there is little shade. The villages are small groups of huts made of bamboo and thatched with palm-leaves, with an occasional wooden house and verandah occupied by some trader. The greater part of the triangle is inhabited by a mixed race called the Antankarana, with some Sakalava tribes on the south and west. They are tall men of Arab blood grafted on to the coastal Malagasy stock. They are virile and lazy, living on their cattle and their rice fields, and along the coast on fishing. In former times they had their own kings and chieftains, with a tradition of friendliness towards the French, who established themselves, over a hundred years earlier, in the neighbouring island of Nossibé. They always maintained their independence of the Hova tribe and its kings in Tananarive. They say truly that they were never conquered by the French, but just submitted, when in 1896 the French finally broke the Hova rulership and made a French colony of the whole island. Diego Suarez to the north is a considerable town, and has one of the most magnificent natural harbours of the world. Such education as had reached the people, when Bishop John first took them in hand, was from the White Fathers of the French Catholic Mission in Diego and in Nossibé. Their language is a dialect of the ordinary Malagasy tongue, which, with local variations in vocabulary and pronunciation, is known all over the island. This short account of the district and its inhabitants needs no apology, since what follows would be unintelligible without it.
JOHN TSIZEHENA, when I saw him in July, 1910, must have reached his seventieth year, for he died about a year or eighteen months later. He was a rather short, broad-shouldered man, a little bandy-legged, growing rather bald, with what one may describe as a strong and honest face. He had grown old and infirm and blind, and yet he took me into his church, close to his home at Namakia, near Diego, and sang through the Litany in the Malagasy tongue, blind as he was, without a mistake. We shall deal presently with his boyhood, his conversion and baptism in an Anglican mission station near Vohémar on the East Coast: for the moment, I must be content just to introduce him to my readers, and begin the story of my first visit to what he regarded as his diocese, and record the vivid impressions I received of his influence and his work.
I was travelling along the East Coast of Madagascar in October, 1909, and had about finished my tour of our mission churches, when I received one morning a telegram, which, little as I guessed it at the time, opened the door to a most interesting experience. It was hard to decipher, and consisted chiefly of the names of seven village churches in the far north which apparently desired help and direction from our English Church Mission in the island. A week later I reached home, in Tananarive, and found my sister entertaining two delegates who had walked nearly four hundred miles to see me. They were lodged in a disused stable in my backyard, and appeared to be content. They spent long hours praying in the tiny room in my house which served us for a chapel. Their names were Paul and Simeon.
Who were they? They said they were Christians and Anglicans. They had been evangelized by a certain John Tsizehena, now very old and infirm, an Anglican layman who had founded a small mission near Diego, and had taken the title of Bishop. They had come, they said, as delegates from a group of seven churches, which had accepted the faith as taught by the Church of England. They wanted to be taken over by the Anglican Mission and the Bishop in Tananarive. They assured me that they were really Anglican, and used our Malagasy Book of Common Prayer. They had been ordained priests by "Bishop John" according to the ordination service in our Prayer Book. They were, however, somewhat doubtful about their orders, and their churches were tired of standing alone, now that Bishop John had grown old, and could no longer visit them.
A missionary of experience is usually cautious in a matter such as this, but I myself and Archdeacon McMahon, who also saw them, were soon won over. These two delegates were so obviously in earnest; they were entirely at home in our services at the Cathedral and elsewhere; above all, they were devout men and genuine Christian believers. I granted their request that I should come to visit their churches as soon as possible, and we sent them away, laden with Bibles, New Testaments, and Prayer Books, by motor car and steamer for the first three hundred miles of their journey home. They walked the rest of the way with heavy loads and light hearts.
In June, 1910, I set out upon my journey into the unknown. I knew nothing of this new district or its people. I had a shrewd suspicion that the French Government would be opposed to my going there, and would hinder me if they could. But I went to the Governor-General in the capital, told him of my proposed journey, and with a native servant named Zacharias as my cook, I set forth. Following the instructions of the two delegates, I took the mail boat at Tamatave and landed, after five days at sea, on the island of Nossibé, where a native canoe was to be sent to fetch me. I learned afterwards that the Governor-General, after wishing me a most pleasant journey, telegraphed to order the churches I was to visit to be closed down. He was replaced in the following year, and his successor was both just and kind. I think his instructions must have miscarried, for I had no difficulty whatever.
We reached Nossibé about 10 a.m. and I went ashore with my native servant and my luggage. I took with me a change of clothes, a travelling bed and mosquito curtain, some Bibles and Prayer Books, and some other necessities of life. I do not know if my native servant had any luggage; if so, it was a small bundle.
At 11 a.m., as I was eating my lunch just outside a small French hotel, three tall men presented themselves, bringing a letter from their local priest, named John Hambahely. He informed me that he had sent a native canoe and three men to take me across the bay to the mainland where I was awaited. One of the three men was named Shadrach, and the two others were named Abednego, which showed that the Book of Daniel was honoured in those parts. We left at noon, with a fresh west wind behind us: it was a voyage of about four hours.
Some of my readers may have seen a catamaran; it is a very queer instrument of navigation, as will be seen in the frontispiece, drawn for me by my friend, Mr. Donald Maxwell. It is a long narrow boat, with sharp bows, about three feet across the beam, and without deck or rail. It has a tall mast carrying a grey triangular sail and a bowsprit and foresail. It would blow over in the slightest wind, were it not for two great spars laid across it transversely, and fixed firmly to its sides. To these spars is fixed, on the one side a great float of wood, while on the other side the ends of the two spars are joined together by a third. The general effect is that of a large gridiron fastened over a boat. As I sat in it I could touch the water on both sides with my two hands. My baggage had been strapped to some part of the framework: the only movable things were the three sailor men, and my servant and myself. It was rather thrilling to be swept past the French mail boat which had carried me thus far, sitting in the middle of what looked like the drawing of a problem of geometry. When the wind came strong across the beam, one of the Abednegoes, and sometimes both of them, would run along the cross spars, lay hold of the stays and keep the boat from tipping over. Shadrach sat calm and motionless in the stern, steering with a great oar. We went at a rattling pace and I enjoyed the novel experience.
We came to the shore and walked to the village called Amporaha in about an hour, reaching it about sunset. A band of Christian men and women, headed by their priest and two deacons, met me at the entrance of the village: I learned later that one of my boatmen was also a deacon. They received me politely and enquired if I would go at once to the house they had prepared for me, or go first to the "house of God." Naturally I chose the church. This, like other village churches in these parts was merely a rough shed, made of bamboo and thatched with palm-leaves, and holding at most a hundred people. It had a rough altar covered with white calico, some sort of altar rails and a lectern holding a Bible. I started the "General Confession" from Evensong: it was taken up by every one present. I said to myself: "They are Anglicans all right."
At seven o'clock next morning we turned out for service--Matins, not Holy Communion. I had a whole day still to spend with them, and I did not yet know how many communicants there were. I wore cope and mitre, and I found standing ready before me two men habited as priests in surplices and stoles, and two others dressed as deacons. It was a curious sensation to meet there a group of men, accustomed to act as priests and deacons, none of whom had been ordained by myself or by my predecessor. However, there they were, taking themselves seriously, as of course it was right that they should do. They had been ordained according to our rites by John Tsizehena, who had made himself "Bishop of the North." Their leader in the village was one of his disciples, John Hambahely.
Perhaps I had better explain at this point the policy I adopted with regard to these clergy. It was their custom to baptize and to celebrate the Holy Communion, using the services in our Prayer Book. It was impossible to ask them to cease to function, for there was no one to take their place. Far away to the south I had a few Malagasy priests, but these were fully occupied; and, as they belonged to the Hova tribe, it was doubtful if these northerners would receive them. So I gave them a year to think things over, and told them to "carry on." I promised to meet the delegates of their churches in any place that they might choose in a year's time; and then, if they wished to join us, we would make fresh arrangements. The work they were doing was clearly God's work, and could not be allowed to stop. Next year they could choose two or three of their leaders, if they wished to do so, who would return with me to the capital and be trained for Holy Orders. I cannot help thinking that the bishops of the big towns in the first century of the Christian era may have acted thus towards Christian communities which had sprung up in the less accessible country districts, and had a non-apostolic ministry.
To return to my story. I spent the day, with the help of their priest, who spoke the Hova dialect, in preparing a few of the leaders and their wives for Confirmation. On the third day we had the Confirmation Service followed by the Holy Communion, and then started by boat for Betamboho, the next village on my list. It was terrifically hot, for these queer boats have no awning. I had also kicked over my kettle which we had filled with water before starting, and I subsisted on a few oranges and a tin of biscuits until twelve o'clock at night when we reached our destination.
We had a warm welcome next morning from the Christians of the village. Their two leaders, who were cousins of the ancient king of the tribe, were both keen Christians: the younger of the two brothers, a man of about thirty years of age, was one of the two chosen in the following year to return with me to be trained as a priest. We had the usual services, instructions, Confirmation and Holy Communion, during my visit of three days. These people are the real Antankarana tribe, and differ from the Sakalava of my first village. Islam has many converts in these parts, evangelized from the Comore islands and East Africa. I found the dialect extremely difficult, especially as talked by the women; and it was not an easy matter to ascertain their fitness* for Confirmation. I had what might be described as a series of private interviews, under a shady tree, assisted by the local priest.
At noon, on the third day of my visit, I started for a village which lay some thirty miles away inland, and I realized that I had made a mistake in not bringing with me a palanquin or filan-jana as it is called. The nearest French trader who might lend me one was some miles away.
To reach him we had to walk three miles to a creek, then follow the shore for some miles, and then strike up another creek. After that, the boat would be of no further use to me. As is usually the case, where foresight has not been exercised, I had amusing adventures. On reaching the first creek at 2 p.m., we found a canoe, but no water. I was told that the tide would come in before long. It did so, but not till six o'clock. Then, just when a start was possible, my conductors said that the boat was too small for the party, and my native servant and I were left alone in the darkness till 8 p.m. In the end, I reached this village also at midnight.
The hut where supper was prepared, and where I was to sleep, was a fairly large one, occupied, so far as I could see, by six men and two women, who had apparently no intention of leaving me. We put up the travelling bed in a corner, with its little mosquito curtains, and then waited. My native boy then tactfully suggested that his European master was not accustomed to undress and go to bed when ladies were present, so these latter retired. The men slept on the floor, and I on my bed in the corner. Next morning, the kind French trader lent me his filanjana and some bearers, and we started for Marodimaka, spending one night on the road.
The rest of my tour can be quickly described. I found in the village a group of Christians, but no priest. After a day and a half I struck across the base of the triangular district I was visiting, a distance of about eighty miles, to Antingana on the East Coast. I first visited the French Administrator of the district, who found me fresh bearers. I searched in vain for a church called Mangily, and did not find it, and at last heard the welcome sound of the surf on the East Coast. From Antingana, which, it should be noted, is only nine or ten miles north of the Anglican mission station which once existed at Vohémar, I struck northwards, and in three days was in Diego, awaiting the mail boat back to Tama-tave, which is the principal port on the East Coast. But I had time to spend a Sunday at the village of Namakia, and to visit John Tsizehena, "the Bishop of the North."
WE have at length reached the heart of our subject, the hero of the story, the true apostle of the people of this northern district. His Christian name, as I have said, was John, and his native name Tsizehena.
First let us say what we can of his early days; the information is drawn almost entirely from his diary, which is before me as I write. It is not easy to read, for the writing is bad and the orthography unconventional. He has a perplexing habit of running some of his smaller words together. He says that "he was not taught reading or writing by any one," and his diary seems to prove it; but his style is clear and he tells his story simply.
The first date which he gives us is that of his baptism, probably as a boy of twelve or thirteen, on April 27, 1864, at Amboanio, a small hamlet near Vohémar on the East Coast. Here he had come under the influence of two men of the Church Missionary Society, the Rev. Thomas Campbell and Rev. H. Maundrell. These two pioneers of the gospel seem to have begun their work in 1862 or 1863. When I visited the place in 1910, I found that after all these years the memory of these men was green, though I did not at first find it easy to realize that the name by which one of them was known in these parts, "Sakambelo," was a transliteration of "Mister Campbell." He seems to have been recalled from Madagascar about the year 1873, when a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel took his place. In 1880 or thereabouts the station was burned down and abandoned. But Campbell lived on in the young man whom he had taught and baptized.
John Tsizehena gives a graphic account of a vision which preceded his conversion, when he was lying at the point of death. Indeed, it was believed that he was really dead, and his body had been wrapped in linen and bound with cords, and made ready for burial. He seems to have come out of his trance just in time. His illness, he says, lasted a month, and for a fortnight he could swallow no food. He even heard his mother say: "He is dead." He writes as follows: "I that was called dead, was taken by the Spirit, together with a great multitude of people, up a dark and slender ladder. There was a bright city there, with many glorious people, riding horses. They had tunics and shoes and crowns of gold. There was music and the sound of a trumpet." And, he continues, "the Commander said: 'Who brought this boy hither? Take him back, for there is much work for him to do down there. I was not conscious of my descent, but when I reached earth, I was seen to move. And my mother cried: 'O Creator, my son lives.' And she said to me: 'My son, you died the day before yesterday; how is it with you now?' And I said: 'I am healed.' "And he adds with touching simplicity: "So I was set free from my fear of death." His mother had married again, after the death of John's father; her husband was a man of some position. John was regarded, he says, as a "wise child."
In 1865, still probably a big boy, he went to Andevorante, a coast village two hundred miles south of Vohémar, where a fresh mission station had just been opened. From there he went up to Tananarive to the Anglican Mission, which had been only recently established. This must have been in 1874, for he says that Bishop Robert Kestell-Cornish was on a tour, and was reported, mistakenly, to be drowned. After this we lose sight of him for several years, but he must have been active as a lay-preacher; and it must have been about this time that he drew the attention of his diocesan to himself, by wearing a cassock to which a tinkling bell had been attached, in imitation, one supposes, of Aaron the High Priest.
In or about 1882 or 1883 John must have returned to Vohémar; for in 1884 an event occurred in the political world which affected both himself and the little group of Anglican Christians who lived in those parts. A French military force took the town and harbour of Diego Suarez which they held in possession from that time forward, and the army marched down the East Coast to a point some way to the south of Vohémar. They treated the little group of Christians so kindly that, when at the close of the year the French withdrew to Diego, John and most of his fellow-Christians went with them, and settled in a village called Namakia, about ten miles from the town. From that moment they were completely cut off from their fellow-Christians in Tananarive and on the East Coast.
What were they to do in their new home? They wished to remain a Church, and an Anglican Church at that. They had no priest or deacon among them, still less had they a bishop. They were many hundreds of miles away from Bishop Kestell-Cornish and their fellow-Anglicans and could hope for no assistance in that quarter. One of our missionaries on his way home paid them a visit and told them to manage as best they could. They were under French rule in Diego: the rest of the island still owed allegiance at that time to the Queen of Madagascar. John Tsizehena and his fellow-Christians were well grounded in their knowledge of two books--the Bible and the Prayer Book, both of which in their entirety had been translated and printed in the Malagasy tongue. To these two books they pinned their faith. And the Prayer Book with its sacraments and other services demanded a priest and a bishop. Here then was their problem: how were they to solve it?
They were equal to the occasion. With a boldness with which we are bound to sympathize, John Tsizehena called his fellow-Christians together and said that he himself would be their bishop. As to title, he would expect them to call him "The Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of the North, D.D." He would claim the full title, including the degree of doctor of divinity, which was held by his right reverend brother in Tananarive. His wife, ever ready to be of use, made him a cassock, a rochet, and the best imitation of a hood that she could devise; it was not, when I saw it, strictly a hood, but then she had only seen one from a distance. It was a study in black and yellow, and looked rather like the Association Football shirt of my old College of Clare in Cambridge. He thus became in his own estimation, and in that of his flock, a fully-fledged bishop, and his diocese was the North.
JOHN'S first care as bishop was to build a little wooden church for himself at Namakia, which he dedicated on July 25, 1889, to Saint James or "Saint Jacoba," as it is in the Malagasy tongue. His diary gives an account of the consecration, which is interesting. He looked in vain in his Prayer Book for a service dedicating a church, but he found in the Service of Holy Baptism a sacrament which dedicates persons, and he adapted it to his needs. He sprinkled water on the floor of the building, saying, "I baptize thee in the name of Saint Jacoba." He preached on Jacob at Bethel, and seems to have somewhat confused the patriarch and the apostle, who are alike named "Jacoba." He also sprinkled ashes in the form of a St. Andrew's Cross upon the floor, a ceremony he must have borrowed from Roman Catholic neighbours. He used to go about his little village every morning, Sunday or week-day, tinkling a tiny bell: his favourite text, he told me, was this: "While I live, I will praise the Lord."
With Namakia as his base, he proceeded to evangelize his diocese. Immediately after the consecration of his church, he remembers a pupil of his, and he writes: "I mean to spread the gospel through the whole district of the Antankarana, and I begin with you first." On Thursday, September 19, he took a native harpist with him to a village about sixty miles to the south, and on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels he dedicated a church. It would take far too long to attempt to describe his far-flung evangelistic work. He preached wherever men could be found to listen; he founded churches; he ordained priests and deacons in some numbers, using the Ordination Service of the Book of Common Prayer. He baptized freely,--too freely! for he received all who asked; but--a curious omission!--he did not administer the sacrament of Confirmation, though he himself had been confirmed in his earlier years.
His methods of work may be illustrated from an extract in his diary, in which he records the counsel which he gave on one occasion to some of those whom he put in charge of churches. He said: "If there is anything which you do not know, refer the matter to me, for the Holy Scriptures are full of sound thought, and some of it is easy and some is not. Read the sixteenth chapter of St. Mark from the fifteenth to the eighteenth verse. You see the Saviour says nothing of Sundays nor of churches as times and places for the gospel to be preached and baptism to be administered, since the whole world had no temple nor synagogue in it, and no Sabbath. Therefore preach the word on the road by which you go, and in the houses of heathen people, wheresoever you find those that believe in Jesus Christ and ask to be baptized that they may be healed, even there do what is needed to save them." A wide-minded and large-hearted man was John, even though he interpreted too literally the injunction to preach and baptize, as dispensing his converts from the instruction which should have preceded baptism.
I am tempted to offer in abbreviated form the account he gives in his diary of his long journey to the river Mahavavy, on the west side of his district, and of his dedication of the church there. He first describes with unconscious naïveté, the choice of the name of the saint to whom it was to be dedicated. "This house," he says, "was not built unadvisedly or carelessly; for on December 2nd, 1900, prayer was made first unto the Lord, and then lots were drawn of the names of the Apostles. The hat holding the twelve pieces of paper was lifted up on high, and the name of St. John, the brother of James, was taken from it. And on this, all the Christians shouted with joy."
Then, on the i6th of May, 1901, "being the day of our remembrance of the Ascension of our Lord into heaven," he arrived to dedicate the church. He describes the difficulty of his journey, and his prayer that God would send him a canoe in his need. He prayed thus: "O God, even Jonah when he fled from Thee was provided with a great fish to carry him safe to dry land; therefore look on me who am going to do Thy will. I do not deserve to receive the hundredth part of the mercy shown to Jonah, yet far be it from Thee to treat me in the same way. Prepare for me at yonder village a canoe which shall carry me to the Mahavavy river, to dedicate the house that is to be called by Thy Holy Name." His prayer was answered. A canoe carrying produce had just arrived in the village. "My heart leaped for joy," he writes, "and I thanked God for thus answering my prayer."
The actual service of dedication seems to have drawn together a great crowd of people. He describes how the Christians in the village showed their loyalty to France by putting a French flag on all their huts, and that they then ranged themselves in due order behind a great flag with a red cross (probably St. George), and drew near the closed doors of the little church. John chanted: "Lift up your heads, ye gates, that the King of Glory may come in." The psalms and the lessons were those appointed for Ascension Day. He does not describe the exact form of consecration; it concluded with the service of the Holy Communion. He adds simply: "Thus John made it a church."
In 1911, a year after I visited him, he died. He had grown old and blind and infirm, and could no longer visit the churches which he had founded. He asked me to come on Sunday to confirm his wife, and to celebrate the Holy Communion. He knew he had not long to live, and he gave me quite formally all such jurisdiction as he possessed over the churches which he had created, and merely asked, what was readily granted, that while he lived, he should be left to work unhindered in the village where he dwelt.
There are, of course, others who have done much to evangelize the district which John claimed as his diocese. There is a strong Roman Catholic mission with a fine cathedral at Diego and at Nossibé". There are also centres of French Protestant work. But the native Antankarana and Sakalava of these parts have been evangelized by John Tsizehena and his pupils, and by them alone. The religion which they taught was that of the Church of England, as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer in the Malagasy tongue. It is upon that foundation that we of the Anglican Church in Madagascar have had to build. May we not say that the foundation was well and truly laid by John, Bishop of the North?
IF the evangelistic and pastoral work which has been described were to be consolidated, it was clearly necessary that the churches which John Tsizehena had founded should be drawn together, his workers encouraged, and some satisfactory agreement should be reached as to the organization of Christian work in the district over which he had claimed jurisdiction. For this purpose a meeting of delegates had been convened, which was to be held at the church of Betamboho, on the river Mahavavy, the dedication of which is described in the last chapter. I left Tananarive in July, 1911, to attend this conference.
Its importance was obvious. Thus far I had merely visited the churches and had a friendly talk with John in his own village. He had for some years been too infirm to travel the long distances which have to be covered, and the work had slipped out of his hands. Leadership in these parts had in fact passed to some half-dozen or so of his "clergy," of whom Paul, one of the two delegates to me in Tananarive, was not the least influential. And the crucial question which had to be settled was this: Would these churches enter the fellowship of the Anglican Communion in Madagascar and conform to its rules? It was to settle this point that the conference of delegates had been called.
I followed the same route as in 1910, and need not dwell upon the details of the tour. We spent three days at Amporaha, the first village I had visited in 1910 with John Hambahely, and then left in a large sailing canoe, with some nine or ten delegates, to cross the bay to the Mahavavy. Two incidents are worth recording. At one point we were nearly upset by a sudden change of wind, but fortunately we were in very shallow water and were saved by the great float, which I have described elsewhere, as attached to the canoe, striking the ground. At another place, also in shallow water, we came upon a shoal of small fish, and before one had time to think, the women of the party were in the water catching fish in their best Sunday shawls. We were warmly received at Betamboho, and found seven or eight delegates from each of the other churches ready to welcome us. Next morning at sunrise, as I came out ready robed from the hut where I had slept, I found myself at the end of an imposing procession of clergy. There were six or seven men wearing their stoles as priests, and four or five deacons. I could not at that time have assembled so large a group of clergy in Tananarive. Of course they were John Tsizehena's clergy: I had ordained none of them.
After the service we had a long and animated conference. I should like to say at once that no question of money or a grant from the mission was once mentioned or even (I think) thought of. Their clergy and lay-workers were either voluntary or supported by their congregations. They arranged to form a society, like that which already existed in Tananarive and our Hova churches, which should finance the work. I shall mention this matter, which is one of importance, when I describe my third visit.
We discussed fully the question, which was never really in doubt, as to the admission of these churches of the North to full membership in the Anglican Church of the island. Special emphasis was laid upon the law of marriage. The rule of the Church was explained to them, that if married people desired to become communicants, they must register their marriage at a Government office and thus make it a civil contract which the law would recognize. It was laid down that the divorce of communicant married people was not allowed. Care was also henceforth to be taken that those who asked to be baptized should be instructed in the faith some months before they were admitted. Confirmation, which as I have said, John Tsizehena had not administered, was to be the rule. As regards those whom John had ordained they were to continue to baptize and administer the Holy Communion, until two of their number, whom they were to select, should return to them in a few months time, having obtained priest's orders. When these returned, the rest were to lay aside their stoles and cease to act as priests, but should rank as catechists or lay-preachers in charge of their village churches. All alike, it should be noted were voluntary workers, and unpaid.
The conference, which was followed with interest by a considerable number of Christians, showed keen interest in the points discussed, and accepted with unanimity the terms which were offered. The afternoon and most of the following day were spent in preparing men and women for Confirmation. The next morning we had the Confirmation, and a great Communion Service, at which I alone celebrated and administered to baptized and confirmed persons. The delegates chose Paul and Jonah (I will not trouble my readers with their native names) to accompany me overland to Vohémar, and thence by steamer to Tamatave.
I cannot help at this point drawing attention to the real sacrifice involved in these decisions. The two men selected had to leave their wives and families for a period of several months, to go to a distant land among a strange people, there to study for Holy Orders. Their companions in the ministry had agreed to lay aside an office which they valued, and to abstain from administering sacraments which brought them high honour among their fellow-Christians.
Paul had, of course, seen Tananarive, where he had been kindly received as one of the original delegates, but with Jonah, his companion, it was different. He and his elder brother James were native-born in those parts, and were of rank and consideration as cousins of the former king of that region. I can still, after all these years, recall the sight of Jonah at nightfall, balancing his long body on a rail fence in the village, with deep gloom on his face, as he wrestled with the problem,--should he go, or should he stay where he was? He obeyed the call, and started with us next morning. We struck across the base of our triangle, preached and confirmed in two or three villages on the road, and came to Vohémar to await the steamer. Here I was most hospitably entertained by Monsieur Vally, Chef de province, and left on Sunday with my companions, by steamer, to Tamatave. From there I sent my two ordinands to Tananarive, where my sister entertained them, and set them on their way to Archdeacon McMahon, who was to instruct them. I had still six weeks' work waiting for me on the East Coast.
It is difficult to speak too highly of what was done for these men by Archdeacon McMahon. He was by far our best speaker of the Malagasy language, and was in addition a born teacher, a devoted priest, and a keen evangelist. He had the men with him for about six months; and it was wonderful what he accomplished. He found that they knew their Bible and their Prayer Book from cover to cover, and he concentrated on a few simple lessons on Christian doctrine, with a little Church History. He paid special attention to teaching them the way in which a priest's work should be done. He had them ready for deacon's orders on Advent Sunday, and I ordained them priests on the following St. Paul's day. It was essential that they should return home for their rice harvest at the end of February. Both men are still doing admirable work.
During their visit,--indeed, on the evening of their arrival in Tananarive,--an interesting sidelight was thrown upon their views on the difference between valid and invalid orders. Three or four of our Malagasy priests had been invited to meet them at supper, and one of them asked the new-comers a pertinent question. He said: "We hear that you have seven or eight men in your district who have been acting as priests. What will they do, when you go back to them, ordained as we are? Will they still continue to function, when you return, or will they leave the priest's work to you? "Paul replied in proverbial form, like a true Malagasy. He said: "Before the French came, we and our people toasted our meat on the end of a stick to cook it. But the French taught us to use the frying-pan. Since then, we have cooked it as they do." His point is obvious: "We shall cease to use what we have at present, when you have given us something better."
IN 1912 Archdeacon McMahon paid a visit to the district and attended the yearly conference of delegates. I was on furlough that year in England. He picked up, at Diego, Paul and Jonah, the two priests whom he had trained for Holy Orders, visited Amporaha, the first village of my own two earlier tours, and then made his way by boat to Betamboho, the place of conference once again, where he proposed to spend ten days, and to establish a Christian school.
At Amporaha what might be described as a regrettable incident had occurred some months before. Some Mohammedans from a neighbouring village, who resented, it is supposed, the evangelistic zeal of these people, attacked the church and tore part of it down and carried away the pieces. My friend, John Hambahely, one of John Tsizehena's old priests, and now lay-worker in the village, had been leader of the defence. The French authorities intervened, and put eight of the Mohammedan assailants in prison, and (says the Archdeacon, in his account of the matter) they imprisoned one of the Christians also, "for no reason whatever, except to balance things a bit." But the right to meet for worship was withdrawn and the church closed by order. The order was obeyed until the following Christmas, when the Christians of the village could endure it no longer. They broke into their church and held a Christmas service. Unluckily, just as they were thoroughly enjoying themselves, singing Christmas hymns, the Chef de province passed through the village. He arrested the two chief men, inflicted a heavy fine, and gave the men two months' hard labour in road-making. They telegraphed to me, in Tananarive, but I could get no redress, for they were clearly disobeying orders. All I could do was to pay the fine. Incidents of this sort will occur: we must hope that the Christians learned wisdom.
We have somewhat diverged from the accounts of the archdeacon's visit. His main work, as we have said, was to put a school at Betamboho. He had with him a young Hova holding the French certificate of a qualified elementary teacher, but the school and the teacher's house had still to be built.
Archdeacon McMahon set about it with his accustomed energy. He seems to have roused, to activity the whole Christian community of the village. He was at one and the same time designer, architect, master builder, clerk of the works. Time, he says, was limited, for he had to catch his steamer at Diego. The people worked with a will, some at the walls, some on the roof, others fetching materials from the forest. Benches, desks, tables, a lectern, a blackboard were produced in quick succession. Those who know the archdeacon are aware that when he got busy, things happened. As the result of ten days' strenuous work, he left behind a roughly-furnished school, a teacher, and some church furniture, together with a large number of happy people. The delegates from the other churches started homewards on Sunday afternoon, after their conference, singing hymns as they went along the road.
My third and, as it turned out, my last visit to the scene of Bishop John's activities was in 1916. Archdeacon McMahon had gone there in 1914, but had to return hastily to his mission station owing to the outbreak of the war. I followed a new route, landing at Diego and journeying southwards by land, and then striking across the base of our triangular district to a village called Antingana, near Vohémar, on the East Coast. It was here that the annual conference was to be held.
My new route overland enabled me to pay a visit to the former king of the Antan-karana, whose name I have forgotten. He was a cousin of the two leaders of our Church at Betamboho, one of whom, named Jonah, I had ordained priest. Paul, the other priest, accompanied me.
I found his Majesty about 10 a.m. one morning, under a large shady tree, seated on a chair, with some six or seven men of importance lying stretched on mats before him. He is a Mohammedan, very loyal to the French, who have given him official position as native Governor. He wore a black embroidered cap, a long loose white tunic, and as the chief mark of his royalty, a pair of brown leather boots, which were laced up to just below the knee. He spoke a Malagasy which, with some help from Paul, I could understand, and was tall and dignified. He enquired politely for his cousins, who, he said, he had heard were very keen on their way of praying, and gave us rice and a chicken for our lunch. He showed me with much pride an autograph letter of King Louis Philippe to his father.
The great event of the morning was the arrival of the Court doctor, who told a very long story about a cure he had effected, which aroused great enthusiasm in his audience. A man, he said, had been bitten by a crocodile, which had taken a piece of his flesh clean out of his leg. The doctor had cut a piece of skin out of a living bullock and fastened it firmly to the place, where it had grown quite satisfactorily, filling up the part which the crocodile had eaten. It seemed a case where a native practitioner, without the slightest knowledge of civilized surgery, had grafted skin upon a wound. Anyhow it was a thrilling story, One other matter of interest occurred on my tour before I reached our place of meeting. I came upon a story of evangelistic effort, which was written in what we ourselves should describe as the vestry book of one of the churches. It was a vivid and naive description of how some twenty men and women, led by John Hambahely, had gone forth on a five days' tour because they heard, as they put it, that a man in a certain distant village was asking to be baptized. In the end, they failed to achieve their object, for the man was not there when they arrived, but they preached and sang hymns on their way and seem to have greatly enjoyed themselves. Their leader gave the heads of his sermon thus: "If you want to be saved, you must believe in Jesus Christ and be baptized." I record the story, as it shows the keen spirit of evangelism which Bishop John had aroused in these churches.
In the course of my visits to various Christian villages en route, we picked up fresh delegates, and when we reached Antingana, where the annual conference was to be held, we had grown to a pilgrim band of some sixty or seventy persons. We were met by Jonathan, the son of Joshua, who, together with his father, was a convert of the earliest days of the mission at Vohémar. He had built and furnished a really good wooden church, which was ready for dedication. My first duty on reaching the village was to be presented with two bullocks, which were killed to provide a feast for the visitors.
We had, in addition to the meeting of delegates, the usual round of services, instructions, a Confirmation and the Holy Communion, which need no comment. We had also a very impressive service for the dedication of the new church, and much rejoicing and the singing of hymns until midnight. The keen spirit of evangelism, which John, Bishop of the North, had so carefully instilled, was still going strong. Many new villages were reported to desire a visit from our catechists and clergy. The two priests, Paul and Jonah, had done their work faithfully, taking long journeys on foot to baptize and to give the Holy Communion to each church in turn, while the lay-workers carried on the services of prayer and preaching, each in his own village. It should again be said, that all such work was unpaid. It was abundantly clear that the churches were extending their influence, and were keeping the rules of the Anglican Communion. We were building on "John's" foundations.
The material interests of the group of churches was reported upon and discussed at great length. They had followed the example of the Anglican Church farther south, as I have already said, and had formed a society for the financial support of their work. This society had now been carried on in these parts for nearly five years, and provided for the repair and maintenance of the buildings, for their sick and poor, and if there was a little over it went to meet the travelling expenses of the local lay-workers, or the itinerating priests. No grant was made from missionary sources, except where a trained and certificated school teacher had to be supported. The religious work in these parts is, and will remain, voluntary. The work is self-supporting, and the people are proud that it is so.
Each church in turn made its financial report through its delegate, and stated three things: (a) What it had possessed in the way of money or oxen a year ago; (b) What it had collected and spent during the year; (c) What it had left as a balance in hand. The sums dealt with were not great, and averaged between £15 and £25 for each church. No documents were produced; the reports were verbally made; and records were duly taken by the clerk to the conference. Assets were given in money and oxen. I had, as their chairman, to do quick sums in mental arithmetic. One of the churches had eaten two bullocks at its last Christmas feast, and was severely censured by those present, who said that no self-respecting church should eat up its capital in this way.
On my way home, I went by Diego Suarez, and was able to visit the widow of John Tsizehena and to see his grave. What has been sketched in this chapter is the direct result of what he had done. His disciples were carrying on his work. His principles of sturdy loyalty to the Church of England had borne their proper fruit. The spirit of fraternity in his churches was still strong. Of those whom he had made priests and deacons, two were now in valid priests' orders, and the rest were working happily as lay-readers under them. Above all else there was still manifest a strong zeal to evangelize the heathen, a sturdy independence of faith and character, and a real love for Christ.
In conclusion, I have had proof before me that Bishop John's reputation as a holy man stood high at the time of his death. He was buried, as I have said, close to his little wooden church of St. James, Namakia. Soon after he was laid to rest, I received a letter from a member of his congregation, saying that a bright light had been seen to hover over the place in church where his body lay awaiting burial. As a confirmation of this fact, it was added: "Some of the Gentiles also saw it." In that district the word "Gentile" means "heathen."
I HAD intended to end my story with the last chapter. I have no intention of writing anything in the nature of a history of these Northern churches. No doubt, under the influence of God's Spirit and with the wise guidance they are receiving, they have a great future before them, but my story begins and ends with Bishop John Tsizehena. I give this closing chapter the title "Aftermath," which is the second mowing of a hayfield. I dare not foretell the harvest, for that lies far ahead, and indeed at present it is hardly sown. Our Master said that "one soweth and another reapeth," and promised that one day sowers and reapers should rejoice together. Bishop John is among those who first sowed the good seed. My tale is of him, and the early results of his preaching, and it is now ended.
Had I been attempting a history, I should have described two visits paid by Bishop George Kestell-Cornish, my successor in office. I have his diaries before me which fill me with admiration of his devoted and unselfish spirit. In the midst of many hardships of travel, and conscious of failing health, he kept the gaiety of heart and the high courage which endeared him to all who knew him.
Let me end with some comment on the work and influence of "Bishop John" provided by the present bishop, Dr. O'Ferrall. He wrote an account of his first experiences and impressions in the following words: "The Northern Church is quite inexplicable except by belief in the Holy Spirit. Theoretically, I go there to help, but actually I spend my time wondering and learning. What I admire most is the devotion of these clergy and also their simplicity. They are true missionaries, ready to move at any time and for any length of time, as the Spirit guides the decisions of their meetings. It was decided that Benjamin, one of our deacons, should go up to the College of St. Paul to test his vocation for the priesthood. Within forty-eight hours he was ready to leave, for an indefinite time, and perhaps never to work in that part of the country again. With a Church like this anything is possible." It is clear that Bishop John still lives in the churches which he founded, and in the men whom he brought to Christ.