A Story From the Field
Ladis walked deliberately through the jungle, his mind racing with the conversation he had just finished with the men from his village. He wasn’t sure exactly where he was going, but that was the point, wasn’t it? It didn’t matter where he ended up; all that mattered was whether or not it was God’s will. He came to a clearing near a huge mango tree and stopped there. The hot, humid air surrounded him like a blanket. Off in the distance, he could hear the waterfall that made this part of the jungle so special. He turned to the two young men that followed him into the jungle and said, “OK, now I am going to pray and ask God to help us with what we need. When I am finished, all of us together will say, ‘amen.’”
Ladis prayed to God, first thanking Him for being a good God, and for creating all of the amazing and unique plants and animals in Nosy Be; for the fact that God’s incredible creation enabled him and his village to make a living caring for it and showing it off to tourists from around the world. Ladis’ prayer moved to grief, asking God for forgiveness for his own sin, and the sins of his people. And he praised God for His grace and mercy, and for sending Jesus to the world to remove the shame of sin from His children. Then, after sharing with his two companions a prayer that covered the gospel message, from creation to rebellion to redemption, Ladis made his request to God…
You see, for several weeks he and many men from his village had been coming to this part of the jungle, just a twenty-minute canoe trip from their beach. They all find work in the tourism industry of Nosy Be; those who can speak French, Italian, or English work as tour guides, guiding people through the island’s lone nature reserve; others work as canoe paddlers, cooks, guards of the jungle, or find any other way to make a little money. Normally they would take tourists farther down the coast and enter the reserve there, but the people living in the village near that entrance kept raising the “admission fee,” growing vanilla in the jungle, and neglecting the plants and animals. So Ladis and his friends decided to create a new entrance into the reserve. They worked hard, clearing trails, removing dead limbs, building shade structures where tourists could sit and eat, and cleaning up the area around the natural waterfall so tourists could cool off after their hike.
But they had a major problem… there were NO lemurs! The crown jewel of any nature reserve in Madagascar is the lemurs. There are around one hundred different types of lemurs in Madagascar, and Nosy Be has several, including the Black Lemur. Any tourist going into the reserve in Nosy Be would be very disappointed if they did not see any lemurs, but so far, the men had not seen any. For several days they brought bananas into the jungle hoping to lure them to the area, but without success. They were worried and stressed, and some began saying they were cursed: “The men from (the other village) have put a curse on this place to get revenge on us for not bringing our tourists to them.” “We have done something to upset our ancestors… maybe we have cut down something sacred.” “There is a spirit in this part of the jungle that is not happy with us.”
Some of them disagreed on the source of their predicament, but they all agreed on the solution: they needed to appease the ancestors and the spirits by finding a sacred rock and making an offering of honey, rum, incense, and red and white cloth. In Sakalava culture, each of these items has the power to appease and manipulate the ancestors. As the group of men sat around discussing their plan, Ladis’ heart was pounding. For the past few years he had been learning more and more about the God of the Bible, and he knew he should say something to these men; it was the right time. But he was scared…what he needed to say would go against their tradition, against the way they had always done things. Even so, he had truth that they needed to hear. He stood slowly, and after a lengthy introduction to carve out a way forward he said, “You all know that I am a Christian now, and the God of the Bible does not require all of these things from us. He is not found in a rock because He made the rocks; He made everything, everything in the ocean and in the jungle. He does not need honey because He created the bees that make the honey. He doesn’t need anything from us. Yet He has told us that He will take care of His children like a good father does. So, let me ask something from you. Before you perform the ceremony, let me pray to God for our needs. I will walk into the jungle and offer a prayer that God will bring the lemurs to this area. I will bring two people with me to be witnesses. Please allow me to do this, and we will wait a few days. Maybe lemurs will arrive in this area and maybe not, but we will let God know our need and present our request to Him.”
The next day, one of the local guides had two French tourists that wanted to explore the reserve. He explained two options to the tourists: they could go to the original entrance and be sure to see lemurs, or they could go to the new area with a beautiful waterfall, but they might not be able to see lemurs. Surprisingly, they decided on the second option and set out on their expedition. All the men back in the village eagerly awaited their return to hear the “vao-vao” – that is “the news from their journey.”
And the “vao-vao” was… Lemurs! Lots of lemurs! Everywhere there were lemurs! Two groups of lemurs on the trail, and another group of lemurs relaxing by the waterfall. They even spotted a nocturnal lemur, which is difficult to spot. One of the men that was with Ladis in the jungle as he was praying began telling everyone in the village how powerful his prayer was and that Ladis’ God answers prayer! And since that day, every time they have taken tourists to their new entrance to the park they find more and more lemurs waiting for them. This is a tremendous story of God’s provision, a testimony of His goodness and faithfulness to the village we live in, and care for His children. And for Ladis, his faith has been strengthened to continue speaking Gospel truth to the men around him.