Bryan McReynolds

The Sakalava Church Matured Before My Eyes

By Bryan McReynolds, Feb 9, 2021

I was sitting near the back and just taking it all in. It was the Sunday before Christmas, and the three churches that have been planted in Nosy Be, Madagascar, decided to worship together that day. There were close to 200 of us packed into the local patio bar near my house, which was the only location in the village big enough to accommodate us. With the palm trees, mangroves, and the beautiful Indian Ocean as a backdrop, it was a great place to celebrate the Lord’s Day together.

But this time my role and responsibility was different from the past. This time I brought chairs from my house. Well, technically my kids brought chairs. So I realized as I was sitting there (in my own chair) that there were quite a few people near me whom I didn’t know. And then I realized that I didn’t know if we would be taking communion that day or not. Or which songs we would sing. (We were there for three hours so maybe we sang all of them?) I had helped Pastor Jean prepare the sermon, but everything else was organized by the three pastors and a few other leaders. I realized then that I was watching the church mature before my eyes.

From Ignoring Sin to Corporate Confession

To see this group of Sakalava believers grow and mature is miraculous and humbling. Just last month the church in our village of Ambatozavavy instituted a time during worship for corporate confession of sin. Every culture has strengths and weaknesses, and for the Sakalava admitting to error or fault is not common. And while my fellow missionaries and I have guided, discipled, and counseled the church and its leaders, we have rarely told them directly how to order their time of worship. This was done intentionally to avoid, as much as possible, importing a Western or foreign cultural influence on the Sakalava church. But now as the church is starting to mature, the leaders are becoming more deliberate with every decision that goes into worship. And their latest decision was to address their cultural blind-spot of not taking ownership of the sin that still lives within each person, and the need to bring it before the Lord each Sunday.


Just a few years ago most of these Sakalava Christians had never heard God’s Word in their own language. Some of them had a vague familiarity with a heavily syncretistic and legalistic Catholic church. Others saw Christianity as the religion of their oppressors. All of them were steeped in the Sakalava religion of ancestor worship and spirit possession. Many people in our churches had lived for years with a spirit, called a tromba, residing inside of them, manifesting itself whenever a ceremony was performed. We have a few former witchdoctors (Mwasi) now worshipping with us. And some of them had become jaded with everything: Sakalava religion, foreign religion, pervasive corruption at every level of society.

From Jaded Youth to Church Leader

My good friend Ladis would fit in that last category. When I met him eight years ago, he was in his early 20s and had a flippant, almost angry attitude about everything. He and his friends just wanted to get high and play music together. They would come over to our house to borrow Rebe’s guitar, and we would have lunch with them and hang out on the front porch. Eventually we began asking them to take small portions of Scripture and turn them into Sakalava songs, which we would then use for evangelistic gatherings all around the island. One day six years ago, Ladis and his bandmates revealed to Rebe and me how the songs they were making for us were making them uncomfortable. They weren’t having as much fun drinking and smoking every day, and they couldn’t get the words from the songs out of their minds. They were having dreams about the words they were singing.


Now you can find Ladis at church on Sunday leading his neighbors through a confession of sin. And once a month he and a few others organize a food relief distribution for the village, which has been impacted by the global pandemic. His is just one of many examples of incredible growth and maturity that we have been able to witness over the years.

We have seen firsthand a group of people “rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith” (Col. 2:6-7). This quote is from the Apostle Paul who was writing to the Colossian church, and we can see the growth and maturity that he encourages the church to seek is something that happens to them, not something that they actively do themselves: Be rooted; be built up in Him; be established in the faith. Paul understands that just as God calls us, and justifies us through Christ, He also grows and matures us in the faith. What do we do? We walk in that truth, abounding with thanksgiving. We are seeing more and more Sakalava believers walking in that truth, and our family is overflowing with thanks to our God that makes it possible.

Bryan and Rebe McReynolds have served with MTW in Madagascar since 2013. They will wrap up their ministry there this spring.

Please login to continue
Forgot your password?
Recover it here.
Don't have an account?
Create an Account
Sign Up for Free
Choose Password
Confirm Password


Youth Ministry Leaders
Member Care Coordinator: Americas
Next Generation Missionaries to the Muslim World
1–11 Months

Praying for Lemurs

In the jungles of Nosy Be, Madagascar, a young Sakalava believer discovers the power of prayer.


Music Speaks Truth in Madagascar (VIDEO)

A friendship with local musicians led to the creation of songs with Scripture in the Sakalava language set to Sakalava music, and to faith.


Alexi and Mbotizara: Lives Transformed in Madagascar (VIDEO)

Alexi and Mbotizara, who live in a village in Madagascar, believed in a Creator but didn’t know Him. Watch as they share their story.


Give thanks for the maturing of the Sakalava church in Madagascar. Pray for the Sakalava believers who are now leading a congregation of people once steeped in ancestor worship and spirit possession.

Pray for the Sakalava in Nosy Be, Madagascar. Islanders have been hard hit by the shutdown of the tourisim industry. Many are new to faith. 

Pray for a band of young Sakalava men in Madagascar who have come to faith and are writing and recording songs from Scripture.

Pray today for Alexi and Mbotizara, new Sakalava believers in Madagascar. Pray they will grow in their faith and lead others to faith in Christ. 

Pray for women of the Mama Vao Vao sewing business in Madagascar. It's helping keep Sakalava women out of prostitution and introducing them to Christ. 

Pray for the Sakalava people of Nosy Be, Madagascar as they deal with harsh realities of death and poverty, and give thanks that many are coming to faith. 

Pray for the Church in Africa to deepen and for African believers to live holy lives in accordance with God's Word.  

Pray for missionaries adjusting to new cultures and new norms, forcing them to surrender the comforts they once considered non-negotiable. 

Pray that we would become more proficient at ministering to oral learners—those in cultures that learn best through the spoken word and storytelling.

Pray for church-planting work to increase and bear much fruit in strategic cities around the world that are filling with diverse international populations.


Good news in your inbox, once per week.