Children in Madagascar Hear the Gospel for the First Time

October 25, 2023 • Madagascar
Bara children in Madagascar listen with interest as they hear the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time before receiving gift-filled Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

Boys and girls with little access to the Good News of Jesus Christ receive Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts and participate in our follow-up discipleship program, The Greatest Journey.

Operation Christmas Child

Pastor Soja knew that there were two words the Bara people group never wanted to hear: “Jesus” and “prayer.”

Made up of more than a million people, this ethnic group inhabits southern Madagascar, the island nation off the east coast of Africa. Cattle rustlers by trade, they marked themselves by thievery, violence, and isolation.

Fifteen of their villages, in particular, refused all government involvement. So, instead of sending their children to school, the Bara adults gave them wooden rifles to play with instead—to train them at a young age to perpetuate the hostility that has raged for generations.

Outreach Events Share Gospel, Gifts

Pastor Soja, a church planter who oversees dozens of churches in southern Madagascar, sensed God tell him, “This is your final mission: reach the people of Esira.”

In obedience, three years ago he began building relationships with the people of this remote region. He asked one of the village chiefs about what they needed and he replied, “We need schools. Not government schools, but private schools.”

Pastor Soja saw this as an open door—not just for education, but for the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

As Pastor Soja and a team of teachers went into Esira to establish schools, Operation Christmas Child ministry partners in the area also equipped them with 2,500 gift-filled shoeboxes for the children. After traveling six hours across treacherous terrain, the team arrived in a Bara village and presented the Gospel to the boys and girls while rifle-carrying fathers stood listening around the edges of the group. To their surprise at the end of the presentation, 75 percent of the crowd raised their hands indicating that they wanted to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior!

The team held similar outreach events in seven more Bara villages, and again and again they had the same overwhelming reception to the Gospel message. Some of the mothers looking on remembered a church that their people had burned down many years earlier. “Can we have prayer again?” they asked.

Members of three of the villages also expressed interest in establishing a church.

The Greatest Journey discipleship classes are now being offered to shoebox recipients in Esira.

Pastor Soja found a pastor to live in Esira and oversee these new congregations. These local believers are now offering The Greatest Journey discipleship classes, so the boys and girls who received shoebox gifts can learn to follow Jesus and tell others about Him.

Shoebox Gifts Encourage Education

Today, about 800 children attend the nine private schools that Pastor Soja and his team started. Operation Christmas Child gifts have helped to increase enrollment.

When the boys and girls found pencils, notebooks, and rulers in their shoebox gifts, they ran to the ministry partners and said, “I want to learn how to use these. I want to learn how to read. Please let me go to school.”

In the villages without a school, parents approached Pastor Soja and began to plead, “Our kids now have the supplies, can we now have a school?”

Pastor Soja sees this receptivity as a miracle.

“Only two things can change these villages, spiritual transformation and education.”

“Only two things can change these villages,” he said. “Spiritual transformation and education.”

With churches and schools now in place, he is convinced it will break the cycle of violence and poverty (both spiritual and physical) that has held the Bara captive for generations.

Toys Introduce Fun and Play

With the arrival of the Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts, Bara boys and girls have also learned to play in a healthy way.

They are learning to use soccer balls and marbles in place of their “toy” wooden rifles and violent practice of throwing rocks and heavy seeds at each other. The latter often left the children seriously injured, vowing revenge as their families pitted themselves against one another.

Now, soccer is the most popular game in Bara villages and adults are also joining in the fun.

A Call to Prayer

Would you pray for these people in the Esira region of Madagascar? Pastor Soja knows that the battle for the hearts, minds, and future of the Bara people is primarily spiritual in nature. Remembering the Operation Christmas Child outreach events where he shared the Gospel and distributed the shoebox gifts, he said, “As we were in front of the children, we could feel that you were praying.”

Please pray that the Gospel will continue to go forward with power. Pray that a cadre of young evangelists will be raised up through The Greatest Journey discipleship program to share the Gospel with their families and their entire communities. Pray also for these new believers to remain faithful to Christ as they face persecution for embracing a new way of life.

Help us celebrate 30 years of Operation Christmas Child by packing a gift-filled shoebox! National Collection Week is coming Nov. 13-20.

Operation Christmas Child Through Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan’s Purse is sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with millions of boys and girls in more than 100 countries each year. Many of these children have never before received a present or heard the true meaning of Christmas—until they open a gift-filled shoebox from a person like you. Some people are not able to give the $10 per shoebox we request for shipping and related costs. By adopting a shoebox, you can partner with them to deliver the Gospel and help "bring salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47, ESV).

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Adopt a Shoebox: $10 | Adopt a Carton of 15 Boxes: $150