The people on the island of Madagascar in the early 1800s faced slavery, poverty, and a lack of schools and education. When young Radama I became king, he wanted to do all he could to help his people to a better life. One of the first things he did was to ask the English to send people to help him achieve his goals.

The English missionaries who came to Madagascar at his request found much to do. They wrote down the language of the people, started the first schools on the island, and began to translate the Bible.

By 1828, things in Madagascar had begun to change. Some of the people had become Christians. They had Bibles in their own language, and the. relationship between masters and slaves was better. Before he could accomplish more, 36-year-old King Radama died. Ravalona, one of his wives, took over the throne.

Queen Ravalona and her advisers did not like the changes which were taking place, They wanted to keep the old religion of ancestor worship. They wanted to continue using sorcery and witchcraft to strengthen their position as rulers. Queen Ravalona wanted to get rid of Christianity, too, since it was foreign to their old ways. She declared anyone who taught against sorcery a traitor.

On March 2, 1835, Queen Ravalona called the people together. Eighty thousand of them gathered to hear the royal decree, which stated, "The Christian religion is forbidden everywhere on the island. Christians will have one month to repent of their white religion."

To assure that the decree was carried out, Ravalona sent spies everywhere. She also organized a royal army and encouraged the people to denounce anyone they suspected of being a Christian, Since the queen had forced the English missionaries to leave her kingdom, the Christians were on their own. But they had God and their Bibles. They were not fearful, but they were careful. They began meeting in secret, sometimes in forests, sometimes in caves, but never at the same place twice. They had to read their Bibles in secret, too, for the queen burned any that were found.

Two years after Queen Ravalona's decree, the Christian church was still flourishing. Then someone denounced a young Christian woman named Rasalama, and she was sentenced to die.

As she was being led to the hilltop where she was to be killed, she sang this song:

 

I found the way, and I'm walking in it.

I received salvation, and I'm keeping it.

O Holy Spirit, help me.

 

At the place of execution, Rasalama asked permission to pray. As she was praying, the queen’s soldiers killed her with their javelins. One of the people who saw her die said, "If I could die as peacefully and as well as she did, I would gladly give my Iife for the Savior."

Rasalama was the first Christian in Madagascar to die for her faith. Some were later stoned to death. Some were burned. Some were forced to drink poison. Others, when they refused to renounce the Lord, were rolled up in straw mats and thrown off the hilltop near the queen's palace to the rocks below.

However, the church did not disappear. Each Christian's death brought others to believe in Christ. Even the queen's only son became a Christian. During the 30 years that Queen Ravalona persecuted the church, she killed several thousand Christians. But many thousands of others became believers.

 

From: They loved their enemies by Marian Hostetler, pag. 30-32, 1988, Herald Press,  Scottdale, Pa, USA.

 

 

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