From the third floor of a meeting hall in the busy city of Antananarivo, Madagascar, beautiful singing can be heard. It is the voices of the young women from the four Antananarivo branches—branches so large they are about to be made into wards. Singing is their favorite thing to do at Church activities, after school, or whenever they are together. They love to raise their voices to celebrate the one thing they have in common—the gospel.
Madagascar is a huge island in the Indian Ocean just east of the continent of Africa. The capital city, Antananarivo, is in the middle of the island, higher and cooler than the coastal cities. Its people don’t really belong to Africa or to Asia. They are definitely a unique, individual nation. The first native member joined the Church in France and returned to his country in 1989. The first missionaries arrived in 1991, and since then the Church has been growing.
“I have been blessed with many things,” says Malala, 15, “especially with the Young Women program.” Malala and her sister joined the Church, and their mother followed a short time later. Malala simply goes by her first name, as does everyone in Madagascar. Last names are rarely used. “I know with all my heart that it is God who leads my life,” says Malala. “I know that I am supposed to be a member at this time.”
Malala, like the other young men and women of Antananarivo, lives a city life. Outdoor markets and houses of all varieties line the busy streets. Malala also has to walk a long way to her Church meetings. She is excited that the first official chapel in the land has just been dedicated. Right now, the capital city is the only place where the gospel is being taught. But as soon as the city can sustain a stake, the missionaries may be able to start teaching in other cities.
The Young Men and Young Women programs are thriving. Daniel, 13, and his brother met the missionaries on the street two years ago. They were baptized. Now their mother and cousin are also members. Daniel says some people have been misled by negative stories in the local newspapers. “But I know inside me that the Church is true,” says Daniel. “I try to tell my friends at school about the Church, and I try to encourage them to keep the commandments.”
Soa, 17, is grateful the missionaries found him a little more than a year ago. So far, he is the only member of his family who has been baptized, and he has a strong testimony. “Before I was baptized,” says Soa, “I received a personal testimony of the Book of Mormon. I was invited after each missionary lesson to pray. I could tell I was getting an answer to my prayer by the joy and peace I felt inside.” One of Soa’s favorite stories in the Book of Mormon is of the 2,000 stripling warriors. He compares those warriors to the young men in his branch. “We should be strong and persevere. We must endure to the end and be an example to the world around us.”
Sariaka, 13, tries to be a good example to her friends. “If we follow the commandments,” says Sariaka, “we will be happy here on earth. But if we don’t, our disobedience will enslave us.”
It takes a special kind of courage to try something new, to listen to the missionaries and accept the things they teach. Bambie, 13, wasn’t sure she wanted to join the Church. The missionaries encouraged her to pray, and she did. “I felt something inside that made me want to learn. I kept praying, and I was given the courage to join the Church.” When she talks about choosing to attend church instead of going with her friends, Bambie says, “I don’t mind what people say. I know by the Holy Ghost that the Church is true.”
A young woman, Volatiana, 17, who plays the keyboard for sacrament meeting, feels that being a member of the Church has many advantages. “Because we keep the Word of Wisdom and the law of chastity, we keep our bodies healthy. I want to be like Nephi because he obeyed God and did all he was asked to do without thinking of himself.”
The first seminary classes were begun just five years ago, and seminary is considered very special. A recent seminary graduation was a time of great celebration for those who participated. The youth displayed their certificates proudly. “The scriptures are true,” says Malala. “Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. Our prophet, President Hinckley, and the other leaders are chosen by God. We should obey them because they are inspired. If we do so, we will be blessed.”
Those who have heard these valiant young people sing, bear their testimonies, or exemplify their values can clearly see that it is their city and their country that are being blessed by them. They are blazing a trail in their own land. It is in the footsteps of these young, strong Church members that their friends and family will follow. Soon there will be a whole generation that will have lived as members of the Church.
Where will they lead? Ask them; they know. They have felt the warmth and comfort of the Spirit of the Lord, and their eyes are focused on eternity.