2008-07-07 MADAGASCAR

Testimony of Brother Tiana, a Marist from Madagascar

My first adventure among the Bara, called santatra or beginning, began in 1966, with the young people in the upper classes of San Pedro Chanel school in Ihosy.
At the request of Father Giovanni Colombi and after much consideration, we went to Bevaho, a village on the plateau of Horombe, to stay for a week. It was a very difficult period since nobody was interested in us, except the children who wanted to learn some songs.

We looked on from a distance. The peasants showed themselves to be very distrustful and questions were asked of the elders of their village. I believe Father Colombi thought that the Bara would accept everything he said, but in spite of his presentation and his efforts, the opposite happened.

After a week spent in the rain and the cold, and with the fleas that did not allow us to sleep, we decided to leave, but a little flame of hope flickered. The peasants offered us a small shack and they invited us to stay a little bit longer. And from that moment they began to ask us why we lived in the shack, when it was so cold. That was when the dialogue began.

They told us: Father Colombi invites us to pray, but that doesn?t interest us; it is for the white men, we dont need it for anything. What we want is for our children to go to school; then, we shall see. Starting from this moment there began for me a period of waiting and of approaching people, of beginning to know each other better: a continuous presence, to be with them, listening to what happens; seeing if there are spiritual signs in their customs

How much patience?

I learned many things about this virtue. The Bara explored me, they made me live, they made me doubt and they also put me on approval? so that I learned how to have patience. It makes me feel happy; now I know that God is the source of all patience, since He is shown patience with our rhythm of life, with our way of working, and, especially, he does not get tired of waiting for us.

Starting from this verification, I tried calmly to look, to listen, to receive, to participate? what helped me most was sharing life with them: food, happiness, suffering, the rhythm of the seasons and diverse traditional practices. In fact, they believe that nature is a gift of God. They also believe in the razana (ancestors close to God) who know very well what happens to their children and grandchildren, and that they can intercede for the living.

Patience carries an implicit notion of time. There is never any need to be in a hurry, especially dialogue, in prayer, in intercession, where each one expresses his deepest feelings, through petitions to the Creative God, whether of gratitude or the expression of personal suffering.

It is necessary to listen to everything around you: illness, death, sick animals, the joy of having a child, the joy of making money. This time of sharing helps me to admit deep within me my lowliness in the face of all that happens; I give thanks to God for the time spent with them.

To be with people

What a joy to share everything with them! A key word for me is always to be there as much in times of happiness as in suffering, in the same way that God is always present, even when we do not feel it. Several times, in face of the suffering, I was tempted to rebel and to ask God if he was there: a boys death, women who die giving birth, illnesses, natural disasters. Facing these things, I should be strong, but sometimes I lose heart; that is life. This being with people helped me a lot, then, to understand and to make a comparison with JESUS, source of all life, starting from their religious practices, like the sacrifices, for example.

In fact, my approach to these people was gradual, beginning with my love for them. Starting from there, they taught me to be patient like Jesus. I think that they also have a lot of patience with me and they accept me when I attend and participate in the events of their life, like the meals that are the source and symbol of one single life.

This love compels me to die to what I am and to what I feel, as well as to my prejudices, to be reborn and to grow with them. To have these diverse experiences and to be with them has made it really possible to reveal to them the existence of Jesus Christ, this formidable person.

But all of this was only possible after a number of years, since it was necessary to create mutual trust.

Between doubts and gratitude

Above all, I give thanks to God for all that I have been able to experience until now, knowing that there have been happiness and sufferings, but I can affirm that everything is grace. If there is something of which I am certain, it is that God calls me through the Bara.

Called by God

What do I make of this call? How am I faithful to it? The answer to these questions is often a challenge; it asks me to reach into the depth of myself, of my conscience. To return to the depth of oneself is often difficult; it is upsetting to do it? But I find that, now, I can face reality. I know that to see is not enough, I should understand how I react (action). And this action compels me, or better it pushes me, in several directions, and it does not leave me feeling calm; in a word, my conscience is not at peace. And when one?s conscience is not at peace, it is necessary to find the means so that peace which is a gift of God, can be in oneself.

among the Bara

I have already spent several years in Ihosy, and I have been able to experience many things. I can say that I have advanced in several areas: human, spiritual and also intellectual. But questions arise: To where am I advancing? Will I not be looking for personal glory? Do I really seek the will of God? And I could add others, knowing that it is difficult to find the answer to all of those questions. But one thing is certain: everything is a gift I have received from God. What do I make of those gifts? I think that He continues calling me through those realities: the Bara, the villages of the plateau of Horombe, and many more things.

A difficult mission

Sometimes I experience the temptation to abandon everything! But if I made this decision, I would no longer have a calm conscience, I would not live in agreement with my faith in Christ that I try to meditate on every day. Then I am convinced – in spite of the sufferings and tests that I am experiencing – that I should say YES to the calls of that excluded town, with all the my limitations.

I believe that it is God who finds the solution, not I, who am only one of his instruments. Yes, the Bara has helped me to advance, they have always encouraged me with their presence and their words; but mainly they shake my tranquillity; with their daily life for which I am deeply grateful. I believe firmly that to throw down my arms or to abandon them and to go to other places so as not to see their realities any longer, would not sort anything. It would be cowardice and a fear of confronting the true challenges; it would be the same as not daring to live one?s own faith with hope.

?I am annoying?

I feel that I am bothering many people through my contacts and the life that I share with the Bara. And often, when one is bothered, one asks oneself why. The answer should not come from me but from the person who feels annoyed. But I also know that if I am annoying, it is because of my deeds; I know that it is because of the Bara, those haughty nomads who are not like anyone else and who are a nuisance, those poor people to whom I become closer every day.

I am aware that I am taking a risk, since I help people to become aware of their rights; I denounce the injustice practiced by the gendarmes who take advantage of their power to take appropriate more and more money. Last year some cowardly gendarmes robbed the towns and took advantage of people; I intervened vigorously with the authorities. After an investigation, those gendarmes recognized the facts and they came to ask me for forgiveness and to negotiate possible reparations. From then on the gendarmes did not go through the towns again. But one of them warned me: be careful when you go to the mountains? all that disturbs me, but I continue with serenity and I take precautions. I know that I do not have a martyrs vocation, but if it is the will of God, I accept it, I am not afraid. These are facts, but I believe that these facts are fruit of great patience and are also the work of God that calls unceasingly to everyone, to the Bara and to us.

Thank God

While sharing the progress that I have been able to make with the Bara, I give thanks to God with all my heart for all that we have been able to experience together and what is still to happen, although some try to hold me back. But I am convinced that if this mission has lasted until today, it is because it is the will of the Lord… It is vital to continue with this mission. To remain in it means that it is a challenge and also a call that God gives us to live with these people to improve their situation, to educate and to form their children. I am very grateful also to some of my Brothers and friends who help and encourage me to continue. Grateful especially to my brothers and sisters of Bara who have travelled a long road and who overwhelm us with their sense of welcome, of sharing and mainly their patience. They have taught me to be patient in everything that I do, in all that I experience. Two words only: Deo gratias!

Brother Tiana, known as Moha




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