Madagascar pastor returns home as a systematic theologian
When the Malagasy Lutheran Church identified Hery Andrianotahina Naivoson as a trailblazer, he accepted the call to further his education in the United States, particularly LSTC.
Naivoson is a pastor in Madagascar, a big island in the Indian Ocean separated from Africa by the Mozambique Channel, nearly 250 miles off the south-eastern coast of Africa. His 16 years of pastoral ministry with the congregations enabled his church to enthusiastically establish possibilities for contextual theological education abroad. Once the church identified him to do this, he left his family, commitments, and challenges back in Madagascar and traveled here to study.
Naivoson is a passionate pastoral caregiver. During his ministry, he realized and experienced that the people in the pews are overly impacted by eschatology (theology about the end times).
“We always live in fear of natural catastrophes as an island community,” he said. “This spirituality also impacts the islanders socially, economically and spiritually, thus causing us to lose our inner joy and peace in families and communities.”
Naivoson’s engagement with scripture helped him believe that the reign of God is “here” and “now.” He says that life before death is as important as life after death. In other words, we cannot strive towards life after death at the cost of our life here in this world now. He says life is to be celebrated with joy as a community, not lived in fear. He believes that his theology could help the islanders overcome their fear of the future. So, he developed an interest in developing and articulating a theology of eschatology that fits into our “here and now” that would help his island Christians celebrate and lead lives with joy and hope.
Naivoson chose LSTC for its commitment to ecclesial theology. But he also appreciates LSTC’s inclusive, accommodating and accompanying nature.
When he landed in Chicago, his baggage was lost so he arrived with only the clothes he was wearing. An LSTC staff member took him shopping so he’d have clothes to wear. He calls this his wilderness experience, similar to the people of Israel moving toward the promised land with both panic and hope. This gesture of love bestowed upon a stranger was unimaginable for him.
He also appreciates the faculty and his classmates for their acceptance and accompaniment over these six years.
Naivoson says the diverse learning experience he’s had at LSTC definitely expanded his theological horizon. Using the library was especially helpful: “I learned to use the gadgets and digital resources like the millennials. These digital resources would be a great help to the students of my country; we can access them from our places.”
He says Madagascar is the land that taught him life, and LSTC is the second home that taught him who he is, where he is, and where he is headed. At LSTC he gained both academic and ministerial confidence to address: “What do my people need? What is expected of me in my future ministry?”
He will return to Madagascar with his PhD in systematic theology to assume a teaching ministry of his church. When your beloved finally returns as a scholar, it becomes the proudest moment to the family. That experience will be memorable for his wife and daughter, whom he left behind in 2016 by accepting this missional call of his church and fulfilling this academic challenge. Their sacrifice contributed to his success, he says.
Original article published in the Winter/Spring 2022 Epistle Magazine; written by Christopher Rajkumar