The Healing Shepherds of Madagascar

by Francis MacNutt
May/Jun 2003

I have just read a fascinating article1 about how a ministry of deliverance from evil spirits developed almost spontaneously on the Island of Madagascar. Amazingly, the focus of this ministry- called Mpiandry-parallels in many ways what we do at CHM. It's as if God is bringing out ministries all over the world which are based on the same Christian truths directed to meeting the deepest human needs.

The people who perform this deliverance ministry are 5,000 people called "shepherds" who dress in white robes. They are mostly laypeople from every occupation — men and women workers or farmers, theologians or illiterate widows—who do not charge for their prayers.

In their ancient traditional religion the people experienced the oppression of demons and dealt with these problems, as do most pre-Christian religions, through traditional healers, who are called the ombiasas. When the missionaries came they unfortunately did not bring any cure for these demonic oppressions. One large missionary outreach was the Lutheran Church which, with real foresight, were able to learn about healing from the experience of several revivals which started through laypeople having visions telling them to preach and cast out demons. There were three such major "awakenings," beginning in 1894. Each of these three revivals had its own leader and formed its own center of ministry. But they were all faithful to the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Each one of these three groups has its own discipline and yet is recognized by the Lutheran Church.

Perhaps the best-known group was founded by a widow known as Neni-lava, or "Tall Mother." Early in life she had a vision of Jesus who instructed her to teach and heal. She eventually founded a center and under her direction, this center has reached out and established "daughter" centers (at CHM we would call them "affiliates1'). The main purpose of the center is to foster salvation through faith in Jesus Christ using special ministries:

1) casting out evil spirits and
2) praying for spiritual strengthening.

If you want to become a shepherd you have to undergo two years of study with a pastor and then you might be recognized officially in a service of consecration, held once a year. The followers of Tall Woman have an official handbook setting down strict guidelines for their ministry. Shepherds are expected to demonstrate an exemplary lifestyle and they are accountable to the local pastor.

Healing services begin with a reading of Scriptures accompanied by prayer. Then those seeking deliverance sit apart in one section. A general prayer for exorcism is then made over this group and the Shepherds then move among them looking for signs of oppression, such as convulsions or a trance-like appearance. The Shepherds concentrate their prayers on these individuals until they are freed. Some shepherds are appointed to restrain the demonically infested so they don't hurt themselves ( or anyone else). When all signs of infestation cease, the second part of the service begins.

This second time is spiritual strengthening and everyone gets to take part. If you want prayer, you can kneel before a white-robed shepherd and ask for such blessings as peace, for forgiveness, or for the promise of the Holy Spirit.

The entire service may last for hours and it goes on as long as anyone desires prayer. Much of the rapid growth of the Malagasy Lutheran Church has been attributed to the wonderful work the shepherds do.

I think it is encouraging to see that the Holy Spirit is leading Christians to do the same work all over the world—in Madagascar as well as in Florida:

Training people in how to pray,
Then actually praying for the sick and,

Last of all, trying to be a force for unity within the church, rather than as a source of division, as has so often happened in the past.

1 "Areopagus," Advent, 1993, pp. 24-26. "Mplandry: The Healing Shepherds of Madagascar," by James Gonia.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. May/Jun 2003 Issue