ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar – I am writing from the end of a continent; to some, the end of the earth: the island nation of Madagascar. Out my hotel window is the historic Analakely Market in the capital city known affectionately as Tana. A dozen or more red-tiled roofs cover stalls in which vendors hawk their wares. This jet-lagged blogger couldn’t sleep and noticed that before dawn people began to set up their stores and lay out their goods. The numbers of vendors pushing useless plastic toys, a few vegetables from a backyard garden, and knock-off labels from the houses of European fashion has increased, and so has the desperation in the vendors’ eyes. We are a long way from the glittering and garish New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), humanity’s premier marketplace.
Seven years ago a coup here destroyed the economy. A radio disc jockey and fellow thugs supplanted the democratically elected president while Obama was being inaugurated. Nobody was watching. The restless opposition made its move and succeeded. When the call for help was finally heard by the rest of the world, it was too late. A sovereign leader was in exile, the presidential palace on fire, and the disc jockey was broadcasting from the seat of power.
Instantly the fragile economy of Madagascar was thrown into further depths of recession. Commodities’ prices rose, inflation wiped out personal and corporate wealth, and international global pariahs swept in: the old colonial power, France, and the emerging colonial power, China. The people of Madagascar, helpless, witnessed the streets fill with garbage and cholera take hold in the prisons as the government was unable to meet basic needs. The best jobs in town began to be with the NGOs–never a good sign.
The president of a major Christian denomination did not ask me for money, nor investment in buildings he needed repaired from the violence. He said he needed jobs, and a way for his people to have dignified work. Our church shared a program that had deeply spoken to our business leaders. So we shared it, and helped get Biblical Entrepreneurship up and running. Today Biblical Entrepreneurship has trained 800 men and women, started or reformed numerous businesses, and a initiated a credit union of and for BE business owners.
I look back and I ask myself, “How did this work, 25 hours away by plane and worlds away in culture and language, ignite our church to get serious about the faith and work movement?” It sometimes takes a change of scenery to look back and get perspective. In spite of living and leading in the faith and work movement, it took being here for me to connect the dots. That analysis will come in my subsequent blog post.
Dr. Case Thorp leads The Collaborative, and serves as the senior associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.