FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – President Paige Patterson announced Feb. 23 that Southwestern has accepted the challenge to reach the Tandroy people of Madagascar with the Gospel of Christ, as part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s commitment to reach the world’s remaining unreached and unengaged people groups with the message of salvation.
“The International Mission Board (IMB) has asked that we take an unreached people group,” Patterson said, describing Madagascar as a country with nearly impassable roads and limited drinking water.
IMB President Tom Elliff originally asked Southern Baptists to join the “Embrace” challenge to reach the remaining 3,800 unreached, unengaged people groups with the Gospel during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June 2011.
SBC Life, the journal of the Southern Baptist Convention, explained just what “embracing” an unreached, unengaged people group (UUPG) means in a December 2011 article: “Embracing a UUPG means making a lifetime commitment to learn about them and strategize how to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as praying for them,” the article explains.
The Tandroy live among the spiny thickets along the Southern tip of Madagascar. The island is known for its diverse wildlife, including nearly 100 species of lemurs and the world’s smallest chameleon, measuring less than an inch in length. An agrarian society, the Tandroy live in an area where food and healthcare are often difficult to obtain.
Patterson asked those attending chapel, where he made the announcement of the seminary’s plan to “embrace” the Tandroy (also called the Antandroy), if they would commit to be prayer partners and if those who were physically able, would willingly go. Hundreds raised their hands all across the auditorium.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a great movement of God among the Tandroy people?” Patterson asked. “Wouldn’t it be great to see churches planted all over southern Madagascar, to actually see a whole nation come to Christ?”
Patterson estimated that the Tandroy people on the island of Madagascar, who live lives heavily rooted in animism, number as many as 1,400,000. With a landscape of cactus and thorny plants largely characterizing the region, the people, Patterson said, are known as ‘a people of the thorns.’
Keith Eitel, dean of the School of Evangelism and Missions, asked everyone to kneel as he led the auditorium in prayer for the salvation of the Tandroy people.
“As foreboding as it may seem in terms of human strategies and devices and designs,” Eitel prayed,” we know that You confound the wise with the simplicity of Your truth. Lord, let us be ambassadors, who can show forth how the scourge of thorns not only marred the head of our Lord and marred the existence of the Tandroy, but through that sacrifice, victory has come and new crowns await in the grace of the living God.”
As opportunities develop in the coming days for people to pray for and travel to Madagascar, where the IMB has recently appointed two Southwestern graduates, Patterson asked that the students, staff and faculty bond with him and answer the call to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
“So, I am going to ask you to join me in taking to the people of the thorns, the message of the crown of thorns that will heal the soreness and the sorrow of cultural life cut off from Christ and make eternity possible in heaven,” Patterson said.
Southwestern will send a team of faculty members on a vision trip to Madagascar this spring, with plans to bring students on the first mission trip in December.