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Christians in Toliara, Madagascar hold a surfboard bearing the name of their congregation.
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Photo provided by Eliakim Monista

Surfing for souls in Madagascar

‘My plan was just to learn English,’ says a surfing instructor on this African island. That's why he signed up for a free Bible course. Now he's planted four churches.

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Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island, is renowned for its beautiful avenues of baobab trees and its most famous, wide-eyed resident, the ring-tailed lemur.

The island, 250 miles east of southern Africa, also is “one of the most underrated surfing destinations in the world,” according to SurferToday.com. Madagascar’s southwest Toliara region has 12 sites that the website designates as “world-class” for catching waves.

Eliakim Monista, a native Malagasy, learned how to surf from an Australian friend. Monista picked up the skill quickly and started giving lessons himself.

Eliakim Monista baptizes a new believer in the Indian Ocean.

Eliakim Monista baptizes a new believer in the Indian Ocean.

Unlike other instructors, however, Monista ended each session with a seaside Bible study.

Monista also was a quick study when it came to Scripture. In 2011, when he was in high school, he began corresponding with Vicki Murphy, a member of the Christian Chapel Church of Christ in Milport, Ala., through World English Institute.

“My plan was just to learn English only,” Monista told The Christian Chronicle. But as he studied the Bible lessons in the institute’s curriculum, he encountered a truth that went beyond grammar and sentence structure.

He asked to be baptized, Murphy said, and “he came up out of the ocean teaching others.”

Many people in southern Madagascar claim to be Christian, but they mix in elements of animism and ancestor worship, Eliakim said. His insistence that they worship God exclusively stirred up opposition. Nonetheless, a small group of believers responded to Monista’s teaching. They began meeting in a high school classroom before moving to a rented house.

Christians worship with a Church of Christ in Toliara, Madagascar.

Christians worship with a Church of Christ in Toliara, Madagascar.

“Thanks to God, we have our own house for meeting now,” Monista said.

Murphy and her husband, James, have traveled to Madagascar to work with Monista and Malagasy evangelists that Monista baptized. The Dalraida Church of Christ in Montgomery, Ala., supports the work.

“Eliakim is not only converting others,” Vicki Murphy said, “he is teaching them to teach others.” As a result, at least four Churches of Christ now meet in the Toliara region.

Vicki Murphy meets her World English Institute student, Eliakim Monista, in Madagascar.

Vicki Murphy meets her World English Institute student, Eliakim Monista, in Madagascar.

Funding the work is a challenge. Madagascar is one of the poorest nations in the world, with three-fourths of its 29.6 million people living below the national poverty line, the World Bank reports.

Monista is unable to teach surfing now, partly because he doesn’t have access to a boat, he said. He’s also busy conducting Bible studies and following up with other World English Institute students.

Toliara, Madagascar

In late 2023, one of his students, a high school physics teacher, traveled nearly 400 miles by bus so that he could be baptized by Monista. The physics teacher hopes to start a new congregation in his home village.

“Many people are being baptized,” Monista said, “and we keep teaching and planting churches in the countryside.”

Christians in Toliara, Madagascar hold a surfboard bearing the name of their congregation.

Christians in Toliara, Madagascar hold a surfboard bearing the name of their congregation.

Filed under: Africa Churches of Christ in Madagascar International Madagascar surfing Top Stories

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