Many changes for the better began to happen in Madagascar as the members caught the vision of striving for temple blessings. The nearest temple to them was in Johannesburg, South Africa, 2200km across the Mozambique Channel. Securing such blessings required many of the Saints to make significant personal sacrifices and exercise great faith.
As a missionary in Madagascar I had the privilege of helping and witnessing this great work. One afternoon during a meeting with the local church leaders, our mission president called and informed us that he felt the Besoa group of 35 members should be rejoined with the original Manandona Branch, 6.5km to the south. He asked us to begin preparing the people for the sacrifice they would be asked to make. This change would require the Besoa members to hike the three hour round trip to the Manandona Branch for all of their church meetings.
We were somewhat surprised, but began to make the special effort of strengthening the faith of the members of that area. We wanted to help them have a sure knowledge and testimony of fundamental Church doctrines such as faith in the Lord, the keys of the priesthood, and the blessings that come from obedience.
After two months of regularly visiting and giving specially prepared lessons to all the families, we felt that the members were ready. All but a few had made attending the temple a priority and were preparing to make the sacrifice to travel to South Africa. We felt that the gathering of this group of Saints could occur soon.
Our mission president came to meet with the members in Besoa. There was a special feeling as we walked through the rice fields to the wooden chapel for the last Sunday service that would be held there. Everyone came and greeted us on the path with beaming faces. The meeting commenced, and when the time came, our mission president announced the gathering of the Besoa Saints back to Manandona.
Many members were unsure, as the three-hour hike seemed like too much of a weekly sacrifice. Yet, when we returned later that week, we found greater optimism and increased faith. Many were cheerful as they said that they would make the hike. Brother Rakotonirina Richard, recently released group president, confidently stated to us that he was going to take his family to the temple and would not let such an obstacle stop them. We decided to accompany the members on their first Sunday on the rugged road that wove 6.5km through the mountains and fields to the Manandona Branch building.
Twenty of the 36 members made the transition that day, including many who had struggled in their faith before. There were children as young as two years old with their parents and grandparents, the oldest of which was 75. In the following months, more members started coming. Manandona’s branch leaders were still visiting and praying for the last few stragglers.
Not two weeks after the change was made, swarms of locusts began to plague the surrounding areas, but not in this valley. As is sung in the hymn, Praise to the Man, “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.” That was only one of several swarms of locusts in the coming weeks that spared this valley but destroyed the crops of valleys nearby. I witnessed one swarm begin to settle in the fields, but as they began to consume the crops, a strong east wind drove them out of the valley. After the locust swarms were past, 40 armed robbers from the south began to steal cattle, slowly moving northward.
Many people made plans to leave if necessary, but the Saints expressed their faith to us that the Lord would protect them. He did, through a sudden and unexpected cold spell which drove the robbers back to the more temperate desert in the south.
The Saints were blessed yet again when a rare hard frost came one night and lasted well into the day. Many people’s potatoes withered away, but not those of the Saints. The branch president of Manandona was accused by his neighbours of using magic, but he responded simply that he kept the commandments of God.
It was a great witness to me to see the increase in faith and commitment of those Saints in Besoa. It was not a simple sacrifice for them, but it brought forth great blessings. It will eventually bring forth one of the greatest blessings of all: the blessings of the temple.