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Abstinence Lessons in Madagascar

May 15, 2017

Heather Santmyire and her husband, Aaron, are missionaries to Madagascar.




During our first term serving on the island of Madagascar, I felt overwhelmed by all the needs around us. Our children were young—three and one to be exact. We were given the task of overseeing our local Assemblies of God orphanage. For me, it was a direct answer to my calling. 


When I was ten years old, my family served as missionaries to Madagascar with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. We were visiting a nearby orphanage opened by someone we knew. Walking through the village and seeing the children playing, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart for the first time. I remember there was a school under construction off to the left, and I clearly heard within my young spirit, “One day, you could come back to Africa and teach in an orphanage.” 


I was more than eager for our family to be involved with the orphanage in Madagascar. I have always loved children, and they usually like me too! So during our first term there as AG missionaries, I asked the Lord to show me how I could be involved, even with young children at home. We found ways to spend time with the children and build relationships. By the end of the first term, we knew every name and had found true love for each child. I also began to hear God’s voice speaking to my spirit again, this time asking me to teach about abstinence. I felt uncomfortable and didn’t know how to clearly express what His Word says, so I ignored the voice and returned to the States for our year-long furlough. I made a point of searching out books and resources to bring back with me, intending to talk about abstinence and purity.


Within days after returning for our second term, we found out two of our girls—who had finished high school and moved out while we were gone—had gotten pregnant. Neither of them were married at the time they conceived. I was devastated and ashamed that I had ignored the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It lit a passion in my heart to speak out and prevent this, if I could, from happening again. I was determined that none of the girls under our care—or the boys—would go another day without knowing what God’s Word said about remaining pure. I knew I couldn’t ignore what God had placed in my heart. 


In Madagascar there is a high percentage of child prostitution—especially in the coastal areas where there are many tourists from Europe. Sex trafficking is on the rise. Several years ago I watched an interview of a ten-year-old girl living in a city north of the island, where prostitution is the norm. She said, “Of course I’m a prostitute. My father died. My mother cannot take care of me. I have to have money to eat, and there is no one to help me. So this is what I do.” Ten. Years. Old. 


With this in mind, two of our orphanage staff helped me create a lesson I could share at local churches. They took turns translating as we traveled from place to place, sharing with youth and parents. We talked about God’s plan for marriage, how to dress appropriately as young women, and what we should and shouldn’t listen to on the radio or watch on television. I addressed the parents at the end of the lesson: How could they help their children abstain from sexual immorality?


Over and over, we heard from pastors how grateful they were we would come and talk about this difficult topic. One pastor told me, “I didn’t realize I should be talking to my young people about this, but you have helped me to see how important it is.” Another pastor in a coastal town shared, “I’ve been here for 20 years and never talked about abstinence. Maybe I should begin so we can help our young people stay out of prostitution.” I was shocked that he never felt free to talk about it! 


I thank the Lord for giving me boldness and forgiving me for not being obedient. I am grateful for the youth who have participated in many seminars and for their parents who are learning to talk about a subject that is often ignored. Since that time, none of the kids from our orphanage have fallen into the same situation, and we pray that God will continue to spur in them a deep love for His Word and His plans for their futures. 


How can the Malagasy church respond? What should we be doing to help families choose another option? These are hard questions without easy answers. An article written by Humanium states that “poverty, entrenched sexual discrimination, and the lack of monitoring of the application of laws has allowed for a boom in early sexual activity, which is no longer shocking.” Because of the poverty across the island—which has increased since the 2009 military coup—children are turning to prostitution, sometimes because their parents force them into it. 


Would you pray with us for the girls here in Madagascar? Pray that those who have already gone through our abstinence seminar will remember the things we discussed. Pray they are reminded of God’s love and care for each of them and the plan He has for their lives. Pray that sexual strongholds across our island will be addressed in the church and not be ignored. Pray for boldness for pastors and Christians who can share their faith with those in need of a Savior. Finally, pray for you and for me, that when the Holy Spirit whispers something to our hearts, we will choose obedience. 

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