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The president's church

[Sunday] An hour after leaving the hotel, we arrive at the red-brick church building atop a mountain offering spectacular views of the countryside. The narrow road up the mountain has new blacktop, hairpin turns and no guardrails for our going-too-fast-for-comfort motorcade. The quaint house of worship is known as “the president’s church” in part because nestled around it are the tall, humble houses composing a tiny village where Ravalomanana was born and still considers home even though he lives in a presidential palace. In fact, he is building a massive house at the mountain’s peak where he plans to live one day. The church is charming – old-world in architecture, a modern sound system inside, and two massive wooden doors opened to the vista below. About 200 people are present and clearly waiting our arrival. They look curiously at the American visitors. Adults nod at us, and shy children wave small fingers and smile when we wave at them first. The service is conducted in Malagasy, and contains hymns with which we are familiar (Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah, Master the Tempest is Raging and Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy). Students sitting next to the group quietly interpret the prayers and readings and sermon for several of us. The minister speaks passionately about the importance of serving others, linking passages read earlier from Luke 22 (Who is greatest in the kingdom, one who sits at table or one who serves?) and Acts 7.