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'Long-awaited day' as first Church building in Madagascar dedicated

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar -- The first Church building in Madagascar was dedicated recently in the capital city of Antananarivo.

Called the "most beautiful church in Antananarivo" by its architect, the new edifice includes the mission home for the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission, mission offices and meetinghouse facilities for the Antananarivo 2nd and 3rd branches.More than 600, seated in the chapel and baptismal font room and large cultural hall in the basement, attended the dedication services May 9. Elder Dennis E. Simmons of the Seventy and president of the Africa Southeast Area offered the dedicatory prayer of the building.

In addition to Elder Simmons, other speakers included Pres. R. Chris Fee of the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission and district Pres. Elie Rajaonarison.

Previous to the dedication services, a press conference was held by Elder Simmons and Pres. Rajaonarison on the evening of May 6. One television station had visited the facility a few days earlier and carried favorable stories on its evening news.

Two days later, on May 8, hundreds attended an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony. By 8 a.m., guests were already arriving for the 10 a.m. open house. Many gathered under a large tent to hear remarks from Elder Simmons and Pres. Rajaonarison, who conducted the event. The outdoor ceremony included a stirring rendition of the Malagasy national anthem by a district choir.

Following remarks, Elder Simmons and the district presidency led the way to the front gate where a marble sign with the Church logo was unveiled.

The crowd then followed to the front door of the building where Elder Simmons and a local government official, Marcelle Ratovoharison, joined in cutting the ceremonial golden ribbon. Visitors then took tours throughout the new Church building where rooms were filled with displays on Church history, doctrine, practices and scriptures. Groups continued to visit the building throughout the day until darkness called an end to the activities.

Dedication of the edifice, which was an extensive modification of an existing building, was a long-awaited day for Church members on this island nation of 15 million, located off the southeast coast of Africa. Construction on the property began in 1997 after the Church purchased the land, which is located on a hill overlooking local historic sites, including the palace of the queen of Madagascar. During construction, local residents asked many questions, including, "Why isn't there a cross on the top?" which prompted some teaching opportunities.

During the two years of construction, full-time missionaries in the area increased from about 30 to more than 50, coming from various parts of the world, including France, Australia, Great Britain, Ivory Coast and the Congo, as well as the United States and Canada. Membership in Madagascar has increased dramatically with five branches and a district now in Antananarivo. Missionary work began here in 1991.