It was not easy for Tanteraka “Tank” Randrianjoary to develop his own faith while growing up in the shadow of one of Madagascar’s most famous evangelists. But today the “pastor’s naughty son” (as he was once called) is growing into an influential Christian leader who is planting churches that “reflect the goodness of God to the despised in our communities.”
Although his early life was filled with church services and youth group activities, Tank was reluctant to embrace the faith of his father, Jules Randrianjoary, a household name on this island country of 29 million. For decades, Jules filled stadiums across the country when he preached, and Tank was often asked, “Are you Pastor Jules’ son?”
Tank found the question pushing him away from Christianity. “I didn’t want to mimic my dad; I didn’t want to believe in God just because of my dad’s influence,” he remembers.
But in 2001, when Tank was in high school, his country became mired in devastating political turmoil after a presidential election marred by fraud and violence. As rail lines were cut, food became scarce, and people became too scared to leave their homes. “Before the crisis, I was just living life like a normal kid,” Tank said. “But when that happened, I began to think about life—believing there had to be more than just living a day-to-day existence.”
He “rethought the idea of what it means to be a Christian and follow Christ” and trusted in Jesus by faith in 2002 at 19 years old.
Tank began volunteering with his father’s church and was quickly promoted to leadership roles, including preaching and training other leaders. The promotions were “probably premature,” Tank recalls. “In fact, I thank God that there wasn’t social media back then, or recordings of my sermons. My message was one of prosperity, faith/health/wealth, and my demeanor was arrogant and bossy.” But Tank’s faith would again be challenged and changed by both his father and presidential politics.
In 2006, Jules decided to run for president, a move Tank initially supported. But he soon became disillusioned as his father began using his evangelist role to gain votes, even saying “God was calling him to be the father of the nation.”
“I couldn’t stand for it,” Tank said.
Tank made a formal break with his father’s church and began to distance himself from an emphasis on faith healing and the prosperity gospel. He also served with New Generation Church in Somerset, West South Africa, under the mentorship of Peter Howard-Browne, who then introduced him to Rigby Wallace and Ryan TerMorshuizen at what is now known as Common Ground Church. Both churches are now members of the Advance movement, a global organization that focuses on church planting and strengthening existing churches.
In addition to his work in South Africa, Tank also began listening to pastors online, including Timothy Keller and others who espoused a reformed theology. Tank did more research on Keller and his City to City (CTC) ministry that focuses on planting and growing churches in large cities around the world. Tank applied to an intensive church planting course for pastors who wanted to start churches in urban settings. “I really wanted to take these courses to find out how to best plant a church back in Antananarivo,” the capital of Madagascar.
He was accepted into the six-week course and traveled to New York City in 2011 with his wife, Jaela. At first, Tank struggled with cultural differences, even questioning the faith of other participants because they prayed quietly when he was accustomed to loud, emotional group prayers. But he soon realized that unfamiliar practices were not good measures of an individual’s faith or commitment, and by the time he completed the program, Tank felt thoroughly prepared to plant a new church in Madagascar’s capital.
In the beginning we were reaching skeptics of Christianity, but as time went by, we began reaching second-generation Christians who were turned off to the faith by legalistic parents and were looking for renewal.
Tana City Centre Church opened its doors in January 2012 in a rented space in Antananarivo’s downtown district. “In the beginning we were reaching skeptics of Christianity, but as time went by, we began reaching second-generation Christians who were turned off to the faith by legalistic parents and were looking for renewal.”
Although 85% of the population of Madagascar identifies as Christian, Tank says the gospel message is often eroded. “Religiosity mixed with a health and wealth message is very challenging right now. Due to that, many people are being tossed back and forth, deceived and blinded. Lots of syncretism where people are trying different religions and hoping that maybe one will work and sort out all of life’s problems, especially poverty.”
Madagascar has one of the highest poverty rates of the world, and recent economic problems have meant more of Tana City’s members need help meeting basic needs. While supporting its members, the church also ministers to people who live on the streets of the capital, especially focusing on helping street kids get a better education and providing assistance to single young mothers. “As a church we want to reflect the goodness of God to the despised in our communities,” Tank says, and he regularly appeals to international contacts to help raise funds to meet the overwhelming needs in his country.
Tank also continues to plant churches and work with new church plants. Two churches with roots in Tana City have been planted, and there are plans to start another. As part of the Africa team of Advance, Tank now leads the hub of four Advance partner churches in Madagascar, building relationships and providing training and encouragement. He also appreciates the partnership with CTC and the long-term effects of his CTC training. “CTC has helped to articulate the gospel to both religious and skeptics in cities, and they have been a great help in building bridges between cities in prosperous countries and church plants in third world cities,” he explains.
As a church we want to reflect the goodness of God to the despised in our communities.
Al Barth, a Global Catalyst for CTC in Africa, has watched Tank’s spiritual growth for more than a decade. “Tank is one of the many guys that bring great joy to me every time I am with him. He could develop into one of the most important Christian leaders in the country.”