Madagascar is a large island in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of southern Africa. It is home to approximately 30 million people. The Tanala people of Madagascar live hidden in the dense, mountainous rainforest. Tanala literally means “people of the forest.” Their villages are built on mountaintops and hidden in dense forests; hence, they have little access to the Gospel.

Matt and Julie Espeland and their two young daughters, Jasmine and Tiana, live in the highlands of Madagascar, where they help the local church reach the Tanala people. This involves hiking through the dense jungle, but the Espelands know this unreached people group needs Jesus.

“The Tanala people have a Catholic background that is mixed with ancestor worship,” Julie said. “They have been taught that they can have Jesus and worship their ancestors at the same time. There are very few believers among this people group of more than 1 million. It is hard to help them see that Jesus is the only way.”

The soil is hard, and that is why the Espelands and other Christian workers who are laboring with them celebrate seeing any one of the Tanala come to Christ.

“We have seen a man named Jonary give up everything to follow Jesus,” Julie said. “He was baptized and began to tell others about Jesus, even through persecution.”

In Madagascar—and especially among the Tanala—the needs are great, and Matt and Julie find it sometimes challenging to determine how best to use their time and resources. We can help resource them by giving generously through the Cooperative Program. We can also lift their needs to the Lord in prayer.

Pray God will give the Espelands wisdom in knowing how and where to minister. Pray Jasmine and Tiana will make friends and learn the local language, so they can be part of the community. Pray God will bring national partners and friends for Julie and Matt.

Because of the generous giving of Oklahoma Baptists through the Cooperative Program, an amazing array of ministries are supported. This unified giving encourages fellowship with other believers all over the world. Collectively, Oklahoma Baptists are advancing the gospel together.


Julie and Matt Espeland are featured in the 2023 Missionary Prayer Guide for Oklahoma Baptists. For more information about the Cooperative Program, visit