Editor's note: This story first appeared in the fall 2017 issue of the Concordian, the official magazine of Concordia University Wisconsin.
7-13-20 Update: Solomona’s father, the Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, was called to his heavenly home on July 11, 2020. He died of the coronavirus. A GoFundMe page was started by members of Concordia’s School of Nursing faculty and staff to support Pastor Rakotonirina’s wife and daughters/Solomona’s mother and siblings. Click here to support the Rakotonirina family.
It’s fitting that Solomona Rakotonirina keeps a passage from 1 Timothy in his wallet. As the reserved son of the extroverted president of one of the fastest-growing Lutheran churches in the world, Solomona, a watchful student of all those who have been put in his path to mentor him, is preparing to step into his own calling as a global church leader.
At just 5 feet 4 inches tall, Solomona, a pre-seminary and business student at Concordia University Wisconsin, doesn’t have the commanding presence that some natural-born leaders rely upon. Instead, it’s his humility; grace; and big, toothy grin that make him all the more appealing to the multitudes of people within the Lutheran Church who have rallied behind him.
As Concordia’s only international pre-sem student, the Madagascar native is preparing himself for evangelistic impact abroad. He’s received help along the way from various individuals and groups that all share a hope in him as a future church leader who will potentially impact millions.
“Solomona is a catalyst for different people and groups to come together to prepare the next generation globally,” said Dr. David Birner, executive director of Concordia’s Office of International Students.
Solomona’s father, Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, is the presiding bishop/president of the Malagasy Lutheran Church, which currently has nearly 4 million members. In recognition of the church’s rapid growth, influential people from all over the world visit Madagascar and meet with Rev. Rakotonirina. Growing up, Solomona often sat alongside his father, sometimes to translate, sometimes to chauffeur distinguished guests; always to learn from his elders.
Among the visitors were Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and Rev. Dr. Kevin Voss, executive director of the Concordia Center for Bioethics and associate professor of philosophy at Concordia. Both men would eventually lead Solomona to CUW, where he would begin his journey to seminary.
The budding international theologian credits Harrison—whom Solomona calls “one of my biggest influences”—for steering him toward CUW.
“Solomona is a great young man,” Harrison said. “It is vital for the future proclamation of the pure Gospel that the LCMS use its educational treasures, like CUW, to help train future leaders of global Lutheranism.”
While President Harrison’s influence was certainly persuasive, the Concordia seeds were planted years earlier when Voss went to visit Solomona’s church on a mission trip through the Fort Wayne seminary, where he was educating members of the Malagasy Church about HIV prevention.
Voss recalls that Solomona and his family were living in the church where Voss and the others on the trip rested in between mission activities. “I remember that he was always there beside us, observing,” Voss said. “He was clearly interested in theology and seemed eager to learn from our conversations. So I told him about Concordia. His dad was so proud of him. He would say, ‘Here’s my son; he will be a pastor, too.’
Years later, after a grueling three-day flight, Solomona arrived at CUW exhausted, hungry, and far away from those who raised him. But God continued to put mentors in his path.
Solomona has an astonishing list of individual champions, organizations, and congregations that eagerly support him at Concordia. In addition to the Luther Promise, Concordia’s generous institutionally funded tuition guarantee for students connected to the Lutheran Church, Solomona’s education is made financially possible through the support of five individuals, two congregations, and two organizations. That doesn’t include the countless faculty and staff who host him for holidays and family dinners; the local congregation members who drive him to church; nor the LCMS missionary who offered up his personal bank account to make Solomona’s student visa possible.
For some, the show of support might be a heavy burden; for Solomona, it’s simply living out a calling that God has placed on his heart.
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
“It’s just amazing to think about all of the people who have helped me; who continue to help me,” Solomona said. “I won’t be able to repay any of them. I can only do my best to honor God, proclaim His Words faithfully, and serve people with love.”
Upon graduation in 2019, Solomona hopes to attend an LCMS seminary, just like his father. He looks forward to the day when he can return to Madagascar and work alongside his father to minister to the Malagasy people and help share the Gospel.
Like Timothy, who is often recognized as an inspiration to his generation, Solomona is a devout Christian, a dutiful student, and a faithful son who is preparing to make his mark in the world in accordance with God’s plan.
To learn more about opportunities to support Concordia students like Solomona, please visit www.cuw.edu/donate.
The fall 2017 Concordian magazine hit mailboxes the first week of October. View a PDF version of the magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, call 734-995-7317.
— Lisa Liljegren is assistant vice president of strategic communications within the Office of Strategy and University Affairs.
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