C. THE DOROTHEA MISSION MINISTRY
TRAVELLING THROUGH NAMIBIA
Namibia, earlier known as South-West Africa, has the Atlantic Ocean on its western side, with the northern stretch known as the Skeleton Coast. Inland it borders on Angola and Zambia in the north, Botswana in the east and South Africa in the south and south-east. It covers 825,418 sq km (geographically quite a large country) of which a considerable portion consists of arid land such as the Namib desert and the Kalahari semi- desert.
It became a German colony in 1884. In 1920 the League of Nations mandated the country to South Africa. Uprisings and demands by African leaders, especially by the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) led to Namibia obtaining full independence from South Africa in 1990 with Sam Nujoma as its first president.
It has a population of 2.1m people, comprising of the Herero, Nama, Damara and Bushmen (a very interesting nomadic tribe) and of course the White population, mostly farmers.
Namibia offers a fantastic experience to tourists who love to get away from civilisation and experience “raw” nature. For a Christian to climb one of those red Namib sand dunes, sit down on top all alone with nothing to see but dunes upon dunes in whichever way you look while experiencing the awful presence of the Almighty God that created it all, is an experience never to be forgotten. It is then that you begin to understand why the Lord took his son Moses into the semi-desert to reveal Himself to him in a burning bush. Then you also begin to understand why the Father led His greater Son, Jesus, into the wilderness by His Spirit to experience his intense nearness and to be tempted by the devil. It is when we are stripped of other physical distractions that our spirits are set free to delight in God in all His fullness.
It was to this country that Mr von Staden sent me to take photographs and bring back reports that would stimulate South African Christians to pray for its peoples. Johan de Koning was the Mission’s man in Namibia and had been a spiritual pioneer for many years.
So, early one Monday morning, I slid into the passenger seat of the seasoned Land Rover, with Johan with his slightly balding head, lock of hair dangling over his brow, bristling moustache and non-fading smile, crouched over the steering wheel. As usual he had his white helmet handy as protection against the scorching sun. He was in his element for to him this was home country and I got the impression that he was enjoying having me with him for all those many years he had been travelling the dusty roads mostly on his own, confined to his own thoughts hour after lonely hour. Only once a year did he travel the 1369 km with this old vehicle to the Mission headquarters at Pretoria to fellowship with co-workers from other territories and fields of service and to give testimony as to what the Lord had accomplished through him during the year gone by. Now he had a representative of the Mission with him, a living missionary who could hear, see and appreciate the scope, depth and challenges of his ministry, take photos and return to Pretoria to report back and elicit prayer for Namibia and its peoples.
And certainly, God blessed the country via the endless toiling of this robust servant of His. He did not go there with a remarkably new inventive plan, but simply gave effect to God’s Great Commission to go out and make disciples of all nations. Accepting Namibia as his special field of service, he simply went forth from Windhoek to the north, the south, the east and the west, revealing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to whoever would listen, irrespective of race or colour. He proclaimed the Word “In season and out of season.” He sowed the Seed liberally so that no-one would have an excuse for not having heard. Though some fell by the road-side, on rocky ground and amongst the weeds and did not bear fruit, he did not give up, but was faithful to his calling and the Seed that fell on fruitful ground, yielded an abundant harvest, so that Johan became well known, loved and appreciated all over the country.
So from Windhoek we travelled north to Okahandja, then to Otjiwarongo where we turned north-east, travelling to Otavi, then took the road that branched off to Grootfontein and from there to a farm where we would spend the night, tired as can be from the day’s journey in that bumpy, noisy, hot Landy.
At that time, the “Bush War” or “Border War” as we called it, between the South-African army and SWAPO, was in its earlier stages and we often heard of tragic deaths of farmers on remote farms. One such tragedy occurred when a farmer was shot at his homestead. Our hearts had always been touched when hearing of such occurrences over the radio but to meet with the remaining relatives and hear their story from them personally, struck so much deeper. We were actually taken to the homestead where the remaining spouse showed us the large bloodstain on the veranda where her husband had died. As he was emerging from the house, a shot rang out from the surrounding bushes that hit him and caused him to bleed to death within minutes. Yes, he was buried, for life had to go on and the cement was scrubbed again and again, but that huge stain of blood of a beloved husband remained and would remind his wife day by day of the tragic end of the life they had shared. During that period, farmers such as these, were at the mercy of snipers who shot at them whenever they moved out of doors and, due to the remoteness of the farms, the army could do very little to protect them, yet few fled to the safety of the towns for they, their parents and grand-parents had been born there and knew no other way of living. Indeed, as one historian put it: “The history of mankind is a history of wars.” Whatever the reasons may be for taking up arms, many people, and often innocent people, do suffer terribly in the process.
Well, fortunately I am not called to be a war historian, but to herald the Good News of a better Kingdom that came into effect by the voluntary shedding of His Blood by its King. Hallelujah! So that night we experienced true German hospitality at a table overflowing with delicious dishes with meat in abundance and went on talking and talking till well into the night. Farmers such as these, seldom received visitors from outside their own districts and were thirsty to listen to news from elsewhere and to share their own hearts. A visit by Johan, of course, always included sitting around a huge dining table, listening to the words of God being expounded.
I cannot recollect what time it was when we were eventually released and could lay down our weary heads on those milky white pillows. We had however hardly turned over once, when there was a knock at the door and we were informed that dawn had broken and we would have to rise for there was a long day and a long journey ahead of us and the farm workers had already been gathered and were waiting, anxious to receive their share of God’s message of grace.
This was the first time I had the opportunity of telling the Bushmen people of God’s love for all of His creatures. The Bushmen (as most of them prefer to be called) are also known as the Khoi/San and are said to be the earliest inhabitants of southern Africa (dating back some 20,000 years). When displaced by physically stronger tribes that came to populate these areas, they fled to the remote, and especially to the desert and semi-desert areas of Namibia, Botswana and South-Africa. They are exceptionally short in stature and have a yellowish coloured skin which wrinkles at an early age. In their natural state, the diet of the Bushmen consists of plant food such as roots, melons, berries and nuts gathered by the women, and the men hunt game using poisoned arrows and spears. A hunt for a single Gemsbok may continue for many days before it is run down. Their homes are made of sticks, that can either be discarded or readily gathered into a bundle and carried along to their next dwelling area as they follow after game that in turn treks to where rain has fallen and there is an abundance of food. They never used to farm nor kept livestock, but lived off what nature provided. They have a loosely knit family culture, but no tribal structure nor an overall leader. To find a way of putting the Bushman language of click sounds into writing (much later) was a singular challenge. Their religion has an element of ancestral worship similar to that of the other African races, but has many other teachings endeavouring to explain the origin of man and the nature of a god or gods and their relation to mankind. They are indeed a very remarkable people that seem to have remained unchanged for many centuries.
As White farmers moved into Namibia, they made contact with the Bushmen and during times of drought when plant food got scarce and the game moved to distant areas, some of them took up employment on these farms. They were not very dependable workers, for the moment they saw lightning flashing somewhere over the horizon and knew that rain had fallen there, the age old urge that nature and a life free of any obligations had over them, became so strong, that a whole family would just vanish overnight, not to be seen again until the next hard season overtook them – difficult for you and me, born to the slavery of a steady job, to understand! (Let us forget about the hardships of such a life for a moment: but can you imagine such total freedom from the rule of time and the weight of obligations?)
Well, let us not dwell on such flights of fantasy but look at the situation from a Biblical perspective and see that they are to be included in the great multitude that will one day be standing before the throne of God. That is of course how Johan saw them and availed himself of this opportunity of their being within reach of the Gospel while working on the farms, to serve them with God’s revelation of Himself and of His directives for mankind. As can be imagined, this teaching was totally foreign to them – just another of the oddities of the White man – but the Word, activated by the Spirit, penetrates into the spiritual marrow of any human being. One morning Mr. von Staden received a phone call from Johan conveying the good news that a number of Bushmen had been born-again. How we all rejoiced!
Some time afterwards, Johan brought two of them, all dressed up in Western clothes, to the annual Mission Birthday celebration. They had both picked up the Afrikaans language while working on a certain farm for some time, so we could converse freely with them. I took the two of them along on errands I had to run, collecting cakes which various supporters had baked for the Mission’s birthday. On asking them what they considered the most wonderful thing the White man had invented, I was surprised to hear them unanimously, and without having to think about it, reply: “A tap with running water”; not a motorcar or a Boeing or a skyscraper, but a tap with running water. They must often have been thinking what a treasure a tap with running water in one’s knapsack would be while travelling on foot through their arid homelands!
There were, however, also two other things that touched their fancy. The first was a slice of chocolate cake one of the ladies from whom we collected the cakes gave each of them. I could see by the way their faces wrinkled up, that they were enjoying every single mouthful. On asking one of them whether he liked it, he smacked his tongue, ran it carefully all around his icing covered lips, closed his eyes and replied: “Tagen-tagen-tag, dit smaak vir my ek eet sommer ses-en-vyftig (wow-oh-wow-oh-wow, I feel like eating 56 of them!) Why “56”, I cannot say.
Half an hour later I took them with me into a lift. Fortunately we were all on our own – just the three of us. As the doors closed automatically and they felt the lift ascending, they staggered backwards and, with eyes bulging to twice their normal size, pressed their backs and the palms of their hands against the sides of the lift, holding their breaths till the lift eventually came to rest some five floors up and the doors slid open again. I felt rather naughty, even guilty, for playing such a trick on them so I put my arms around their shoulders and led them to a window where we could look down upon the street where we had been walking moments before. The utter amazement on those two faces! They stared at me as if I had personally performed this unbelievable miracle of lifting us all up into the air in a matter of seconds.
Now let me continue describing our journey through Namibia. From Grootfontein, Johan and I travelled further north-west and north, visiting many other places where he ministered. We passed close by many tourist attractions like the “White Woman of the Brandberg” and the “Petrified Forest” but our minds were fixed on “things above” for which purpose we were travelling down below and had no time or even the inclination to visit these.
At Okahandja Johan opened the way for me to attend the annual festival held by the Herero nation to pray to their ancestors. It is said that after having clashed with the Germans that had colonised Namibia earlier on, their numbers were down to 15,000. At present they number about 250,000. Most of them are fluent in Afrikaans, a common language widely spoken all over Namibia.
On 25 August, while I was waiting on the site where the feast was to be held, bus loads of people arrived. After having refreshed themselves somewhat after their long journeys, they all gathered at a central spot. One of the leaders, an elderly man, stepped forward and addressed the people, welcoming them and, as was done every year, explained the purpose and significance of the occasion. He then invited them to step forward one by one. They did so and knelt in a queue.
The first one, a young woman then crawled up to him on her knees. As he spoke to her, she bent down to the earth, took up some of the loose soil into her mouth, spat it out and rinsed her mouth with water supplied to her in a cup and waited expectantly. Next he asked what her need was. She replied that as she was a young woman who had come of age, she wanted a young man to be married to, and would he please pray for her? This he did out loud, imploring the spirits of his ancestors to supply in her need. She then got up, returning to the rest of the audience and the next woman moved up for the same ritual and to be prayed for. Their needs differed: most of the young people wanted marriage partners, but there were also other people who were sick or had financial or other needs and all of these needs were brought to the ancestral spirits by means of this mediator.
When it got dark, I went home but returned early the next morning, just after daybreak. The sight that met my eyes was gripping. Vast numbers of women were clad in colourful Victorian type dresses with accompanying singular headwear with the men in military uniforms dating back to the German army that had once held sway over them. They were organised into different groups, coming from different parts of the country. Once they were all assembled, the whole procession set off on foot to the nearby graveyard of their ancestors where, of course, all the earlier important chiefs were buried.
There a leader took control of the meeting, again explaining the importance of it and touching on the history of the Herero people. In a loud voice he then started praying to certain specific ancestral spirits. His prayer was nothing but heart breaking to me for it was offered at a time when many of the Herero people were being killed in the course of the SWAPO war and most of the rest of the people were getting more and more impoverished because of a drought that just would not end. In the course of his prayer he uttered the following words: “We are suffering so much. Many of us are being killed in the war by the enemy. Our cattle are dying because of the drought. We have been praying to you for a long time but have received no answer: are you dead? Are you really dead?” Oh, how these words pierced my heart for his fear that his ancestors were dead and of no avail to them was in fact, a fact. They could render no help, not in this life nor in the life that was to come. How my heart yearned to have the opportunity of taking up the microphone and proclaiming Christ Who had risen from the dead; a living God that could and would help them, if only they turned to Him.
Having closed his prayers, another man stepped forward, purporting to be a medium through which the ancestral spirit could speak. The voice in which he spoke was very muffled and the speech somewhat incoherent so that I could not discern what was said. Whether the audience believed him or not, I cannot say, but once he had finished, all of those present went to one grave after the other, touching the tombstones with their hands (presumably the tombstones of some of the more prominent deceased chiefs) thereby paying allegiance to them.
Then they all returned to their camp and I went home with a camera filled with pictures and a heart breaking with grief for these dear people that had suffered so much as a nation and who were still groping in the dark, looking for solutions where none were to be found. Johan and I then returned to Windhoek from where I took the plane back to Pretoria, more determined than ever to lay down my life for the making of disciples of the peoples of Africa.
Many, many years later, Martie, I and our two boys did in fact return to Namibia for a short vacation. We entered right at the top through the Caprivi Ziphel where so many of our White young South African men had laid down their lives during the war with SWAPO which, in retrospect, does not seem to have been worthwhile. We then spent a delightful time in the Etosha game reserve and in Mile 4 caravan camp, just outside Swakopmund, after which we went north some distance along the coast, travelling on a dirt road surfaced with salt which caused the surface to become so hard that it was just about as good as a tarmac road.
We also visited the Namib Naukluft Park where we walked down into the Sesriem canyon and visited Sossus Vlei. The sunrise at Sossus Vlei was spectacular, awesome, keeping you spellbound as if you were standing on holy ground, but on returning to the table where we had left foodstuff, we were rudely yanked back to reality when we observed the havoc caused by three crows that had devastated our cartons of milk and packets of chips in their desperate attempt to devour their body weight in food before having to dodge the sticks thrown at them. As my vexation subsided, I looked up into the tree to see if there were any more culprits awaiting their opportunity and looked right into the four large staring eyes of two spotted Eagle Owls that seemed to say: “Why get so upset, son of man, there is no sense in losing your peace over such a trivial matter and waking us up at this time of the morning!” As they coolly turned their heads away to resume their slumber, Martie and I unpacked what was left of our picnic basket and settled down to enjoy an early breakfast.
We then set off scaling a massive adjoining sand dune, walking along a ridge winding on endlessly towards the top. Hour after hour we toiled, sinking to above our ankles into the loose red sand, later on stopping every ten paces to catch our breath, sometimes sitting down to empty our shoes of sand, but, in the end being so exhausted that we were compelled to turn back before reaching the pinnacle.
What an amazing country, so dissimilar to any other place I had ever visited in southern Africa, a unique spot on earth created by God to demonstrate His greatness and the peace of His being to whosoever has an open spirit to receive it.
THANK YOU LORD FOR ALL THE BEAUTY YOU CREATED FOR US TO ENJOY!
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