Above, My team meets with the general secretary and staff of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia in the tiny northern-Namibia town of Oniipa on May 15.
Pictured on home page: Rachel and Lloyd Pritchett enjoy opening worship of the Lutheran World Federation assembly on May 9 with the Rev. Ezron Kapolo, their guide.
By Rachel Pritchett
"Did you have wonderful time in Namibia?"
I always struggle with that question. When faced with grinding poverty at every turn, how could I ever have had a "wonderful time?"
We had what I hope was a productive time. As chair of the Southwestern Washington Synod's Namibia Task Force, I led a small ELCA team on a recent trip to greet and get updates from our three official church companions in Namibia -- the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN); the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN); and the German Lutheran church (ELCIN-GELK). My team listened long and hard to our partners. Now we'll begin fundraising in the Southwestern Washington Synod and other synods involved in the relationship based on the needs our friends shared with us. If we're successful, then the trip indeed will have been wonderful.
Getting that information wasn't easy. First you fly to the ends of the earth. Then you drive miles upon miles through the dusty, bumpy desert to see someone, continually slamming on the brakes as big herds of goats and donkeys flow across the road. At the end of the day, you cough the Namib desert out of your lungs.
But there's no substitute to getting information that's timely and accurate. The only way you can do that is to make these trips. Here's what we found out:
ELCIN: Our dear old friends are our biggest partner asked us to refocus on a new sewer system for the church's Oshigambo High School, a longstanding school – one of the best in Namibia – that produces Namibia's future leaders. They also asked us to support its extensive braille-printing endeavor. Many Namibian are blind, one result of the AIDS-HIS virus. ELCIN prints textbooks that are used to train blind people in occupations. They also asked us to help us with an expansion of ELCIN's part of the busy Onandjokwe State Hospital. Lastly, they need us to identify an IT person to help with a computer program that would like the ELCIN office with its 100 congregations. See me if you're interested. It's a sweet deal.
ELCRN: Many of you met Bishop Ernst Gamxamub when he visited Bethany last May. He asked us to step in with support of that synods 19 longstanding hostels. A hostel is a place where children from outlying villages come live and get an education. A group that was helping them disbanded. It's pretty dire; these children are going hungry.
ELCIN-GELK: We extended a formal greeting to the bishop of this small German church body comprised of affluent whites. Because of its past participation in apartheid, we agreed to look to the future.
PAULINUM SEMINARY: Everywhere we were treated as sisters and brothers. That was very much the case at the beloved United Lutheran Theological Seminary – Paulinum. Is on the brink of possible failure. A massive unpaid electricity bill is one reason; the other is that there is a glut of pastors in the country. Talks are underway to perhaps fold Paulinum into theological curricula at the University of Namibia, so far without success. You cannot imagine how grateful Paulinum leaders were to receive $1,000 from Bethany. This will be applied toward the debt and help move Paulinum into a new form.
PLU: We met up with Dr. Jan Wiess, an education professor from Pacific Lutheran University based in Namibia. We brainstormed ways our work might mesh together. She wants to help us find an IT person for the ELCIN project. We're possibly going to offer to help set up internships for her PLU student in the ELCRN hostels.
All of the above took up most of our two-week visit. But we had time for a little fun, going to the dunes, Walvis Bay and the German coastal resort town of Swakopmund. We drove among the giraffes and antelope of Etosha National Park. We breezed through the Lutheran World Federation assembly.
Please join me in constant prayer for the Lutheran church in Namibia, a country that's only had its independence since 1990.
One morning in the copper-mining town of Tsumeb we about to start another long dusty drive through the desert. I was standing outside the old German hotel waiting for my group. The kitchen had given me more food to take along for our lunch than we needed. In the black shadows of the bright morning, I spotted a middle-aged man with a cane. He was almost invisible. I hooked the pink hotel bag of food onto his wrist and nodded. I watched. He walked over to a park across the street. He reached into a trash bin and pulled out a dark plastic bag to conceal the hotel bag. And then he was gone.
I wish it were all that easy.