In 1995 a young Adventist couple, Gideon and Pam Petersen, arrived in northern Namibia to work among the Himba people. They found a few Adventists living in and around the small town of Opuwo [oh-POO-woh], one of whom was a Himba.
Learning to Love
The Petersens asked a Himba-speaking young man named Kapitango [kah-pee-TAHN-goh] to be their translator. Gideon worked with Kapitango to learn the language, and together the two men began teaching Himba families the basic principles of God. But the Himba couldn’t seem to remember what Petersen had taught them. But as a result Kapitango and two other young men accepted God’s truths and were baptized.
The Petersens tried everything they could think of to help the people understand the Bible stories. But nothing seemed to work. The team prayed for wisdom to reach their Himba friends for Christ. They worked beside them, listened to them talk, heard what was important to them and what they believed in.
Finding Answers at a Festival
Then as Gideon Petersen observed a lengthy festival involving dancing, storytelling, chanting, and poetry, he realized that these people have several different styles of communication. He set about understanding how the Himba relate to their world through these mediums.
The Himba have an oral culture that is uniquely their own. They pass their beliefs, their history, and their values to the next generation orally. They needto hear the gospel message told using their own cultural traditions—heroic poetry, storytelling techniques, and chants.
The Petersens began translating Bible stories into the Himba’s language using these genres. They found that they had to explain the most basic characters and events of the Bible. The Himba didn’t know about angels, so Petersen explained that angels are messengers from God. Their culture had no understanding of sin, so they had to explain it in terms the Himba could understand.
They created a cassette tape with the first Himba stories and gave a cassette player to one of the village leaders. He loved it—until the batteries ran out. A woman who had heard the stories on cassette begged to ride with the Petersens just to hear the Bible stories on cassette. The Petersens realized that they had found a way to communicate God’s story with the Himba!
They asked a Himba Protestant pastor to record the stories for the project. This pastor can insert chants and singing where appropriate to touch the Himbas’ hearts.
The team discovered solar powered MP3 players—sometimes called “God-Pods”—that provide a reliable means of delivering the message for years. Because the players are solar powered, they don’t need batteries. And their simple and sturdy build was designed for use in remote places such as the deserts of Namibia.
Working Themselves Out of a Job
As the team prepared the stories and lessons for the MP3 players, they wanted to train local leaders to take over their work. “We want to work ourselves out of a job,” Petersen says. They requested that the church leaders in Namibia authorize Kapitango, their young translator, to study theology. He has almost completed his degree. And while he studies, he’s also writing stories for the MP3 project. They’re finding others who can take over the work of producing the stories and working with the Himba.
The MP3 project was officially launched in May 2011. And already dozens of MP3 players have been distributed to leaders of Himba settlements. Everyone in the settlement can listen to the stories during the rest time in the heat of the day or around the warming fires on cold nights. But hundreds more settlements and villages need an MP3 player so they can hear God’s message for them. Part of this quarter’s Thirteenth Sabbath Offering will help carry on the project the Petersens have begun among the Himba. Our offering will fund further story translation and recording and will purchase MP3 players for the thousands of Himba who still haven’t heard that God speaks their language. Thank you for helping bring Jesus to the Himba this Thirteenth Sabbath.
Gideon and Pam Petersen are missionaries serving with Adventist Frontier Mission.