Namibia | August 11

Letting The Himba Hear


[Ask a man to present this first-person report.]

In the Himba culture stories are the basis of learning. Anything village elders want the people to understand, they tell them in the form of a story.

The Himba live in the northern part of the country of Namibia. [Locate Namibia on a map.] Most Himba still live in traditional huts in family settlements surrounded by thorn bush fences to keep out predators. They don’t need electricity or running water and are largely self-sufficient, living on the milk and meat provided by their animals and the maize [corn] and vegetables grown in their family gardens.

Only a small minority of Himba can read and write, so oral learning continues to be central to communicating their history and culture. Children are told the same stories again and again as they grow. The elders pass on their wisdom through stories.

Traditionally, the Himba seek advice from their dead ancestors when they have problems. The patriarch of a family unit asks the ancestors for help to get them out of trouble, heal them if they’re sick, and guide them in their everyday activities.

In the Himba worldview, there is no concept of sin as Christians understand it. They have no doctrines or framework of beliefs. This makes reaching them for Christ more difficult.

Reluctant Follower

I am Kapitango. I was in northern Namibia among the Himba. When I was 16, I stayed with my uncle in another area. My uncle is an Adventist and took me to his church. I didn’t like his religion and felt Adventists were false teachers, but because my culture respects our elders, I attended church with him on Sabbaths.

I returned to Opuwo [oh-POO-woh], the town nearest my parents’ home. I was glad to get away from my uncle and his strange religion. Then another relative, Tate Suse [TAH-teh SOO-seh], came to live in town and became the leader of the small Adventist congregation there.

Because I knew some English, Uncle Tate asked me to translate for a missionary couple who had come to work among the Himba. I couldn’t refuse, for I was young and Uncle Tate was a respected elder. That’s how I met Gideon and Pam Petersen.
I liked them right away. I translated for them in church meetings, Bible study groups, and Sabbath services; and eventually I helped them learn Herero, the local language.

As I worked with the Petersens I learned what Adventists believe and why. A year later I asked to be baptized and joined the Adventist Church.

As I grew spiritually, I became a lay pastor of the small Adventist church in Opuwo. Then the church leaders in Namibia invited me to study for the ministry at Rusangu University in Zambia. Because of my work and my family, I study three months a year in Zambia and then return home to work and study on my own. Soon I will complete my degree and become the first trained native Adventist pastor among the Himba.

Telling Old Stories in a New Way

As we worked with the Himba, we realized that they weren’t remembering the Bible stories we told them. We realized it wasn’t the stories, but the Western way of telling them, that the Himba people had trouble with. Because they have no concept of sin, we had to explain sin with a story—the fall of Lucifer. And because the Himba don’t know who angels are, we had to explain that they are God’s messengers. We couldn’t recite Bible texts and expect these people to remember them. We had to find a way to tell them stories again and again, even when we weren’t there.

After months of prayer, God revealed the way: solar-powered MP3 players, sometimes called “God-Pods.” We wrote scripts of dramatized Bible stories and asked a Christian Himba man to record them. We loaded them onto MP3 players and gave them to the tribal leaders in our area.

They loved them! So now we are preparing more stories that we can upload to the MP3 players, even the ones already out in the field. The people can listen to the stories whenever they wish. They can share them with their children and their extended families.

God has many ways to reach people. It has taken several years and a lot of different failures to find a way to reach the Himba. But today they are responding to God’s stories told in a way they understand. Truly now, God does speak Himba.

You can help reach the Himba people for God. Part of your Thirteenth Sabbath Offering this quarter will help fund the recording of more stories for the Himba and will provide MP3 players for all of the 200-some Himba settlements in northern Namibia. Thank you so much for sharing God’s love for the Himba people.

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