[Ask a young man to present this first-person report.]
I am Untag [OOHN-tag]. I was born into a Himba family in northeastern Namibia. [Locate Namibia on a map.] The Himba people live much the same way our ancestors did.
We live in family groups in mud huts. The children bring water from the borehole outside our settlement. Older boys herd the cattle and goats and sheep. Small gardens provide us with maize [corn], pumpkin, sugarcane, watermelon, and beans. Our cows give us milk, and the goats and sheep give us meat.
From my youngest days I watched my grandfather, the senior man in our family, visit the “holy fire” every morning and evening. There he talked to our ancestors. We believed that our ancestors heard my grandfather’s talking and would help us. If we were sick, they would help us get well. And if there were other problems in the family, the ancestors would help resolve them. The holy fire was an important part of our everyday life.
We live three hours from the nearest small town, but we are influenced by the outside world in some ways.
One day a man visited our settlement and told us stories about someone named Jesus. I listened to the stories because they were interesting, but they were far different from things my family had taught me. The man said we could pray to Jesus, and He would hear us and help solve our problems. But if that was so, why did Grandfather sit before the holy fire and talk to our ancestors? I was puzzled. This was all so new, and I was just a child. When the man stopped coming, I forgot about Jesus.
The government set up a mobile school in our area. We had never been to school before, and I was eager to learn to read and add numbers. We learned some English, too. I liked that, and I was eager to learn more.
When I was about 17, a woman came to our village and asked some of us Himba boys to collect caterpillars for her. She promised to pay us. We knew that the caterpillars are a delicacy in other parts of our region and that people pay a good price for them. We agreed to gather the caterpillars from the mopane [moh-PAH-nee] trees, where they hatch and grow. It’s like picking cherries. The woman paid us for the caterpillars with alcohol. Every day after school we picked caterpillars and delivered them to the woman. Then we got very drunk. From then on, I drank as much alcohol as I could get.
Then I heard that a missionary from America had arrived in the little town near our settlement. As soon as I heard my friends talking about him, I went to find him. I hoped that I could practice my English with him. That’s how I met Charlie.
Charlie and I quickly became friends. He taught me lots more words in English, and I helped him to learn Herero, the Himba language. Charlie asked lots of questions about the Himba people and our culture, and I tried to answer them.
Charlie invited me to a church service, and I went. There I heard more stories about God and the Bible. They reminded me of the stories I had heard many years earlier under the mopane tree in my settlement. As I learned more about God and Jesus, I realized that my ancestors had not solved many of my family’s problems. I decided to try praying to Charlie’s God.
I attended worship services, read the Bible Charlie gave me, and prayed with Charlie. About a year later I gave my heart to God. The struggle with alcohol took longer, but with intense prayer, God delivered me from that addiction and I’ve never drunk again.
A New Life and New Work
I’m sharing my new faith with my family. I’m telling my parents, my grandmother, and my brothers and sisters about God’s love. One of my brothers is preparing for baptism. I’m also helping to reach the youth of the village.
I have a great job helping make recordings of Bible stories in Himba. Most of the Himba people can’t read, so we are preparing dramatized Bible stories that are put onto MP3 players that the people can listen to when they wish. These stories are told in their own language and in their cultural way, and are helping them to understand God’s message of love.
This quarter part of your Thirteenth Sabbath offering will help make it possible for more Himba people to hear God’s good news through these MP3 players. Thank you.