Our story today comes from the country of Namibia [nah-MIH-bee-ah] in southwestern Africa. [Locate Namibia on a map.] Much of Namibia is dry savannah, or grasslands. And part of the country is desert.
Northwestern Namibia gets a little rain, and a few trees and shrubs can grow there, but still it is very dry. This is the land of the Himba people. They raise cattle, sheep, and goats and grow corn, squash, and melons in their small gardens. When there is no rain, there is no food for the animals, and the people must take their herds to another area to graze. Because the Himba move often, they build simple houses made of mud and thatch to live in.
Wauta (wah-OO-tah) is a Himba boy. The children in Wauta’s settlement do not go to school. The boys help care for the cattle, and the girls help their mothers carry water, prepare meals, and care for the baby goats and sheep.
Wauta was about 6 years old when a missionary couple, Mr. and Mrs. Petersen, visited his village. Wauta loved the stories they told, and whenever he saw the cloud of dust that their old pickup kicked up, he ran to greet them. Then he called the other children to come to the mopane [moh-PAH-nee] tree to hear stories about Jesus. He made it his job to see that the children—even ones older than he was—stayed quiet while Mr. Petersen talked.
The Mopane Tree Church
The Himba people don’t have a church in which to worship. They meet under the mopane tree. While it’s not a big tree, it offers some shade from the hot African sun. Even though the people don’t have a church, their place of worship under the tree is special to them.
One day the children decided to make their tree church more beautiful. They cleared the area of branches and rocks, and swept away all the leaves and twigs. Then they gathered large stones and placed them neatly in a large circle, outlining what they thought should be the church’s boundary. Then the children waited eagerly to show the missionaries their beautiful church.
The Mopane Tree School
Because the children must help their parents care for their family’s animals and help prepare food, they don’t go to school. Imagine the excitement when the children learned that the missionaries were going to hold a school for them under the mopane tree! When it was time for school to start, someone would honk the horn in the missionary’s truck, and children would come running from all directions.
The children learned to write by using sticks to make letters in the dirt. Then some children in South Africa learned about the Himba school under the mopane tree. They wanted to help these children learn to read and write, so they donated copybooks to write in. The missionaries bought pencils, and soon the children learned to write in their workbooks. The pastor translated Bible stories into their language and began teaching the children how to read them. The children were so excited to have a book in their own language!
Others Want to Come
The mopane tree church and school is near another settlement, and the children of this settlement wanted to learn about Jesus too. They begged the missionaries to wait to start teaching until they could run to the mopane tree and not miss anything. Sometimes the missionaries found the children waiting near the road when they passed. Then the missionaries stopped and picked them up on the way to the mopane tree school.
The Himba children of northern Namibia are just beginning to learn about Jesus. Let’s pray that God will make a way that they will soon give their hearts to God and that their parents will want to learn more about Jesus as well.
Gideon and Pam Petersen were missionaries among the Himba people of northwestern Namibia.