Having developed an increasing appetite for Namibian Church History over the years, my wife and I decided to visit Otjimbingwe, en route to Swakopmund for a much needed break. Otjimbingwe once was the “capital village” of Namibia! This was the place where Carl Hugo Hahn (find his biography in this blog), a Pioneer Missionary of the Rhenish Missionary Society to Namibia had significantly contributed towards the spread of the gospel in Namibia.
Since even some Namibians ask, “Otjimbingwe, where is that?”, let me explain how to get there. Leaving Windhoek in direction to Swakopmund on the B2, you will find the turn-off for Otjimbingwe just before you get to the little settlement called Wilhelmstal. The dust road (D 1967) of approximately 60 kilometers will take you to Otjimbingwe which is located on the banks of the Swakop river.
Otjimbingwe then …
Otjimbingwe, centrally located in Namibia, became the primary mission station of the Rhenish Missionary Society on Namibian soil in 1849. It is literally an oasis in the desert. The first missionary to settle there in 1849 was Johannes Rath. It was 8 years later that he baptized the first 2 converts on the 25th July 1858. Not long after this, his wife and 4 children were tragically lost at sea off Walvis Bay. He left Otjimbingwe in 1861 and Carl Hugo Hahn succeeded him here in 1864.
By 1864, Otjimbingwe had become a thriving community. Hahn wanted to develop this mission station into a “Missions Kolonie“ (a missionary colony), a place where the converts to Christianity could find a faith community, whilst also learning a trade. Carl Hugo Hahn had indeed developed a holistic approach to doing missionary work. Soon others were attracted to this village, such as the Swedish trader and explorer Charles John Andersson, who established his business there. It thus became the first European trading post on Namibian soil.
|Rhenish Church Otjimbingwe 1867|
The Rhenish Mission church was built under the direction Carl Hugo Hahn by architect and builder, Eduard Hälbich, and completed in 1867 it is still used as a place of worship. One of the Hälbich descendants is a member of our congregation. This church building has frequently served as a place of refuge, such as the instance when it was attacked by Jonker Afrikaner.
In 1884 Otjimbingwe became the seat of the German colonial administration and thereby, at least for a little while it served as the “capital village” of so called German South West Africa, after which the civil administration moved to Windhoek in 1892. Once the railway line between Windhoek and Swakopmund had been completed, Karibib (60km’s from Otjimbingwe) became a railway station along the way, and thus Otjimbingwe dwindled in importance.
Otjimbingwe now …
Whilst Otjimbingwe is situated in a lush oasis , it also is a poverty stricken community of about 8000 souls. There is very little evidence of economic activity, and no signs of prosperity.
The old Rhenish mission church is still in use, but the old missionary buildings surrounding it are in a state of complete disrepair. It is very sad that this place of such significant spiritual history in our country has been so forgotten and neglected.
Unlike Martin Rautanen’s Mission station in Olukonda, Ovamboland which is relatively well kept, and with a good museum (I believe, maintained by the Finnish Government), this mission station has no advocate and protector.
Biblically speaking, many places of former spiritual splendor and glory have suffered such fates (not least the temple in Jerusalem at various times and particularly in AD 70).
The prophet Isaiah among others however declared: “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. “ (Isaiah 61:4 ESV).
Whilst this text has primarily application to the restoration of all things when Jesus comes again, we, in the ‘here and now’ must also not fail to subdue ruin and decay where we see it, and give glory to God through the restoration of such ruins as we find here in Otjimbingwe, Namibia.