Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Otjimbingwe - Namibia's forgotten spiritual Heritage

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.

An old map  of the central territory of Namibia
How to get there
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(D1967) 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.
 Mission ruins

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. 

Mission ruins
So much could be done to  make this a place  of remembrance, retreat and reflection, not forgetting the present people of Otjimbingwe who need the gospel  of our Lord Jesus  Christ, preached passionately as of old by men like Johannes Rath (1816-1903) and   Carl Hugo Hahn (1818-1895).

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.  
This  broken down  pick up truck greeted  us  as we entered Otjimbingwe


tracy puuahee said...

Hi , how are you i really like what you did about our village , i like what you wrote about our village , i really want me in person or throw email address i really have big plans for our village , i just need someone help like you . i hope you will answer on my email address which is i will be waiting please yours Tracy Puuahee

Bourquin Van Wyk said...

Hi there, hope you are well.

I am a member of the Rhenish Church in Namibia also grown out of the Rhenish Mission. During the 1950's the missionaries left, a church was established, however two groups emerged. One who wanted the name change (Evangelical Lutheran Church) and those who preferred to remain With the Rhenish name(Rhenish church in Namibia).

I wanted to find out who these buildings belong to, as you mentioned the buildings are not taken care of and falling apart. Maybe we can organise some form of fundraising from all churches born from the Rhenish mission. Currently a few churches grew out of their work. ELCRN, Rhenish church in Namibia, Uruuano Church, Evangelical Mission Church, Rhenish Evangelical Lutheran Church and even the AME church exist today as a result of the missionary work. Just an idea.

My email is, I would be happy to hear from you.

B. said...

Hello J. Rieck,

the "Mission ruins" was the old school in Otjimbingwe, formerly the Augustineum!

This school worked until the mid-1960s. 1966, the new primary school was inaugurated. This year I have spoken with the last director of the old school.

I have the old school measured completely. Soon she is completely destroyed.

best regards from Burkhart Rüchel


How Shall We Best Communicate In This Social Media Driven Age?

In reading through the second and third letters of John, I    was struck   by   his   closing statements: 2 John v.12 :   Though I h...