ELCIN, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, is an institution of Namibian society, having succeeded ELOK, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Owambo-Kavango, which in turn succeeded the work of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (FELM) when the first local church leader, Dr. Leonard Auala was consecrated as Bishop in 1963. After Bishop Auala retired, Bishop Emeritus Kleopas Dumeni assumed the helm in 1978 during a difficult time for the church and Namibians in general.
For those without the recollection of those years, they may be summed up as years of great internal political strife, hardship and great tests upon the faith of many Christians. During that time, many in society took refuge in the church for emotional and spiritual solace. When it was seen that the youth needed particular direction and counsel, a young pastor was put in charge to mobilize them and kept them engaged across the parishes of the church. The church established schools to educate the populace, given the introduction of the notorious Bantu Education System in the Cape, which applied to the Territory, as Namibia was then known. Many were sent for education abroad by the church, in particular by ELCIN. Hospitals and clinics were established with the first such established at Elim before moving to Onandjokwe, my birthplace.
Institutions of the church were destroyed. Bombing on three occassions destroyed the ELOK/ELCIN Printing Press. Churches homes were raided - Our homes were raided. Church services were interrupted. Pastors, deacons, evangelists and others were tortured, arrested and assaulted. Names such as Rev. Junias Vaino Kaapanda (Tsandi), Rev. Aino Kapewangolo (Rundu), Rev. Frederik Nghihalwa (Ohalushu), Rev. Mika Iilonga (Okahao), Rev. Andreas Shomagwe (Etilyasa), Rev. Hendrik Dengeinge (Ongwediva), Bishop Sindano (Rundu), Rev. Johannes Kalenga (Etilyasa), Rev. Asser Lihongo (Rupara), Rev. Mathias Shikondombolo (Nkurenkuru), Rev. Shangheta (Okongo), Rev. Hosea Namupala (Oshigambo), Rev. Sebulon Ekandjo (Oniipa), Rev. Petrus Shipena (Oniipa) Rev. Titus Ngula (Oshitayi), Rev. Matti Endjala (Eengolo), Rev. Josephat Kashindi Shanghala (Nakayale) Rev. Stefanus Mvula (Oniipa) Rev. Salomo Elago (Oshigambo) are of living and passed on pastors who were imprisoned, tortured and whose contribution to the liberation of our motherland – their courageous work, their selflessness and indeed their tears, blood and anguish shall never be erased from the annals of history come what may. Many more could be listed here, and many of their honorable feats could be recited here, yet that is not the purpose of this piece.
The background however, was to draw anology from the past, and to present the resumes of some of the sons and daughters of this country who need to be celebrated and not scorned, and one of this undoubtedly is Bishop Shanghala borne to a war veteran, Vendelinus ya Kashindi ya Aipinge ya Nakatoni, and daughter of a pioneering FELM/ELOK preacher, Helvi Ayeheyamwe ya Sakeus Nangombe Mholo ya Iihuhwa yaNepaya lyaNtinda.
Having graduated as a teacher, having worked as a radio presenter in the then SWABC, the makings of a politician were evident for the likes of Late Rev. Amakutuwa, Bishop Auala and Bishop Dumeni who started collaborating with the young pastor Shanghala so that the Church could play its role in the liberation of Namibia.
Many of the young men and women who were to be in SWAPO’s camps and training centers were ushered into exile by men like Bishop Shanghala, Rev. Kaapanda and others. Many of the operators of PLAN during the years of the insurgency were transported, housed, fed, clothed and morally guided by him and his peers. Who can gainsay the dangerous work done, the lost love for their children and the parentless homes some of these people have had to endure?
Contrast that to the events of the past year culminating in the standoff with the ELCIN Congregation at Okahao (if in fact this congregation still forms part of ELCIN, or perhaps falls part of the Eastern Diocese where it presents its so called petitions) and you beg the question: what done went wrong? Being the son of Bishop Shanghala, Ompinda ya vala iha yi lika koombwa (the mother warthog never falls prey to dogs), one may be quick to claim bias, however, let the son be the first to say that Bishop Shanghala is no saint. Neither is Bishop Dumeni. Neither is Bishop Kaulinge. These are people who know this child very well as either of them has had a role in the spiritual growth of the child. Bishop Kaulinge baptized the child; Bishop Dumeni is the godfather while Bishop Shanghala is the father. So the child can say something about these men with some authority. While they are not saints, for as long as they live by the church statutes, for as long as they guide SWAPO and its leaders, then we whom they have influenced into those ideologies know that they are still within the path they have set for us. Any deviation, spiritually, politically or otherwise will have repercussions upon the followers. No one can contest that these humble men have not deviated from their course hitherto.
Yet there has also been no deviation on the part of the Okahao congregation since time memorial. Nothing is new. Circa 1870’s, Martti Rautanen, affectionately known as Nakambale is recorded to have lost some dentals on account of malignant and heathen Ngandjera crowds leading to his hasty departure from Okahao back to Olukonda. In biblical times, even the apostle Paul had to endure rebuke, whiplashes and even imprisonment in cities like Jerusalem and as far as the parallel can be drawn, whilst the congregation of Okahao can not be classified as heathen, something serious lurks beneath their chanting and no matter how much of verbal insults can be hurled at Bishop Shanghala, such only confirms the suspicion that the souls and minds are in need of some attention. Somewhere, somehow, those cannot be the actions of mature men and women, regrettably some who were educators, law enforcers, upstanding men and women in society – or so we thought. They must have gone home to dressed tables and addressed their kith and kin on the success of a day at church, and we wonder where our society is going wrong!
The challenge is for a church, which is resisting the transcending change of times. As an elderly clergy in the North put it recently, the challenge is that the church is consumed by leaders who’s self-conceit is no longer a whispered secret confined to Oniipa.
What more can be said when Bishops are pronounced even before consecration and if seeing is believing, page 40 of the new Ondjalulamasiku (Daily Devotion Calendar) can speak for itself.
When congregations break from the center, in times when the church is faced with competition from what I call Happy Clappy Churches, when the clergy is part of the mob and not united at the altar, then for sure, your guess is as good as mine in determining the longevity of this once gallant institution of our society. I say this because I too learnt in shock that Bishop Dumeni had to relinquish church attire, chain, hat and shaft for no apparent reason (of course if the Church wants to retain the items, then they could have arranged for such to be made available to it posthumously), other than envy, jealousy, and complexes. Why now after 18 years? Was it not Bishop Dumeni who steered the church into an independent Namibia as a sole Bishop? Did he really deserve this treatment? Who is sowing a seed of disunity in the church and among its congregation?
When the day arrives, I wish to be alive to attend Bishop Dumeni’s final send off and hear the recitals from hypocrites. The same applies for Bishop Shanghala. How many congregations did Bishop Shanghala not establish in his career as he toiled for the word of God? Lets count to thirty.
One may recall that during the commemoration of the Oshakati Bomb Blast some years ago, in the presence of our leaders, this child of a pastor urged our citizens to be honest with themselves first, and then with others. It needed to be said. Never did one think that it could be said towards the clergy, a group which one has held in high esteem throughout childhood. This child is a servant of the church and this child will do anything to assist any church for that matter because this child really understands from an intellectual basis, the need for spiritual leadership, the need for a spiritual home and the need for guidance from the clergy, no matter how infamous the position it may hold. One fears that with the departure from its ranks of the likes of Bishop Shanghala, one of the few evangelist from the Bishop Auala and Bishop Dumeni era, one who has spent many a year in the church councils, Synods and leadership, our beloved Bethesda is drying out of leadership of quality, steadfast in their principles, devoted to their calling, consecrated into an everlasting selfless service.
What is to become of ELCIN if pastors can no longer be relocated to congregations and stations? In a conversation with Bishop Shivute’s daughter, another child of a pastor and child hood friend that, it became evident that we, children of the clergy are really homeless because of the many postings our parents have had in their career. In further discussions with with Bishop Dumeni who gave invaluable insight and guidance in the rationale and the need perhaps for some innovative thinking to ameliorate the social consequences. This child is who he is because the church permitted him to live in the communities of Okahao, Elim, Oshakati, Ongwediva, Oniipa and Nakayale.
Never did one think that it would be in one’s lifetime that a congregation can stand to a Bishop, chant insults and close their doors on account of this issue. It’s like reading a script from the Old Testament. Bethesda is no longer a place for healing and ELCIN faces a daunting future.
Niccolò Machiavelli writes in his work The Prince (1532), and offers guidance that:
“they must consider not only the dissension which is already present, but that which lies in the future, and do their utmost to avert it; if they forsee it when it is still far off, it can easily be remedied; but if they wait for it to arrive, the medicine comes too late, because the illness is by no incurable.”
The question for the ELCIN Church Council, Synods, Bishops is whether the leadership acquiesces to the mob, or does it take resolve? Previous conduct reveals a very lackluster leadership.
One hopes that they will find guidance in the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who taught that:
“Those who reject the need for organized religion reject the work of the Master, who established His Church and its officers in the meridian of time and who reestablished them in modern times.”
Alas, time will tell if Bethesda will fill its pool again for our healing. For now, the flock looks to the sky in prayer. Such is the sadness that is ELCIN.
Amen, which in Latin means so be it.