In the course of any Empowering Learners presentation, we always dedicate a good portion of time introducing listeners to the “Young Nation of Namibia.”
Namibia gained freedom in 1990. Not long ago at all. And for some of us who attended an ELCA college in the 1980’s we remember that Namibian students were present with us on our college campuses. They were here because the Lutheran Church pulled them up and out of a war-torn country – allowing them to study, earn an undergraduate degree, and not risk being killed or conscripted to fight. This is a wonderful story of 100 scholars who came to learn at our colleges, which we’ll write more about in the future.
For now this is a brief first message about a time before freedom.
Namibians are forgiving people. They look forward. In our visits with our friends – especially with our friends in the North – our friends are hesitant to talk about the past. If you ask about this time before freedom, or the “struggle” which we all know is polite language for “war,” or the earlier time of oppression by South Africa, our Namibian friends usually respond saying something like “that was a very sad time. Many brothers and sisters died. We gained our freedom and we are grateful. Now we look forward.”
Whenever I hear these responses I feel slightly deprived, since I want to learn more, first hand, about this slice of history which has gone woefully untold in the world. (I continue to read about this time, and I think perhaps we should start a bibliography on this site, for any of you who also wish to read more.)
One day last summer during our journey, we were in the company of Nampa Nengola, our Luther alumna, visiting and reminiscing in her home with her lovely family. We had enjoyed a wonderful meal and terrific company. The end-of-the-evening chocolate cake with ice cream, sitting by the fire all together seemed perfect in every way.
There came the time when we could have all retired back to the hotel, but it seemed the night was still young, and there was more to say and precious time to be together. Something prompted me at that moment to ask Nampa – what was it like before freedom?
Giant pause. I immediately thought I had committed an embarrassing faux pas. Nampa’s look in my direction was something I still cannot quite describe. She was quiet, and then she responded “that is the past, we prefer to not talk about that time, now we look forward.”
She did continue after a while, telling just a little about what it was like for her family, to grow up on a farm, to go to school, to go to church, and to get married during the war and some of what they witnessed. But most importantly, she talked about how as a young nation, they cannot let themselves be consumed by the hardness of the past. How forgiveness is the key to being able to move forward. And how they must see the good in what they have all gone through and continue to build a better country and democratic nation.
Nampa’s hospitality was amazing. She fed us with food and insights.
That evening was a good night with dear friends. It’s a night I think about often. My questions will always be there about this time before freedom, and I have pledged to continue to read and talk about the history of this young nation of Namibia.
What I cannot fully grasp and what I may never be able to comprehend is this profound understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation which our Namibian brothers and sisters have embraced so fully. No amount of research and reading will teach me this. But more time spent with phenomenal friends half a world away may just do the trick.
Wishing you all a wonderful Easter.