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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Psalm 37

The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever;
they are not put to shame in evil times,
in the days of famine they have abundance.

But the wicked perish,
and the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish – like smoke they vanish away. 

I had promised a follow up essay on our time with Abasai and Selma Shejavali.  That seems so long ago.  The essay was forming in my mind on our bus ride, but then some key things happened which caused a delay in writing.  Maybe this is for the better in the long run.  We shall see. 

So as I said, the Shejavalies spent a morning with us telling us of their lives and ministry. 

Abasai began his story by asking our students “How old do you think I am?”  The guessing began and all fell woefully short.  Just knowing some of the facts of their lives I personally was guessing older … but I too did not know that this spring Abasai would turn 80 years old.  And Selma is just a bit older than he.  As even Abasai himself says … with a twinkle … he married up, he married older, he married intelligence, and he married beautiful.  Such a smart man!  

Abasai and Selma Shejavali agreed to speak to our Luther students for some key reasons.  Firstly, they love Iowa, as a result of their time at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque.  Secondly, they love students, and they always seek to both teach and learn.  Finally, they agreed to speak to our group in private.  And so out of respect for their privacy, I will not tell very much of what they shared – but I will share two other accounts from good friends that echo some of what Abasai and Selma shared with us. 

In my previous entry I mentioned the woodcut print that hangs in the ELCIN conference room that portrays the bombing of the church’s printing press.  What I could not remember at the time was the Psalm that was quoted and etched in the piece as having been prayed by the Reverend Dr. Abasai Shejavali.  

Thank you, Andy Last, for seeing it in a photo and sending it my way yesterday … it has helped me form my thoughts.  Psalm 37.  The wisdom of an aged person.  That God sees all.  And that the righteous and innocent will prosper. 

At one point well into our visit, questions were welcomed.  I asked Abasai and Selma, what was it like at Oshigambo Lutheran High School (one of the primary beneficiaries of Empowering Learners) during the struggle for freedom?  Abasai replied, that during those years, life went on.  People farmed, they went to school, they did what they needed to do within the hours of curfew. 

But also during this time “death hung in the air.” 

As documented by so many:  young men disappeared.  Women, mothers, and sisters, never knew where their men had been taken.  The South African Police interrogated families if they were thought to be collaborating with the SWAPO fighters.  Farms and properties of collaborators were burned to the ground.  Namibians needed to have their papers on their person at all times.  Curfew was at sundown. 

A few hours later that same day, I was driving with our dear friend Pastor Philippus Henok.  During the struggle he was serving as principal at Oshigambo.  I asked him, also, what it was like at Oshigambo during that time.  He said that in the village of Oshigambo, right near the high school, there was a South African police and army base.  In the evenings after curfew, the soldiers would go outside and would shoot their automatic weapons into the air, some times over the residential high school. 

Pastor Henok said every time you left your home in the morning you said your goodbyes, since you could not know if you would return in the evening.

One week after these visits, I was in the company of Usko (Class of 1982) and Frieda Shivute at our Luther College Alumni Reception in Windhoek.  I always look forward to visiting with Usko and Frieda and their beautiful children.  This time I learned so much more.

Usko came to Luther as an adult learner through the 100 Scholars Program of the Lutheran Church in the mid 70’s.   This program was an attempt by our church to get scholars out of the war zone so they could pursue their studies in the US.  I was telling him of our time with Abasai and Selma Shejavali and our shared discussion of these decades of the struggle.  “Ah yes,” Usko smiled and said, “they are marvelous and peace-filled people!”  

I mentioned to Usko and Frieda a little about what I was reading and learning about the struggle for freedom and the police interrogations.  Usko looked at Frieda and said, “just like my experience in Chicago.” 

I was not tracking and I asked him to explain.

As he was traveling from Namibia to Luther College, Usko entered the US through Chicago O’Hare, as many of us do when we travel internationally.  This was the summer of 1978.   As he was standing in line to pass through immigration, Usko was removed from the line, told to collect his bags and was taken into a room for questioning. 

The officials asked him where he was from.  He said, “Namibia.”  The officer replied, “You mean South West Africa.”   Usko explained that his country was named Namibia, not South West Africa, which of course was the apartheid name.  The officers ordered him to: “Open your bag and take out the gun you are carrying.”  Usko said he had no gun, and that if they thought there was a gun in his bag then they should go ahead and search the bag themselves.  This interrogation remained hostile and continued for many hours.   Usko missed his connecting flight to Minneapolis, where his hosts from Luther College were waiting for him.   There is so much more to this amazing story, which I will share in a future entry, but for now I will jump ahead in the telling.

We have learned from the history books and from so many that if any member of your family sought exile in another country, or left the country for any reason, that your family was then marked for interrogation.  At minimum your family was followed, sometimes for weeks and months. 

And so it was for Usko Shivute’s family.  Usko had left the country to attend Luther College in America.   By the time he landed at O’Hare only 40 hours after his departure, his family had been questioned, and his father had been forced onto his back on his bed and with a gun to his chest had been asked where his son had gone?  

“To study in America,” was his father’s reply.

The Lord knows the days of the blameless …

O God, source of all goodness:  We give you thanks for the gift of reason and the opportunity for education.  Bless our schools, that they may be places of learning and safety where teachers challenge the minds and nurture the hearts of students.  Grant that teachers and students may work together in mutual respect and find joy in the challenges of academic life.   

Thank you, Abasai and Selma, Usko and Frieda, and Philippus, for sharing just a little of your lives and ministries with us.  We hold you dear.

Empowering Learners. 

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