Missionary visits schools, nursing home

By Jessica Witer - For the Sidney Daily News

Jessica Witer, of Anna, with a child in Namibia.

Jessica Witer, of Anna, with a child in Namibia.

Courtesy photo

Editor’s note: Jessica Witer, of Anna, left May 21 to spend the summer in Namibia, Africa, on a mission trip.

The 21-year-old, self-employed massage therapist is traveling with Experience Mission, of Fort Wayne, Indiana. As she is able and has access to the Internet, she will send tales of her experiences, which the Sidney Daily News will publish weekly.

OKAHANDJA, Namibia — June 1, 2018: Today we got up at 5 a.m. to pack and shower before we all crammed into the van at 6:15. We left Swakopmund and drove to Okahandja, about three hours away, sleeping almost the whole trip. We arrived at a local church and met several couples who were coordinating our visit. Though they were the kindest people, I can’t remember any of their names.

We took the van to the preschool first. Swakopmund was a nice city on the beach, with beautiful buildings and good restaurants, hotels and stores. We were all shocked at the difference between the two cities, as we drove through Okahandja for the first time, which consisted mostly of shanties made from sheets of steel and aluminum.

The businesses were open-front shacks with the names spelled across the walls facing the street with spray paint. People of all ages wandered the streets, with the occasional stray dog weaving through their legs. Those in cars drove with their children sitting on their laps.

The preschool was small, with holes in the walls and ceiling, and the kids sat in plastic chairs drawing pictures. We greeted them and sang songs together and left, promising we’d be back in two weeks for daily visits.

We drove next to a nursing home, passing more through the town this time than through the farming part of the community. My team and I waved hello to the people we saw, who would get so excited, waving back, blowing kisses, shouting greetings. The men and women in the nursing home were outside in the shade waiting for us, and we sat together after shaking everyone’s hands. The elderly people didn’t speak any English like the kids did, so we had a translator. We sang a few songs for them and said a prayer together.

As we were getting ready to leave, one woman stood up and began singing in her native tongue, Afrikaans. Soon, most of them joined her in song, and once finished, our translator explained it was a song for loved ones, sung to thank them and offer blessings. We shook hands with them all before leaving and several were in tears. A few of my teammates and I were in tears, as well, as the songs sung by both groups of people, not understood by the other group, still made their impact.

One woman gave me a special African handshake as I left, and I turned and waved goodbye, and they all yelled goodbye after me.

Our third and final stop was at another school with kids a little older than they were in the preschool, although I’m not sure of the age group. They were so excited to see their visitors and surrounded me very quickly, asking for high-fives. We did more songs and the kids performed one for us, as well. When we finished up there, we went back to the church, had lunch, then collected our things and went to the farm where we’d be staying for the next two weeks.

The house was set back far from the dirt road leading up to it and included a hostel, where the children stayed during the week because it was too far a drive (from their homes) to daily take them to school. It was a small structure with half walls of concrete blocks and a thatch roof, where they cooked meat and did dishes. There were fenced off areas for their animals and painted tires for the kids to play with.

Our host family prepared dinner for us, and when we thanked Maria, she blushed and just nodded her head. The two youngest girls are living with them for the time being in order to learn English and were very wary of us at first. They followed us into our room in the hostel and watched us unpack and wouldn’t come near us.

Our host father, Paulis, is also the pastor of the church in this part of the city, which is a room of their house, modified to seat about 30 people. They had the service that night around 8, which we got to join, and we were blown away by the beauty of their voices. They filled the room to the brim with song, everyone clapping and cheering and dancing, sometimes singing in English, sometimes in Africaans.

They all welcomed us so strongly and warmly, shaking all of our hands and saying, “God bless us!” The two little girls followed us back to our room and sat on our beds while we showed them our bracelets. Since it was dark, we put on our headlamps, and I used the light to make shadow puppets on the wall, which the girls loved.

We were able to connect with our host parents so well because we could communicate with them. We couldn’t talk to the little girls, so our only means of connection was through laughter, which I think was actually beneficial for us.

Life for them on the farm is hard, but they work so hard to make it easy for us. They cook our meals and serve us, so we eat every bite and pretend everything is delicious, even when some of it isn’t. I always do their dishes to show my gratitude, and we do our best to assist them with their chores.

They have to boil water over a fire to give us tea, which they do every morning and every night. They have to chop firewood to give us hot showers, so we don’t tell them when we want to shower and just take it instead. We watched their goats give birth, and at night, the stars are unbelievable.

Life is hard here, and so different from home, but there’s so much pride in work here, because all work here is hard.

We were all surprised at how quickly we adjusted. We only have WiFi once every two weeks, but we don’t even have the time to miss it. The girls on the team and I talked together about how we expected to suffer from some culture shock when we came here, but now we realize we’re far more likely to experience it when we go home.

Jessica Witer, of Anna, with a child in Namibia.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/06/web1_Jessica-with-kid.jpgJessica Witer, of Anna, with a child in Namibia. Courtesy photo

By Jessica Witer

For the Sidney Daily News