Postcard from Namibia: What’s wrong and right with Africa

By Jessica Witer - For the Sidney Daily News

Children enjoy school in Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Children enjoy school in Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Desert houses in Namibia.

Editor’s note: Jessica Witer, of Anna, returned Friday, Aug. 10, from a summer in Namibia, Africa, on a mission trip.

The 22-year-old, self-employed massage therapist traveled with Experience Mission, of Fort Wayne, Indiana. As she was able and had access to the Internet, she sent tales of her experiences, which the Sidney Daily News will continue to publish weekly until her story is fully told.

WALVIS BAY, Namibia —The trouble with Africa: I’ve noticed that the people here seem to consider stop signs more of a suggestion than compulsory. It can be a bit stressful riding with an African driver, because they hit the gas and brakes hard every time and drive wherever the road is smoothest — even if that’s down the middle. Apparently, Namibia has a very high accident rate.

They also have trouble keeping their students from dropping out. I can’t say I’m surprised. We went to a school today from 7 to 8 a.m. to talk to the kids for the first hour of their school day. However, we only ended up having about 20 minutes because most of the teachers didn’t arrive until 7:20. How are students expected to consider school important when even their teachers can’t be bothered to show up on time?

I hate to simplify a country’s problems to its religion, but I truly believe Namibia would prosper with Christianity.

Many go to witch doctors for medicine and many witch doctors do animal or human sacrifices. Many Africans believe they are poor because they’ve been cursed by God and subsequently make no attempts to improve their lives, whatsoever.

The teachers don’t go to school on time and the students drop out. Without a faith that asks for abstinence, it’s more than common for a girl of 20 to have multiple children and for most children to be abandoned by their fathers. Even in a wealthy country, being raised in a single-parent home is associated with lesser quality of life or lack of success. In a third world country, it’s a life sentence.

There is hope, though. The Christian leaders are very active in their outreach. A woman here works at a building that serves as soup kitchen, youth group location, daycare center, snack shop, library, sewing class, computer class and I don’t even remember what else.

We volunteered for the soup kitchen portion of their work today, and I could not believe how many people they served or how quickly. This woman showed us all their rooms and people who volunteered there. I am so impressed with how much they do, their willingness to serve, the work they put into the poor and less fortunate and the passion with which they speak of doing the Lord’s work.

Eight hours a day, seven days a week, these men and women slave over pots of soup, building playground equipment by hand, teaching classes to teens who dropped out of school, etc. The work God is able to accomplish through people who devote their lives to Him is incredible.

The purpose of our mission is to strengthen the churches and connect with the people. Through these efforts, we can cause a ripple effect of faith and slowly grow their religion. As we change the center of their faith, we can slowly fix the roots of their troubles, rather than treating the symptoms.

The good thing about Africa: Despite Africa’s issues —and every place has its issues— I’ve noticed so many positive things here. I’ve noticed them the most in two places: the schools and the churches.

In the schools, no matter the age group, the children are so bright. The young ones are so enthusiastic and so eager. They say their prayers so well and are always happy to learn more. The older students are so ambitious. Even the ones only 14, 15 years old can tell you exactly where they want to go to university and what for. They have such big dreams and talk so much about changing the world. I was shocked to hear so many talk of how their faith has shaped their dreams.

In the churches, we met so many people who go above and beyond to help the less fortunate. The volunteer work they do, the passion in their prayers, even just the love with which they speak of the people here (impresses me).

I’m even more impressed by the way the men in the church behave. They don’t sit through church, not even hearing the message. They take off their hats and hoods. They sing and dance. And when the preacher starts to pray, they always bow their heads and shut their eyes. It’s common for the men in Namibia to avoid churches, but of the men that do go in, the way they worship is so admirable.

Children enjoy school in Walvis Bay, Namibia. enjoy school in Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Desert houses in Namibia. houses in Namibia.

By Jessica Witer

For the Sidney Daily News