Shoeboxes and Scripture: Partnering to Reach a People Group in Namibia

Shoeboxes and Scripture: Partnering to Reach a People Group in Namibia

December 20, 2019


“His Word Runs Swiftly”

Last summer, residents of Ombaka, Namibia, heard God’s Word for the first time in their heart language. During a three-day celebration that included the dedication of their new church building, Himba speakers received solar-powered MP3 players loaded with the Gospel of Mark and 40 Bible stories from Genesis and Luke.

As part of the celebration, Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical organization that provides physical and spiritual aid to hurting people worldwide, arranged to distribute Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts to Himba children.

But these shoeboxes contained a priceless addition: printed copies of The Greatest Gift, a gospel booklet, in Himba.

The Himba were astonished to have this resource in their heart language. As an oral community of 60,000 speakers, they have few printed materials. A wave of excitement swept through the land as the distribution of gifts and recorded materials then spread to five other villages.

God’s Word at Work

Although a small group of Himba had heard Scripture during previous years of Bible translation activity, the audience rapidly multiplied in June. Seed Company had partnered with Samaritan’s Purse to translate The Greatest Journey, a discipleship curriculum, and The Greatest Gift. Both were included with Mark’s Gospel and the Bible stories on the digital Himba recordings.

Himba children with Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes
Himba children receive Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes

“Mark is a highly oral Gospel,” says Samuel Chiang, President and CEO of Seed Company and an orality expert. “It is particularly well-suited to people from a storytelling culture.”

Furthermore, oral Bible stories have a way of spreading rapidly throughout the community. He continues, “When a predominantly oral people hear a story once, they already begin to memorize it. They live in the stories, and they are etched into their minds. So, they are eager to talk about the stories.” That longing leads the formerly unreached people to profess their faith in Christ, tell others about that faith, and then initiate discipleship programs.

In addition to the Scripture and resources, each MP3 player included worship songs in the Himba language. Michael Cardy, strategic initiatives manager for Samaritan’s Purse, reports:

“We are hearing stories of villages gathering around the campfire, listening and learning, of children tending flocks deep in the [Kaokoveld region of Namibia] and singing the songs to each other.”

The Gift That Keeps Giving

God’s Word continues to have special significance for the hard-working translation team members.

Elton-John Hepundjua, the team’s new project coordinator, serves as assistant pastor to the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa. He says, “One of the benefits of being a part of the translation team is the exegetical work, where we learn Scriptures and have the opportunity to read whole books of the Bible in [the heart language].” A father of three, he works with youth, leads Bible studies, visits homes, and provides counseling based on biblical principles.

Rizera Hipakua, pastor of the church in Ombaka, is realizing his own personal dream—to reach all the Himba with the gospel. Not long after the church dedication, Rizera held a training session with five believers in the new church building. He now continues to mentor them while they serve as lay pastors.

Pastor Rizera also taught the lay pastors how to apply the Discovery Bible Study Method—listen, repeat, review, and apply—to what they were hearing on the MP3 players. They gathered with villagers, breaking into groups of four to practice the methodology.

And so, the message continues, going forth into even more remote regions.


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Help Reach People Waiting for God’s Word

God’s Word changes everything. And everyone deserves to have God’s Word in the language they understand best. You can help make that happen.

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