Serving as a pastor for twelve years in rural villages of Namibia, Naambo has now begun a two-year Masters of Theology at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, IA. One might be surprised at the deep connection between these two places, but Naambo’s presence on campus is a testament to deeply-rooted relationships between Wartburg Seminary and Lutherans in Namibia. When she considered doing a Masters of Theology, other Namibian pastors encouraged her to come to Wartburg. “They convince you to come here! It’s the best [they say]! I don’t know how they know it’s the best seminary, because they only know Wartburg!” Naambo laughs.
Beyond prompting from other pastors, how did Naambo’s journey lead her to Dubuque? We must return to her childhood. She is the oldest of five and grew up in the Lutheran church. Her grandparents on both sides and her parents are Lutheran. “When I grew up, my parents were usually churchgoers, especially my mom,” Naambo remembers. “She sang in the choir. When I was little I followed her and started singing [in the choir, too]. It shaped me to who I am now.”
While Naambo went to church and Sunday school throughout childhood, it was difficult for her because she was not accepted by society in general. Naambo was born with albinism. In a crowd of Namibians, she stands out because her skin and hair are light-colored. Albinism is characterized by little pigment, or color, in skin and hair, and is caused by a gene mutation which affects production and distribution of melanin. Albinism runs in her family, and one of her brothers was also born with it. Of Namibia’s 2 million people, about one in every 3,000 is born with Albinism. 
“I wasn’t accepted,” said Naambo. People understood albinism as a curse. “Maybe you did something to someone or to God—that was the understanding.” In the past, it was dangerous to be born with albinism, and some argue that it still is, because, “If parents gave birth to albino children, they would kill them at birth,” recalls Naambo. This is not the case all the time, but albinism still carries huge stigmatism.
Albinism was isolating. Children and even adults would single out Naambo, ignore her, or make fun of her. “She’s not part of us, she’s not like us,” were the sentiments that Naambo heard and felt since she was very young.
“Sometimes I cursed God. Why did God create me different from others? Why am I like this? If God is there, why do I have to suffer like this?”
It was not until eighth grade that Naambo had a true friend. “She was strong enough to defend herself,” said Naambo, speaking of the teasing that her friend endured because she shared friendship with Naambo. While the friendship was real, true, and encouraging, it ended in high school when the girls went to different schools. After that, it was back to life with no friends and no acceptance. Naambo did not go to her first week of high school because of the ridicule she received from classmates.
Thankfully, this is not the current situation in which Naambo finds herself. “I have many friends now who accept me as a person,” she says. During that first week of high school, one pastor in the local church took her for counseling and she learned to begin to understand herself and accept herself. “Even though I am different from others I am still in the image of God.” There is still a fear, though, when Naambo goes to a new place. “Am I going to be accepted?” she wonders.
Despite social isolation, Naambo was a passionate student, devoted to studying medicine. She wanted to be a doctor, and her favorite subjects were biology and physical science. However, there was a struggle within her. “One voice was saying go, one was saying don’t go,” she reflects, remembering her process of discernment to ordained ministry. Growing up she’d always thought she’d be a doctor, but then, “It was a call for me, a voice, like Isaiah, saying ‘Whom shall I send’?”
Naambo contemplated this call for three years. Throughout that time she had doubt and questions. Though women had been ordained in Namibian Lutheran churches since the 70s, she still remembered a Bible verse that said women were to remain silent in the church. Her understanding of scripture was very literal at that time in her life; however, she still heard another voice, the call to ministry. She talked to her pastor, thinking, “Maybe this is where God wants me to go” and then began seminary. “After that, everything went smoothly,” she smiles.
Naambo attended Paulinium Seminary, which is Namibia’s Lutheran seminary. Though there are three Lutheran bodies, separated mostly because of language, the churches have one seminary. While at seminary, Naambo was transformed. Her relationship with God, others, and herself changed. She understood who she was and what she was called to do. Her theology was changed and her understanding of the Bible was changed. She “learned to read the Bible with the eyes of the culture” of those who were writing and to whom they were writing. Not only was she educated academically, but the social interactions in which she found herself were different from her childhood. People accepted Naambo as a person.
After four years in seminary, Naambo was ordained. At her ordination, she remembers thinking, “Here, as a pastor, I feel like, yes, this is where I’m supposed to be.” Naambo loves being a pastor. “I do my work freely,” she smiles. “I love my work, especially to walk among people.” Her favorite people to serve are children in Sunday school and the elders.
The congregations she has served for the past twelve years are in rural villages. Her current congregation is in a village of two hundred people, but serves a total of four villages. There are over 4,700 members of the church, and about 500 people attend worship on a regular Sunday. Because of weather during the rainy season and flooded roads, the church has several posts throughout the countryside that are accessible.
When Naambo preaches, she hopes that people hear good news. “Love for yourself, love for others, love for God,” she says. “The main thing is that you want people to connect with God.” Naambo hears the gospel for herself, too, knowing that she is made in the image of God. “If God is God of all, that means…we are all the image of God, even though I was born [different], I am accepted by God as I am.” Regarding albinism, Naambo understands it now this way: “Even though we are different in colors, colors cannot divide us. We are all equal before God.”
Being a pastor in Namibia has challenges and joys. Poverty and unemployment are the roots of many problems, including robbery. There are also many killings of women. Naambo says it is “worse than ever” both in cities and rural villages. Men kill the women, usually women they were or are in a relationship with, due to jealousy or some other cause. As a pastor, Naambo is called upon to counsel the families of both the victim and the perpetrator, who is usually in jail. These two families are brought together in hopes that there would be unity. “It’s really difficult to help them. You have to unite those families, but it doesn’t always work,” Naambo explains. Other difficulties of being a pastor in Namibia is the prevalence of alcohol abuse and the violence it causes.
While the issues are deep, Naambo sees hope. “I see hope in everything we are doing because God is there. God can work to bring change. As a pastor I can do what I can, but I cannot change the people. Only God can change them.”
Being a pastor in Namibia is joyful for Naambo. “People are really helpful!” The people are unified, caring for their pastor, for one another, and even for strangers. “The spirit of ‘serve one another’ is there in my church,” Naambo says proudly. For instance, if there is a death in someone’s family, “You don’t need to worry—people come with everything to help, even though they’re not related, just the people of God from your church!” In all cases, people come “to offer every help they have, even with the little he or she has.”
The spirit of “ubuntu”, or togetherness, is real in Naambo’s congregation. “I need you, you need me, even though we are not related,” she explains. “Everyone is there for the other.”
Naambo embodies that gracious spirit of “ubuntu” on Wartburg’s campus. The connection of Wartburg and Namibia is still alive. God is at work, inspiring in us, as Naambo says, “togetherness.”
“You are not there for your own, but for each other.”
For more information, please visit the following:
Albinism in Namibia:
“Albinism: Rising above the odds” article from The Namibian 6/16/15
Namibian Lutheran Church:
The three church bodies are known as ELCRN, ELCIN, and GELC. World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation websites offer overview information. https://www.lutheranworld.org/country/namibia
Wartburg Seminary is home to extensive archives about the history of Namibia’s independence and the Namibia Concerns Committee. Students have written their theses on the Wartburg-Namibia connection, and these theses can be found in Reu Memorial Library.