Churches Dedicated Among Unreached Himba of Namibia

September 8, 2021 • Namibia
Himba children are hearing the Gospel through the ministry partnership of Samaritan's Purse and Seed Company.
Himba children are hearing the Gospel through the ministry partnership of Samaritan's Purse and Seed Company.

Two churches have been built among the unreached Himba of Namibia and six of their villages now have Christian fellowships that meet regularly.

Operation Christmas Child

Roy Graham (left), son of Franklin Graham, assisted Pastor Rizera (right) with a Gospel presentation in Otutati in July 2018.

Update (Sept. 8, 2021): Since this article was originally published in 2019, Samaritan’s Purse has built a second church building in the Himba community of Otutati. Dedicated on February 27, 2021, this facility is an additional outpost of hope to this unreached people group. The Gospel continues to spread among them through the oral resources supplied through Samaritan’s Purse and Seed Company. These tools especially equipped the pastor of the Otutati church who, like many of the Himba, does not read. We praise God that currently six Himba villages have church fellowships that meet regularly! Pray with us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will continue to be proclaimed among this group that had not heard it before.

Originally published July 9, 2019:

Villagers recently dedicated the first church building ever built in the Himba region of Ombaka, Namibia. An ethnic group of 50,000 scattered across Namibia and Angola, the Himba are considered an unreached people group because their population is less than 3 percent evangelical Christian. Although they have long been animists—worshipping their ancestors and tree spirits—more than 80 Himba now gather in the area to regularly worship the Lord Jesus Christ.

Samaritan’s Purse and Seed Company, an affiliate of Wycliffe Bible Translators, have been partnering for several years to see this advance of the Gospel.

Beyond the “End of the Road”

A three-day celebration, June 7-9, in honor of the completion of the church building began with a day of worship and prayer.

Children and adults gathered inside the church building for its dedication service.

The following day started with a time of play for the children, many of whom had previously received Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts and participated in our follow-up discipleship program, The Greatest Journey. Next, the crowd began singing Scripture praise songs created from their folk tunes. Around 150 of the attendees then gathered inside the church while others watched the festivities from outside.

Pastor Kuyelia NGombe welcomed the group before our ministry partner Pastor Rizera Hipakua shared the history of the new church.

In the spring of 2016, Samaritan’s Purse held an outreach event for Himba children in the village of Opuwo which means “end of the road” in their language. The chief of Ombaka was present that day and asked for shoebox gifts to also be brought to his village located more than two hours further into the bush. That fall, Pastor Rizera traveled this distance across cow paths and more than six dry river beds to bring Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts and the Gospel to the Himba children of Ombaka.

Samaritan’s Purse partnered with Seed Company to translate The Greatest Gift—a Gospel booklet handed out to children along with shoebox gifts—into the Himba text. This unreached people group was amazed to have this printed resource in their language. In addition, since they are primarily an oral culture, the book of Mark and 40 Bible stories from Genesis, Luke, and The Greatest Journey discipleship materials, were also initially translated into Himba and are currently being distributed on 170 solar-powered MP3 players.

Divine Forgiveness: A Surprise for Every Culture

As residents in Ombaka and the five surrounding villages heard the Bible stories and masterfully retold them almost word for word, the area was transformed by the power of the Gospel.

The village chief (left) who donated the land for the church spoke at the dedication ceremony while Pastor Rizera (right) translated his words for the international guests.

Children participated in The Greatest Journey discipleship program and as they shared their faith with others, the church multiplied. The Himba villagers learned about the true God and His Son, Jesus Christ, so they no longer feared their ancestors or the spirit world. They learned they could have a relationship with God because of what Jesus did for them.

“Learning that sins can be forgiven is an epiphany in every culture,” said a Samaritan’s Purse staff person present for the occasion.

At the dedication of the church building, Pastor Kuyelia concurred, “Before Operation Christmas Child came, we had never heard of Jesus or knew who God was. If we had difficulties, we sought the witchdoctor for help. Now, we have abandoned witchdoctors and seek God alone in prayer and worship.”

The Church Began Under a Tree

Within two years the number of believers in Ombaka went from zero to 80-plus. This prompted the village chief to dedicate land underneath a prominent tree as a place for the church to meet. The new body of believers met there regularly, but also requested a building so they would continue to have a place to worship during the monsoon season. Working together with Seed Company and the people of Ombaka and Opuwo, Samaritan’s Purse constructed the new church building next to the tree where the congregation originally gathered.

Himba villagers gather between their first church—the tree encircled by rocks—and their new church building (left).

The generous village chief was present at the dedication service. Although not yet a believer, he expressed his gratitude for the church and its ministry to the children in the village.

Pastor Kuyelia added, “If you ever feel threatened or need a place of peace, here is where you can come.”

To ensure that all 200 of the guests understood the reason for the celebration, Jimmy Nel, discipleship coordinator for Namibia’s Operation Christmas Child National Leadership Team, presented the Gospel using various verses in the Bible.

A Samaritan’s Purse staff member also spoke about the love of Jesus for boys and girls and the importance of having faith like a child. Afterward, he said that although these normally stoic people tend to show little expression, “there was an overwhelming sense of joy” at the dedication.

After the service, the crowd continued to celebrate with a meal of goat and rice with the unusual treat of chilled soda. The leaders then showed the JESUS Film and seven more people accepted Christ.

Before Operation Christmas Child came, we had never heard of Jesus. Now, we seek God alone in prayer and worship.

The celebration ended with another full day of prayer and worship on June 9.

Pastor Rizera plans to hold a meeting in August for other pastors who are interested in reaching into the Namib and Kalahari Deserts to share the Gospel with still other Himba.

“Thank you for the help, for Samaritans Purse [and] Operation Christmas Child,” Pastor Rizera said. “May God bless you and may the great work of God continue.”

In addition to hosting outreach events in more than 100 countries, Samaritan’s Purse is currently working to bring shoebox gifts and the Gospel to more than 110 unreached people groups across 46 nations.

The Himba people now have better access to the Gospel thanks to the partnership between Samaritan’s Purse and Seed Company.

Operation Christmas Child Through Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan’s Purse is sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with millions of boys and girls in more than 100 countries each year. Many of these children have never before received a present or heard the true meaning of Christmas—until they open a gift-filled shoebox from a person like you. Some people are not able to give the $10 per shoebox we request for shipping and related costs. By adopting a shoebox, you can partner with them to deliver the Gospel and help "bring salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47, ESV).

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Adopt a Shoebox: $10 | Adopt a Carton of 15 Boxes: $150