Under The Mopane Tree
Our story today comes from the country of Namibia (nah-MIH-bee-ah) in southwestern Africa. Usually land that lies along an ocean is green and fertile. But in Namibia, the land long the ocean is one of the driest deserts in the world.
Northwestern Namibia gets a little more rain, and a few trees and shrubs grow, but still it is very dry. This is the land of the Himba people. They raise cattle sheep and goats. When there is no rain there is no food for the animals, and the people must take their herds to another area to graze. Because the Himba move often, they build simple houses made of mud and thatch to live in.
Wauta (wah-OO-tah) is a Himba boy. His family lives on the edge of the great Namib Desert. The children in Wauta’s settlement do not go to school. The boys help care for the cattle, and the girls help their mothers carry water, prepare meals, and care for the baby goats and sheep.
Wauta was about six years old when a missionary couple, Mr. and Mrs. Peterson, visited his village. Wauta loved the stories they told, and whenever he saw the cloud of dust that their old pickup kicked up, he ran to greet them. Then he called the other children to come to the mopane (moh-PAH-nee) tree to hear stories about Jesus. Wauta made it his job to see that the children—even older than he was—stayed quiet while Mr. Peterson talked.
Where is Wauta?
One week Wauta was no waiting for the missionaries. Where is Wauta?” they asked. His mother said that he had gone to help his brothers care for the cattle.
Later the missionaries learned that Wauta’s mother was ill. They stopped to visit her. “I am so glad you came.” She said. “The doctors can do nothing to help me, but Wauta says your prayers will heal me.” The missionaries prayed for her, and the next time they visited, she was feeling better.
The mopane tree church
The Himba people do not have a church in which to worship. They meet under the mopane tree, which is the biggest tree in the area. The tree shades the people from the hot African sun. Since it seldom rains, they do not need a roof.
Even though the people do not worship in a church, their place of worship under the tree is special to them. In one settlement the children decided to make their tree church more beautiful. They cleared the area of branches and rocks and swept away all the leaves and twigs, then they gathered large stones and laid them neatly in a large circle, outlining what they thought should be the church boundary. Then the children waited eagerly to show the missionaries their beautiful church.
The mopane tree school
Because the children must help their parents care for the family animals and help prepare food, they cannot go to school. Imagine the excitement when the children learned that the missionaries were going to hold a school for them under the mopane tree! When it was time for school to start, someone honked the horn in the missionaries’ truck, and children came running from all directions. The slower children had to remain behind with the animals while the others were at school.
The children learned to write by using sticks to make letters in the dirt. Then some children in South Africa learned about the Himba School under the mopane tree. They wanted to help these children learn to read and write, so they donated notebooks to write in. The missionaries bought pencils and soon the children learned to write in their notebooks. Mr. Peterson translated Bible stories into their language and began teaching the children how to read them. The children were so excited to have a book in their own language!
Others want to come
The mopane tree church is not far from another village and the children of this village wanted to learn about Jesus too. They begged the missionaries to wait to start teaching until they could run to the mopane tree so they would not miss anything. Sometimes the missionaries found the children waiting near the road when they passed. Then the missionaries stopped and picked them up on the way to the mopane tree school.
The Himba children in northern Namibia are just beginning to learn about Jesus. Let’s pray that God will make a way that they will soon give their hearts to God and that their parents will want to learn more about Jesus as well.
Gideon & Pam Peterson