Sermon at the Commemoration Service on the occasion of the repatriation of human remains from former German South West-Africa

Bishop Ernst //Gamxamûb, Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia, Council of Churches in Namibia, at Französische Friedrichstadtkirche, Berlin

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you. Amen.”

Genesis 50: 24 – 26 (NIV)
24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
25 And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.”
26 So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

In 1980, I had an experience that left me shaking with goose bumps, while visiting the Sehitwa Mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Botswana. In the evening, before retiring to sleep, I heard an eruption of singing in a very moving, harmonious and enthralling way. Upon enquiry, I was told that the singing comes from the UNHCR camp where Namibian refugees were accommodated. Every night, they gathered around a big camp fire as the meeting place and sang songs from Namibia, when they were longing home.

I could clearly hear they were singing in Otjiherero, but I couldn’t understand the text. I asked my friend, Pastor Jonathan Hevita, who translated for me the meaning of the words as follows:

“Tji mbatire ponamba, omatupa uandje je jarure (koSwanu) (konganda).“
“When I die here, let my bones be returned to home.”

To me this was a lamentation echoing a message by the wings of the air; a genuine request touching the heart of the hearer, a strong desire mixed with grief in their voices. Although being refugees in a foreign country, they appealed, let their bones be returned to their ancestral country, Namibia. This song left a lasting impression on me that life and origin are very strong and inseparable.

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
We are gathered here on the eve of the repatriation of the remains of our ancestors, who were brutally killed during the 1904-1908 Genocide in Namibia. They were dismembered and their skulls heartbreakingly carried off to a foreign country, where we are gathered now, people who came with hidden agenda to colonize, subdue and civilized the indigenous people. The main reason for this was to conduct a racial scientific research that was meant to prove that Africans were inferior to their White oppressors.

But unlike our country men who were in a refugee camp in Sehitwa, Botswana, who had a voice to send an appealing message to the world of their desire to be taken back to Namibia once they die, the skulls of our ancestors represent a silent voice, which speaks to our hearts, minds and demand from our consciences on homecoming. We, the Namibian people gathered here and those back at home; we have a spiritual, ethical and cultural responsibility to serve as their voices, as their advocates to declare: “At last going home.”

To many, the genocide seems to have become a minor insignificant event, but to us it’s a historic, memorable and a dark chapter in our fight against colonialism and foreign occupation from the earlier days.

Dear people of God,
In my meditation we read about Joseph calling his countrymen who were in Egypt and made them promise to him in verse 25 that when the day finally dawns for them to return to the Promised Land, they should not leave his bones behind in Egypt. For Joseph it was sacred to be taken to the country of his origin and be united with his ancestors. Indeed, God finally came to rescue Israel from the yoke of slavery; approximately 400 years, after Joseph had died.

The same LORD who rescued His people from slavery, likewise, saved our ancestors from being completely annihilated from the face of the earth by the Mighty Imperial German Forces. He safeguarded that out of the seed from those almost wiped out, their descendants would one day rise up again; and so He brought us victory, that is why we sing in our National Anthem that: “their blood waters our freedom.”

Today, the affected communities, the entire Namibian people joined by peace-loving citizens of the world, led by our Namibian Government, are here to fulfill a mission. As we believe in our African culture, that the human remains of our beloved be re-united with the soil of their birth and finally find rest in a free and independent Namibia, just like Joseph’s bones were taken back to the Promised Land.

Upon departure from Egypt, Moses took Joseph’s bones to the Promised Land (Ex. 13: 19). Although he did not enter the Promised Land, he was fully aware of the significance of repatriation and he instructed Joshua to make sure that this promise is fulfilled in Joshua 24: 32: “The body of Joseph, which the people of Israel had brought from Egypt, was buried at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.”

Dear people of God,
What is the importance or the significance of taking these remains back home?
• Firstly, the remains don’t belong here; therefore, we take it where they belong.
• Secondly, these skulls are a charge sheet, witnessing volumes of injustice committed to humanity.
• Thirdly, these skulls tell the story of brutal and ungodly colonial past and its oppressive suppression of the Namibian people, saying never again!
• Fourthly, this barbaric act calls for restorative justice to the entire Namibian nation, which is still haunted by the effect of 1904 – 1908 Genocide.
• Fifthly, the skulls will no longer serve as numbered objects, but will be received with dignity as unsung heroes of the Namibian Struggle for self-determination.

Dear Honorable Minister of Education, Arts and Culture, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa,
You are standing on the brink of receiving and returning our beloved home. These sacred moments are filled with emotion and sorrow. Be strong and courageous with the task at hand, as you are representing His Excellency the President of the Republic of Namibia, Dr Hage Gottfried Geingob, the affected communities and the Namibian people at large. God bless and comfort you.

Dear Sisters and Brothers,
The Namibian and German history was born out of a very bad experience and reality. As we bow our hearts before God in deep mourning, we eternally thank God, the Author of human history that we can take hands and face the future, relying on each other in a spirit of give and take. At the same time, we must take cognizance that we do share a deep rooted joint history that we can’t divorce from. Let us therefore learn from our past to write anew our future characterized by the following values: human dignity, respect, equality, good cohabitation, empowering one another, to exercise peace and justice.

By the grace of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yes, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: “At last going home!“

“And the peace of God, transcending all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.”