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Our Life as Reformed Protestants…in Africa

I was asked to share with you the story of my life. But this is not my story, because I really can’t think of myself without thinking of so many people who were and still are part of my life since my birth. I truly believe and realize, when looking back over the years, that not one of all these people, or anything—even in the smallest detail—that has been part of my life, happened without God’s wonderful, perfect predestination. It gives me such comfort and peace to know this: God, the almighty creator, was and still is the sovereign ruler of the universe—also of me and my (seemingly simple, unglamorous) life here in the Kalahari region of Namibia, Africa.

Why share our life with you? What do you and we have in common? What is our connection?

Our Reformed faith is what we have in common, even though we are ± 8000 miles apart. This is one of the most stirring and inspiring things we, as only a small number of solidly Reformed believers in Namibia, Africa, became aware of a few years ago. It made us thankful and gave us new strength to know that God foreordained other believers who also have the desire to be faithful to God’s word and its truth as it was instilled in us since the Reformation. This fact gives us renewed comfort, as stated in the Belgic Confession, art. 27:

And this holy church is preserved or supported by God, against the rage of the whole world; though she sometimes (for a while) appears very small, and in the eyes of men, to be reduced to nothing: as during the perilous reign of Ahab the Lord reserved unto him seven thousand men, who had not bowed their knees to Baal. Furthermore, this holy Church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed over the whole world; and yet is joined and united with heart and will, by the power of faith, in one and the same Spirit.

What a joy and comfort. Let us not be disheartened while part of the church militant here on earth because we are also part of the church triumphant!

Our history: How our ancestors came to Africa

The ancestors of most of the white people currently living in Southern Africa came originally from either the Netherlands, France, or England. The first white man to come to Africa was Jan van Riebeeck, who arrived in the current Cape Town harbor in April 1652. He was send by a company in Netherlands with the assignment of establishing a way-station for ships on the trade route between the Netherlands and the East Indies, because many sailors died on that route due to a shortage of fresh provisions.

Jan van Riebeeck was of the Reformed faith and the first man to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to Southern Africa. Jan’s wife, Maria de la Quellerie, was a French Huguenot. The history of these French Huguenots included that in 1685 the Reformed faith was outlawed in all of France. Those who practiced it were persecuted and even killed. Thousands of Huguenots fled from France after that. The majority of them found refuge and a new existence in the Netherlands. Some of them fled to South Africa, and these farmers were sent by the Dutch company as settlers to strengthen farming activities. (You can read more about this history at http://www.hugenoot.org.za/histSA.htm ).

The interesting thing about this is that God by his grace ordained this history so that the gospel also was brought here to the far southern tip of Africa.

The rest of this history includes a huge trek/migration of mainly white farmers to more northern parts of South Africa and from there to the current Namibia (which was formerly a German colony and was known as Southwest Africa). Since England, which ruled South Africa during those years, did not protect the farmers against black tribes’ repeated looting of their livestock and also forced them to teach their children in English, they decided to migrate to more northern parts, farther away from English ruling. More information about this part of our history at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voortrekkers )

How did our ancestors come from South Africa to Namibia? My husband Michael’s grandparents were Dorslandtrekkers (Dorsland can be translated as “Thirstland,” and a trekker is a migrant or pioneer), which involved a long journey of families with ox-wagons from the northern parts of South Africa, through Botswana to Angola during the years of 1875–1880. Many people died during this long and difficult trek through the most arid parts of Southern Africa. Due to the lack of any surface water for long stretches, many died of thirst. Some of the following trek-families decided instead to trek near the wetter Okavango delta parts of Botswana to be nearer surface water, but sadly many of those trekkers then died of malaria (lots of deadly, disease-carrying mosquitoes near the rivers). It was a much smaller number of families who eventually arrived in Angola, which was then a Portuguese colony. The Portuguese authorities encourage these farmers to settle in their country and establish productive farming communities. You can read more about this history of the Dorsland Trekkers at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorsland_Trek .

However, the Portuguese did not allow them to teach their children in Afrikaans and also tried to convert these Protestants to Catholicism. They farmed for about 50 years in Angola. Between 1928 and 1930, they accepted the invitation of the South African government to settle in the current Namibia (which was then ruled by South Africa) to build up strong and productive farms. The government gave some of these Angolan farmers land in Kalahari (the driest region) and thought that they would not succeed in any way because of the harsh conditions.

This was the final movement of our grandparents to Namibia, and many grandchildren of these families are still farming today here in the Kalahari. Our grandparents proved the government wrong, because by the grace of God, they adapted to the conditions and due to hard work, resilience, and courage, they built up one of the most productive farming communities here in eastern Namibia.

Both my husband Michael and I were privileged to be born as part of these faithful, hard-working and strong-minded farming families.

Michael was born the eldest child. He has two younger sisters. Their youngest brother, Johan, was born with Hurler Syndrome (a very rare genetic disorder) and died at the age of 8. Johan was dearly loved by all of his family and so many people in the community. His family still misses this very special child they had.

The Duvenhage farm is just 30 kilometers from another farm my father had, so they were practically our neighbors. This Kalahari farm boy didn’t look far for a suitable wife. He took the neighbor girl!  But more about that later.

My childhood

I was born as the third child in my family. I have two elder brothers and one younger sister. Both my brothers are still today farmers nearby.

My mother always told me that when she expected me, they were sure it would be another boy. Of course they did not have any ultra-sound. At the end of her pregnancy, she went to stay for the last week or so in Aranos, our nearest town, which is about 100 kilometers (± 65 miles in your terms) from our farm, because the road to town was partly thick sand and partly gravel and it took quite a while to get to town. As you can expect, my father was late for my birth. But when he heard, upon arrival in town, that this baby was a girl, my mother said he was beyond himself with joy. Every year, when it is my birthday, my mother tells me again just how truly happy my father was that day! It makes me thankful that I was welcomed into this life—also by my earthly parents.

Our farm, like many other Kalahari farms, is 8000 hectares (which is ± 20 000 acres). Our nearest neighbors were ± 7.5 miles from us. I know today that for many city dwelling children, it is just unimaginable to have such a vast space around you to live and grow up in.

When I was 17, I had the opportunity to go as an exchange student to Germany. It was the first (and only) time that I left this African continent and had to live for 3 months in a city. I remember that when I arrived back home here in the Kalahari, I couldn’t wait to get in the back of my father’s truck and drive with him to the veldt. As I was standing there on the open vehicle that day, with the wind blowing through my hair and I saw again the welcome sight of red sand with no buildings or other people as far as the eye can see, I realized what a privilege it was to have this wide open space to live in! As with so many things in life, I first had to experience being without something to realize what a gift it is to have it.

My father was very strict in his upbringing of us. As a child I sometimes felt that he was too strict, especially when Michael and I started dating. My father since died of cancer, but I wish I could tell him today, now that I have experienced having children of my own, that I now agree with him on so many things, and I know he did what was best for us. It is indeed necessary for children to be disciplined: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Prov.13:24). Until today I remember my father as the rock and head of our family. His strong principles, his faith in God and humbleness, are the outstanding characteristics I’ll always remember. He was a wonderful example to all of us.

We grew up without electricity, television, cell phones, computers, and such things. My father had a generator to pump water from the borehole, and that generator was also used to charge batteries that were used for 36 volt lights in our house at night. We had paraffin freezers, which were not nearly cold enough for the Kalahari’s heat in summer. Our telephone worked on a party line system. That means that we had about 6 to 8 families on one line, and that we had to make a phone call via an operator who was in our nearest town. When someone else on the line was making a call, you had to wait for them to finish before you could make your call. Some neighbors were always very interested in other people’s conversations, and you could hear whenever somebody else was listening in on your conversation! It was quite a frustration.

We have had electricity and automatic telephones since 2002.

My sister and I were always very excited when we knew we would go visit the neighbors, because they were the only friends we had. I remember one such visit very clearly.

I was a little girl. My father was not at home, and the neighbors invited us to overnight with them because those were the years of the war between Angola and Namibia (Southwest Africa at that time) and although the actual war was far north of us, they thought it too dangerous for a woman with two little girls to be alone on a farm at night. Halfway to the neighbors, our vehicle got stuck in the thick sand. It was already dark by that time and I thought I’d never seen such darkness. We had no choice but to start walking. That walk in the pitch darkness and thick sand, with only the starlight as our guidance, is still vivid in my mind. I remember that I often stumbled and almost fell, but I kept holding onto my mother’s hand. I don’t know how far we walked, but eventually the neighbor farmer came looking for us with his vehicle. That light that came out of the darkness that night was such a relief and a wonderful sight in the eyes of a young, scared child. Now, as a grown-up, that episode always leads my thoughts to Revelation 22:16, where Jesus is referred to as “the bright and morning star”. He came and will come again to this dark sinful world to take us with him to heaven, where there will be no darkness and where we will dwell with Him forever.

Another thing I remember is our nights sleeping under the stars. Every night during summer we would carry the beds from the veranda onto the lawn, where it was the coolest. We looked at the stars each night, and we four siblings competed to spot the most satellites in the sky. Satellites look like moving stars. We knew the names of several stars or groups of stars, just by watching them so many nights before falling asleep. Always when I woke up during the night and saw that most wonderfully and brightest star in the east (the morning star, which was most of the time planet Venus, heralding the coming of morning), I knew that it was nearly morning and that my father would get up very soon and bring us coffee in bed. And until today, our children can’t wait for the summer when we sleep outside on the lawn every night.

Boarding school

Since we lived about 65 miles from town, we had to go to boarding school from Grade 1 onwards. It was hard to be 6 years old and leave your mother and father and to see them only on weekends. Some weekends we even had to stay at boarding school because our parents couldn’t always afford to drive to town to get us and drive us back again on Sunday. Those were the longest weeks.

At age 12 we went to high school in a town called Mariental, which was 250 kilometers (±158 miles) from home. We could go home and see our parents only every third weekend. We had to take a bus, and so arrived home late Friday afternoons and departed again from home Sunday at noon to go to boarding school. The weekends at home were much too short! When things or someone made you sad at school, it was often already forgotten by the time you saw your parents again. I guess we knew that we just had to cope. There was no other way. The saddest times of those many weekends at boarding school were Sunday afternoons. I still remember that sad, lonesome feeling, because you knew there was another long week ahead—away from home!

The university we went to was a 15-hour drive from home. During that time we saw our parents only four times a year during holidays. Those long stretches of up to 12 weeks away from home made us miss the Kalahari so much.

At the end of Grade 12, my father told me that I had to go study something because education is something nobody can take away from you, and every girl needs an education. So I went to a university in South Africa, and although I was only one year there and then got married to Michael, I finished the rest of my degree (B.A. in Psychology and Languages) via long-distance education from the farm. I also finished a Teacher’s Diploma this same way, when our eldest daughter was three years old. Today, even though I am a housewife and mother, I am still grateful that my father insisted that I get higher education. Circumstances in our schools changed so much in recent years that we now home-school our children through the seven years of primary school. Those years of studying alone on a farm, with no professors or live classes, taught me a certain discipline for which I am still grateful. I am now using that education to the benefit of our own children.

Michael… a Godsend husband

Since we grew up practically neighbors, Michael and I knew each other from a very young age. My sister and I were always so happy to see the neighbor girl friends that we didn’t really take notice of the young males in the family. Until that lion hunt. I was 15.

Michael’s father called my father that morning. Since both the farms are situated next to the Botswana border, we often have problems with lions, leopards, and other predators coming in to feed on our precious sheep. Asking for assistance from the neighbor farmer in hunting down a predator on a killing spree was a common occurrence. That day, the phone call sparked my sister’s and my enthusiasm, because for us this meant the opportunity to go visit the neighbor girl friends (Michael’s sisters).

As we entered their farm, their workers showed us the way to go directly to the border area where the lion was. My father immediately was very irritated with the fact that my sister and I asked to come along, because now it meant that he had two young girls with him who were not supposed to be on a lion hunt. It just is too dangerous. As we drove up to where Michael and his father were waiting, his father also found it not good that we girls were there. They decided that my sister and I had to take their vehicle and drive to their house. The men could then proceed with the hunt with my father’s vehicle. The problem was that although I could drive a manual transmission vehicle, this vehicle’s stick shift was on the steering column and not on the floor as I was used to. So… Michael’s father told him to show me how to do it while he and my father discussed the plans for the hunt. I can’t really remember more details, but I know that this up-to-now-unobtrusive Duvenhage boy showed me with a lot of patience how to handle the shift. We girls then drove to their home and they proceeded with the hunt. Michael killed his first lion that day.

From that day onwards, something changed in the way this neighbor boy and I took notice of each other.

To make a long story short, we started dating a few months after that on 8-8-88. We were 5 years together before we got married. In January, God willing, we will be married 20 years, and what a blessing it has been and still is. We are still in love with each other and are also best friends.

I can’t tell you, women, how important it is to marry (or to be, if you are a male reading this) a husband who is a faithful and true child of God and a worthy head of the home—as Christ is the head of the church. By the wonderful grace of God, I was led to such a husband. Michael is a wonderful companion and friend who leads, protects, and loves our family. He instructs and sets an example for me and the children—in faith, love and hard work. It makes me thankful every day for this blessing God bestowed upon me. I know I didn’t deserve it, but God loved me so much and used my husband as a wonderful instrument in my life. It changed my life in so many ways. Since I didn’t grow up in a solidly Reformed home, I had a lot of questions for many years. He always answered my questions patiently and with thorough knowledge of the Bible. His sincere devotion and zeal confirmed the work of the Holy Spirit in him.  Every day when we have family devotions, and I see again just how sincerely and earnestly the head of our home goes about with the word of God, how he truly wants to get to know God better and live to glorify him, I just can’t not be touched in my heart.

If you are married to such a faithful man, love him in reverence and strive also to be the wife and women God intended us to be when He created Eve.

Pray that God will lead you to such a husband and that he will also give you the grace to be a faithful wife and mother, because only then you will be happy, your life and children blessed and will you be able to glorify God in your marriage. If it is possible for you to be a stay-at-home mother, know that you have the highest responsibility to teach your children at home the principles of true religion.

Young men, pray that God will work in you to become a husband who lives according to God’s word and love your wife in such a way that God be glorified. Let daily family devotions be the most important appointment in your homes. Instructing your children in the ways of the Lord is the most wonderful gift you can give them.

If you have a godly marriage, then when evil and suffering come upon you, you will be able patiently and gratefully to accept it, as it is all from the hand of the Lord.

Our life different from yours… in general terms

In some ways our lives are totally different than yours. Here are some things I can think of:

  • You live in the northern hemisphere; we in the southern. When you have winter, we have summer. When you have autumn, we have spring. Most of us have never in our lives seen real snow, except on television. Most of you have never seen such a vast expanse of red sand, as can be found here in the Kalahari.

 

  • Afrikaans is our home language. I’m sure the editor of this article will have to correct several grammar mistakes in this article before publishing it, because my line of thought is not in English. (The editor had to correct very few errors—MHH)

 

  • In summer we sleep every night outside on the lawn. We now have air conditioning in the house, but we still prefer making a big family bed outside. Some nights during the full moon phase, the moon is so bright that you wake up often, and it takes a night or two to get used to that brightness outside, because we are used to sleeping in complete darkness. No street lights anywhere near.

 

  • Most of the time we don’t have mosquitoes here in the Kalahari (the environment is too dry), so we don’t need to worry about that when sleeping outside. We just know not to put on a light near our beds, because lights draw bugs. However, I was stung by small scorpions on two occasions. Fortunately they were small ones. One night I had a close encounter with a big scorpion. I was lying on my stomach, ready to fall asleep outside on the mattress on the lawn. I felt something moving over my back and shoulder and then off on the pillow. As I switched on the flashlight, I saw the critter and killed it. I was happy not to have been stung by that one! It is still one of my biggest fears that the children will be stung by a really poisonous scorpion. It will cause them severe pain.

 

  • We think that we probably live in one of the safest environments in the world. The thought of the scorpions and predators we sometimes encounter may terrify you. But in our opinion, the things you are confronted with every day, such as heavy traffic, the high population, danger in terms of what other sinful people can do to you or your children, the crime rate in cities, etc., are much worse than the nature surrounding us. We are so used to this quiet life that we get stressed as soon as we are two hours in a city. We can’t wait to get back to the “outback”!

 

  • Our nearest decent hospital (one with trained nurses, good and hygienic interiors and a 24-hour available doctor), is 500 kilometers (310 miles) away in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. We have a doctor in our home town, but he can’t operate (no one to assist), is an atheist, and is usually not available after hours. It’s not your ideal state of affairs. For births or emergencies we have to go to the city. Thus our thankfulness for every healthy or accident-free day.

 

  • Our eldest girl was born naturally in our home town. The local doctor we had then has since retired. He believed each and every mother can give normal birth and that’s it. He told me, when I was pregnant for the first time, that he did not expect any problems, so it was not necessary to go to the city for a birth. To make a long story short, I went 12 days over my due date. Then the doctor gave me an induction and after a long and very traumatic birth, our firstborn saw the light. I was too tired to be really happy that evening. The state of the hospital was just totally unprofessional. The day after our baby was born, Michael had to bring (it was winter) from friends’ home in town big buckets of warm water because the hospital’s hot water installation (geyser) was out of order and still is today after 15 years. Michael and his mother gave me a bath because nobody thought to help me clean up a bit after the ordeal. That is my main memory, except the birth, of those few days. Our next two children were born via C-sections. We went to the city (310 miles from us) a week before each birth had to take place and the better, clean hospital and its more professional staff made me feel as if I was having a picnic. I could experience the real joy and blessing giving birth is!

 

  • Sometimes I don’t see the inside of a grocery store for 3 or 4 weeks. Since we live so far from town, four families take turns to drive the children to boarding school and back on weekends. The person who drives usually brings whatever supplies are needed for the other families from town. Our grocery store in town gives an excellent service in this regard. About once a week I can phone them and read off my list of groceries needed. They then get it together, charge it to our account, and pack it carefully in boxes until it is collected by whatever neighbor is picking it up that day. Fresh vegetables and fruit get to our town only on Wednesdays. When we then have the opportunity to get some on Fridays or Mondays via a neighbor, the best veggies and fruit are usually not available any more. We try to grow some vegetables on the farm, but with our extremes in climate, it is not easy to get good growth.

 

  • We have an average of only 20 overcast days in a whole year. The rest are pure sunshine days. Overcast, rainy days are always welcomed here, because they bring the prospect of rain!

 

  • We home-school our children until the end of Grade 7. Years ago, as our eldest daughter got ready to start Grade 1, we did not take this decision lightly. The nearest Christian school is 110 miles from us. It is not a Reformed school, but has lots of Pentecostal influence, with which we do not agree. The children going there are in boarding school every week and only at home on weekends. We wanted to have our children for a longer time at home to be able to give them solidly Reformed catechism lessons. How can you send someone to war without first giving the soldier some good training?

Home-schooling requires good discipline and routine and is not always easy, but we don’t regret it for one day. The hour or more we can spend every morning together as a family reading, talking, and learning from the Bible, is something money can’t buy. It is a wonderful gift from our Lord. May he continue to give our children this water of Life so that it becomes in them “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).

 

Our lives different from yours… in terms of church

  • We live 65 miles from church. It takes at least an hour to drive there. The first part of our road to church is a thick, heavy sand track for which you need a 4×4. We have seven gates to open and close on the way. When opening gates, you have to put on running shoes or go barefoot; otherwise the sand goes into your church shoes, which is not nice. The children take turns opening gates and put their church shoes back on when we get to town.

 

  • Our minister and his family are stationed in Windhoek, where one of our other churches is and where most members live. It is 500 kilometers from us – which is ± 310 miles. We have a live sermon by our reverend once a month and then reading sermons in between. Can you imagine how wonderful it is for us when we see our reverend and his family? We were for several years without a minister, and during that time our consistories organized ministers from South Africa to come visit us, lead a meeting of the consistories and serve the Lord’s Supper ± once every three months. So to see our reverend now once a month is just wonderful!

 

  • Michael is an elder. When he goes on home-visitation (huisbesoek in Afrikaans), he can visit a maximum of two families per day because the families live too far apart. One of the families he often visits is a two hour drive from us, with 21 gates to open on the way and the same back. The elder usually takes his wife with to help with opening and closing of gates. It gives the term helpmeet a different meaning .

 

“One body in Christ…”

 

As I mentioned earlier, you and we have one most precious thing in common. That is our Reformed faith—the faith that we are loved by the one God of heaven and earth so much that he has sent his only Son to die for the sins of his chosen people. Reformed means also that it is through Christ only, by grace only, through faith only and to the glory of God only that we are part of the body of Christ: his universal catholic church, whom he “has redeemed…out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nations” (Rev. 5:9).

 

So how was it ordained by God that we came in contact with brothers and sisters of like faith 8000 miles from us?  Looking back, it was an amazing combination of circumstances.

 

We are farmers and raise sheep for an income. Due to the herds of game we have on the ranch and the fact that we have to control their numbers so that they don’t become too numerous and destroy vegetation, we have a trophy hunting business, which adds to our income. The purpose of trophy hunting is to give international hunters the opportunity to hunt mostly the best animals in a herd (only about 12%  are trophy animals) for the best price.

 

For some time we were looking for a special gift to give to each of our visiting hunters. Then one day we read on an email from Reverend Slabbert le Cornu (see his blog at www.proregno.com ) of South Africa, who had a Reformed bookshop, about a book that is basically short and easy explanations of Reformed theology. We always wanted to share our faith and be instruments to spread the Christian gospel, but due to our lack of the best English vocabulary, we always felt incompetent and not proficient to do the best we can in this regard. We immediately realized that God provided here for us a perfect help and tool for our circumstances: the ideal gift for our hunting friends! What a wonderful way to share our faith with people whom God sends to us in our business. We ordered 20 of these books for a start and were extremely impressed when we received them. Until today, we give our hunters copies of “Doctrine according to Godliness” by Rev. Ronald Hanko.

 

We publish a free newsletter from our website and were looking for good, Reformed devotionals to include in the newsletters. We found the website address of the Reformed Free Publishing Association, and on it information about the Protestant Reformed Churches of America. Already then then we realized that members of these church, according to their distinctive doctrinal issues as set forth on the website, are of like faith! We contacted the webmaster of the PRCA website and asked permission to use their online devotions for our newsletter. Permission was granted.

 

One day we received an email from one of our newsletter readers from Michigan, USA. This person is an avid hunter but has never hunted with us. He told us that he enjoyed our newsletters and saw that we quote devotions of PRCA therein, and mentioned that his neighbors were members of PRCA. He asked if he could give our email address to these people because they seemed interested in this connection. We were likewise interested and very excited about this.

Next thing was that we received an email from Deb Dams, a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church. This was the first of many more mails to and fro between us and Deb Dams. We shared with each other our history, our lives, our common faith, and our circumstances. Until today we are in contact with Deb and her family, Jeff and Angie de Vries (Jeff worked together with Deb and they are members of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church) and several more special people of the PRCA. Isn’t it amazing that God used this person, who may be a non-believer, in his service and for the benefit of His children.

 

We and many of our PRCA friends have never met in person, but for several years now, our common faith has been the source of great comfort, joy and inspiration in our lives! This comfort and joy can sprout and grow only through the common love for each other when part of the one body of Christ.

 

God gives us each other as friends, family, husbands and wives, parents and children, or whatever the relations may be, so that we can support, uphold, and advocate for each other during this life on earth.

 

Let us cherish, nurture and regard these relationships with fellow believers.

They are gifts from heaven.

 

Conclusion

 

Thank you for letting me share our life with you. Reflecting on our lives, our history, our joys and sorrows and the path as God has led us until now, I am filled with thankfulness, because “the LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the LORD” (Ps.16:5-7)

Therefore, “Be not thou ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, … but be thou partaker of the         afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was    given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:8–9).

 

Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria!

 

~ Tienie Duvenhage, Namibia