Dr. Johannes Lukas de Vries was the first indigenous preses of the ELCRN (Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia) between 1972 and 1979. The term preses is derived from the German word praeses meaning president, or chairman of a missionary society or a synod. For a period of seventeen years, Dr. de Vries was one of the prominent indigenous church leaders of the Lutheran churches, until he left the ministry for a political career in 1979. However, in 1987 he returned to the ministry, lecturing in theology until his death in 2001.
Dr. de Vries was born in Rehoboth on April 9, 1939. In 1957, he completed his secondary education (grade 12). This was followed by theological studies at the Paulinum Seminary and the Moravian Theological Seminary in Port Elizabeth (South Africa). In 1960, he started a ministry as an evangelist in Rehoboth, then took a pastoral course at Paulinum (1961-1962). After being ordained as a pastor, he was appointed lecturer at Paulinum (Karibib). However, he left for further studies in 1963.
Between 1963 and 1968, he studied in Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In 1968, he was a pastor in Rehoboth, before rejoining the staff of the UES (United Evangelical Seminary) for three years as a lecturer at Otjimbingwe (1969-1971). He continued his doctoral studies in theology. After a study leave, he received a D.Th. degree from the Protestant Faculty of the University of Brussels in March 1971. The title of his thesis was Mission and Colonialism in South Africa: The influence of German Colonialism on the mission work of the Rhenish Missionary Society in the early German South West Africa (1880-1914/1918).
1972 was an especially important year for Dr. de Vries, as he was elected the first indigenous preses of the ELCRN (then ELK/SWA), following pastor H. K. Diehl, the last missionary preses. That same year, Dr. de Vries became the president of the newly founded UELCSWA (United Evangelical Lutheran Church in South West Africa) which was an effort to unite the existing three Lutheran denominations of Namibia. In 1972, he became a member of the executive council of FELCSA (Federation of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in South Africa).
In Namibia, Dr. de Vries became the first chairman of the Christian Centre (CC). Under his chairmanship, the CC was expanded until the CCN (Council of Churches in Namibia) was formed in 1978. This happened at the time of the sixth general meeting of the LWF (Lutheran World Federation) in 1977 in Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania). However, in September 1979, Dr. de Vries was not re-elected preses of the ELCRN. He was succeeded by preses H. Frederik, who became the first ordained bishop of the ELCRN in 1985. After that, Dr. Lukas de Vries lectured in theology at Paulinum, until his death in 2001.
In church magazines, publications, speeches, seminars, and academic research, Dr. de Vries rejected the apartheid rule of the South African colonial government and introduced the terminology and the ideas of Black Theology to Namibia for the first time. This was later expanded into a full-fledged liberation theology by Dr. Kameeta and other younger Lutheran theologians. Dr. de Vries regularly addressed international conferences and national seminars, and wrote open letters to the South African government on the “liberation of the black races” of Namibia.
A special characteristic of Dr. de Vries’ theology was his opposition to any kind of violence. According to him, the violence exerted by liberation movements to overthrow oppressive governments was equally unacceptable for the church. He stated, “The church does not support the methods employed by Liberation Movements. The church abides by its viewpoint that violence can never be condoned” (Immanuel May 1977:8). 
Gerhard Buys and Shekutaamba Nambala
- This story is taken from Buys & Nambala p.231-232.
Buys, G. L. & Nambala, S. V. V. 2003. History of the Church in Namibia 1805 - 1990, an Introduction. Windhoek: Gamsberg Macmillan.
Namibia Research Institute (www.nets.iway.na/research)
Unpublished & Published References
1994 Field Directory: SDA in Namibia. Unpublished church data-sheet of the Namibian field, supplied by Rev. Coombs, SDA Field President of the Central Region.
Beris, A. P. J. 1996. From Mission to Local Church: One hundred years of mission by the Catholic Church in Namibia, with special reference to the development of the Archdiocese of Windhoek and the Apostolic Vicariate of Rundu. Windhoek: John Meinert.
Buys, G. L. 1983. Die holistiese sendingbenadering in die ekumeniese diskussie met besondere verwysing na die Kerk en Sending in Suidwes-Afrika/Namibië. Unpublished D.Th. thesis, University of Stellenbosch.
Christians, N. C. 1957. Afrikaanse Metodisme, ‘n Kort oorsig: Richard Allen, vader van die Afrikaanse Metodisme in Suidwes-Afrika. Keetmanshoop: Unpublished manuscript.
Friesen, R. H. 1994. “Origins of the Spiritual Healing Church in Botswana” in Oosthuizen, Kitshoff, Dube (Ed). Afro-Christianity at the Grassroots, Its Dynamics and Strategies. New York: E. J. Brill, p.37-50.
Hellberg, C.-J. 1979. A Voice of the Voiceless - The Involvement of the Lutheran World Federation in Southern Africa 1947-1977. Lund: Skeab Verbum.
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Hunke, N. 1996. Church and State: 100 years of Catholic Mission in Namibia. Windhoek: RCC, John Meinert Printers.
Kamburona, A. C. 1975. Church Order of Oruuano. Unpublished manuscript.
Kandovazu, E. 1968. Die Oruuano-Beweging. Karibib, ELK Boekdepot.
Kritzinger, J. J. 1972, Sending en Kerk in Suidwes-Afrika - Band I & II. Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Pretoria. (references to pages in the first volume are indicated by normal page numbers, while pages from the second volume are indicated by adding ‘b’ in front of the particular page numbers).
Lau, B. (Ed.). 1995b. An Investigation of the Shooting at the Old Location on 10 December 1959. Windhoek: DISCOURSE/MSORP Publications.
Nieuwoudt, M. M. 1979a. Die Nedertduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Suidwes-Afrika. Woordbediening in pioniersomstandighede op weg na ‘n selfstandige sinode, ‘n kerkhistoriese studie. Unpublished D.Th. thesis, Stellenbosch University.
Oosthuizen, H. Z. M. 1995. Eerwaarde E.J. Leonard: Pionier van die Boere-gemeenskap. Unpublished M.Th. dissertation at the University of the Orange Free State, Bloemfontein.
Pakenham, T. 1979. The Boer War. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson. (or the Afrikaans version 1981. Die Boere Oorlog. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball.)
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Robson, N. and A. Luff. 1999a. * A short history of the Anglican Church in northern Namibia, 1924-1999.* Unpublished bound manuscript.
Robson, N. and A. Luff. 1999b. A history of the Anglican Church. (The longer edition). Unpublished manuscript.
Shejavali, A. 1970b. The Ovambo-Kavango Church.(Ongerki Yomowambokavango). Helsinki: Kauppakirjapaino Oy, pp. 24-32 (this title is often referred to simply as OKC).
Strassberger, E. 1969. The Rhenish Mission Society in South Africa, 1830-1950. Cape Town: C. Struik.
Sundermeier, T. 1973. Wir aber suchten Gemeinschaft, Kirchwerdung und Kirchentrennung in Südwestafrika. Erlangen, Luther Verlag.
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Interviews & questionnaires
Christians, N. C. 2002. Unpublished notes forwarded on request to Buys, on 22 May 2002. Rev. Nicholas Christians was the pastor of the Trinity AME Church in Keetmanshoop for an uninterrupted period of 43 years (1953 - 1997). In 1998, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Wilberforce Institute of the AMEC in USA.
Mubonenwa, L. 1997. Response of Pastor Mubonenwa on the Questionnaire forwarded by Buys, dated 25 September 1997. Pastor Mubonenwa is the present Field President of the North East Namibia Field of the SDA Church.
Tjijombo, P. 2002. Interview of Buys with Bishop Petrus Tjijombo on 18 January 2002 at his house. Bishop Tjijombo was the founder and still active leader of the St. John’s AFM in Namibia when this interview took place, after a ministry which started in 1953. The photo of his ministry starting in that year in the “old location” was unfortunately too bad to use in this publication.
Witbooi, H. 2002. Interview of Buys with the honourable Dr. Hendrik Witbooi, in Windhoek, on the history of Evangelists Petrus Jod and Marcus Witbooi. Dr. Witbooi is the son of Pastor Marcus Witbooi, who was a founder member of the AMEC in Namibia. At the time of the interview, Dr. Witbooi was Deputy Prime Minister in the Namibian government and leader of the AMEC (African Methodist Episcopal Church) in Namibia.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from History of the Church in Namibia, an Introduction - 1805-1990, Gamsberg Macmillan, Windhoek, Namibia, copyright © November 2003 by Dr. Gerhard Buys and Dr. Shekutaamba Nambala. All rights reserved.