Bishop George W. R. Tobias was the pioneer church planter of the Anglican Church in Namibia. He was born in England in 1882, but migrated with his father, an English priest, to South Africa, where he grew up, lived, and worked for many years. Following his honours degree at the University of Cape Town, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge in England. He distinguished himself academically and was ordained by the bishop of Wakefield to the curacy of St. Paul’s, Halifax. Three years later, he returned to South Africa to help his father in the expanding parish of St. Mary’s, Woodstock, Cape Town.
At the outbreak of World War I, George Tobias volunteered to serve in Europe, enlisted in the Medical Corps, hoping that he would have an opportunity to engage in spiritual work. In 1915, he served briefly in Egypt before finding himself in the First South African Infantry Brigade in the field ambulance. He was wounded in the leg at the Somme in 1916 and spent a considerable period of time in hospital. After he recovered, he accepted a commission as chaplain and went to Flanders in 1917, where he was again seriously wounded in the shoulder. As a result he limped when walking. At the end of the war, Father Tobias was awarded the M.C. for his services at the front (Robson 1999b: 9).
Father Tobias returned to his former parish after the war, where he served until 1923 when he set about the task of travelling to all the parishes in the Dioceses of George and Cape Town to stir up enthusiasm and enlist support for the proposed “mission in Ovamboland.” For nearly two years, he threw himself into the task of gaining support. He visited every parish, preaching and appealing, and his forceful personality and sheer doggedness won him sufficient funds to justify the commencement of the work.
Father Tobias travelled to the Ohangwena region for the first time with Bishop Fogarty in 1924. The Senior headman of the area, Hamukoto-wa-Kaluvi, who was already a Christian, gave Fr. Tobias a site for a mission at Odibo. Father Tobias had to find water first and dug several wells, then set about building a church and some huts as living quarters. Hamukoto used to visit every day to see what Fr. Tobias was doing. They soon became good friends. The tree under which he first camped is still to be seen at Odibo and is called Tate Lukenge’s tree. The local people called Tobias Tate Lukenge or “Father with the limp” because of his war injury.
Father Tobias established a school and set up medical services in response to the needs of the people. One of the first local spiritual leaders who helped establish the Anglican ministries with Father Tobias was Mr. Petrus Nandi and he played a very important role in establishing the Anglican Church with Father Tobias. He could speak English and Afrikaans. He was already a Christian, having been baptized earlier by the Finnish Lutherans, and he acted as an interpreter and adviser to Father Tobias. He was one of the pioneer missionaries who started St. Mary’s mission with Father Tobias. Soon a large number of outstations were founded, both to the east and to the west of St. Mary’s. Petrus Nandi did much work in these outstations, especially at Onamutai and Omboloka (Robson 1999a: 3-7).
Father Tobias spent much time and energy on theological training. In the 1930s, he trained two of the former students from the mission school, who later became the first two indigenous priests of the Anglican Church in Namibia, Gabriel Namueja and Lazarus Haihambo. On September 28, 1936, they were ordained as deacons and soon afterwards as priests.
When Bishop Fogarty resigned as bishop of the diocese in 1939, Fr. Tobias was elected as the new bishop, and was consecrated on April 25, 1939 at St. George’s Cathedral in Windhoek. As a result, he had to leave the pioneer work at St. Mary’s, Odibo, to settle in Windhoek, from whence he later moved to Simonstown (Robson 1999b: 96, 141). However, as bishop, he still had to hear annual confirmations. He had to do this confirmation tour in a donkey cart or an ox-wagen as there was no other transportation. In 1948, Bishop Tobias had the privilege of going to England to attend the Lambeth Conference.
Bishop Tobias was later succeeded by Bishop Robert Mize, consecrated as the 6th bishop of the Diocese of Damaraland (now the Diocese of Namibia). Mize was an American and was responsible for drawing a lot of staff for the mission from the U.S.A. Nevertheless, he and others worked under the tough legacy of Bishop Tobias, described by a canon of Grahamstown as a “Spiritual Biltong” meaning he was very tough, especially having endured the hardships of travel throughout the region (Robson 1999a:9, 20).
Gerhard Buys and Shekutaamba Nambala
- This story is taken from Buys & Nambala 2003, p. 200-201.
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.
Hoeflich, K. F. 1961. “In und nach dem Zweiten Weltkriege: 20 Jahre kirchliche Arbeit,” in Afrikanischer Heimatkalender, pp. 82-85.
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.)
Pöllitzer 1978: Die eigene Kerze anzünden! Untersuching zu Entstehung, Lehre, Leitung und Leben in der Oruuano. (The Protestant Unity Church of South West Africa). Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Pretoria.
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.
Voipio, R. 1972a. History of the Evangelical Lutheran Ovambo Kavango Church. Oniipa: ELOK (the English translation of the 1968 Afrikaans edition).
Immanuel, monthly journal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN).
CCN Information, monthly journal of the Council of Churches in Namibia, during the nineteen-eighties.
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.