Church Planter of three Pentecostal Denominations
Pastor P. J. van der Walt was the pioneer church planter of three Pentecostal denominations in Namibia: The Apostolic Faith Mission, the Full Gospel Church and the Pentecostal Protestant Church. He was respectfully called Die Leeu van Suidwes (“the Lion of Namibia”) by his Pentecostal followers.
Pastor van der Walt had an unwavering missionary calling and a tenacious perseverance in planting new Pentecostal missions in many parts of the country, throughout his twenty-six year ministry in Namibia. He can truly be seen as the father of the Pentecostal Movement in Namibia.
Van der Walt arrived in Namibia for the first time in 1943, and settled in Namibia until his death in 1969. He and his wife jointly launched evangelistic campaigns in all parts of Namibia, even into Angola. After the beginning of the liberation war in the northern parts of Namibia in 1966, they often continued with cross-border ministries, in spite of grave danger to their lives.
Holistic mission: Racial integration
Van der Walt’s mission approach reflected a “holistic gospel,” by offering the gospel to all peoples in unity, and integrating spiritual salvation with the physical healing of the individual and the community. Although the socio-political dimensions of the gospel were not yet fully developed in van der Walt’s theology,–as was the case after 1968 in Lutheran Contextual Theology,–it already had a prophetic voice inherent in his preaching and actions.
By integrating all races, tribes and languages of Namibia into one ministry, he demonstrated that he did not fall into the theological error of so many other South African missions, which uncritically accepted the social standards of the apartheid society. He did not succumb to the general colonial tradition to separate Christian ministry along racial lines, as was the case in almost all of the South African Pentecostal churches.
The Apostolic Faith Mission, the Full Gospel Church and the Pentecostal Protestant Church usually established separate facilities for their white, black, coloured or Indian members. The result was that “white” Pentecostal pastors in Namibia were not sufficiently involved in cross-cultural ministry (with some valuable exceptions). The practical problem they feared was that the local white membership would be eroded by racial tensions, resulting in a decline of white membership and support. Van der walt repeatedly experienced ostracism from the white leadership of the Pentecostal establishment of the AFM, FGC and PPC, due to his stance on racial integration in the church. He was often denied leadership positions in the white Pentecostal branches of the AFM, the FGC and, during his last three years, even in the PPC. According to the views of his co-workers, Pastor van der Walt’s death in 1969 was largely caused by the psychological anxiety he suffered due to ostracism from the white leadership of the Pentecostal establishment.
Holistic mission: Healing and Evangelism
Van der Walt’s evangelistic work was traditionally accompanied by a healing ministry, which follows the traditional Pentecostal approach. Often converts were healed first, before accepting the Pentecostal message. This integration of the spiritual and physical healing of the local community resulted in the rapid growth of the Pentecostal churches, as compared to the first beginnings of the mainline church missions in the previous century. It took thirteen years before the first Lutheran converts were baptized by the Finnish mission. Providing for a healing ministry was also the aspect in which the AICs developed rapidly. Both AIC traditions, the Ethiopians and the Zionists, always emphasized a healing ministry.(Kamburona 1975)
Gerhard Buys and Shekutaamba Nambala
See the histories of the AFM, FGC and PPC in chapter 12 in Buys & Nambala.
This story is taken from Buys & Nambala 2003, p. 204.
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)
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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.