Last week the Northeastern Iowa Synod was honored to host Bishop Ernst Gamxamub and Mr. Leonard de Vries, financial director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCRN).

Together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) and the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN-GELC), we share a companion synod relationship with the ELCRN.

Bishop Gamxamub and Mr. de Vries are in the US to visit the four companion synods which include Southwestern Washington, Metro DC and New Jersey synods as well as the Northeastern Iowa Synod.


During their visit Bishop Gamxamub and Mr. de Vries enjoyed a homemade lunch with synod staff and Pastor Nancy Larson at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Waverly.  During this lunch, Bishop Ullestad presented our guests with a check for $8300 to the United Lutheran Seminary–Paulinum in Namibia to be used for scholarships for seminarians. Pastor Larson was instrumental in establishing that scholarship fund in 2006.

A highlight of their visit was a potluck supper held at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School, Waverly on Wednesday night.  Almost 300 people attended.  Most of these were youth as several churches brought their confirmation classes.



Bishop Gamaxmub was delighted that so many youth came together in one place and spent time interacting with them, even going over the catechism with them.  The evening also included musical offerings by musicians from congregations around the synod.

Our Namibian guests also visited Wartburg Seminary where the bishop spoke about the history of Namibia and its special relationship to the seminary.


Both Bishop Gamaxmub and Mr. de Vries were emotional when they visited the Namibian archives (the largest of its kind in this country) which chronicle the history of the role of the seminary in the fight for freedom for Namibia.

This is a story not many people know.  In the 70’s, Namibian pastors began to come to the seminary to do graduate work.  They shared what was going on in their country and the horrors of apartheid with faculty and fellow students.

One of those students, Abisai Shejavali’s father, was a retired Lutheran pastor living near the border of Angola. South African soldiers came and brutally beat him and raped and blinded his wife.  His wife Selma was a Ndonga royal and her uncle, who had cooperated with South Africa, was assassinated while the couple was at Wartburg. This brought the sufferings of the Namibian people home to the Wartburg community in a real way.

“Abisai and Selma were friends of ours,” remembers Bishop Ullestad.

“Ruth taught their children.  Although they knew they were in danger at home, she was insistent on returning home.  She was a Princess of her tribe.  ‘I must go home and die with my people.’  So, they went home”.

Every pastor who graduated from Wartburg for the next 30 years brought the story of the Namibian struggle to the churches to which they were called.  It wasn’t just another cause.  This was personal.


The churches in Namibia know the story of how the freedom movement grew out of the basement of Wartburg Seminary.  Bishop Gamxamub and Leonard de Vries know that story and it was overwhelming for them to see their history laid out in the archives.

The Bishop and Mr. de Vries also toured and met Namibian students at Wartburg and Luther colleges, enjoyed a concert at Luther and toured agricultural operations in the area. Ann Sponberg Peterson from Luther College hosted them while they were in the Decorah area.

gs1They enjoyed a farewell dinner in Waverly with Bishop and Ruth Ullestad, synod staff and the Namibian Companion Synod Network.

They ended their visit here with Bishop Gamxamub preaching and Mr. de Vries singing at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Waterloo.

Special thanks to Namibian Network Facilitator Pastor Rhea Evanson, Katheryn Koob, Al Schneider, Pam Moss, Pastor Pat Shaw and Pastor Phil Olson for all their work in arranging this trip.  It was a joyful way to recognize and support our continuing partnership in mission with our Namibian brothers and sisters.

To learn more about the relationship between Wartburg Seminary and the struggle for freedom in Namibia, two Wartburg graduates and former members of our synod have written their thesis on this topic:


-by Pastor Tanner Howard, a recent graduate who went through candidacy in our synod;



-by Pastor Dena Stinson, former member of our Namibian Companion Synod Network.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.




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