In Memoriam: Assaria Kamburona (1932-2014)
A couple of days ago I heard the sad news that an old friend, Assaria Kamburona, had died. He was bishop of the Oruuano Church in Namibia, and I had got to know him in the early 1970s. Last year I was able to meet him again for the first time in more than 40 years, thanks to Professor Kaire Mbuende who arranged for us to meet at his house.
I had tremendous respect for Assaria Kamburona, and he influenced my life in many ways, some of which he probably wasn’t aware of.
I met Assaria through a concern for theological education.
The Oruuano Church (also known as the Protestant Unity Church) had separated from the Rhenish Mission in 1955, and at some point approached the Anglican Church to ask for help in training their clergy. An Anglican priest in Windhoek, the Revd Ronald Gestwicki, began holding classes, but by the time I arrived in Namibia in July 1969 he had returned to the USA. I began investigating the possibility of re-starting the classes, and discovered that the Christian Institute in South Africa was working on a correspondence courses for ministers of African Independent Churches, and were planning to have a pilot study group. I had asked them if they would be willing to allow those who had been trained by Ron Gestwicki to be part of the pilot group, and so when I travelled to Gobabis (220 miles from Windhoek) once a month from December 1969, I tried to make contact with Assaria Kamburona to see if he would be interested.
I managed to meet him on 11 January 1970, and told him what I could of the Christian Institute course, and he said he was interested, but would need to discuss it first with Gabriel Mbuende, the church secretary (and father of Kaire Mbuende).
I established a routine of going to Gobabis once a month, often taking two or three other people with me from Windhoek, and travelling on Saturday afternoon, and camping out overnight at the side of the road, and going in to Gobabis early on Sunday morning. The next time I was there, however, Assaria was away at the Epukito Reserve.
We heard singing coming from the Oruuano Church, but hesitated to go in. We had been told by white people in Windhoek that they were very secretive, and one Anglican priest said that they practised ancestor worship, in a tone of voice that suggested dark pagan rites. Eventually we srewed up our courage and sneaked in to the back, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. We needn;t have worried. They weren’t secretive at all, and made us feel very welcome.
There seemed to be quite a lot of similarity with Orthodox churches I had seen — males on the right, females at the left. They sang hymns from the Herero Lutherasn hymn book, and occasional choruses accompanies by clapping. There was a visiting “disciple” from the Apostolic Spiritual Healing Church in Botswana — a discple of the prophet Jacob Motswasele. It seemed that the Oruuano Church had good ecumenical relations with that denomination and a few others, Such as the St Paul Apostolic Faith Church.
Assariah Kamburona returned in the afternoon, and said he wanted to enrol with the theology correspondence course set up by the Christian Institute and the African Independent Churches Association, so we sent off his application form to join their pilot project, and heard no more from them for the next two years. Letters went unanswered, and nothing at all seemed to be happening. It was very disappointing. So that was one of the significant ways in which Assaria Kamburona influenced me, and in a sense changed the course of my life. When I was deported from Namibia two years later, in March 1972, I spent the next for months, until I was banned, travelling round South Africa trying to promote the idea of Theological Education by Extension. And it was the need of Assariah Kamburona and people like him that made it seem important. Having persuaded him to enrol for a course that never materialised, I felt I had to put most of my efforts into making such a course materialise.
Another way in which he influenced the future course of my life, not so much personally, but as a leader in the Oruuano Church, was that I became aware of the huge difference between the perceptions of the Oruuano Church among white people in Windhoek, and the reality, and one result of that was that I later taught a course in the Missiology Department of the University of South Africa on Mission as African Initiative:the African Independent Churches and also began compiling a database of information on African Independent Churches (AICs) in order to make more accurate information available.
After those first couple of meetings, on my monthly visits to Gobabis it became part of my routine to go to the Oruuano Church service and spend a couple of hours nattering to Assaria afterwards, and it was one of the highlights of my month, because he was such an interesting and pleasant person to talk to. sometimes in his house, and sometimes by our campfire when we camped by the side of the road, and we would sit on a log drinking coffee under the bright stars far from the city lights, with the lizards calling to each other i9n the bush, and he was the sort of person one could relax with, and talk about anything.
Then I was deported, and didn’t see him again for 40 years, until we visited Namibia again last year, and Kaire Mbuende arranged for us to meet, and we were able to catch up on the years apart. Assaria had become a bishop, and told us something of his early life. May his memory be eternal!