Given the Courage to Be

Memorial for the 12 Namibian heroes at the local cemetery in Windhoek. Photo: LWF/H. Martinussen
Memorial for the 12 Namibian heroes at the local cemetery in Windhoek. Photo: LWF/H. Martinussen

Easter Reflections by Rev. Silvio Schneider

On a Sunday afternoon some weeks ago, the members of the LWF Twelfth Assembly planning committee visited three cemeteries in Windhoek. We wanted to learn about the history of Namibia’s liberation. The first cemetery was well cared for. It was for the use of the white population, who under apartheid lived in an exclusive area that is still known ironically as “Beverly Hills”.

The local people had been forced by violent means to settle in a separate area on the margins of the city. There they needed their own cemetery. It does not look quite as good, but is at least maintained by the local authority. The people who lived near this cemetery were the sons and daughters of mixed marriages or of relationships between representatives of the colonial powers and indigenous women.

“Where no one wants to live”

Going further out of town, you finally reach the cemetery for poor Africans. This is in the district of Katutura, meaning “the place where no one wants to live”. At the entrance to the cemetery is the mass grave of 12 Namibians, shot dead on 10 December 1959 for refusing to move even further out of town. They were victims of the violent apartheid regime. Today their grave is a memorial, and they are honoured as heroes. They gave their lives to bear witness to human dignity, making their own contribution towards Namibia’s independence 25 years ago.

The attempt to place people in categories and separate them even after death – in those days on the grounds of skin colour and culture, today according to their social status – expresses the belief that death and everything associated with death has the last and lasting word. The separation stands for the conviction that a country and its people can be ruled by means of violence and terror.

But as visitors we also heard about how individual Christians as well as worldwide ecumenical partners and supporters contributed to the liberation and re-building of the country. Faith in Jesus Christ has awakened hope and strength. Faith in the risen Christ has conquered death and affirmed God’s will that all people may live in peace and justice. The Easter message is announced in that very first Christian confession: Jesus Christ lives. He died and was buried, but God brought him back to life. He is risen (1 Cor 15:3-5). The Lord is risen.

A different reality

The Easter message has brought a different reality into the world. God’s reality gives us a wonderful confidence in life and a hope that is powerful and effective. It gives the believer the courage never to give up but to trust in life. On the margins of life and in situations when suffering and mortal danger point to death as the final border, the avowal that life triumphs over death resounds: He is risen! Christ is alive!

Jesus’ resurrection enables us to deal more calmly and trustfully with our own limitations, knowing that we are not on this earth for ever. And when we depart, we can be carried as Lazarus was (Luke 16:22), “so that you will not dash your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:12) and no one will lose their way.

As the risen Christ tells us, the journey takes us to the Father, in whose presence all paths meet. The creator awaits the return of his own. He who brought us into this world will take us home again. Heaven is not a place but a person. We gather at the source of life, and that source is God.

The beginning of eternity

“He is risen!” The victory of life over death is really good news! News that can support us, encourage us and give us hope. With it comes the dawning of the Kingdom in this world, the beginning of eternity in this age. Ever since the time when Jesus preached and taught, performed miracles and showed people the love of God in the way he lived, the movement that furthers life and opposes death has been among us.

Jesus lives! He is risen! Yet there are still deadly dangers around us. Our hearts are heavy at the suffering of people near to us and people far away. And yet that almost inexplicable hope and confidence in life asserts itself time and again, telling us that all will be well with us and with our world, and that God means well with us. We can have the courage to be, however desperate our situation may seem. That is the truth that has endured, ever since that Easter morning. This we can believe. Full of fear and trembling, like the women at Jesus’ tomb, and yet with great joy.

Rev. Silvio Schneider is the Interim Director of the LWF Department for Mission and Development (DMD).