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Rhenish Mission Church

Otjimbingwe | Namibia

According to the Official Gazette of the time: 'The Rhenish Mission Church in Otjimbingwe was inaugurated on 1st December 1867 by the Rev. Hugo Hahn. The architect and building contractor was Eduard Hälbich. The tower was added in 1899. During native wars this church frequently served as a place of refuge'.

Early pioneers to Namibia's desert environment had a number of difficulties to contend with. Settling near a constant supply of clean drinking water was of paramount importance. The confluence of the Omusema and Swakop Rivers was such a place and a settlement called Otjimbingwe flourished. There are a number of meanings to its place name, but 'place of refreshment' would be most apt. The location developed into trade routes to the coast and it was the first permanent European trading post in Namibia, an area formerly known as Hereroland.

The first missionary was Johannes Roth from the Rhenish Mission Society. Dr Carl Hugo Hahn and Rath wanted to build a road between Walvis Bay and Otjikango, the latter a place where they had both previously worked. Rath settled here and built a small church which was completed in 1850. The challenge spreading the gospel also included wild animals killing farmers' cattle, a common occurrence for the Otjimbingwe residents.

It was 8 years later that Rath baptised the first 2 members of his congregation, (fairly quick by some missionary standards in Africa) on 25th July 1858. Unfortunately not long after this breakthrough, his wife and 4 children were shipwrecked and died along the coast on a return voyage from Cape Town. He left Otjimbingwe in 1861 and Hahn succeeded him in 1864.

A year later, Swedish trader and explorer Charles John Andersson established his business there. By 1864, Otjimbingwe was a thriving community, having survived a number of hostilities between missionaries, traders and Afrikaners. Rath's original church became too small and the cornerstone for the new church was laid on 18th October 1865. The church was consecrated in 1867 and a more suitable place of worship, not to mention a refuge against Afrikaners and their hostile partners, was born.

Such was the popularity of this new church, that up to 4 services were held every Sunday; in Nama or Herero, German, English or Afrikaans. During the week the church doubled up as a school.

On the 13th December 1867, the decision to build both a place of worship and refuge proved to be the right one. Jan Jonker Afrikaner and Jakobus Boois attacked the village. Many lives were saved.

In 1884, Otjimbingwe was established as the headquarters of the new German colonists. That representation moved to Windhoek soon after. Once a railway line between Windhoek and Karibib had been built, Karibib became more of an important trading destination than Otjimbingwe, and it started to dwindle in importance.

The Rhenish Mission Church was built between 1865-1867, and an original tower erected in 1899 later collapsed on 1st January 1900. It was restored in 1904 and with the exception of the tower, the church stands today as it was originally built. Regular services are still held in the church by the Paulinum Theological Society.

The church still takes centre stage in Otjimbingwe and it was proclaimed a national monument on 20th December 1974.

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