AFTER 11 years of service at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism as under-secretary for parks and wildlife management, renowned Reverend Maria Kapere responded to her divine calling as an ordained pastor by taking up the challenging role of Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) secretary general in 2009.
Leading the CCN meant that Kapere was faced with the mammoth task of coordinating and facilitating member churches and faith-based organisations to foster ecumenism and addressing relevant spiritual, social and economic issues in the country.
Recently, her term at CCN came to end. Confidente caught up with the soft spoken Kapere to talk on her background, leading CCN and goals for the future.
Give us a snapshot of who you are?
I was born Maria Helu in Keetmanshoop. I am the fifth of 11 children. I started school in Luderitz at the age of 7 at the Rhenish Mission School and concluded standard 6 (grade 8) at Dias Primary School in 1969. I continued secondary school at St Therese Secondary School in Tses. The school followed the then coloured curriculum so I had to repeat grade 8 having come from a Bantu school. I was 21 when I completed matric.
Briefly tell us about your upbringing?
My mother was a faithful political activist and supported political leaders like Adv. Fanuel Konzonguizi and Kephas Conradie. Although my father was a diamond detective in Luderitz, his absence did not hinder political discussions by visiting politicians at our house.
I participated in all school and church activities. I was the youngest church choir member. My parents were strict. I could not go to the cinema for children on Saturday afternoons. Reading the then famous adventure photo magazines like Mark Condor, Swart Ruiter etc, were forbidden in our house. I used to give advice and reprimand my school mates in so far that some of them named me ‘The Big Book’.
During my secondary school, I became the head girl. Although I am not Catholic, I was loved by our priests and the sisters and really enjoyed the privilege to be trusted with all tasks around the mission premises. This shaped and prepared me for my leadership role.
I am a dreamer and more of an artistic person. I was always elected in leadership roles. When the student movement was established in 1974, I was part of its formation. The same could be said in the political sphere. I was always at the forefront of the Swapo leadership in Keetmanshoop and later at national level. I enrolled at the University of Western Cape in 1976 but returned home during the student uprising. I started to teach in Keetmanshoop as well as in Arandis after my wedding, where my husband worked.
Tell us about your journey at the helm of CCN?
My journey to CCN was a miracle that I can up to this day not comprehend. In fact, I was elected general secretary in 2009. Like any other area I had been engaged in, CCN posed more demanding challenges. Bringing different denominations together for the common good of a nation is a mammoth task. It is not much different from leading a political party or any other institution or organisation that deals with human evolution and transformation.
When I resume duty, I found that my predecessors had done strategic mappings already. The road map was clear, it just needed a few readjustments. By 2010 the strategic plan was adopted. The major focus of the plan was to focus on equipping the member churches and organisations to implement community-based programmes to address socio-economic and moral ills in our societies. CCN required considerable capacity of human as well as financial resources to implement the programme plan. We received support from the National Planning Commission in 2011 for a short term intervention and a considerable funding from Helsinki Deaconess Institute in 2012.
The three -year funding from Helsinki Deaconess Institute (HDI) aimed at targeted interventions like peace building, project management, leadership, advocacy/evangelism and awareness raising among clergy, theologians, women and youth. We also managed to identify and engaged key stakeholders like the Government, academia, business community and non-governmental organisations. Our own staff was trained in institutional capacity development.
What was the biggest misconception people had about you as SG of CCN?
Well, it was not easy to be a general secretary of an establishment which operates on voluntary membership and based on doctrinal acclamation. I have a very strong belief in ecumenism- unity and cooperation of the church as the Body of Christ. I brought in churches and organisation that have been denied membership on apparent non conformity with certain believes. With staff who were not willing to put in their utmost for ecumenism, I always saw it as not appreciating what they were doing. One weakness of mine is that I am not so tolerant with people who do not deliver on set targets and goals.
Some church leaders and opposition political party leaders were also thinking that I was busy pushing for Swapo agenda in CCN. The church represents almost every Christian, who are 90 percent of Namibians. The incapacity of the majority of churches not to respond to their prophetic calling and me being outspoken about it, gave some the impression that I have been too critical of the church.
What do you believe was your greatest contribution to CCN?
We managed to build the capacity of our members. The ESCA Programme (Ecumenical Social Community Action.) was meant to enhance the transitional and transformational role that the church in Africa is supposed to bring about. This was a major vision which materialised through our funding partners. Many of our members were unaware about the social responsibilities and how that it blends into the evangelisation role of their denominations. We achieved that critical element in the Namibian church. We aren’t there yet but we have created the necessary environment for its full implementation.
I thank the Government for having supported CCN to become a partner during the 2013-2014 drought. His Excellency Hifikepunye Pohamba instructed his office and the office of the Prime Minster to render support for CCN to setup feeding schemes in almost all rural areas. Churches received pots, stoves, corrugated plates to set up kitchens.
What was the hardest part of leading CCN?
The hardest part of leading the CCN was to have ecumenism effectively work for the church. The different streams at denominational level are still very doctrinal based. Church unity is wrongly interpreted as uniformity. Many church leaders are unwilling to cooperate on ecumenical level. Establishing Ecumenical Committees throughout the country was my biggest challenge.
What memories do you cherish most during your leadership?
I cherish the meetings with the Bishops and all other leadership. It was so liberating and enriching to listen to the different opinions, some acceptable and some too individualistic and were stumbling blocks for Christian unity. The other most wonderful experiences were the women overnight prayers. Not many women were coming, but miracles were happening and I could experience the presence of God.
Do you have any regrets or unfulfilled dreams for CCN?
I initiated two self-funding projects which could just not get off the ground. One is the re-development of the CCN property and the hundred dollar partnership initiative. Both projects could have by now yielded funding for self-sufficiency for CCN. There were too many bottlenecks to have these initiatives materialise.
What advice would you give to aspiring pastors?
I will always encourage young women and men to become clerics. It is rewarding to work for the Church of Jesus Christ, but not our own little kingdoms. However, it is very challenging. If you are not sure that you are called, don’t even try. The rapidly advancing global secularism is a huge challenge for church leaders. Our testimonies and witness are the only credible proof to be grounded in a secular world where we are almost ravaged by merciless storms around us.
Where to from CCN and how will you continue to inspire and fight social ills affecting the country?
I am back at my church, The African Methodist Episcopal Church. I am heading the Keetmanshoop District. What I acquired at CCN and as a head of departments at GRN, is what I am sharing at my church. The strong pillars on which Christ built His Church are evangelism through teaching, preaching, and participation in the creation of a just social order and the healing and liberation of God’s people from oppressive forces. A church that is ignoring the real struggles faced by its members and the world is a dead church.
Just what do you do for fun?
I love reading and listening to gospel music. However, spending time with my family is really big fun. My grandchildren like me to pray for them, laying my hands on them and they think it is fun.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015