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Namibia’s pioneering woman: Magdalena Ya-Shalongo holds two LTSP degrees

Magdalena Ya-Shalongo on the LTSP campusThe Rev. Dr. Magdalena Naanhule Ya-Shalongo, recipient of two degrees from The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), is a pioneering woman in her native African country of Namibia, serving as a pastor, educator, and the first ever woman to hold the office of principal for the Engela Parish Institute (EPI) there.

“Founded in 1948, the Institute consists of three community-based training projects,” Magdalena explained. The projects teach about domestic science, sewing, and computers. The Institute has had 11 principals since its inception, she said.

“EPI has produced an extensive number of learners who have become prominent leaders in the Namibian nation at different levels,” Magdalena said. In 2012, she explained, the council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia decided to introduce a two-year Pastoral Course “due to a lack of pastors in 43 parishes,” she added. “Seventeen long-serving, capable, and willing deacons were recommended to undergo this training.” Now, the candidates have completed their training and are preparing for ordination. Sadly, one of the candidates died while studying for the course.

After assuming her Principal duties, Magdalena explained she took a hard look at the historic, but dilapidated buildings comprising the campus. “I decided that if I wanted to run and maintain this institute successfully, I needed to deal with the challenge of their condition,” she said. “I have put my vision on paper and share it with everyone who visits EPI.” She also requested of the EPI Board that a Development Committee be established, and it was.

“One day the honorable Minister of Home Affairs in Namibia, Elia Kaiyomo, visited our campus,” she said. Kaiyoma is a son “of the first evangelist trained at EPI. I shared my vision. He was touched by the condition of the buildings and their impact on the effectiveness of the training we are trying to do.” As a result, Magdalena explained, a gala dinner was planned this year during which $27,568 was raised toward campus renewal.  “Through such renewal we believe we will be able to enhance our community development projects and better enable job creation in the nation of Namibia,” she said.

“In 2015 we will introduce new courses, workshops, and seminars as a way of developing our strategy,” she explained. The new courses cover a wide range of needs —Homiletics Training, Strategic Leadership Workshops, Diaconal Ministry Training, Contextual Bible Study consultations, Basic English, Proteges, Goat Farming training, Parish Administration, Bookkeeping training, Bible School, Evangelism Training, Mainstreaming Study of HIV and AIDS, TB, Malaria, Gender and Development Principles, Lutheran World Federation Gender Justice Policy, and training in Chicken Farming.

The diversity of the courses “sounds like a huge challenge,” Magdalena said, “but I have well-skilled trainers, including myself, in the teaching of Strategic Leadership, Contextual Bible Study, and other areas I have listed.” Her husband, Arvid, who is retiring, will be training secretaries and pastors on parish administration and bookkeeping.

Magdalena earned a diploma in theology at Paulinum United Theological Seminary in Namibia. In 1998-2000 she completed a Master of Arts in Religion at LTSP. Ten years later she returned to LTSP after qualifying to study for a DMin degree and became the first female pastor in Namibia with a doctoral degree, earned in 2013. She then became a lecturer at EPI, then deputy principal before becoming the head principal of the Institute. While Arvid and Magdalena studied for her first degree, their four children were on campus with them. Hilja Nehafo Nekulilo is in her fourth year of medical school. Rakel Namboshe Twapandula Tunomukumo is an accountant in her country’s Ministry of Education. Nathanael Vakwaita Vornwene Dilninene works in office administration. Shilongo Agrippa Wetuuda just finished the grade level 12 exam.

Magdalena Ya-Shalongo with Prof. Timothy Wengert

Magdalena Ya-Shalongo with Prof. Timothy Wengert

Magdalena is a leader in the Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) African Lutheran Women Theologian Network and was part of the LWF International Hermeneutics Conference in Chicago this summer. Retired LTSP Professor Timothy J. Wengert was a presenter at that conference. A regional Hermeneutics Conference was more recently held in Southern Africa. “I feel all of my experiences, including my seminary education at LTSP, are moving me toward a positive future vision,” she explained. “I look at my training at LTSP to be similar to what an automobile mechanic does to repair and prepare a vehicle for an important journey. My preparation was wonderful … and has given me a vision. Ministry is a beautiful and powerful gift from God. Looking after the sheep of God is a service that I have enjoyed since my early childhood.”

Her discovered vision will be crucial in dealing with Namibia’s many challenges, Magdalena said. “The leading challenge is gender-based violence,” she noted. “Other challenges include education about HIV/AIDS and scholarship assistance enabling women to study locally. Ebola is also a challenge because it affects and kills our brothers and sisters in other parts of Africa and the world, and it requires our powerful and consistent prayers.” She adds that Namibia faces an election day a year from now, and she asks for prayers of peace in that connection.

Namibia, a nation still in infancy, was awarded its independence from administration by South Africa March 21, 1990, and the nation’s first elections were held. A former German colony, an International Court of Justice upheld the authority of the United Nations over Namibia in 1971, ruling that South Africa’s administrative presence was illegal. The League of Nations had decades before awarded administration of Namibia, or South-West Africa, to South Africa. Because of the historic influence of Finnish missionaries in the territory, Namibia has long had a predominantly Lutheran populace.

photos courtesy Magdalena Ya-Shalongo via Facebook

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