Mark Gruenke’s Ministry in the Namibia

Responsible for New Life

by Mark Gruenke, M.M.; From the pages of Maryknoll Magazine Feb 15, 2008


Maryknoll Brother explains how African youth connect rights with responsibilities.

The young people I work with in southern Africa make the words of St. Paul come alive for me, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (I Timothy 4:12).

Not long after I arrived at Nyangana Mission in the northern part of Namibia, where I serve with Maryknoll Brother Loren Beaudry, the youth approached me to teach them to use the computer. Local schools barely have enough books, much less computers. Though these young people live in grass houses, they are well aware that computer skills are necessary to be a literate participant in today’s global society.

Young adults here, like young adults everywhere, have dreams and hopes. They want what by rights should be theirs: a good education, employment, a home and family.

The school system in Namibia, however, is designed to eliminate youth after the 10th grade. They must take national exams in English, which few are able to pass. This is not the students’ fault-their teachers are simply poorly prepared in English. Hence, many young adults in our parish never graduated from high school. The opportunity to learn the computer gives them new hope. I am constantly edified to see how enthused they are and how seriously they take their studies in our parish computer center.

I am preparing two young adult assistants, Celestinus Ndembere and Benitha Nguuru, to teach the computer classes and eventually take over the center when I move on to another mission. I chose them not only because of their intelligence and skill but more importantly because they exhibit a sense of responsibility and a spirit of service toward their peers. Celestinus told me, “I very much want to help other young people of my tribe to grow and to learn.”

Brother Loren has had a similar experience with young adults of our parish, who asked him to start a youth center. The only place for them to meet and recreate is the local bars, and this disgusts them. Alcoholism and AIDS are rampant in Namibia. Brother Loren agreed to help. Our pastor, Father Charles Mikaya, provided the space, and Brother Loren renovated a little-used warehouse on the mission property.

It is encouraging to see how rapidly the young adults have assumed responsibility for the center. They elected officers, and the youth leaders voluntarily spend long hours supervising the center and planning events. The youth sell doughnuts on market days to raise funds. As a result, their center now has recreational equipment, a library and a stage for musical and dance performances. Evening talent shows have become a regular occurrence. The youth have also helped plan retreats and are working on future sports tournaments.

Catholic social teaching reminds us everyone is entitled to basic rights, which can only be achieved if each of us takes responsibility for ensuring those rights. The youth of Namibia know what they need from life. Given the opportunity, they eagerly take responsibility for their own future. St. Paul must have had them in mind.

Maryknoll Brother Mark Gruenke is from St. Paul, Minn. He served previously in Brazil and Mozambique.