Rev. Bror Erickson
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” – John 10:14-17
It was the herding life that John Muafangejo was born into as a member of the Kuanjama tribe on the border of Namibia and Angola in 1943. He understood the patience, care, and self-denial it took to be a good shepherd, the patience, care and self-denial that Christ bestowed upon him as one of his sheep leading him by still waters and laying him down in green pastures even amidst the conflict and turmoil of life in 20th century South Africa where racial tensions raged high.
John was not born a Christian. It was the traditional religion of the Kuanjama that elders would hand down to him as the village gathered about bonfires at night under the African sky. After his father died in 1955, his mother as one of John’s father’s eight wives was left with nothing, and moved to an Anglican mission station in Namibia. It was only then that he converted to Christianity. It was at this mission station at Epinga that his artistic talent was noticed by Father Mallory who would then send him to the famous art school at Rorke’s Drift in South Africa that had been started by the Swedish Lutheran missionaries Peder and Ulla Gowenius. They saw art as one way to empower Africans in the fight against apartheid, and the school they started would at Rorke’s Drift would become a major influence in the international art world during the second half of the 20th century. Mallory had taken notice of his carving abilities, but it was at the Arts and Craft Centre of the Evangelical Lutheran Church that John learned to perfect the medium that would make him famous, black and white linocuts depicting all aspects of life in Africa. The school specialized in linocuts because the material needed was extremely cheap, and yet because one linocut could produce many prints the medium offered the school hope of economic success. John so enjoyed the possibilities of the medium that he averaged a linocut a day for the next twenty years leaving over 5,000 for prosperity. (Source: culturebase.net)
“A Good Shepherd” is typical of John’s style of linocut. It looks a bit primitive, and yet his play on black and white would not only carry a subtly sophisticated commentary on life amidst turmoil during the period of apartheid in his homeland, but it would also communicate his “Hope and Optimism” for the future of Africa that he shared with Nelson Mandela. His linocuts would be jammed packed with all sorts of animals upon animals, people and running text explaining the events as in “Anglican Seminary Blown Up” commemorating a sermon given by Bishop J.H. Kauluma to a racially mixed congregation after the bombing of a seminary on the Namibian border of Angola in 1981, the mission station where John was first brought into the Good Shepherd’s fold. No one took responsibility for the event, the sort of which was common to everyday experience in John’s life and yet exacting a heavy tax on the soul. Still, even in the midst of this, John would know the comfort of Christ’s rod and staff, “A Good Shepherd” indeed. The Good Shepherd that restored his soul as he prepared a table of international fame before him in the face of his enemies. It would be Christ, the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, the good shepherd that would be the anchor of John’s hope. The shepherd who constantly calls his sheep from different folds around the world, even from the Kalahari cattle herds of northern Namibia.
Pastor Bror Erickson is pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Farmington NM.