WINDHOEK – “I’m a servant and that describes how I have been raised, a belief I hold which is not created for me, but for others, and that is what you will see when you look at me, what I do and what you will hear when you are communicating with me about anything,” says Josef Petrus van der Westhuizen.
He is currently a youth leader as chairperson of the Representative Council for the National Youth Council (NYC) of Namibia, minister in charge of the Neue Haribes AME Church in the South, as well as author and managing director at Remmant Events and Manufacturing. “I grew up in a home where my father was the aggressor and as the eldest brother, I bore much of the pain that my mother suffered. The physical and emotional abuse in our home by my father taught me a lesson,” says Petrus, yet grateful to have attended school, to have had food on the table.
He adds that with all the difficulties in their family, it leading to his parents divorcing, he had to move back to the south when his father obtained custody of him and his siblings, but because of physical abuse and resultant trauma he became him a food thief in his early childhood. “The church became my refuge in my teen years, after being in church and serving God, this led me to become a youth leader at the age of 17, and I dedicated my time and energy to working in the church voluntarily,” explains Van der Westhuizen..
“Also if I had not found out that I was saved by the church, I would most probably have moved from stealing food to hardcore crime, joining friends of mine that were in gangs - which were at their peak in Walvis Bay in my teen years,” he recalls. He says because of his difficult upbringing and attendant trauma, memories of his childhood are equally not that memorable. “My decision to pursue what I’m doing now really did not come from me, it came from God as I believe that I’m called to be doing what I’m doing. Looking at my childhood, the lives of my siblings, my family, my community and the things my mom went through, I’m certain that the calling was set up in that mess of childhood,” he recalls sadly.
The gruesome deaths of his sister and aunt at the hands of their lovers also helped shaped his outlook on life, especially his inclination towards serving his community. His striving towards success is motivated by his mother’s strength and commitment, driving him to set himself up and fill the gaps that would help him to help others. “My success has not been for me and when you look at my life now, you will understand that my success has been, and continues to be that of others.”
Being in pastoral ministry and youth development, Van der Westhuizen says these professions chose him. “Both those fields are service fields, I’m passionate about and am equipped to be in and not necessarily behind the computer.” He started his education at the Immanuel Ruiters Primary School in Walvis Bay, and schooled at four different primary schools in three different places - Walvis Bay, Gibeon and Utuseb. During his school years, he,younger brother David and three other boys founded the Boy B band. He was also a founding member of the school computer club and a member of the Learners Representative Council (LRC) at secondary school.
He studied Theology at the University of Namibia (Unam) and subsequently at the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary in Windhoek. “I had never thought of what to study even when I was in Grade 12. Theology was not even in my mind although I had been serving in different positions in the church, and was doing youth ministry,” he says.
“You are capable to create your own space to redefine your calling, your purpose, one I believe each of us has. Cease to wait to be allowed on the table, to be told what to eat at that table, when to eat and when to get up,” in his message to the youth.