Tuovi-Kaarina: A loving tribute to a missionary of all seasons
“When I return home, my parents and four sisters will be waiting for me at the pearly white gates of heaven and I will play the church organ beautifully as I will be overjoyed to be reunited with them”.
These were the moving words of Tuovi Kaarina Pennanen to me on 12 August 2018, when I, together with Toivo Kalliokoski (Omundonga Omutiligane) and his doting family, visited her at Villa Jussoila in Rauma, Finland. This is where she spent the last years of her life.
Her death on 29th April 2019 followed a long struggle against failing health. Indeed, she has reunited with her parents and sisters who went long before her. She will be laid to rest tomorrow 19 May 2019 in Rauma.
Tuovi Kaarina Pennanen was born on 23 August 1936 in Tsumeb, Namibia, to Eeva and Eino Pennanen who worked in Namibia as FELM missionaries.
When we arrived at the villa, she welcomed us with joy. The ambience in the room was truly African. Namibian artefacts were everywhere. There is no doubt she understood both the Namibian and Finnish characters and belonged equally to both of these nations.
Although she was bedridden, frail and old, we enjoyed that special moment and memorable conversation.
She asked me to sing the Finland national anthem, “Oi Maamme” – which translates as “Country of birth”. I gave a beautiful rendition of it. She watched and listened with great admiration. She loved and lived music. When I finished singing, she said, “synymmaa” means “our land”. “My country is not Finland, mine is Namibia. I will be content if we sing our own Namibian anthem,” she said.
She insisted not a national anthem but the Swapo Party anthem. This anthem went deep in our hearts as Finnish missionaries, as it marked the dawn for freedom and independence for Namibia.
We longed for it for years. It’s not surprising, truly many of the Finnish missionaries operated underground for the cause of freedom. They served our country with distinction, under difficult circumstances. They persevered.
She paid homage to the people of Nkurenkuru in Kavango. It was humbling and inspiring to live among them. At the age of 11 years, they returned back to Finland. Two parts of me will always rest in Namibia until resurrection. These are my two sisters who died and buried in Namibia she said. We sang hymns both in Ehangano as well in Kirjaseura. She was trained in music and theology. She studied English at the Potchefstroom University in South Africa. Her sister studied Nursing Science in South Africa.
She loved her memories but also loved her life and her Elcin and FELM families. She remembered fondly of her students in Namibia at the Ongwediva Opleiding Sentrum, such as Rev Absalom Hasheela, Bishop Josefat Shanghala, Mr Andreas Nghikembwa, and Mr Shali Ngaikukwete. She taught alongside my colleague Ms Rita Honkanen. Sadly Ms Rita Honkanen also passed on earlier this year. May she rest in peace.
I knew Tuovi Kaarina all my life. As a young boy, I was always fascinated by the way she played our church organ at the Oniipa during the church services. I and many of my peers could not afford to miss the Sunday services as we knew Tuovi Kaarina was always in church and the service will be fun with her playing the church pipe organ. She exposed us from our very tender age to the world of classic music. She played a church organ artistically.
When the Auala Elcin Library opened its door to the public at Oniipa in 1986, I remember she was always there as a librarian. She was thrilled when I had to tell her about the content of the children books I borrowed. She assisted me to improve my vocabularies in English a lot until her retirement in 1996.
She showed me an Oshiwambo weaved bag. The bag which is used by many women to carry their bibles and hymn books when they go to church is decorated with the words from Psalm 133. She told me, “When I am promoted to the most beautiful paradise where I will enjoy perpetual peace, my mortal remains will be cremated and placed in that beautiful bag from the country of my birth. It will be placed next to my sister and parents ashes until Jesus comes. She got it as retirement gifts from Oshigambo Elcin Church. In my heart I knew, the faithful pilgrim was ready to meet her Maker and Saviour. As we remember her, we equally pay tribute to many of the Finnish Missionary children born during their parents’ services in Namibia namely, Olle Erickson, Toivo Kalliokoski, Kaija Pentti, Martti Eirola, and Kalle Syrja etc. We acknowledge their love for both Finland and Namibia and will always remember them with much love and fondness. Tuovi Kaarina was indeed a great symbol of music. She had a wonderful memory and lived in the moment. These give us a sense of deep thanksgiving for the fullness of her life. During her long forty four years that she lived in Namibia, her grace, her sense of duty and her remarkable zest for life made her loved and admired by many of us. Despite her illness she radiated warmth and charm with a sense of fun and humour that captivated everyone who was at her bedside during the last days of her life. We praise and pay homage to her for her faithfulness. We will always be treasured and loved by all of us who were privileged to know and work with her.
Many of the Finnish missionaries dedicated all their lifetimes to serving Namibians, that’s how they ended up not even being able to build core families that would care for them in their vulnerable days. Tuovi Kaarina was one of the many missionaries who were cared only by the fellow Finnish missionaries and friends, as she never had any close relative to do so. Ambassador Bonny Haufiku paid her regular visits together with his staff at the Embassy of Namibia in Finland which she equally treasured. Mr Seppo Kalliokoski was in constant contact with her, as well as Kuku Mia Eriksson. We thank them for keeping her well until her last days in this world.
When we left your room you sung for us in Rukwangali “Mukwetu genda nawa wa ha tjira”- (Go well do not fear). This is the same verse we sing for you as we bid you adios. Until we meet again!
2019-05-17 09:37:09 6 days ago