From Tyler Morning Telegraph

Hunter's Dispatch Speaks Of Hard Times, Hope, Redemption
by Suzanne Hunter,
Special to the Tyler Morning Telegraph
Click here for the Tyler Morning Telegraph online version

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Front and Insert

When the Rev. John Hunter of Tyler's Christian Heritage School was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, he admitted he was worried.

After years of working on a dream with his wife, Suzanne, of creating a comprehensive educational facility for AIDS orphans and other destitute children in Windhoek, Namibia, Africa, the situation appeared "pretty bleak," he said."We knew something was seriously wrong by the end of 2008," Mrs. Hunter said. "John was losing energy like a car running out of petrol. He coughed all the time. The doctor's report was dim. We had no choice but to begin treatments in early January 2009" at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

It had been a long, strenuous, but satisfying road in Africa for the Hunters, who are members of Tyler's Bethel Bible Church. Relocating from Tyler to the northwestern edge of the Kalahari Desert, at 5,000 feet above sea level, in 1997, they worked hard to start Community Hope School, line upon line, precept upon precept and almost literally brick by brick to serve ten students in Grade one.

Mrs. Hunter, who is also an artist, described the situations of Katatura's impoverished children raising children because one or both of their parents had AIDS, as "heartbreaking." Historically, the area had been reserved for the least liked and outcast tribe of poor and rejected people, she said.

"Before Europeans arrived in Namibia, the ruling Herero tribe on the region would make the members of the Damara tribe crawl on the ground and bark like dogs," she said. "We're ministering to some of the descendants of that tribe."

Over the years, the Hunters gained the good will of local government who saw the couple's efforts to educate, feed and encourage -- "love on" as Mrs. Hunter puts it -- children living in conditions they could not address themselves.

They did whatever needed to be done, from recruiting volunteer teachers from Europe, Canada and America to work with their "Teachers For Africa" nonprofit, to escorting children with no parents to school each day. They fed, clothed and bathed children who had none of those options available to them, and the Hunters provided hope through a quality academic education.

Hunter, who is also a potter, caught the imagination of local artisans by holding craft shows in the wealthier districts of Windhoek, a city of 250,000, to sell his pottery and fund the school. Accomplished with a gun, he shot game to put food on the tables of Community Hope School, courtesy of local farmers who let him hunt for free on their "game farms."

"There is just about any kind of game you can imagine there," he said. "Zebra, Kudu, Gemsbok and Springbok which is about the size of an American Pronghorn. I've gotten a lot of food for the school that way."

Their efforts were paying off. Things were looking up. When the school reached 50 students, Hunter ventured to ask the local government to purchase the last two acres of open land in the Katutura, designated ERF 344.

"I didn't have the money for ERF 344 ," Hunter said. "I just felt like God was telling me to ask them if they would sell it. It was a pretty bold move, really, because the Ministry of Education had the land slated for a soccer field for the community, but it had never been developed. But they didn't say 'No'."


Teachers for Africa


Then the cancer came. The Hunters had to leave Africa and leave their school of 80 students from grades one to six in the hands of their international volunteers and indigenous staff.

It was a "team-building" experience to see their founders step aside.

"It was difficult not to have them here," a recent email from the school reads. "The building was starting to feel a bit cramped. Our students have outgrown both our playground and lunch area. We have seen so much sickness and death here and the students are faced daily with poverty, violence and the effects of HIV/AIDS. The students are excelling academically, but we don't want these children to simply get good grades. We want them to grow up with strong character. The Hunters were gone most of last year, but it ended up being a time of team building and maturing."

Once in Boston, the Hunters didn't quit living because of cancer.

"We didn't know anybody, so we went to Newton Presbyterian Church near the Institute and got involved in a couples group."

Soon learning about Community Hope School, the group became intrigued.

"We ended up having a chili cook-off, Texas style, as a fundraiser and we got more than $20,000 for the school," Hunter said. "The people were wonderful. One man came to me and said, 'I don't want to just send money,' so he went to a Sports Authority store and bought all the soccer shoes they had to give to the kids in the school."

More importantly, Mrs. Hunter said, the group prayed for them as the chemotherapy sessions had their "ups and downs."

"We found group of young, active prayer warriors who went to prayer for John on regular basis," she said. "In the midst of it, we found comfort and peace."


And they also new found supporters for Christian Hope School. A member of the church had prayed about helping the Hunters and announced to the couple he was giving them $250,000 to buy land for the school's new building.

"And they said another $250,000 would follow at the end of 2010," Hunter said. "He had asked God how much he should give Community Hope School and then, without telling his wife the amount he had in mind, asked her to pray too," Hunter said. "She came back with the same figure he had. Not only that, the amount was exactly what I had asked God for to buy ERF 344 and build a two-story school."

With money in hand, Hunter contacted the government in Windhoek.

"The money is sitting in a bank in Tyler," Hunter said on Wednesday. "The government will decide in 15 to 21 days if they will sell us the land. Please, please pray for Community Hope School that the government will sell this strategically located land. We said we'd build the soccer field for the community as well as the school, and a sports field was what they'd originally wanted anyway."

Oh, and the cancer?

"Well, it's almost all gone," Hunter said. "I stopped coughing in July. I feel great."

He paused, as if reviewing the incredible events of a year.

"God took what looked like a horrible situation and turned into a tremendous blessing," he said. "I know it's God, because things like this don't 'just happen.' It has to be God."

Teachers for Africa is a program on the training campus of YWAM Namibia.
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