The Hunters’ and Teachers for Africa Report from Namibia

By: PATRICK BUTLER, Religion Editor 02/03/2006
Tyler Morning Telegraph 2006

It may be a rarity that a Tyler couple would relocate to Africa to teach AIDS orphans, especially as a result of an event that happened in Afghanistan 33 years ago. But that's the story and motivation of John and Suzanne Hunter of Bethel Bible Church. The Hunters will be guests at a banquet at Bethel on Thursday to explain the work they do with Teachers For Africa, and how their yearslong spiritual journey took them to Katutura, Namibia. The Hunters told the Tyler Morning Telegraph, while hitchhiking in Afghanistan on their way to a New Delhi, India, ashram 33 years ago, something big and spiritual interrupted their lives. At the time Hunter was an artist and professional potter "working the potter's wheel" and, he said, expressing himself in "quality works of woodfired ceramics." "We had left America, and its corresponding Christianity," said Hunter, who later taught history, literature and science for 10 years at Tyler's Christian Heritage School. Like many in the post-'60s 'hippie era' who flocked to India to follow gurus and join communes, Hunter said the couple encountered spiritual trouble as they traveled farther from Europe and America. THE DEEP END

Potter John Hunter IN AFRICA: Children crowd around Tyler's John Hunter in Katutura, Namibia, where the Bethel Bible Church member started Community Hope School, with his wife Suzanne. (Courtesy Photo)

"We were deeply involved in eastern philosophies and all the mysticism that entails," he said. "In Afghanistan, things got pretty bad for us. I was having very odd and strange dreams, and my wife Suzanne could almost see the spiritual oppression we were experiencing." That scenario was not unusual, he said.

"There were many young people on the road just like us and in the same situation," he said. "It was common for western young people to combine eastern mysticism with whatever code of ethics they had." Fueled by cheap access to powerful drugs, like hashish processed as common cash crops in Afghanistan's opium fields, young western travelers could be easily hurt or killed, he said. "They would go off the deep end, spiritually and mentally, from the drug use and sometimes just die in remote places like the mountains of Afghanistan," he said. "Sometimes they would be robbed or beaten or they would just disappear. No one would ever see or hear from them again. I guess Suzanne and I could have been one of those stories, except ...." ... Except a small group of missionaries from America and Europe, who had gone to Afghanistan specifically to talk to western kids in trouble, had set up a medical clinic, he said. "We had gotten really sick and went to the mission clinic for help. They were there for us, in our time of need," said Hunter. "We had no intentions of becoming Christians, but things had gotten so strange for us, we listened to them. It took that much misery in our lives to get us to listen." SPIRITUAL HERITAGE


Having lived in a hippie-type commune in Santa Cruz, Calif., prior to the 1972 India trip, Suzanne Hunter said she had "pretty much seen it all," as far as what the '60s counter-culture could offer. "It ended up being a pretty bad experience at the commune in Santa Cruz, because people did not really know how to get along," she said. "Here were people who said they believed in peace and love, but they were at each other's throats for trivial reasons." Becoming more fearful of what they were encountering spiritually, the Hunters decided they needed a fresh spiritual start, the reason they were going to India in the first place. "We didn't think that fresh start would lead us to becoming Christians," Hunter laughed, "but we did, right there in Afghanistan, a nation where there were pitiful few, maybe only 50 Afghan Christians, if that many." There were so few Christians in Afghanistan, Mrs. Hunter recalled, that in Kabul, most of them lived together." "Here I saw a commune situation where people asked each other for forgiveness, and preferred their neighbors. It was the type of love that was real." The circumstances of their spiritual journey left a deep lasting mark on them, he said.

"It's sort of our spiritual heritage to be involved the in so-called foreign field," said Hunter, "I mean, it's only foreign if we don't live there, but that's where we were when those missionaries found us. We've never forgotten those people who made the effort and sacrifice to be there for people like us." Settling in Tyler, Hunter eventually began teaching Bible and sixth-grade physics in addition to history and literature at Christian Heritage, while learning, he said, "the presupposional perspective of a Christian world view in the formation of character." He also developed the master potter exhibition, making pottery while drawing spiritual metaphors. Mrs. Hunter became deeply involved in children's ministries, while raising the couple's five children. VULNERABLE CHILDREN

That 10-year learning process, coupled with gratitude toward the missionaries who were instrumental in their lives, eventually led the Hunters to a new project: teaching elementary school in Namibia to "orphans and vulnerable children," he said. "Our schoolchildren are those whose parents or caregivers have died, or may die, as a result of AIDS," Hunter said. "About 20 percent of people in Namibia have AIDS." Founding the Community Hope School that teaches elementary-school curriculum to 24 orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS, the Hunters said they look to expand the school by a grade level each year. "We've established grades one and two now and grade three will come next year," he said. "These are kids who, without care and assistance, would have no hope at all." Hunter also demonstrates to the children with his potter's wheel.

"Children are like soft clay in the hands of God, the real Master Potter," he said. "The love God brings to these abandoned kids through Community Hope School will shape them forever." In his presentations, Hunter's fingers expertly render thin, delicate lines, lips and curves of cups, plates, jugs and bowls, always adding water and pressure to create just the right usefulness and beauty to his creation. He has won four national awards for his pottery while in Namibia and will bring examples of his work to the banquet. While the goal of Thursday's free banquet is to raise funds for the 2006 school year, none of the raised money will go to the couple, Hunter said. He sells his pottery to help support his family. "Community Hope pays the teachers who work with the kids, but not us," he said. "Our young students need teachers, medical care, meals and a lot love. That's what all the raised money is used for." BANQUET FEB. 9 2006 BETHEL BIBLE CHURCH, TYLER, TX

Hunter said he would bring "fresh-fired examples of his pottery work, for display and sale. Keynote speaker Dan Bolin, president of KVNE Contemporary Christian Radio, will share the floor with Mrs. Hunter, who will describe the lives of the children to whom she and the teachers minister. Pledges and an offering will be taken to meet the $72,000 educational budget of the 24 kids for the entire year. If $100,000 can be raised, said Hunter, Community Hope School will buy a 15-passenger van to help with the transportations needs of the school children. "Someone was there for us in our time of need," Hunter said. "Now it's our turn to be there for someone else."

Teachers for Africa

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John Hunter
Teachers for Africa.

Teachers for Africa is a program on the training campus of YWAM Namibia.
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YWAM Tyler
P.O. Box3000 Garden Valley
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YWAM NAmibia
P.O. Box 8618
Windhoek, Namibia