In his famous sermon on the mount, Jesus calls his disciples to live in a radically new way. He challenges all his followers to love their enemies. This can be very difficult for sinful human beings who are prone to hatred, idolatry and evil thoughts. Hendrik Witbooi was a black African general who loved his enemies. He treated his German enemies with amazing mercy when they were destroying Hendrik’s tribe. He loved his enemies in a war zone.
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven.Matthew 5:44
Hendrik Witbooi was a king of the Nama people and he lived in the part of Africa we now call Namibia. His face is portrayed on the obverse of all Namibian dollar banknotes. He served God as a general of the Nama army when his tribe was attacked by the German army.
In the war (1904-1905) Hendrik went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of German non-combatants, women and children. This deeply Christian man made sure that ‘enemy’ civilians were completely unharmed. His soldiers escorted German women, children and farmers back to the German lines. He treated his prisoners with the utmost respect because he believed that all people are created in the image and likeness of God.
His behaviour in the war can be contrasted with the German General Lothar von Trotha (1848-1920) who defeated the Herero (another African tribe) army at the battle of Waterburg. Callously von Trotha drove the Hereros into the desert of Omahake where many of the Herero combatants died of thirst.
The German soldiers were ordered to poison all the water-holes in the region and they were ordered to take no prisoners and to do nothing for the remaining women and children. Many of them were either shot or abandoned in the desert. The Herero population, which in 1904 had numbered about 80,000 people, had been reduced to fewer than 20,000 one year later. Von Trotha referred to the Nama and Hereros tribes as ‘cattle’ or ‘stock’! He ordered his soldiers to kill ‘enemy’ women and children. Many of the Nama tribe were also slaughtered by the German army.
Again it is very instructive to compare and contrast two soldiers. The black, African general Hendrik Witbooi followed the Lord Jesus and the white, German general Von Trotha did not.