The Attack: My Story
July 25, 2013 marked the 20th commemoration of the infamous St James Church massacre—when terrorists of the then Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) attacked the St James Church congregants in Kenilworth, Cape Town, with automatic assault rifles and hand grenades.
The memory remains perfectly clear.
Sitting in a Sunday night service and all of a sudden a commotion at a front door of the church. This entryway led into the sanctuary where young people were singing in front of the congregation.
Terrorists stepped through the doorway. They lobbed grenades (which they had affixed with nails) into the sanctuary and opened up fire with their automatic assault rifles.
It took me a few seconds to grasp what was happening. At first I thought it might be a play the church was putting on. Boy, was I wrong!
I dropped to my knees, drew my .38 special revolver from my ankle holster and returned fire at the attackers. Even with hitting one of them—and they immediately withdrawing—they still managed to kill 11 church goers and injure more than 50.
Struggling with Forgiveness
“Have you actually forgiven those people who attacked your church?” asked a woman with her eye make-up running down her cheeks.
“I have!” I answered.
“Then I should have no excuse for forgiving my sister for what she has done to me,” she said.
I had just shared my testimony with a small group at a church in Florida, USA.
“The only reason I joined the army was so that I could get a rifle into my hands with which I could murder my father!” explained Oscar. “He paid for his friends’ children to study at various universities, but left my mother and I destitute.
“I actually went to his house to commit the murder but did not do it,” he continued. “It was a difficult road for me, but after many years I realized that God forgave me for my sin, and I too, had to forgive.”
Oscar left the army and is now a missionary pastor to his fellow Congolese countrymen who are refugees’ in South Africa.
Whether we live in the USA or Africa, everyone has been hurt or offended by someone, in one way or another. Forgiveness is an issue I struggled with for a long time.
What made it even more difficult was the fact that the attackers of the St James Church received amnesty because of the attack having been “politically motivated.”
For some reason forgiving seems so much easier when justice is meted out. But in this case, there was no justice.
The book of Matthew makes things even more difficult, when it states: “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:15
Theologians tell us that this is not the forgiveness associated with repentance and faith, but rather that of living in open communion with our Father in Heaven.
Either way, why would we want to destroy our chief end—to glorify God—and to enjoy Him forever?
Maybe we feel like the Apostle Peter, and believe that the “severity,” or the “amount” of trespasses against us allows us to “not forgive.”
“Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”” Matthew 18:21
I’m sure we all know the answer to Peter’s question. We have to forgive EVERY TIME!
So why must we forgive? Not because it will lower our heart rate and blood pressure, reduce our stress and hostility levels, reduce our depression, anxiety and chronic pain, or promote feelings of well being—mentally and physically—or improve our relationships and increase friendships.
We may benefit in these ways, but we must forgive because Jesus Christ commands us to, “…even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” Colossians 3:13
Some really struggle with the idea that I forgave the terrorists behind that terrible attack, and yet expect the justice system to still run its course. They believe that forgiveness cancels out justice.
As a desperately wicked sinner, no better than the terrorists who shot up our church, I have had to forgive them and have had the privilege of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with many Apla cadres, including two of whom attacked our church. As a representative of the Church—the ministers of grace—we preach forgiveness of sin by repentance and faith.
But, when called upon by the civil authorities—the minister of justice—to appear in court as a witness against the attackers (before they received amnesty), I duly did so.
Finding Great Freedom
But, the greatest freedom we can ever experience is when God forgives us.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
And it is this teaching of forgiveness that I have dedicated my life to.
In our ministry we apply ourselves to spreading the message of Christ’s sacrifice, redemption, salvation and promise of eternal life to the nations, as the Lord calls each of us to do.
Your partnership in this great calling of our Lord Jesus Christ is most appreciated.
Please pray for our family – we intend, Lord willing, to partner with a team reaching out to young orphans during the winter holidays (Southern hemisphere). We’ll be running a Christ-centered holiday programme for these children.
We are also providing winter resources to those suffering in wet, muddy conditions with only a cold metal structure to ward off the elements.
And please feel free to contact me with any hurts you’re harboring and any struggles you might be having with forgiveness, and I’d be honored to pray for you.
Yours in missions,