This article was originally published in the March 2002 edition of ITMI Monthly. It was re-printed in the November 2016 edition as part of a "From the Archives" series commemorating ITMI's 35th Anniversary.
Some background: on July 25, 1993, twenty minutes after the Sunday evening service had begun at St. James Church in Cape Town, three terrorist burst into the sanctuary and opened fire. One sprayed the audience with deadly rounds from an assault rifle, while the others lobed hand grenades into the tightly packed congregation of 1,500.
ITMI’s Charl van Wyk was seated near the back. Instinctively, he dived behind a pew for cover and at the same time, grabbed his snub-nosed .38 special revolver, that he always carried with him for self-defense. He squeezed off two shots at them inside the sanctuary and then pursued the suspects on foot, firing another three rounds, hitting the car as the 'brave' freedom fighters fled.
When the dust had settled, 11 worshipers were dead and 53 wounded. It could have been far worse.
The Western Cape Regional Police Commissioner officially commended Charl for his quick action, saying, “Without his immediate response there could have been a minimum of 250 killed and hundreds wounded.” This estimate was based on a sack full of hand grenades and the number of machine gun clips abandoned at the scene when the terrorists disappeared.
That was then.
Last month, Charl was invited to speak at a “Unity and Reconciliation” meeting organized by APLA (Azania People’s Liberation Army). Azania is the new name they want to give South Africa. APLA is the armed wing or military branch of PAC, the Pan African Congress.
The invitation came from Letlappa Mphahlele, who had been the Director of Operations for APLA in July ’93. This was the man who had organized and ordered the St. James Massacre!
Venue for the meeting was a school (now in recess) in Khayelitsha, a black Township near Cape Town.
Was this a trap? Was Charl being set up for an ambush?
Would these ex-terrorists seek an opportunity for revenge on the man who ‘shot back?’ One thing was sure: it was a lion’s den.
Maureen, who helped Charl with his book, “Shooting Back” and Erick, a Frontline Fellowship colleague planned to attend. ITMI’s Bill and Harriet Bathman joined the team to help provide some on-the-spot prayer cover.
There were about ten speakers. Some were bitter that their plans had not materialized. Others parroted the old Party line with its outworn cliches.
Charl, the main speaker, preached the Gospel emphasizing the possibility for ‘reconciliation’ to God through the cross of Jesus Christ. It was powerful.
Charl shares the Gospel with a group of ex-terrorists who attacked his church.
He told Bill later, “I’m confident that the Lord is doing a work amongst these ex-terrorists.” Your prayers will help confirm it.
At the meeting Charl sat next to Basi, one of the terrorists who attacked the church in 1993. Please pray for him, his heart is desperately searching for the Lord. He gave Charl his phone number and said a few times, “We need to talk.”
We took several boxes of Bibles to distribute. This almost caused a riot. One lady from the Eastern Cape was in tears after being pushed out of the way and unable to get one. So many were upset because they didn’t get a Bible that alternative arrangements had to be made to help these people.
Handing out free Bibles almost caused a riot.
The Bible in the hands of an ex-terrorist.
Charl says, “Thank you very much for your prayer support, please don’t stop. We will seize every opportunity to make disciples of the nations, teaching obedience to the Word of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Be sure - the Lord is working in the Lions’ Den.”
Other Articles from this Edition of ITMI Monthly
About the Author
In 1981, after 30 years of ministry in Europe, Bill Bathman founded In Touch Mission International in Tempe, AZ with the help of his wife Harriett. Under their leadership, ITMI established a reputation for integrity and effective ministry overseas. Beginning in England as an evangelist, Bill was later called during the Communist years to minister to Christians behind the Iron Curtain. Bill and Harriett did so from a mission base in Salzburg, Austria which provided convenient entry into the mission field of Eastern Europe. In 1981, the Bathmans further expanded their ministry to include restricted access areas in Africa by founding In Touch Mission International (ITMI) in Tempe, Arizona.