8 Ideas learned in the South African military that apply to African missions

1. Buddy PT

Army PT, aka physical training, or as it’s more commonly known, physical torture, always carried interesting life lessons such as Never be first home after a run, you’d be made to do more torturous exercises while waiting for the rest of the platoon to arrive.

If you are small and light in stature, then hook up with the biggest man in the platoon and he will carry you the whole time during Buddy PT. This is clearly a win-win strategy. You never have to carry anyone, and your buddy carries the lightest weight available.

In missions, always keep fit; you never know when you might need to escape a difficult situation and your only method might be your feet.

Never be overenthusiastic. Someone, usually an African bureaucrat, will feel it their calling to dampen your spirits – guaranteed!

Travel light. You might need to leave a lot behind if you don’t, and African border officials love discovering items to tax!

“But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

2. New family

Your fellow troopers are your new family and your rifle is your wife! (Or so we were told.)

You may not particularly like some of your fellow platoon members, but you all really dislike the platoon sergeant, so set aside your differences and focus your efforts on overcoming the obstacles he puts before you during training.

In missions we have to keep the main thing the main thing. All too often patience and forbearance are set aside for our personal comfort or to have our ego stroked. Instead of serving, ministry members become entangled in their own little worlds. This must never happen.

As my friend says: Africa isn’t Facebook!

We, Christian family, have a common enemy – he is not our friend or family member, but a very astute enemy. He often acts as an angel of light.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21

3. Dress code

No military allows sloppiness in dress. Yet, tattooed young people, boys with long hair and girls wearing miniskirts frequent the African mission field. These are extremely offensive to certain cultural and tribal groups.

Girls showing their thighs in some areas will be considered porn models; they might as well be a prostitute. Yet, if an unmarried girl went topless in a rural area, locals wouldn’t blink an eye.

You might not like or believe the same as those whom you are serving, but it’s not about you!

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6: 19-21

4. Sense of urgency

During army basic training you always have to look busy.  There’s never a shortage of something important to do such as polishing your boots for the 100th time in a day or polishing your dormitory floor because some dust might have blown in. You may need to re-square the bed you’ve never slept in or shave for the second time today!

With what matter of urgency do we deal with the Gospel of the Kingdom?  Do we redeem our time?

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

5. Discipline

No army can function without discipline; neither can a mission group!

I had a very interesting conversation with a businessman. He looked at me with a serious face and said that it must be great being a missionary because you don’t have any goals or deadlines!

Hmmm, should I bother commenting?

“But I discipline my body…” 1 Corinthians 9:27

6. Logistics

Excellent logistics is paramount to the functioning of soldiers in the field.

This is by no means the strong point in the African Church and so you need to show much grace. The funds you sent your local contact to repair his car might have been used for some other emergency. The vehicle will break down on your mission outreach or state officials might like to annex it.

You’ll definitely have a police officer trying to fine you for something that isn’t fair or identify some violation on your vehicle even if nothing is wrong with it. While he is busy with you, another local—with a clearly unroadworthy car—will drive right past and wave at the cop who will return the friendly gesture!

It is best if you can oversee the logistics yourself but beware, western missionaries are considered cannon fodder when it comes to pricing, so don’t be surprised if your bill is 400% more than what the locals pay for the same goods or services.

“Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.” Proverbs 16:3

7. Planning

Thinking ahead or planning is critical for a defense force; so too in missions.

In African animist society this is a foreign concept. People live just for the moment. If you pay someone too much, you might not have them return to work the next day. They will rather laze around at home until the funds have dried up and will then return to work.

Plan ahead with multiple worse-case scenarios accounted for. A friend asked short-term missionaries on their way to Zimbabwe what they would do if they were captured by the police. The young missionaries laughed at the idea.

They ended up having to leave their vehicle behind and flee the country.

“A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.” 1 Peter 1:13

8. Tenacity

Perseverance is the name of the game. The military knows no other culture.

Short-term missionaries have taken the first flight out of South Africa after the orphanage they were working at was burgled.

Others vowed never to return to Africa after being bombed by the Northern Islamic Government of Sudan! Really? What were they expecting?

A young American girl came to South Africa to “help the poor.” She has had a gun shoved in her face and been mugged multiple times.

Missionary friends have asked me how they can encourage new missionaries who want to leave the mission field after just two months?

Don’t declare defeat. Remember, Jesus has already won the fight!

 “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.“ Romans 8:25

And on that friendly note – do your homework and prepare!

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Steve’s life of gangsterism came to an abrupt end!

Steve’s life of gangsterism ended when he came to faith in Jesus Christ!

Listen to how the Lord is using him now.

My Salt and Light podcasts are now available on ITunes!

Charl van Wyk

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Steve was a notorious gang leader in South Africa!

Steve was a notorious gang leader in South Africa. His gang of armed and fearless teenagers scared even the most seasoned gangsters.

After being incarcerated, the strangest experience took place, in the strangest setting….

You won’t want to miss this interview on Salt and Light!

My podcast is now also available on ITunes!

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Former gangsters plant a church!

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Isaiah 52:7

Getting started!

Vuyo sounded excited on the phone. “We’ve been given a building to start a church,” he said.

I was my usual skeptical self. This comes from years of seeing how mission organizations and missionaries in Africa have been manipulated, mislead, lied to, ripped-off and held hostage until they sign the mission buildings over to the locals.

The telephone conversation with Vuyo continued as he shared the location: Gugulethu. Gugulethu? To western ears, the word is merely an indecipherable tongue-twister. But to Africans, it’s code for “gangster land.” Translation: “It isn’t really your building, so how do you protect yourself—and not just your physical self, but also your financial self? What happens if you invest in repairs and then the owner suddenly wants you out? Who are you accountable to? Who do you expect to join the church? How can you meet in a dilapidated old building with broken windows, no electricity, toilets or water? Are you nuts?!”

My reactions may sound a bit rash, but in African missions, we quickly learn the difference between faith and idealism. Faith is God-given and God-nurtured. Idealism is often man-derived and ripe for exploitation. So, we rely on the Holy Spirit for discernment.


Vuyo was a gangster and partner in crime with Gcinikhaya Makoma, whom I shot when he made up part of the attackers at the St James church massacre in 1993.

Vuyo ended up in prison after a foiled cash-in-transit heist. After five years of awaiting trial for numerous crimes, including robbery, theft and breaking and entering a domicile, he escaped and became a wanted fugitive.

When he was found, all the other charges against him were withdrawn. He was convicted of escaping from prison and sentenced to five years.

During his incarceration Vuyo came to faith in Jesus Christ and as they say, “The rest is history!”

In prison he met Steve, a notorious gang leader. We’ll hear about Steve’s turning to Christ soon, on our  missionaryinafrica’s podcast.

Our Stone Hill ministry has been the fortunate beneficiary of Vuyo and Steve’s ministry with each of them speaking at our camps and preaching at Sunday evening services. We’ve seen their practical love for their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and their fellow man. Their dedication to God’s Word and concern for the lost are amazing.

How could I not help with supporting a church plant in gangster land? Where else is a ministry to Christ more needed? And who else can even relate to these local street thugs, let alone minister to them?

Vuyo and Steve immediately got to work. First, the cleaning of the hall began. Sixty chairs were purchased for parishioners. The broken and non-existent hand basins and toilets were replaced. Running water was connected. A new stage, built. The broken doors and windows, replaced. All this over the past month.

The first service

When the first Gospel service took place, not everything was in order. But then, the Gospel of the Kingdom must go forth.

Ten people put their faith in Jesus Christ at the first service. Now, a month later, those 60 chairs are already too few!

No time is wasted in discipling the new converts. Meetings take place every evening and new converts are added daily. These are trained to tell others about their newfound faith and then report back, with the reactions and questions they receive incorporated into presentations to reach and teach new believers.

One day at the ministry, a demon-possessed woman, carrying a small child, was delivered from her tormentors; she turned in faith to Jesus Christ. The young child was also prayed over.

Later she testified to how peacefully her and her child now sleep at night; no more medicine from the witchdoctor and no more child screaming through the night.


Vuyo and Steve dream of running camps for their newly converted youth. This setting can provide them a respite from the exhausting distractions associated with normal living in a devastated community, such as gangsterism, drugs and illicit sex.

 “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Timothy 6:12

Charl van Wyk

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Living for Christ in a squatter camp – Part 2

Quote from Mabhuti in this Salt and Light radio interview: “In order to be able to tell people something and they understand. You first have to be what you say! So, you have to be an example! So if I tell people about the God and His Law, I have to submit under those Law.”

Listen to how the Gospel of the Kingdom changes lives!

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Her previous job entailed helping pastors…. fall

“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” 1 Peter 5:8-9

We are told by theologians that Old Testament worship involved all five senses. I really appreciate in the Congolese churches the element of touch, which seems to be missing in many of our Western churches.

Men hold hands in friendship! Yes, that is pretty awkward if you’ve been brought up in the West!

Laying on of hands, if not done frivolously, meets a strong human need. Still, my friends in the United Kingdom tell me that they are not allowed to touch a child in the church’s children’s ministry. Even if the child has suffered an injury of some sort and is in need of comforting, the leaders may not pick them up and cuddle them. What an indictment of society and its inverted approach to corrective measures.

Oscar, a former Congolese award-winning soldier, joined the army for one reason: He lived in a gun-free zone – but he desperately wanted a gun!

I’m always fascinated by people who think that gun-free zones mean that nobody has guns. Wrong! The enforcers of the gun-free zone are always armed, and in most gun-free countries, this means the military and police. And citizens live in absolute fear of these all-too-often state-sanctioned gangsters!

Oscar needed a gun to murder his father, whom he hated! His father played no part in his life and wouldn’t pay for his education, even though he paid for international studies for the children of friends.

Long story short, Oscar came to faith in Christ. His father died a natural death and I even had the privilege of seeing them visiting together.

The power of the Gospel of the Kingdom changes lives!

Oscar went to Bible school and became one of the first missionaries sent out from the Congolese Come and See Church as a witness to the refugees in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was commissioned in the usual African manner: hands laid on him, lots of prayers and no funding.

Oscar’s wife, Mado, set up a small shop to help put food on the table of the growing family so that Oscar could dedicate his time to caring for the flock. South Africa’s crime rate is one of the highest in the world. Mado was attacked by a street thug and lost her unborn baby.

Oscar and I were praying for the Lord to bring a close brother to walk the often lonely road of the missionary – far away from your own culture, friends and family – and few that can be trusted in your new strange and dangerous environment.

The Lord sent Ron and Bishop of Souls! Ron and Oscar are quite a team and travel together on ministry outreaches to places where angels literally fear to tread. They’ve seen it all. Bullet holes in their hotel windows, their car cruising down an embankment, hippos trying to disrupt a baptism in the local river, violent spiritual attacks, demons physically wrestling to avoid being expelled, and of course multiple cancelled flights.

By God’s amazing grace, even though Oscar was sent out as a missionary to Congolese refugees, he has seen many South Africans, and refugees from other countries, coming to faith in Jesus Christ.

The challenges he is now dealing with are:

A homosexual has come to faith in Christ and wants to leave his partner but doesn’t earn enough to even pay rent for a room, let alone buy food.

A prostitute has come to faith in Christ – now he wonders how to find her regular employment?

A married woman has left her family and lived a wild life on the streets and contracted HIV. With her bending her knee to King Jesus, how do we reunite her with her husband and children?

A woman, involved in the occult, came to faith in Jesus Christ. Her previous job entailed helping pastors fall. She went to churches with the express goal of starting a relationship with the pastor and leading him into an affair that would end in the demise of his ministry.

She was apparently extremely successful at her job, but when she arrived at Oscar’s church service she realized that the game was over. She says that for the first time she couldn’t get her evil way and on hearing the preaching of the true Gospel, turned to serve Jesus Christ as her master and King!

Now, the trouble has just started! Satan doesn’t like his children being saved from darkness.

“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3

The congregation has endured multiple crimes. Besides burglaries, congregants have also been held up by armed thugs as they left after a service – all their personal belongings were taken at gun point.

Added to this chaos, trespassers broke into the church building – with no sign of entry; stole nothing, but left a knife in a flower pot and human bones on the alter. This has occultic significance!

Soon thereafter, a fire started in the church building, but was extinguished before causing too much damage. The spiritual attack on Oscar, his family, and congregation has manifest in the physical.

Will you please enter your spiritual war room and lift Oscar, his family and congregation up in prayer?

Charl van Wyk

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Living for Christ in a squatter camp

Christian Action kindly offered us a monthly slot on their Salt and Light radio show on Radio Tygerberg (104FM) in Cape Town.

Listen to how the Gospel of the Kingdom changes lives!

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