Faith, firearms and forgiveness

“…even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

Colossians 3:13

The attack

25 July 2013 marks the 20th commemoration of the infamous St James Church massacre. Terrorists of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) attacked the congregation in Kenilworth, Cape Town with automatic assault rifles and hand grenades.

3All of a sudden there was a noise at a front door of the church leading into the sanctuary, where young people were singing in front of the congregation. The terrorists stepped into the doorway and lobbed grenades, to which they had fixed nails on the outside, into the sanctuary and opened up fire with their assault rifles.

It took me a few seconds to grasp what was happening; at first I thought it might be a play that was taking place. Boy, was I wrong!

I dropped to my knees on the floor and drew my .38 special revolver from my ankle holster and returned fire at the attackers. Even though I hit one of them, and despite their immediate withdrawal, they still managed to kill 11 church goers and injure over 50.


“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.


Oscar and his late father.

“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 go 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.

“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.

My struggle

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 all received amnesty because of the attack having been ‘politically motivated’.

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 viz. 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 wellbeing, 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

Minister of what?

Some really struggle with the idea that I forgave 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 minister 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.

The greatest of all

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.

Catching up

Sonja and I hosted Ps Didier and Christine, from the Come and See Church in the Congo, for an evening, when they visited Cape Town during May.

I had a fascinating meeting with a producer making a documentary titled ‘1994 – then and now’. It is being made for a South African and a Dutch broadcaster.

It tracks the turbulent years of South Africa leading up to the 1994 elections. They’d like to interview me regarding the St James Massacre – this can be a great Gospel opportunity.

My family and I are looking forward to an outreach in KwaZulu/Natal Province of South Africa where we will be ministering at a local orphanage.

We are having more repairs done to our van before we leave. Lord willing it will run the over 3000km round trip with no challenges.

Our beautiful puppy, Zara (a Hebrew name, meaning ‘day’s awakening’), has arrived. She is a calm-submissive, medium-energy, issue-free puppy. Our family adores her.

On US Memorial Day I made available free Kindle downloads of my book ‘Shooting Back’ in remembrance of those US soldiers who died to secure freedom for many around the world.

Please pray for us as we teach the Gospel and minister in the province of KwaZulu/Natal, South Africa, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the weeks ahead.

Charl van Wyk

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