In 2009, myself and 3 young adults/old teens did a gap year, called In2Change, at a local church here in Johannesburg. Lara (19 y/o, South African born Swedish citizen, whose father had been part of the founding church of our ministry before moving to Sweden), myself (20 y/o, who had only been a Christian for about 7 months), and 2 guys, Mark (18 y/o, who came out of strict Catholic background in Port Elizabeth) and Theon (18 y/o, who had been part of a charismatic church in Pretoria for some time) lived on the church property. During this year we did the equivalent of 1 year’s Bible School, a bunch of outreaches in South Africa, we visited other churches from the ministry network all over South Africa and attended 2 big conferences. Our group was the second of 5 groups to do this gap year. In2Change 2009 is a year of my life that I will NEVER forget… for a number of reasons. One of them being the time our missions group got attacked in Africa.
One of the churches in our ministry network is located in Zambia (Southern Africa – look on the map) and our church sends a mission team up to Zambia (and other African nations) every year. This year our In2Change team along with 2 pastors from our ministry, Chris, who at the time pastored a church in Durban and John who still pastors a church in Kokstad and a gentleman from the Johannesburg church, Henry. All in all, 7 of us missioned up in two 4×4’s to Zambia. It was a 24 hour or longer (due to potholes the size of houses) trip, tracking through Botswana to get there, about 2000kms. Anyway that is a story for later… If I feel like it.
If I remember correctly, myself and Lara stayed in Sesheke with Chris and Henry while Mark and Theon went with John to Lusaka for 3 days. At this point I would like to say that this happened 6 years ago and my memory is not alllll that good with the pre-attack details. Anyway, on the Sunday, 17 May 2009 (I deduced this from the stamps on some photo’s, I couldn’t remember the date), Lara, Chris Henry and myself went to the morning service of the local church. Chris delivered a sermon, the worship was otherworldly (as in there was no instruments but it was still amazingly beautiful and moving just as at the biggest, most technologically advanced western churches) and Henry, Lara and myself did ministry with the children.
After church we went for some touristy sightseeing through Livingstone and then ventured up to the gorge. Now the gorge is the part that you don’t see when looking at a waterfall. Where the waterfall has been eating away at mother earth for millions of years. Anyway, this particular gorge is the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia at some points and the Victoria falls “fall” into it. There are about 5 sight seeing, tourist attraction points along the gorge and at each one you could do something different. There was abseiling, gorge swing, zipline, and then at each point there was also a souvenir stall or 2. All of which was abandoned… maybe because it was Sunday. But this didn’t stop us and we didn’t think it weird, we didn’t think anything of it. We stopped for photo’s at each point and then carried on to the next.
On our way to the 5th view point we stopped at what used to be an outlook post, many years ago. An old metal structure that stood about 3 meters high with steps going up and a broken wooden platform. We all got out the car excitedly, myself and Chris went up this structure and Henry took some photos of the gorge down below while Lara waited to also go to the top. At the top you could just see the Victoria falls, just before they fall. It was majestic, the noise of the water and the scenery. All just beautiful, but it was short lived.
As I turned around to go down this structure so that Lara could also go to the top, I saw 3 men running through the bushes towards Henry’s car. My first thought was, “these are police coming to tell us it was not safe here”, how ironic?! When one of the men started opening all the car doors and gathering our belongings together, I remember thinking that this must be a prank… it has to be. There must be hidden cameras. How western of me? It was then that I noticed that 2 of them had pangas and one had a large silver knife or dagger thing. One of them came towards us and the other went to Henry, who, as soon as he realised what had been going on, tried to fight back with his camera (I think it was a Canon, I just remember it was big) swinging and I think hitting the man with it. The man started hitting Henry with his panga in a wild rage (did I mention that Henry was about 63 years old when this happened?) Henry fell to the floor and covered his head with his arms and the man continued to hit him. I don’t know what made him stop, probably realising that all our valuables had been gathered and he could leave. Probably God, I had never prayed so much and so loud in my life.
While this was going on, Chris, Lara and myself were searched for cell phones, moon bags, cameras (anything valuable) and most importantly, money. The man motioned for us to come down the structure and proceeded to grab Lara and myself on our stomachs to feel if we were wearing those tourist pocket things (Think Eurotrip). At one point the guy grabbed at Lara and out of instinct I stepped forward to try and protect her, that’s when the man lifted his panga and threatened to hit my legs. Lara and I were wearing skirts, as in one of the photos, due to the culture in Zambia that women should wear dresses and skirts and not trousers to church. If he hit my legs, it would hurt like hell, was all I could think. All this time the guy was asking for money, just saying “We want money. We want money.” in that broken English. We kept saying we are missionaries, we do not have money, we have Bibles and papers. Nonetheless, the men gathered our bags with passports, wallets and Bibles in, all the cell phones and cameras, the car keys, Chris’ sermon notes and they even found all the money that Henry had brought along for the trip. Which I think was about R8 000. Luckily, Chris hid the money for the trip underneath one of the seats.
I think Chris tried to then bargain with the guys, telling them that he has money in his suitcase, if they would just leave our passports so that we could get back to South Africa (And Lara had a British passport, can you imagine how difficult it would be to get her a new passport?). They just kept saying “We want money”. And as quick as it began, it was over, they grabbed everything and after sending Lara, Chris and myself back up the structure, ran away into the trees and tall grass leaving us there, stranded with a badly injured man.