Thirty Year Anniversary of the St. James Church Massacre

Thirty years ago—on this very date of July 25—I joined fellow believers for worship at St James Church, Cape Town. Shortly into the service a sudden noise at the front door of the sanctuary startled us.

Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) terrorists stepped in, lobbed grenades among the congregation, and opened fire with automatic rifles.

Armed with a snub-nose .38 revolver, I crouched behind a pew and returned fire at the attackers inside the church, which caused them to flee. Making chase, I ran after them on foot and fired at the getaway car as it sped down the road.

Eleven congregants were murdered and more than 50 injured.

Having struggled with hatred and unforgiveness after the attack, an idea struck home: the Biblical idea of reconciliation.

To listen to my testimony, please click below:
Reconciliation is the restoration of cordial relations. It involves a change in the relationship between God and man, and between man and man. It assumes there has been a breakdown in a relationship, yet also that a change from a state of conflict to one of fellowship can take place.

God has provided reconciliation for us with Him through Jesus Christ’s death. It involves repentance, turning to God, so that our sins may be wiped out, and times of refreshing that come from the Lord. (Acts 3:19-20)

The Bible contains many examples of people reconciling with one another after having experienced hurt, conflict due to sin, or misunderstanding.

I’ve been blown away at the friendships that have been forged after the massacre. I was invited to speak at the homecoming celebrations of former APLA Commander Letlapa Mphahlele, where I met his family and party officials. Another meeting in Khayelitsha testified to the cordial relations we can have with one another despite our many differences.

Letlapa introduced me to Gcinikhaya Makoma—one of the attackers who had been injured during the exchange of fire. Incarcerated at the time, Makoma and I met before the TRC hearings. I visited him in prison many a time thereafter.

Lindelekile Ngqisha, former APLA unit commander, invited me to engage with members of the APLA Military Veterans Association (APLAMVA). An introduction to his pastor brother led to a joint feeding ministry for children during Covid.

The past 30 years have been ones of discovery in our many meetings over coffee and meals. We’ve spent time getting to know each other, discussing the Gospel, religion, politics, worldviews, and many other topics not usually discussed in polite company.

We didn’t come to blows. We didn’t reengage violently. We didn’t even try to cancel each other. Despite our differences, we communicated with each other respectfully.

Christians have been commanded to, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15

Reaching out starts with each one of us!

Camp Constitution will host speaking engagements for Pastor Charl  Monday September 18 in Lexington, MA September 19 in Alton, NH, and two planned for Northern Maine.