St. James Church in Cape Town, South Africa, on Thursday is marking the 20th anniversary of a terror attack that ended when one man in the congregation, armed with his personal weapon, fired back at the attackers who were armed with automatic guns and grenades.
And that man, Charl Van Wyk, will be taking part in the memorial to the 11 lives that were lost, and dozen of injuries suffered.
He told WND he’ll be at St. James Church as the congregation remembers the families of those who perished, and those who were injured.
Van Wyk, whose experience has been chronicled in book and DVD versions in “Shooting Back The Right and Duty of Self-Defense,” told WND, “The moment of chaos and carnage unfurled is forever etched in my mind.”
His first-hand account: “All 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 attackers stepped into the doorway and lobbed grenades. Regular grenades weren’t destructive enough, apparently, so they affixed nails to the outside of these. Then they opened fire with their assault rifles.
“It took a few seconds to grasp what was happening. I first thought it might be a play. Boy was I wrong!
“I dropped to my knees and drew my .38 special revolver from my ankle holster. Taking aim, I fired two rounds at the attackers. Being in the fourth row from the back of the large sanctuary made accuracy difficult, especially with the revolver’s 2-inch barrel, designed for close combat.”
He continued, “I crawled to the aisle and ran for a back door, planning to get behind the attackers and shoot them at close range to stop the slaughter.
“As I rounded the corner outside of the building I saw the attackers already at their getaway car. Ducking back behind the corner, I readied for the final showdown, then stepped out and fired my last three rounds. They jumped into their vehicle and raced off.”
He reported that it was later found that the terrorists, members of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army, also planned to lob petrol bombs into the sanctuary, where there were an estimated 1,000 people.
Van Wyk said the return fire surprised the terrorists so that they abandoned the second phase of the attack.
He said he pounded on a neighbor’s door and shouted for them to call police, and then rushed back to the sanctuary, “firearm still in my hand.”
“Some later said they mistook me for one of the attackers,” he said. “But back in the church there was a calmness that could only have come from a divine source.”
Van Wyk recalled some of the victims:
“Lisa, 16, and Bonnie, 15, were best friends; they were seated with their friend, Richard O’Kill, 17, who risked his life to pull them onto the floor. In protecting them from the rain of bullets, he was shot in the head and died instantly,” he said.
“On her Facebook page this week, Lisa posted her thanks to Richard: ‘I am so thankful every day for the rest of my life that my wonderful friend Richard gave up his life to save our lives. Love you forever Richard.’”
“Gerard Harker, 21, selflessly hurled his body onto one of the grenades, giving his life and saving many others from death and injury. His younger brother, Wesley, 14, also died.”
And Van Wyk recalled his realization that he needed to forgive.
“I tried to contact Khaya Makoma, whom I had hit on the hand with my return fire. My idea was to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with him. The Christian Gospel teaches that all people, even murderers, can be saved by the Grace of God through faith, not by works. Khaya had been arrested and was in custody. I was told that I could not meet with a suspect until after the court proceedings. I later phoned Victor Verster prison to set a meeting with him. After explaining to an officer who I was – the person who shot the prisoner during the St James church massacre – the officer offered to pass on the message; we could only meet at Khaya’s request. Letlapa Mphahlele, the commander of the attackers, left a message on my answering machine soon thereafter, offering to help make introductions. We met at the Parliamentary administration offices. Reporters asked to film our meeting, promising not to interfere. We both agreed. I reached out to the perpetrators with the attitude of forgiveness. But this had not come easily for me.
“Later, Dr. Peter Hammond, the founder and director of our mission, Frontline Fellowship, spoke to us on forgiveness. Although in a group, I felt like the teaching was just for me. He made clear that I could no longer continue hating the attackers. I had to forgive them. After all, Jesus Christ had so freely forgiven my transgressions.”
He explained, “In my book, ‘Shooting Back – The Right and Duty of Self-Defense,’ I provide a thorough Biblical exploration of the matter of armed self-defense. Many Christians struggle with this issue, as I did before making the decision to carry a firearm. Still, I’m grateful I did that fateful day, such as I’m grateful for the courage of my fellow Christians, and for God’s unending power of forgiveness to heal the ‘internal wounds’ that medicine has no answers for.”
Van Wyk ultimately was recognized by authorities with a commendation for his actions, which likely saved dozens, if not hundreds, of lives.
Van Wyk notes that the commander of the church attackers later said, “There we thought that the church was a ‘gun free zone,’ but boy did he (van Wyk) have a surprise for us!”
Years later, Van Wyk also drew his gun in an attempted car-jacking.
“In both cases the gun in my hand was far more useful than a cop of the phone,” he has told WND. “The only person who can make any difference when faced with a violent attacker is the person who is right THERE, right THEN.”
See Van Wyk describe his shooting experience and its aftermath: