Some time ago my wife came across four extraordinary videos – one man’s testimony about FORGIVING. Shortly after a small group at church were discussing the subject and I wanted to share the videos, but they were in Afrikaans! I tackled the job of translating them and here is the first two. This is number two and three of the videos, but it is the sequence in which we watched them and it made a big impact on me.
(When I am done with all four, I am going to try and dub them with English subscripts.)
Here then is Pieter Badenhorst telling his story:
God had to teach me the principle of forgiveness in a very practical manner.
The terrible part of my story is that I preached many a Sunday to people that they had to forgive each other, forgive their enemies, love their enemies, while in practice I did not really understand any of it.
She had been living in a small rural town where we grew up and she had been the organist in her church.
I have to tell you, too be on vacation at the coast and then get a message like this, is not fun. You cannot describe to people what happens with you. Emotionally you are immediately out of control. You read these things in the newspaper and think that it only happens to other people and that it will never happen to you.
I was VERY angry.
My mom gave her whole life to God. She was the example of someone who loved Jesus and gave her life to him. She wasn’t just the organist in the church, she was also the caring elder at the old age home. She lovingly supported the seniors. My mother also had a ministry among the black people in the black township – they loved her a lot. It made me even more angry – I could not understand it.
Later that day I walked out in a field and shouted out loud to God and cursed Him. I said to Him “You say you are a God of love – how can this be love?!? Why me? Why her? She is the last one to deserve this.”
Don’t think there is any sleep possible that night. You lie in the dark and what happens to you is that the events of the day plays in your mind like a video and you cannot stop it. You see that guy standing next to her bed with the garden fork and what he does to her. How he throws her in the car and how he drives off with her. How he tries to burn the car and how he chases her out of the car. How that first stone hits her.
So much, that I said to myself “How can you ever get on a pulpit again to tell people that the God we worship is a God of love? No way! You can never say that again! How will you ever be able to tell people they should forgive their enemies and love them? There is now way you are going to forgive this guy, never mind love him! There is just no way!”
It was terrible to lie there that night and think that I wasted my life for nothing. So I decided that night that I was done. I would just get the funeral behind me and when I got back home to my congregation that very first Sunday, I will get on the pulpit and tell them “If you want to go on with this illusion and game, is okay, go ahead. But I am done. It’s over.”
And so I spend that night planning how I will do all this, where I would find a job, where we would live, how we would move – I planned my future in the finest of detail that night.
We got up the next morning and we were in the car on the way to the town where the funeral would be held. And what made me even more angry and anxious, was that my dad died three years earlier of a heart attack. It hit my mom hard – she and my dad was very close and had a beautiful relationship. His death was very sudden. My mom had asked me to do the funeral and I said I could never do it! I was just a hurt as everybody around me. I just could not see myself doing his funeral.
So there at the coast with the news of my mom’s murder, one of the first questions my dear wife asks me in her shocked state, is “Are you going to do the funeral?”
That was also a battle I fought in the car : I was traveling toward something I did not want to do, but had to. Those people in the rural town where my mom lived and in front of whom I grew up, would all shed a tear and say “Wow, what a pious young preacher man burying his murdered mother.”
You know what? Women are born with x-ray eyes – they see right through you. My wife knew I was not okay. But I didn’t say a word. And every now and then she asked me if I were okay and I said yes. A lie. Our small kids were in the back of the car with big eyes. My wife tried all the music we had in the car, but nothing helped for that atmosphere.
Somewhere on that long trip to the funeral, it was as if I came to myself and said : “For more than 24 hours you have been engaged in this fight with the Lord. And when you are done, you start all over again. You tell him the same stuff, tell him what you think of him and tell him that you are done with him, but you don’t end the process! And you are not realistic about this murderer.”
So I decided “This is it!” And I speak to God again “If you are there, and if you hear me, then I tell you this is good bye. This is the last time in my life that I will officially talk to you.”
But in my heart I knew this would not work – I was so angry that I did not really feel like forgiving him. And if it did not work, I could tell the whole world I did what the Bible says we should do and it did not work. It’s an illusion.
In my heart and to God I say “This is good bye God; and I now forgive this murderer. I set him free. I cut that rope.
Gone was every negative emotion. Gone was the hatred. Gone was the bitterness. Gone was the pain.
I got a fright and thought “Am I not maybe waking up from a dream?”
The next moment things happened in this vacuum I was in. Things flashed past my vision.
When we woke up the Sunday it was raining. The kids were unhappy because they were promised the beach and now it was raining. Lying in bed we were trying to think what to do. My thought was that this was how God was teaching me, preventing us from going to the beach when I knew better.
His sermon was from Matthew 10 where Jesus sends out his disciples saying “I send you into the world with the message. It will not be easy. I send you like sheep amongst the wolves. You will be slandered and stabbed in the back. They will take you to court for my sake. They will even kill you for my sake. But use every opportunity to be my witness.” He also tells them how this message will not bring peace everywhere, that it will even bring antagonism between family members, but that he will be there for them and they need to persevere.
And I made furious notes so that I could give this message to my own congregation,where the political divide was nasty.
What a phenomenal church service. The preacher used John 8 where a kernel of wheat dies in the soil to bring forth life. He told again of how things were not good between people on a horizontal level. The Bible tells of how there is peace on a vertical level from God. So how do you bring these together? Only in one place where these two meet (and he crossed his two forearms) and that is at the cross of Christ.
As we stopped back where we were staying, my wife was there with the news of my mother.
When that vacuum hit me, the first thing I saw in its place was that preacher’s crossed forearms. And I think to myself “Yesterday you walked out of that sermon all fired up, but when this thing came across your path, you crossed it out and discarded it.”
It was one of the biggest disillusionments of my life. I felt so ashamed. I know God forgave me, but it was very difficult to believe.
I then I thought to myself “You are going crazy! You are paying for your mom’s murderer. Hello!!”
And again I thought to myself “You are losing it! Within seconds you have prayed for your mother’s murderer twice!” I remembered my studies where we learned that people can lose it after trauma with the shock and the pain. I convinced myself that that was what was happening to me and I reviewed all that should be wrong with me now and I realized that I was OK!
We reached the town where the funeral would be and it was chaotic! Stores were closed, people were angry. At the local farmer’s co-op the farmers were there with guns and pistols, all angry and they all suffered the hurt, pain, anger and feelings of revenge that I had felt the previous days.
The evening before the funeral, after everybody had gone to bed, I sat alone, paging this way and that through my Bible. And I got nothing. I said “Lord help me, I have to do this funeral tomorrow and I don’t know what to say!”
* John the Baptist who was beheaded,
* Stephen that was stoned,
* Psalm 23 – for the first time in my life I believed Psalm 23, where it said that I would not be scared going through the dark depths, because in His hands I am safe. I had to believe it for my mom – it was written there and I could not just cross out what I chose in the Bible.
* 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 that stated that our pain and suffering here on earth is not a patch on the glory that awaits us.
I had that sudden realization that we were all in anguish for my mom and her death, but she was in heaven, singing in the choir! And not suffering.
Just as I entered the church, before going up on the pulpit, I ran into the bathroom to have a sip of water – my mouth was very dry. I ran into an old gentleman that saw me growing up. He stopped in his tracks and yanked out his revolver and said “Hey, we’re sorry about your mom, but we are ready for them!”
He hesitated and then went on “Did you see all the black people coming down the street to the church? I tell you, today there is going to be trouble at this funeral – I hope you organized security.”
I ran around the church, and there were hordes of black people streaming to the church. In my wildest dreams I never thought people would come to my mom’s funeral with firearms! Who would even think of security at a funeral?!? And there was just one minute before we started! So I ran back around the back of the church to enter there and thought to myself that this was a very volatile situation and I needed to be very careful with what I said. Maybe I could not mention about praying for the murderer, because that old guy could shoot me right from his pew!
I cannot describe the vibes in that church. The peace that filled the place. The enormous church building packed, and a third of them black.
When the service was over, the black attendees spilled out of the church and made off to the cemetery. When we arrived at the cemetery, they had lined up from the gate to the grave on either side of the road. A guard of honor, and they were singing as we followed the coffin to the grave.
And I was tired, totally exhausted, the tension was over. I felt like I was in pieces and I just wanted to go home, but everybody wanted to say a last word and sympathize again.
He stopped in front of me and grabbed me by the shoulders and burst into tears. He said “Thank you. Thank you! You will never know what you did for me today.” And he turns around and walks away.
I also notice the local pastor of the town at the funeral. And it was strange that he never showed his face during the previous week to come and pray for us even though we know each other really well. He did not even call us, and it made me uneasy. When almost everybody had left, he approached me, kind of looking down and said “Can I talk to you?”
He said “I don’t know if you know what this murder meant for this town. The politics have been so screwed up for quite a while. I decided with the associate pastor that we needed to trust God and do something like a series of sermons on peace. So we started that November into December with Christmas as a climax. We had scriptures and a theme and as we made progress, we saw how the Lord started to work in this town. Two weeks before Christmas, on the Sunday morning this murder happened and my colleague left on his vacation and he left me with this situation in the town! “
As we left the church that day, I said to Ina that for the first time in my life I believed Romans 8 verse 28 : And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Since the days before the funeral, I have never again felt that feeling of bitterness and revenge. I still pray for the murderer. He got a double life sentence and is still serving his sentence in Bloemfontein. I just know one thing : that the Lord loves that guy, that He died for him as well and I am convinced that God will “save” him, if he has not been saved yet.
Show me another god where this would be possible!
“… we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28.