By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST Ministries and the ASSIST News Service
SOUTH CAROLINA/UGANDA (ANS – June 19, 2015) – Today (Friday, June 19, 2015), Relatives of some of the nine black people gunned down while they studied the Bible at a historic South Carolina church offered tearful words of forgiveness to the 21-year-old white man charged with murdering their loved ones.
According to Reuters, Dylann Roof, who sat for an hour with parishioners at the nearly 200-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Church before opening fire, stood quietly as he appeared in court via a video feed.
“Dressed in a black-and-white prison uniform and flanked by two guards in body armor, Roof had no reaction as a judge ordered him held without bail,” said their story.
“May God have mercy on your soul,” said Felicia Sanders, whose 26-year-old son, Tywanza Sanders, was the youngest person to die in Wednesday’s rampage. “You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts.”
Roof looked down occasionally and showed no emotion as Sanders and four other family members spoke of how he had been welcomed to the church by the nine people he has been charged with murdering.
Reuters went on to say that the attack at the church nicknamed “Mother Emanuel” for its key role in African-American history came in a year that has seen waves of protest across the United States over police killings of unarmed black men in cities including New York, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, which have sparked some of the largest race riots since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
This latest in a series of mass shootings that have rocked the United States also illustrated some of the risks posed by the nation’s liberal gun laws, which gun-rights supporters say are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“The elephant in the room is guns. South Carolina and the country have gone gun-crazy,” said state Representative Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat who represents Charleston. “How many times do we need to come together? How many times do we need to unite?”
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the attack as both a hate crime and potential act of terrorism, spokeswoman Emily Pierce said on Friday.
Reuters said that the family members filed into the courthouse in twos and threes before Roof’s appearance, appearing composed as they stared at the defendant, who was caught after 14 hours on the run.
The massacre’s victims included Democratic state Senator Clementa Pinckney, 41; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Myra Thompson 59, and Daniel Simmons, 74, in addition to Sanders.
“Roof could be sentenced to death if he is convicted and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, urged prosecutors to seek capital punishment,” concluded the story.
Learning of this extraordinary act of forgiveness, set my mind thinking back to when I witnessed a similar act of forgiveness in Uganda while I was researching a book with Ray Barnett for Zondervan called “Uganda Holocaust,” which chronicled the terrible eight years of misrule by Idi Amin.
It was May 1979, just weeks after Idi Amin had been routed by the Tanzanian Army and had fled to Libya to be sheltered by his friend, Muammar Khadaffy, that Ray Barnett, who since has founded the African Children’s Choir, and I arrived at battle-scarred Entebbe Airport to gather the story of the Uganda holocaust in which about 300,000 Ugandans Christians were slaughtered by Amin and his thugs.
We later settled into the Church of Uganda guesthouse on Namirembe Hill and the next morning we had our first experience of the terrible ferocity of Amin’s battle against the church during his eight-year reign of terror. We went to Makerere Full Gospel Church, run by the Gospel Mission to Uganda and as we examined the bullet holes that had riddled the ceiling and the walls, I asked a member what had happened.
He explained that Idi Amin had banned almost all the churches of Uganda, including theirs, but they changed their name and began meeting again.
He said that on April 12, 1978, Amin’s wild-eyed “State Research” thugs had invaded the church and begun firing indiscriminately at the 600-strong congregation. He said that assistant pastor, Jotham Mutebi, was on the platform and he sank to his knees in prayer.
Among those who in the church that evening was Dr. Grace D.L. Kityo, who at the time, he was the youth Leader, chief Interpreter, and financial officer for the Makerere Full Gospel Church.
In an interview he recalled what happened: “This was a time and a day when all the believers of our Full Gospel churches – who were very bold indeed – were to join in serious prayers, and perhaps to forge a way forward), after President Idi Amin Dada outlawed all religions or sects in Uganda,” he said. “The decree left only Moslems, Roman Catholics, Anglican Protestants and Greek Orthodox Churches, allowed to meet. There was a great need for God to guide all the Christians what really should be done.
“On that great fateful day there had been a tip off by an unknown person that we were meeting. Out of nowhere, our church was surrounded by hundreds of Idi Amin’s henchmen – the deadly State Research armed men. What was first heard was the periodic shootings outside the main church auditorium. Then the shooting and the shouting became much louder, clearer and closer until it fully ended into our church.
“The Church was desecrated. The men all carried machine guns, grenades, and ordered everybody to lie down flat on the ground. The church was packed to the full capacity with children, men and women. There was so much shootings and shouting as well as panic and crying in the church. Some of those in the church were badly hurt and some bled profusely.
“The organ and many other things in the church were shot through many times – over and over, never to be used again. The confusion was just too great. Many hundreds perhaps thousands of people on the villages all around the church gathered to see and perhaps help the Christians in Makerere. In this confusion many of the Christian also found a way to escape this horrible ordeal and gunfire.”
Prayer, Praise and Bullets…
Amid the mayhem, hundreds more quickly dropped to their knees between the pews. With upraised arms they began to praise the Lord. The sturdy red brick church was filled with a cacophony of incredible sound-a combination of prayer, praise and bullets.
Joseph Nyakairu, a member of the church orchestra, raised his trumpet to his lips and blew it as loudly as he could. The Amin soldiers thought the Christians were about to counter-attack and fled the sanctuary.
In the ensuing confusion, nearly 400 people managed to slip away from the church. But at least 200 remained on their knees and continued to worship the Lord when the soldiers returned and continued spraying bullets everywhere. They took hold of Joseph’s trumpet and threw it to the ground, spraying bullets at it. Then they “executed” the organ. The congregation knew that death could be imminent and that they were under arrest!
Idi Amin’s State Research men ordered all the Christians to climb on the various parked trucks.
They were taken to the State Research Bureau headquarters at Nakasero, and there, as gasoline cans and explosives surrounded them, they were mocked and told that as soon as General Mustafa Adrisi, Idi Amin’s second-in-command, signed the execution order, they would all be burned alive. Later they were taken to the dungeons to be torture.
“The all-time dreaded Nakasero State Research center was the place where no one, once taken in, no one had ever come out alive. Many fine, polished, innocent people often times were murdered in this place. This was also Idi Amin’s hideout. People used to be slaughtered like just mere animals. Here in the underground – so dark and gloomy – our brothers and sisters were so greatly tortured for Christ,” said Kityo.
“Some of our brothers and sisters were ordered to be totally naked. Some stayed in blood that even their feet began to rot away. Some were ordered to smoke, while others were ordered to play sex with their sisters – which of course they all refused to do. These are simply just some of the many sufferings experienced by God’s people in those days in Idi Amin’s most horrible, dreaded dungeon-underground headquarters!
“All along in the dungeon-within Nakasero – there was so much prayers and fasting going on. A great number of saints of God were also praying and fasting too within Uganda and other parts of the free world!”
Before they were taken to the dungeons, something dramatic occurred that saved their lives. They were waiting for Major General Adrisi Mustafa, Amin’s second-in-command, was been driven back to Kampala from Jinja to sign their execution order. But he was involved in a head-on car crash and was crippled for life, and so was not able to sign the death warrant.
“I understand that he was rushed either to Cairo, or Libya for treatment and that is when we last heard of Mr. Adrisi,” said Dr. Kityo.
“God Almighty arrested the whole situation to the glory of His name alone! Of course no Christian was burnt and so the was utter confusion as what must be done to the believers. Eventually, after some days-it was decided that those Christians just had to be transferred to the normal prison – the Luzira Prison. Here in Luzira Prison: the conditions were slightly better than the dreaded Nakasero State Research Bureau Center. Here men were separated from the women.
“Some eats and drinks and other victuals were allowed to be brought in and given to the brethren in the prison. It was possible to visit all the Christian prisoners until when the time of their release came!
“However, while in prison the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ was preached and many people came to know Jesus as Savior and Lord! To God be all the glory and honor!
“This most horrific experience did not deter or daunt our faith in strength or spiritual power at all! Our faith grew so much drastically and we grew so strongly in faith. Although, remember, the Christians were out of jail or prison, still the church ban was still in full effect, but we didn’t care at all. We were fully risking-preaching and teaching God’s Word without fear or favor; we were ready to die for our JESUS!”
Then came the amazing act of forgiveness, as on the first Sunday morning that Ray and myself were in Kampala, we attended a Sunday-morning thanksgiving service where we watched many of those that had been sentenced to be burned alive, give thanks publicly for their liberation and then, they took turns in forgiving Idi Amin for his terrible sins, and then asked God to save the soul of their chief persecutor, Ida Amin, who had since moved to Saudi Arabia, where he died on August 16, 2003.
Both of these acts of forgiveness were true New Testament Christianity in action.
Photo captions: 1) Dylann Roof being arrested. 2) Many of the 200 church members who were sentenced to be burned alive, shown with hands raised in celebration. (Photo Dan Wooding). 3) Dan Wooding with Ray Barnett in Uganda. 4) Book cover. 5) Dan Wooding and Ray Barnett at Karuma Falls, Uganda, where thousands of bodies were dumped.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the author of some 45 books, the latest of which is “Mary: My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary,” which you can read at: http://marythebook.com/.
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