Grace at Night

One week ago our family went through a harrowing, life-changing experience. This is how my husband described last Tuesday evening in a prayer update:

Last night at about 9:45 pm at our house, Caleb announced to Amy and I as we worked on a paint job in the children’s room that three men had just entered our back door. When I got to the door, I saw two guns brandished among the three criminals. Though we offered all our money and goods to them they beat me and hit Amy twice.

We are praising the Lord that after about 15 minutes wherein they tore the house apart, we were able to chase them away. They took some material possessions, but our lives and honor were spared because of the good hand of our God who placed a wall between our lives and their weapons.

Tomorrow, we are taking a leave for our family. Please pray that we would be comforted the way the apostle Paul was comforted when he was in pain (2 Cor. 1:5). We also need wisdom as we consider how best to honor God in light of our family (1 Tim. 5:8) and the gospel (2 Tim. 2:10).

Trusting God,

Seth and Amy

Seth dislikes sensationalism, so he didn’t include some details in that prayer update. Since then, we have received a flood of support–prayers and well-wishes–from friends and family. We’ve also gotten more questions, which I will try to answer about some of the details that rattled us that night. Seth and I made a list of ten factors that can make an incident traumatic. Eight of the ten happened to us:

1. In your home
2. In the presence of children
3. Prolonged
4. Death and rape threats
5. Guns
6. Theft
7. Beating
8. Shots fired
9. Rape
10. Murder

You may remember the other break-ins that have occurred here this year by our teenage neighbor. Because of those, we had burglar bars installed on all of our windows, alarms on our doors, and we locked everything, including our gate, nightly. This one night as usual, we had locked and alarmed everything. But we were painting the kids’ room, so we had moved the kids across the house to sleep in the school room for the night. Seth unlocked the side door and turned off the alarm an hour before the incident just to clean paintbrushes at the outside tap. We planned to lock up again when we were done (we were almost done when the thieves came!)

Armed robbery has never happened in our village. It happens lots in the cities, but we always told people that the village was safer. We thought it was. Everyone knows everyone, and break-ins usually occur when the owners aren’t home. We were completely unprepared for this. Our neighbors are completely shocked and horrified. That’s one reason this was so terrifying, is that we totally did not expect it.

Another reason we were so scared is that the kids were separated from us. When Caleb told us that men were in the house, they were in the room right next to where the kids were sleeping on the floor and would have to come right past the kids to access the rest of the house. I stayed frozen in the kids room with paint all over my gloved hands and listened. I assumed it was our teen neighbor again, with some friends. Seth ran yelling, “Get out! Get out!” I’ll never forget when his tone completely changed. He shouted, “Whoaaaa! I’ll give you anything you want, anything!” He begged on his knees. Then I knew they must be armed.

I heard repeated shouts for money and U.S. dollars, with death threats. The men ran past to our room where we kept some cash, and Seth yelled for me to get down. I hit the floor, hiding behind some furniture. Footsteps came in the room, but left, not seeing me. Then I heard them beating Seth with a hard object (a rifle) as he was getting the money for them. Seth tends to faint under extreme emotional, physical stress, and I began praying fervently that he wouldn’t pass out. God kept him conscious.

I would have remained hidden if it hadn’t been that our children were in danger. I heard the men pass out of the bedroom into the study where Seth was offering a laptop and our phones. He told Caleb and Carson to sit on the couch, so I knew my oldest (7) and youngest (2) were out in the middle of the fray. At the same time, one of the men began demanding, “Where’s the mother?” I came out, and the man with the rifle asked me where money was. I said I didn’t know, that my husband had it, and he punched me in the stomach with the rifle. I hit the floor again and covered my head. Seth ran over to protect me.

Then the scariest moment of all happened: the man with the handgun held the gun at Caleb’s head and said, “I shoot this boy.” My heart stopped. Seth pleaded, and Caleb (and Carson) screamed. The men didn’t like the noise, so they left the boys alone. Seth distracted them by offering more stuff. For a moment I was left unguarded. I motioned to the boys to come to me and instructed them to hide under their bed. They obeyed immediately.

The next second, Callie came to the school room door crying. God helped me to get her safely hidden away as well. Now I was only missing one child. I ran to get Colin. I thought about leaving him sleeping, but was afraid he might get hurt later and wanted all my children together, covered. The rifle-holder followed me jabbing and demanding money, but I begged to move my child. He allowed that. I am so grateful, as the men later left that way fighting and angry, and I’m afraid what they might have done in their spite as they passed that way, had Colin still been in bed.

When in the past I have heard of being “held up at gunpoint,” I always imagined a more passive thing, where one guy holds the gun on you, while the other searches the house and takes things. This was way more physical and prolonged than that. I thought they would never leave, and I was despairing of our lives. They were unhappy with how little money they were getting, and also asked where our safe was. (They probably thought we had guns as well.) They never left us, and beat us throughout. My back still shows two round wounds from the sawed-off rifle end, and my stomach has a large bruise from the rifle handle. Seth is bruised too many places to name.

They tore our house apart, taking money, laptop, phones, our pellet gun, keys to our house and car, and even Caleb’s savings for Christmas presents. However in general, they were lazy thieves. They wanted to beat and intimidate us into doing all of the searching for them. They missed our iPad, a Kindle, didn’t take our desktop, our bank cards, or our passports which had been sitting right on the desk, as Seth has to renew our visas this month! They dumped out my purse, but didn’t open my coin purse with money and bank cards. I didn’t think to offer it.

They cursed us the entire time in four languages. When nothing more was forthcoming, they repeatedly threatened to rape me. I was praying constantly. Then everything happened at once. One man came at me to drag me away, and my shirt ripped in the struggle. Seth began fighting him, took the rifle from him, pointed it at his head, and pulled the trigger. There were no bullets!

Seth shouted that they were fakes and fought harder, which encouraged my fighting; for at the same time, another man came for me, and I began fighting. Up till that time, we had been passive and humble. I think now that that was a big factor in keeping us alive. I made no conscious decision. God brought to my mind to use the office chair I was hiding beside, so I picked it up and helped to ram the men out of the study.

The leader with the handgun then shot. We all froze. He said, “I shoot.” I thought it was real, but Seth still believed it was a cap gun. I had had time to grab a plank from our desk that held our keyboard. I walloped one man on the head with it. Then Seth fought them out of the house. Even then, the gunman returned chasing Seth through the house. Chairs were overturned, and a door slammed right off its hinges to the floor. For some reason he did not shoot again, but left. Seth locked the door behind them; the keys were still in the keyhole on the inside from earlier in the night. Then we managed to call for help using Skype on our desktop.

I’m sorry if I have desensitized people with violent descriptions. My simple goal is to explain why this was such a horrific event, and why it is life-changing. The gunman shot not four feet away from Seth. He threatened to kill my child. They beat me and threatened worse. And the main reason they did it is because we are the sole white people in huge cluster of black villages. We are a prime target, with our “U.S. dollars.” We need time to think about how God would have us to protect our family now and what our future ministry should be.

We thank God with all of our hearts that He sent them away in the end with no great harm to us. He spared our lives. Since then God’s people have been so comforting. Here is my most recent Facebook update:

We praise the Lord for the kindness poured out towards us by our Christian friends. We can’t thank you enough for your prayers. We still cry daily, we are still sleepless and stiff physically, and very uncertain about our future here. Our sending church has offered to bring us home for as long as we need to recuperate physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and to make decisions about our future ministry. We are planning to come to the States next week if we can get the tickets and stay for a number of weeks. When I think of our supporters and friends in the States, those “holding the ropes” for us, my mental image right now is that we are hanging by a thread. And you have remembered us in your prayers unceasingly. I can’t tell you how much we need your prayers right now, and how thankful we are for your care for our family. Thank you so much.

I will write more as I have time to explain our options for the future. For now though, I feel incredibly blessed to have so many people praying for us. Thank you, our friends.

About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and homeschooling mother of five children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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62 Responses to Grace at Night

  1. chris gallo says:

    You, my dear sister, are brave and a warrior. What a mama bear displayed in your fight for the lives of your family. Please know that I am praying for you and your future. Also, as long as you and Seth are one, your kiddos will follow. Your attitude and fortitude will be contagious to them. You are the safest in God’s will. Chris

  2. Katie says:

    I wanted to let you know that this was discussed at the My Father’s World facebook page. Several of us are praying for you. I pray God would give you and your children His peace and guide you with His will and direction. I will continue to think of you and pray.

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