The gun was pressed into the right side of my back, just below the rib cage, and the officers hand had a tight grip on my left upper arm guiding me.
Those initial steps toward the trunk made me shudder at the thought of becoming another story on the nightly news of another woman kidnapped in the trunk and gang raped for days. It happened so often in this beloved country of South Africa.
I started calculating right away what I should do when I get in the trunk.
Until the officer led me past it, forcing me to step over my colleague who was being held down on the pavement at gunpoint by three other officers, with a knee to the back of his neck.
I was led to the driver’s side door and told to open the trunk.
Every woman in South Africa knows what that means.
You’re going in it.
I approached the door and saw that all of our belongings, including several files of important documents, had been pulled out, rummaged through and spread out on the back seat and all over the pavement. They were going through our things.
As I leaned into the car to pull the trunk lever open, I saw an officer across from me knelt down on the passenger side pulling out all the contents of our glove box and dumping them on the seat He was opening each one and going through it, then dumping it into the gutter next to him.
I pulled the lever and our eyes met. They were cold and untouched by the terror he was inflicting upon us.
Just then I was jabbed in the side by that damn gun again. The slight twitch of one finger and my innards would be ripped apart and spilled on this asphault.
That thought brought a memory.
An acquaintance was coming out the door of her home and a man who had been waiting for her put a gun to her stomach at point blank range just above her belly button and shot her. As she collapsed, he snatched her purse and ran. She was conscious long enough to call 911.
By a miraculous hand of mercy, she survived. Along with the not only the scar of the bullet but the much larger scar from being buned by the gun powder, since the gun was pressed against her stomach when he pulled the trigger.
But she survived. Would I?
Would I ever get to have the children I’ve dreamed about since childhood? Both the ones from my body and the ones I had planned to adopt? Would I live to see my most cherished friends and family again? Or maybe God had decided to use my death for some great purpose in His Kingdom.
I flashed back to the months after deciding that I would relocate to Soweto indefinitely. I spent months intentionally counting the cost. Leaving the life I knew and loved. Starting entirely over. And living in a daily reality where violent crimes against women were rampant and brazen.
I remember making the choice to come, and again making the choice after I arrived and was physically assaulted ten days later, to stay and refuse to live in fear. That decision was a surrender to the God of glory who could choose to do with my life whatever would bring Him most glory, even if that meant grave suffering or death.
With that thought, I turned the corner of the car where the trunk was now open, once again having to step over my colleague. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears.
Don’t fight back. You cannot overcome the guns.
Anticipating the trunk, I was redirected gruffly back to the pavement.
A wave of relief and confusion washed over me.
They were still shouting. Why are they still shouting?? It was deafening.
This second time being held down onto the pavement I listened to the words they were shouting; a mix of Zulu and English. Full of insults, some mockery and laughter, but mostly shouting verbal affronts meant to humiliate and terrorize.
That feeling of being overpowered, and the helplessness of knowing that fighting back was not an option, would haunt me for several years to come.
“Are you drunk? You must be drunk to be driving like that!” Laughter.
Before I could even calculate the thought that entered my brain, it just came out of my mouth.
“Siyaxolisa, O Baba. Ungumfundisi. Akaphuzi!”
God, why hadn’t I thought of this before?!
I was taking a second swing at leveraging my Zulu, but this time with a much keener strategy.
In South African township culture, the role of a pastor is a very significant one. It holds a level of respect that is unmatched. Furthermore, some of the intergenerational beliefs around Traditional African Religion, which largely revolve around the ancestors, often come with a great amount of fear.
A Westerner who has not sought to deeply understand would likely call the beliefs which undergird that fear, “superstition.” However, in the hearts of the community it is far from such.
Because the position of a Pastor in the community is so deeply respected, lauded, and even feared, if one would cause harm to a Pastor there is great fear that the ancestors would rain down unthinkable suffering upon them and their family members. It would likely go even further in that whatever hardships may befall any family member of the perpetrator for many years to come, he/she would be blamed for it. Blamed because the explanation for the hardship would be that the ancestors are punishing the family for his/her sins against that Pastor.
“We’re sorry, Sirs, but He is a pastor. He doesn’t drink!” Is what came out of my mouth. I knew exactly what I was doing.
I felt a twinge of guilt for purposefully using their fear with the hope of getting out alive.
And another pang of guilt for not thinking of it sooner. Both feelings simultaneously.
The response was immediate.
The shouting and mockery got louder, more aggressive, guns started waving while still pointed at my face. It was a crescendo of mayhem unlink anything I’ve ever experienced.
Not quite what I hoped for, Lord.
And then just like that, they all piled into their big, black SUV, the last four being the ones holding u
s down. We were left face down on that dusty, rugged pavement just feet from the front bumper of their vehicle, where we stayed frozen as we watched those huge tires roll backward and screech away. The sound of those tires crunching over the thin layer of gravel rung in my ears.
I laid there, stunned, as though stuck to the pavement we’d been so treacherously pressed into.
As I peeled my cheek off the asphault I became aware for the first time of the pain.
What just happened?