Extract from HIS CALL, MY ALL: An African Drumbeat, A Missionary’s Heartbeat
Firing Squad – Mozambique, 1985
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31
I was standing trial for collaborating with the enemy, the military court a crude boma made of mud and grass in a remote area of Mozambique on the east coast of Africa. The principles of law and justice were not a priority for the commanding officer who was standing in front of me, now holding my fate in his hands. He was already furious with me. It was the second time in one day that we had met and his temper had not improved. We were both well aware that I had disobeyed his orders earlier the same day. Mozambique was a country ravaged by the civil war that had raged for years, and I understood that the chances of me getting a fair trial here were very slim.
Next to me, trembling with fear, was a poor black man who was standing trial on the same charge. Like me, he had simply driven his vehicle on a road without a military escort, but this had put the two of us in deep trouble.
The several soldiers around us observing events unfold were obviously amused by our predicament and they didn’t hold back their laughter. They laughed at the unusual juxtaposition of a white South African man next to a black one, about to meet the same end for the same crime. It was funny to them, something that lightened their monotonous day spent supervising weary soldiers.
Across from me, the commanding officer was screaming into his radio, talking to his superior officer in Zimbabwe. Even though he had turned away from me, I could hear him clearly and he was speaking English.
‘We have caught two drivers who are certainly collaborating with RENAMO,’ he said. ‘What shall we do with them?’
The only sound I heard after the crackle of the radio transmission was the soldiers laughing and jesting. I stood still.
‘You have done this before,’ the answer came, also in English. ‘It is your decision. You may execute them. It’s up to you.’
Having received confirmation of his autonomy, the commanding officer ended the radio transmission and gave a command for the soldiers to form a firing squad. Soldiers suddenly came to attention and did as they were ordered. They formed a line, uniforms straightened and guns ready.
I looked at the big red African sun setting on the horizon. I thought that it would be the last sun I would ever see in this life and it was beautiful.
My co-accused, the driver of the other vehicle, was a man probably in his thirties. He began to cry and tried to reason with the angry officer. ‘Please, sir,’ he said, ‘I have a wife and children . . .’ Tears were running down his face and I felt terrible for him. He was an innocent man. But I, too, had a wife and children at home. I, too, was innocent.
‘No talking!’ the commanding officer shouted. The soldiers had stopped laughing, sobered now by what they were about to see or do.
There would be no blindfolds and their version would be quick.
I suddenly thought of a saying I liked and often lived by – ‘Cowboys don’t cry’ – and for some reason I started to laugh uncontrollably.
The commanding officer turned to me, enraged that I had made any sound, let alone the laughter that I couldn’t stop. He spun around and faced me, placing his hand on the handgun at his side. For a second I thought he would take a shortcut and kill me himself, right there and then.
And then suddenly, at that moment, the presence of God descended and there was total and wonderful peace.