Sitting under armed guard in the sun on the Zambian bank of the Zambezi river, I knew we were in for a rough time and a long stay in a Zambian jail. True, we had nothing to hide and were missionaries in transit to Malawi, but the hostile expression on the face of the camouflaged soldier and the nervous way he fingered his AK47 spoke louder than the facts.
Suddenly a shout of triumph went up from a customs official — he had found a South African identity book on one of our missionaries, who had been stripped and searched.
“All residents in South Africa carry them — but see, it says I’m a British citizen,” his explanations fell on deaf ears. The Zambians were convinced they had four spies, and no amount of logic was going to change that.
“Railway carriages, locomotives and mielie meal from South Africa—you accept. What’s wrong with a missionary from South Africa?”, one of our members asked.
I called the members together. “We’re in for a prison ministry chaps — but God is in control. Hear the Word of God.” There in the blazing sun at Kazangulu ferry God prepared us for what lay ahead through the reading of Psalm 27.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; I fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger. I will never be afraid. When evil men attack me and try to kill me, they stumble and fall. Even if a whole army surrounds me, I will not be afraid; even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God.” Psalm 27:1-3
A team of four Frontline Fellowship members — including the Director of the Mission, a missionary from our U.K. Branch, and two field workers — were jailed in Zambia on 7th October.
The field team was in transit to Malawi with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle filled with Gospel booklets, evangelistic records and tracts, medical supplies and Bibles for Mozambiquan refugees. Arrested at Kazangulu, after refusing to bribe Zambian officials, the team were escorted under armed guard to Livingstone, where they were roughly handled and deprived of their shoes.
The vehicle was searched by a dozen plain-clothed policemen, with another 40 policemen, soldiers and militia as spectators. Despite the Chief Inspector declaring at the end of the day that he was satisfied that the team were not car rying any military hardware or lethal weapons and that they obviously were missionaries, the team was later physically abused and roughly man-handled into stinking concrete cells covered in human filth, and deprived of water for over 20 hours.
On the afternoon of Thursday, 8th October, the missionaries were roughly dragged into a room filled with a dozen camouflaged Zambian soldiers armed with AK47 assault rifles with bayonets attached. Our men were then handcuff ed to one another, blindfolded and, still barefoot, escorted at the point of bayonets and rifle butts to Lusaka (550km away).
For the next two weeks our missionaries were incarcerated in the grossly overcrowded Lusaka Central Prison, and regularly interrogated by officials from the Zambian Special Branch, Military Intelligence and the President’s Office, sometimes with ANC officials in attendance.
Throughout the long days in Zambian detention, the Frontline field team held Bible studies, prayer meetings, church services, counseled and prayed with other prisoners and detainees, witnessed to their Interrogators, sang Gospel songs even when being driven under armed guard to prison, and steadfastly sought to glorify God even when sick with malaria, and in the deepest darkness of the filth-ridden, mosquito- infested concrete cells.
By then, the Zambian investigations obviously must have confirmed that they had unnecessarily jailed four innocent foreign nationals in transit and interfered with a legitimate mercy mission to refugees in Malawi. So, after 16 days In Zambian custody, and amidst an international outcry over the detentions, the four Frontline missionaries were hastily driven to the Kazangulu ferry, re united with their vehicle and most of their equipment, and at mid-day on Thursday, 22nd October, were set free to drive back through Botswana to South Africa — and freedom.
Singing in the Cells
“Why are you taking away our Bibles? We are Christians. Surely you allow freedom of religion?” We were deprived of our Bibles. and shoes, stripped and searched, then bundled down a dark, dirty corridor, through a heavy door and a barred gate, separated into two groups of two and thrown into the darkness of stinking concrete cells. The heavy door slammed behind us and the sickening sound of the heavy padlock closing confirmed that we were prisoners.
Our cell was smeared with human filth and the offensive smell was nauseating. The only light came from the stars through a small barred window high up in one wall. Soon we realised that we were not alone. Hoards of insects were there, feasting on the filth. Cockroaches crawled over my body and mosquitos attacked in swarms, turning our skin into relief maps of angry red bumps and bites. Two of us came down with malaria later.
We instinctively knelt on the bare, filthy concrete floor and prayed to God:
“Lord may we not be released one moment before or after you want us to be released. May we glorify your name in the midst of this cell. . . Help us to learn the lessons you want to teach us . . . Give us courage, faith and wisdom to come through this ordeal in a way that honours you, O Lord.”
Then we sang. Glorious, triumphant songs of praise and faith in God. Suddenly, out of our hearts we sang Christian songs I had scarcely known. Songs from church, from Christian tapes, from music groups flooded into our memories. Then we noticed that our colleagues in the other cell were also singing and so we sang to one another and with one another in what must have been one of my most wonderful experiences of worshipping God.
It was a dramatic moment in all of our lives as we refused to be depressed by our circumstances and resolutely determined to place our faith in our Great God and Saviour.
“I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; He is near and nothing can shake me.” Psalm 16:8
There in the cold, dirty darkness of that Livingstone jail we experienced the presence and power of God, preparing us for the difficult and dangerous days ahead.
“All who find safety in you will rejoice; they can always sing for joy.” Psalm 5:11
We then tried to sleep, and found in the cold of that damp cell that the only way to sleep was in a kneeling position, with our heads resting on our hands. In that way we conserved our body heat under our bodies in that folded-over position, and kept from shivering too much.
I couldn’t sleep much and between prayers, sought to mentally prepare myself for the tortures ahead. I visualised the beatings and electrocutions that I knew were part and parcel of Zambian interrogations. At every sound I expected their police to burst into the cell and drag one of us away for a midnight interrogation.
Time dragged on. Without our watches it was hard to gauge time in those conditions— but I found the mental discipline of maintaining track of time helpful and found that I had been surprisingly accurate whenever I managed to see a policemans watch in the next 16 days.
It was daylight and we had already finished our morning exercises before the cell door opened and two uniformed policemen came in. “We are very sorry,” said one. “We know you are Christians — but this is out of our hands.” “May we have our Bibles and some water please,” I asked. “I will try and get permission, but this is Special Branch’s decision.” He looked awkward and reassured us before leaving, “I'm pray ing for you.”
A little later, two plain-clothed S.B., men came and roughly man-handled me off to an office filled with plain-clothed men. It was to be the first of six long periods of intensive interrogation.
Barefoot, Blindfolded and Shackled
My body ached as I tried to find a comfortable position on the concrete floor. The sound of steps coming down the corridor. The unlocking of the padlock and the rattling of the bolt being pulled back. The door swung open and two hostile S.B. men appeared — “Get up!”
As I stood up they grabbed me and roughly forced me down the corridor. A camouflaged Zambian soldier in full kit with an AK47 with bayonet attached was standing at the end of the passage-way. Immediately, his belligerant attitude alerted met. Then I reached him and was thrust into a room full of heavily-armed Zambian soldiers. There were no uniformed police present.
“Sign!” A sergent major indicated a book and pen. “What for?” “Your possessions.” “Where are our possessions — I’d like to see them first.” I was hit from behind, pushed into the table and forced at gunpoint to sign.
Then we were all blindfolded, handcuffed to one another and, still barefooted, were roughly bundled out of the police station into what seemed to be an army truck. Every attempt to speak was quickly silenced.
During the long time in silence and darkness I wondered what was happening. Evidently the customs had handed us over to police who had passed the buck to Special Branch, who had now seemingly abandoned us to the army. Our hearts sank inside us.
“The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; He saves those who have lost all hope.” Psalm 34:18
I could feel that we were now driving over a dirt road. “Lord have you protected me through all those dangers in Mozambique and Angola — only for me to be shot in the back of the head and dumped in a shallow grave in Zambia?”
“The Lord watches over those who obey Him, those who trust in His constant love. He saves them from death.” Psalm 33:18,19
“But, Lord, if they don’t shoot us — then what lies before us except imprisonment and torture? You know that I do not fear death — but prison in a third-world jail — that terrifies me.” At that moment a swift execution seemed to be the best option before us.
“He will bring me safely back from the battles that I fight against so many enemies.” Psalm 55:18
The truck stopped and we were roughly off-loaded onto a concrete runway, and led into what was evidently an aircraft. Like the cold hand of death itself around my throat, the thought struck me — “Lord, are they handing us over to the communists in Mozambique?. . . Or Angola?
My mind filled with visions of the burning huts and bloated corpses in Mozambique. The smell of death in Tete and the scarred bodies of Christians relating their tortures to me. The Mozambique Report I had published, exposing the atrocities and persecution in that war-torn Marxist land. Frelimo would probably love to get their hands on me. Would Zambia hand us over to the Marxists in Mozambique? Or Angola! My last news letter dealt extensively with the horrors of communism in Angola, detailing the suffering of Christians there.
“Teach me, Lord, what you want me to do, and lead me along a safe path, because I have many enemies. Don’t abandon me to my enemies who attack me with lies and threats.” Psalm 27:11, 12
To Prison with Praise
When our blindfolds were finally untied, we blinked in the sunlight outside Lusaka Police Station. Chris laughed and as we looked at him he pointed out, “Our handcuffs — they’re British-made!” The soldiers looked at us with suspicion as we saw the funny side of it.
We were served with detention orders, then driven in the back of the truck, covered by soldiers’ AK47’s, to prison. Spontaneously we started to sing: “Praise the Name of Jesus! He’s my rock! He’s my fortress! He’s my deliverer! In Him will I trust.”
The soldiers looked uncomfortable and people in the streets of Lusaka stared at the strange sight of four dirty, bedraggled, handcuffed Whites singing under armed guard.
“Halleluja, for the Lord our God the Almighty reigns!”
As we came into the prison itself we were singing, “This is the day that the Lord has made — we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
One of the soldiers looked at us and declared, “I’m very sorry — there must be some mistake. Tell them the truth. They must set you free.”
We then went through the humiliating procedure of being admitted to prison. A prison officer was shocked at our appearance. “Where are your shoes Don’t you have spare clothes? ... Soap? Toothbrush?.. . Bibles?”
“We don’t have anything,” was our reply. “The police took everything except what we are standing in.”
- To another officer he murmured: “How can they treat people like this?” Then to us he said: “Remember, even the Apostle Paul was put in jail unjustly.”
As he said that the words of 2 Timothy 2:9 came to my memory: “Because I preach the Good News, I suffer and am even chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not in chains.”
It was a shock to walk through the gate and see nearly a thousand people filling that small, dusty courtyard of the prison. Fifteen-foot-high walls, with rolls of barbed wire around them. Sick, sad and unhealthy to people in tattered clothes. Every where I looked, prisoners were sitting, standing or squatting.
“Well, this looks like home for the next few weeks, months or years.” I declared.
There was no running water in the prison — every drop of water for 1 000 people needed to be carried in daily in containers. The stench from the open holes which served as toilets was unbearable. There was no sanitation to speak of and the whole prison seemed to be a disease factory.
We were horrified to find that the 25-foot by 15-foot cells accommodated an average of 55 prisoners each. Most of the prisoners were not convicts, but were awaiting trial. Some claimed to have been awaiting trial since 1984 and before that. Disease and death was a constant reality in prison, and we saw corpses being carried out of the cells.
We were locked up in our cells from sunset to sunrise, but were allowed to walk around the dirty, overcrowded yard during the daylight hours.
We were placed in the less-crowded detainees’ cell and we settled in to warding off the clouds of flies and waiting for one of our names to be called, when we would be handcuffed and led away by S.B. men for another interrogation.
“The good man suffers troubles, but the Lord saves him from them all." Psalm 34:19
Amidst Detainees and Torture
In our detainees’ cell in Lusaka Central Prison were people literally from around the world. There was a tall Muslim from Timbuktu in Mali, a man from Zaire, another from Kenya, and one from Zimbabwe. There was a young man from Malawi, accused of spying for South Africa. There was also a highly-educated engineer who used to be a major in the Zambian army.
A 62-year-old Indian citizen had been in detention for over nine months. This father of five was in jail in spite of being a millionaire — or maybe because of it. Reportedly some officials were greedy for his mining company.
"Condemning the innocent or letting the wicked go — both are hateful to the Lord.” Proverbs 17:15
A young Black South African had been jailed for 18 months. A truck-driver, with a wife and two children in Soweto, he had been framed by some ANC members who owed him money. He had been severely tortured at Lilayi Police Training Centre. They hung him upside down with his head in a bucket of water whilst being sadistically beaten. He had been burnt with red-hot pokers and his body was covered with sores that swelled up and burst. He had also been electrocuted. At night his cries and screams woke us up. Yet we saw what a fine Christian this innocent young victim of a miscarriage of justice was. He spent hours daily on his knees in fervent prayer and in Bible study. At nights we would sometimes sing Christian hymns together. I remember the night we sang “Amazing Grace”. When we finished we heard choruses of singing coming from several other cells.
“The Lord knows when our spirits are crushed in prison; He knows when we are denied the rights He gave us; When justice is perverted in court, He knows.” Lamentations 3:34-36
Preaching in Prison
As I entered the squalor of that over crowded prison, the Scripture came to my mind:
"But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances; endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the Good News, and perform your whole duty as a servant of God.” 2 Timothy 4:5
Immediately we started testifying of our faith in Christ and discussing Biblical teaching with the Muslims and other people in our cell.
Daily we held prayer meetings and Bible studies. We sang Gospel songs to the prisoners and counselled them in the ways of God.
On the first Saturday, we held a church service for the whole prison, and were about to begin the sermon when some officials came in and one, calling himself “the Commander in Chief” forbade us to speak, and declared that he would give the sermon. There followed an incomprehensible jumble of foul language and fiction basically trying to whip up hatred against Whites, claiming we were “terrorists” and “mercenaries” — “the brainbox of all criminals”, responsible for “millions of deaths”.
“His speech is filled with curses, lies and threats; he is quick to speak hateful, evil words.” Psalm 10:7
It did not seem to impress anybody and the next day, Sunday 11th, we held a glorious worship service — singing, testifying and preaching to the hundreds of eager and responsive prisoners. After that we had a constant stream of prisoners requesting spiritual counselling or asking for prayer. We were also regularly brought food and water by other detainees and prisoners. Which was just as well, as the officials only fed us twice in the sixteen days.
Whether by accident or design, I was prevented from presenting further sermons by the S.B. police, who came and took me, handcuffed, away from two other services just before I could preach.
When the time came for us to be released, hundreds of prisoners bade us goodbye — some with tears in their eyes. Somehow they had come to love us.
“I have not kept the news of salvation to myself; I have always spoken of your faithfulness and help. In the assembly of your people I have not been silent about your loyalty and constant love.” Psalm 40:10
While we anguished in prison in Zambia, tortured and tormented with doubts assailing our minds — “does anyone know were here? Would anyone care? Is anyone doing anything to get us out?” — thousands of believers in churches around the world were praying. And God was working in the most amazing ways to answer those prayers, and open prison doors.
Over a thousand calls were made to the Zambian embassy in Washington by concerned Christian supporters of our Mission. Representations were made to the Embassy personally by related missions protesting the detentions. Over five hundred letters were sent to the British Foreign Office in London, and the issue was taken to the Vancouver Commonwealth Conference and personally raised with the Zambian delegation.
Letters, telephones and telexes hummed all around the world, and Christians were mobilised to pray and to act. To all those people we express our heartfelt gratitude.
“So all your loyal people should pray to you in times of need, when a great flood of trouble comes rushing in.” Psalm 32:6
On Tuesday 20th, one of our fellow detainees said — “You’re in the paper!” There, on the front page of the Times of Zambia, the headlines declared: “CHURCH FOUR BEING HELD”. It was the first indication we had that anyone outside knew we were in jail. It was also interesting to note that despite us being in Zambian custody for fourteen days as “suspected spies”, the “Comrade secretary of state for defence and security” declared that he was “not aware of the detentions.”
The next day we were called to the front and met by our interrogators, Instead of slapping handcuffs on our wrists, they smiled and shook our hands. “You’re going home!”, they declared. I must admit we were sceptical — it seemed as if it could be another psychological trick to break down our resistance. Dare I hope? As one of our other members said, “I’ll believe it only when I see South Africa again.”
But their attitudes had totally changed. We were escorted hastily through the dozen road blocks between Lusaka and Kazangulu — with our captors buying us ice cream on the way — and re-united with our vehicle and equipment. When we discovered R5 000 worth of personal effects missing —they promised to find or replace them again. Clearly something had happened to so radically change our interrogators’ attitudes. Having missed the ferry, we camped the night at the customs post. Not even the mosquitos could ruin that first tentative taste of almost being free.
By midday the next day we were given our passports and escorted to the ferry, where the eight interrogators waved us good-bye. “See you again,” said one.
“You have put us to the test, God; as silver is purified by fire so you have tested us. You let us fall into a trap and placed heavy burdens on our backs, You let our enemies trample over us; we went through fire and flood, but now you have brought us to a place of safety ... I will give you what I said I would when I was in trouble.” Psalm 66:10-14
There followed four more roadblocks through Botswana as we drove through the night, savouring our new-found freedom. Friday 23rd, we crossed over into South Africa and saw the welcome sight of the blue S.A.P. uniforms. “Are we glad to see you,” I said, “Where’s the flag?” When they heard where we had been, they raised the S.A. Flag thirty minutes early. It was a great feeling to be home and free again.
“Praise God with shouts of joy...! Sing to the Glory of His name. . . Say to God: Your power is so great that your enemies bow down in fear before you. . . I cried to Him for help; I praised Him with songs. If I had ignored my sins, the Lord would not have listened to me. But God had indeed heard me. He listened to my prayer.” Psalm 66:13-, 17-19
Dr Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74