It’s the kind of question most of us hope we’ll never have to ask ourselves but one which Colleen and Fanie Bantjes had to grapple with after their traumatic experience. Roger Wood reflects on their moving story and how forgiveness has the power to transform and heal.
I recently challenged a post which had been made on Facebook. The writer had implied that all domestic workers would steal from their employers. I challenged him on the this and in response the writer asked if I was “living in the real world”. Sadly, I am and it’s not a very nice world; it’s a deeply divided one. In many ways these divisions are a legacy of the entrenched attitudes from our past. These can be hard to change but Paul encourages us in Romans 12: 2 to, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” But how are we to do this when hurt and brokenness run so deep on both sides?
One story I read in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago really helped me understand what this could look like practically – and in the process somewhat restored my faith in people. The story referred to Colleen and Fanie Bantjes who relocated from Johannesburg to Yzerfontein in 2004 to escape the crime in that region.
In January 2005, they decided to visit the Fossil Park near Langebaan and just before entering the park they stopped at the side of the road to make a phone call. Suddenly a man was standing on the driver’s side of the car, pointing a gun at Fanie. He got out of the car to give the phone to the man but a scuffle ensued.
Colleen, a committed Christian, says, she never prayed so hard in all her life. Somehow, Fanie managed to get back in the car but stalled it as he tried to pull away. The man by this time had moved to Colleen’s side and was pointing the gun at her. He pulled the trigger and by some miracle the bullet missed her although she was covered in cuts from the broken glass. At that point a policeman coming off duty who had seen what had happened stopped his car and with Fanie’s help caught the man.
The hijacker, Brian Pienaar, then in his early 20’s was sentenced to 23 years in prison for attempted hijacking and attempted murder. Colleen contacted Brian in prison and sent him a Bible. They kept up the correspondence and she sent him items to help with his schooling and clothing, such as a pair of pyjamas.
In 2011, Brian wrote to Colleen and Fanie to say that his mother had died. He said he cried for a week. He had had no contact with her for two years and this experience made him realise the need “to make right the wrong that you did to other people, because you don’t know if you will ever get another chance to say sorry.” He went on to say that he was sorry for what he had done to them in 2005.
Colleen had forgiven Brian long ago and, with her husband’s support, she continues to encourage him knowing that he is beginning to put his life back together and getting training whilst still in prison.
How do we build relationships with those who may have hurt us? By living out those words which many of us pray regularly, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:12) It’s not easy, but once we realise how much it cost Jesus to forgive us, we begin to recognise that none of us are perfect. Ephesians 4 : 32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Many of us have enjoyed the privileges of nice homes, caring parents, good schooling and many career opportunities. Brian grew up on the Cape Flats, surrounded by alcoholism, abuse, gangs and crime.
In a poem “Who’s to blame”, Brian writes:
The kid is not the owner of the illegal shebeen
or the manufacturer of the deadly methamphetamine.
Nor is the kid the big drug dealer in town
who’s breaking our friends and families down.
So next time if you want someone to blame
first ask yourself, “Who’s running the game?”
– Roger Wood is a retired educator presently working as a volunteer with Common Good. He is a member of Common Ground Constantiaberg AM.
To read the full article discussed in this post click here.
Can you think of a situation in your own life where forgiveness could lead to healing – or already has?