- Indonesian President vows to do more for persecuted Christians
- Chinese President Xi Jinping steps up as global leader challenging US supremacy
- Trump and the future of NATO
- 100 000 Killed in Yemen conflict
- Pakistan Prime Minister defends religious minorities
- Trump to offer Putin sanction-nuclear deal
- Several thousand US troops arrive in Poland in show of strength against Russia
- US set for confrontation with China over South China Seas
- Swim Classes - the new front line for Muslim integration into Europe
- Christians remain the most persecuted group in the world
- Influential voice against Iranian hardliners dies
- China sends first freight train to London
- Islamic State claims deadly Istanbul nightclub attack
- 59 Killed in Baghdad as terrorists continue to target the city
29 November 2015: A year of pain BUT a year of growth
On 29 November 2014, three gunmen and suicide bombers stormed the compound where Werner Groenewald and his family lived in Kabul, exchanging fire with security forces before leaving Werner and his two children dead. Six other hostages were rescued after the afternoon attack while one Afghan worker also died in the attack. Hannelie, his wife, was not at home during the time and survived the attacked but lost everything.
It is now one year since the four heroes of faith gave everything for the sake of the Kingdom.
For Hannelie, the year has been filled with pain but also with comfort, with loss but also with new opportunities. Here is a short update from Hannelie as she reflects on the past year with a vision for the future. We encourage everybody to continue to pray for Hannelie as she seeks wisdom and discernment for this new chapter in her life, that God will open doors that are supposed to open and close those she is not supposed to pursue.
Hannelie writes as follows:
“I can’t believe that a year has passed since the horrible day of the attack on 29 November. It was truly a trying and difficult year in so many ways, and I had to learn to function in many situations outside of my comfort zone. God used these situations to let me grow spiritually and to also be a blessing in His Body. There were also so many blessings I have experienced, so many wonderful people I have met, and so many things to be thankful for.
I want to thank each and every one for their loyal support through comforting messages and emails, prayers, and financial support this past year. Without you, it would’ve been so much more difficult to survive. I can actually say with ease that I haven’t just survived, but that I have lived a full life this year and am filled with joy for the gift of life. Nehemiah 8 v 10: 'The joy of the Lord is your strength and your stronghold.'
After the attack I strongly felt that I had to share my testimony in various churches locally and abroad, and God opened doors for me to share in Namibia and Brazil and widely within South Africa’s borders. It also was my plan to go to Athens (Greece) in September to search for possible ways to get involved with the Afghan refugees, since there is a great need for medical care and I am able to speak the language. But God closed that door for me, and the visit didn’t happen.
Currently I am in Cape Town, sharing my testimony at a church in a nearby town. With this event, I will conclude sharing my testimony, as I have been sharing for a year now and feel comfortable that the time for that has finally come to an end. I believe I am on the verge of starting a new chapter in my life, and am excited to see how and where God is going to lead me for the next year.
I became more and more aware of opportunities to serve in Mozambique, and started feeling an urge to go investigate. I have just returned from a visionary trip to Inhassoro and Valanculos. I have visited clinics and hospitals in the area, and also sent my CV to the Netcare hospital in Valanculos. I am currently waiting for a response. There are so many sharing and serving opportunities there, and I pray for the right connections and wisdom to make a wise decision.
I believe that I will also be able to start writing my book, away from the never ending rush of the city. It is my prayer that God will give me an author’s ability to pin down rich memories of our lives in Kabul in a captivating way, and that it will inspire people and give them a message of hope for their future. Not writing was a frustration this past year since I lacked the inspiration, the know-how, and time for this huge project.
I have joined Solidarity, and am working certain days of the month on a voluntary basis, at the Triomf Clinic in Pretoria-West to help less fortunate patients. This also helps me to move into practicing first world medicine again.
In October, Voice of the Martyrs USA visited me and we agreed on making a video of our family’s lives in Afghanistan with the main focus on the day of the attack. It will, God willing, be released on the International Day of Prayer in November 2016. We will start working on this anytime between January and March 2016.
I want to wish everyone a safe and blessed festive season. May you experience God’s presence, peace and protection. May you rest out well and return in the new year refreshed and inspired for another year‘s hard work.
Working together to be salt and light in His Kingdom.
17 December 2014: The Groenewald family I know
A personal tribute from Andre Joubert, co-worker and friend of the Groenewalds and Board Member of INcontext Ministries:
We arrived in Kabul in June of 2005; my wife and I were joining an international NGO helping the Afghans rebuild their lives through multiple projects. Living in a war torn country where you have 2 hours of electricity every second day and must be self-reliant on bore holes for water was a challenge, but we knew very well what we were getting ourselves into as we had visited before. We learnt the language, used local taxis as transport and lived among the Afghans as our neighbours and friends for the next 4½ years.
We met Werner, Hannelie, Jean-Pierre and Rode when they were invited to dinner at the guest house we were staying while we were finding an apartment. It was the start of a friendship that lasted to this day. Jean Pierre and Rode were still very young, about 8 and 6 respectively. They went to the international school in Kabul like many other foreigners’ kids and some Afghan children.
Werner and Hannelie were very dependent on external funding (friends, family, organizations in SA and USA). There was no large salary involved and the NGOs they worked for relied on voluntary services. Hannelie worked at the public hospital called Cure where her services were mostly voluntary. She also served as our doctor and never asked for compensation. In the last 2 years Werner had to consolidate his family house and the PAD office, as funding was so low that they could not afford a separate family house. Hannelie worked at a private hospital to supplement their income to survive and gave the children home schooling.
My wife and I many times affirmed to ourselves that should any of us two be kidnapped, no ransom money was to be paid. I cannot pay evil to perpetrate more evil to save my own life. Similarly Werner and Hannelie had to make the conscious decision and calculate the cost for being in Afghanistan and serving the Afghans. They included their children in the decision and the kids always had the option of staying behind in SA and go to boarding school. They decided to remain with their parents, also counting the cost. Jean-Pierre was 17 when he was shot in November and would have written his matric in SA in 2015. He wanted to become a pilot and return to Afghanistan, clearly demonstrating his decision.
Counting the cost started earlier than we thought. We lost our friend Gayle Williams who was shot by the Taliban in October 2008 for her faith. We lost our Pakistani friend Sayed who was shot by the Taliban in the back of his head. We lost Daniella who was shot by the Taliban while serving in a mobile eye-clinic in the countryside. Last month Werner and the children had to make the ultimate sacrifice, living out Werner’s own resolve he shared with us only 32 days earlier, when we saw them for the last time as a family: "We only die once, so it might as well be for Jesus."
I spoke to a non-Christian friend of mine yesterday who asked me how do I make sense of this tragedy. It reminded me of the comments I read online where people asked all kinds of questions about this incident:
- Why would a deeply Christian religious family go to a country which is clearly not Christian? That is madness and irresponsible.
- Why not work in SA?
- You just don't take your family into hot zones... It's your duty to look after your family, your kids, and keep them out of areas like this.
- People should stop helping where help is not appreciated.
The answer lies squarely in what Werner and his family believed to be absolute Truth. They believed in the Bible, in Jesus as their only purpose in life and in eternal spiritual life after physical death. We live in a fallen world where evil still rules and we try to protect ourselves from it as far as possible. But seen from an eternal perspective, for Werner and his family, this life was nothing to hold on to. The sacrifice-free theology of comfort and security is not what Jesus called us for, in fact He promised we will have problems in this world. Rode was 15 when she died. Is living a comfortable and secure life for another 75 years’ worth comparing with an eternity of joy in heaven, when that short life lived had eternal significance for others? Werner and his family freely chose to follow God’s calling on their lives to Afghanistan. They accepted the risk and counted the cost. Were they irresponsible? No, to the contrary, they believed being disobedient to God is irresponsible. They went to non-Christian Afghanistan to be witnesses of Jesus though actions, love, caring and sharing. In SA anybody is free to investigate and believe in any faith. The Afghans do not have that freedom and they have the right to experience Jesus through the Groenewald family. Many Afghans appreciated the family and their witness and for them it made all the difference for eternity.
Why did God allow this? Would it not have been better to keep the family alive in Afghanistan to continue their good work, than to allow their death?
God Himself sent His Son Jesus to earth (a hot zone) to die for us a cruel innocent death and in so doing take the punishment for our sin away to inherit eternal life with Him. Was Jesus’s coming to this hot zone and dying worth it? Absolutely, for those who believe God’s Bible as the truth. When a seed dies in the ground, a harvest much bigger than the seed resounds. So it was with Jesus (one man died to give eternal life to millions), and so the harvest resulting from Werner, Jean-Pierre and Rode’s deaths will be much larger than their 3 lives. Their deaths have made Afghan Christians stronger. It has clearly demonstrated where and how love and truth operates in a country that has only experienced the opposite. Their story and witness have travelled around the world, speaking into many hearts. While we will not be able to fathom or understand the complete impact now, we (including Hannelie) will know, when we enter eternity and meet Werner, Jean-Pierre and Rode once again.
Jesus: “Be faithful to me, even if it means death, and I will give you life as your prize of victory.” Revelation 2:10
For Werner and his family the route to martyrdom lay not only in the fact that their lives were witness to the Truth but also the fact that they found themselves among people who hated the One they represented. As a family they knew this and they prepared themselves to be witnesses, come what may. They understood that genuine martyrdom involves the commitment to a truth that is so overwhelmingly important that justice is better served by suffering than it is by evading it, if that means abandoning the truth.
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10
It has been a year of relentless and unprecedented attacks on Christians. According to Pew Research, more than 5.3 billion people (76% of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion. The Pew study further confirmed that Christians are "the most persecuted religious group in the world" and that their persecution is occurring primarily throughout the Islamic world. In the category of "Countries with Very High Government Restrictions on Religion," Pew lists 24 countries of which 20 are Islamic and where the overwhelming majority of the world's Christians are being persecuted.”
Jean-Pierre and I discovered this song by Bill Drake during our last visit this past October: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mmnu_D--Xg. Jean-Pierre loved and sang it from his heart.
We attended the funeral for Werner, Jean-Pierre and Rode on Friday. It was an extraordinary day of God-inspired hope for the future.
12 December 2014: A personal perspective from an empty grave
The king has one more move.
Today we stood at the graves of Werner Groenewald and his two children, Jean-Pierre and Rode. When I said goodbye to Rode a month ago, after an incredible week of fellowship in China, I did not foresee that my next encounter with this beautiful young girl would be carrying her coffin to an empty grave.
I kept on reminding myself the whole morning, over and over, to “THINK KINGDOM”. I remembered the song sung by Christians in Egypt after their Church was burnt down in Minya last year - after the sorrow of losing friends, family and fellowship they still declared bravely: “We declare it to the whole world, our considerations are not like yours. Our goal is the Kingdom of heaven.” I found comfort in this and yet we wept.
I read again this morning in Acts 7 how Stephen, a young fearless disciple, was violently dragged outside the city by members of the Sanhedrin and then, under the supervision and approval of a young man called Saul, they stoned him to death. I thought of Werner and the kids. Where was God in all of this? Has the presence of God failed Werner and his children when they needed Him most? On the contrary. We find one of the most beautiful descriptions of an ever-present Christ in the Bible. Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God's glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God. What a glorious comfort. This is the only place in Scripture where we find Jesus standing at the right side of God. Throughout Scripture we read that Jesus is seated on the right hand of God but in this occasion Jesus was standing up to welcome His faithful servant into eternity. He was not absent nor ignorant. He was there and Werner and the children knew this and probably echoed the words of Stephen. I found comfort in this thought and yet we wept.
Finally, at the service this morning, the pastor shared a story that provided yet another seed of comfort. This story has been told by Christian speakers as far back as 1955 when Billy Graham told a variation of it early in his ministry:
"Two men are standing in front of a painting called Checkmate in an art gallery. In the painting, a man is playing chess with the devil. The devil is grinning ear-to-ear because he has the man cornered. The title of the painting, Checkmate, indicates that the game is over. The devil has won the soul of his opponent in this chess match and he has no more moves left.
The first man looking at the painting wants to move on to other paintings in the gallery. But the second man, a chess champion, wants to look at the painting longer, so he waves his friend on and tells him he will catch up later. The chess champion stares and stares at the chess board, then suddenly he steps back, flabbergasted. 'It's wrong!' he exclaims. 'There's one more move.' He runs to his friend and together they look at the painting. 'We have to contact the painter,' the chess champion says. 'It's not checkmate. The king has one more move.'"
Indeed, the Taliban might think it is game-over and that the Christian witness of the Groenewald family has been wiped out. Well, the King has one more move. We believe this. And as we wept we were once again reminded of Psalm 126 v 5 "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."
Yes, there will be a reaping. Yes, the King has one more move. Yes, our considerations are not those of the world. And yes, Werner and his family are now at a place where Christ stood up to welcome them. There was a joy in heaven as the heroes received their crown. We should rejoice with them! And we are!
Please continue to pray for Hannelie and the family. The loss is great, despite the promise of eternal joy.
11 December 2014: Challenges in repatriating bodies in time for funeral
Pretoria - Efforts to repatriate the bodies of the slain former Pretoria East pastor Werner Groenewald and his two children from Afghanistan are facing “challenges”. But the remains could possibly be back in time for a memorial service scheduled for Friday, family attorney Teresa Conradie said on Tuesday.
The three were killed in an attack on their home in Kabul by the Taliban two weeks ago. The compound they lived in and their house were razed to the ground.
Groenewald’s wife Hannelie, a doctor, was at work at a clinic during the attack. She returned to find the bodies of her husband Werner, 46, their son Jean-Pierre, 17, and daughter Rode, 15, being taken away in ambulances.
The Department of International Relations last week indicated that the South African embassy in Pakistan was working round the clock to get Hannelie emergency travel documents so she could return home as soon as possible. It was also working with Afghan authorities on repatriating the remains of the three dead family members.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, department spokesman Clayson Monyela said those processes had been successful and the bodies were due to arrive back on Tuesday. But Conradie refuted those reports, saying the bodies were still in Afghanistan. “That’s not true. We’ve met challenges in bringing them back, but we’re working towards getting them here in the next two days.”
She said Hannelie was already back in the country, and was being afforded the space and privacy she needed.
But on Tuesday afternoon, Nelson Kgwethe, also speaking on behalf of the department, said the widow was still in Afghanistan. “She is still there and has indicated that she would like to process the repatriation from that side,” he said.
When told that the family spokeswoman had said Hannelie was home, he said: “We have no authority to discuss the details of her movements.”
He confirmed that the bodies were still in Afghanistan. “We are still working with the authorities in that country to get them back.”
A memorial service is to be held at the Dutch Reformed Church Moreleta Park on Friday. Groenewald served as a pastor there for five years before the family moved to troubled Afghanistan as aid workers.
8 December 2014: Memorial services in Pretoria and Cape Town
How glorious to remember a life dedicated to a crucified Lord. How victorious to honour a death worthy of a risen Saviour.
We would like to inform all our friends of the two memorial services that will be held for Werner Groenewald and his two children in Pretoria and Cape Town. Werner and his family lived to glorify God and their desire always was that, through life or through death, Christ would be exalted.
If you live in the region of Cape Town and Pretoria, please take note of the following times and venues:
Thursday 11 December 2014 - 15h00
AFM/AGS Goodwood: c/o Vasco Blvd and Frans Conradie Drive, Goodwood
Contact: Eric Swanepoel (082 3195 153) or Chris Eden (083 3247 409)
Friday 12 December 2014 - 10h00
Moreletapark Church (DRC), 1353 De Villabois Mareuil Drive, Moreletapark
Contact: Info Desk (012 997 8000)
If you are not close to these two venues, please take some time to pray for the family during this time.
With deep appreciation for your love and care
The INcontext Team
4 December 2014: A message of gratitude from Hannelie Groenewald
Dear Family in Christ
Just a message of sincere thanks for all your prayers for me and my family as well as the Afghan families that are grieving now, after the horrific attack on Saturday afternoon, for the loss of their dear ones.
Words cannot describe the intense pain I'm feeling, and if I could have gone to be with them, I surely would. But God decided otherwise. It is not for me to question why this has happened, or why He decided that I should stay behind, because I know for a fact that their blood wasn't shed in vain. I also know that my purpose on earth hasn't been fulfilled yet.
It is ironic that Werner shared at the INcontext conference about a month ago about "Counting the cost for Christ." It was good for me to hear him speak about the subject because I was again inspired by his words. Little did I know how big that cost would be for me in about a month from then.
I mourn my family, but I experience supernatural peace that can only be from God. I can NEVER doubt God's love and kindness because only when you go through something like this, you realize how much God loves us. God promised to never leave us nor forsake us. I can honestly testify of that.
The love and care I experience from the Body of Christ is totally overwhelming. It carries me. It helps me to be able to think logically now in order to wrap things up here, not only for the NGO, but also to say goodbye to everyone (Afghans and foreigners) whom I've grown to love dearly over the years.
Thank you for your continued prayers. I deeply appreciate you. May the testimony of Werner and the kids' lives and death continue to shine it's light in a world that seems to be becoming darker by the day.
I know that the seeds of their lives in the ground will produce a 100 or 1000 fold harvest that will only glorify God.
With much love,
3 December 2014: Condolences from an Iranian brother
The following message was received from Dr Daniel Shayesteh, a man who was deeply involved in the Iranian Fundamentalist Revolution (1979) as a leading Muslim political leader and teacher of Islam and religious philosophy. Daniel was saved wonderfully through Christ, when he escaped to Turkey after falling out of favour with Khomeini's political group. If there is one man who understands both the hearts of the attackers and the hearts of the victims, it is Daniel. These are the words of a man who can identify regionally, culturally, politically and religiously.
(The letter is slightly revised for web-purposes):
"We are heart-broken for Werner and their two beautiful children. The news of their martyrdom hit our hearts and we cried, but the tears were the joyful tears full of hope that God is going to use every drop of their blood for the salvation of many in Afghanistan. The blood of these martyrs is also the fuel for more courage in our ministries for Christ. May the news of their martyrdom make us more courageous in investing for the Lord and make our voices louder than before.
We’ll continue to pray for our South African brothers and sisters to feel proud of our loving Father for paying for Afghanistan via the blood of the Groenewald family and further be channels of care and blessing to Hannellie."
1 December 2014: John 11:35 - "Jesus Wept"
Of this, the shortest verse in the Bible, Matthew Henry says the following: “Tears of compassion well become Christians, and make them most to resemble Christ. It is a relief to those who are in sorrow to have their friends sympathize with them, especially such a friend as their Lord Jesus.”
The last few minutes…
In an interview with News24 (http://www.news24.com/), Werner Groenewald’s sister-in-law, Riana du Plessis, revealed how the tragedy unfolded minutes before Werner and his two children were killed in Afghanistan on Saturday 29 November 2014.
The attack happened on Saturday at the offices of the Partnership in Academics and Development (Pad) in Kabul, where the Groenewalds lived and worked. According to du Plessis: "Three of the insurgents entered the house and they were disguised as policemen - one was a suicide bomber - and the other two had guns in their hands. They first shot Werner in the leg before he ran upstairs to try protect his children. The gunmen then randomly fired shots in the basement, where other staff members were. The attack by the Taliban went on for hours. The insurgents then took people hostage... and then they went upstairs after Werner and his children. Within minutes the family was dead and the house was then set alight.”
According to Pad, the other staff members emerged with injuries. Werner’s wife Hannelie Groenewald was at a clinic in Kabul where she worked when the attack happened.
"When she got to the house, she saw the three bodies of the family taken out of the house and put into the ambulance," said Du Plessis.
The children, Rode, 15, and Jean-Pierre, 17, were two amazing young people. JP loved technology, he wanted to become a pilot, and even planned on working in Afghanistan in the future. Rode was a young lady that captured the people around her with her beautiful smile.
According to http://www.enca.com/south-africa/efforts-bring-sa-doctor-home-underway-after-her-family-was-killed-afghanistan, fast action has been taken by the South African government to help Hannelie Groenewald return home.
Nelson Kgwete, spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), said his department was in contact with a family representative who was assisting in efforts to bring Groenewald home and repatriate the remains of her deceased family members.
"We have received copies of all the identity books which we have sent to our mission in Islamabad, Pakistan," Kgwete said, explaining that this was done because South Africa does not have an embassy in Afghanistan.
"It is not the first time we have worked this way, and we are receiving full cooperation," Kgwete said, adding that he had little new information.
"We have instructed Islamabad to issue emergency travel documents for Mrs Groenewald because all her documents were destroyed in the fire. As soon as that is done she will be able to return home," Kgwete said, adding that the repatriation of the mortal remains of Werner, JP and Rode had also been prioritised.
In one of their last newsletters, Werner reflected as follows on a recent visit to China: "The trip to China enriched us as family on many different levels - in our relationships with each other and with God, and renewed our sense of fulfillment in the work we are doing in Afghanistan."
Continue to pray for the family
What a joy to know that in Christ the cross we bear will never be in vain. We continue to pray for the family.
29 NOVEMBER 2014: Werner Groenewald and his two children martyred in Afghanistan
This morning (Sunday 30 November 2014) our hearts are broken. We have lost a dear friend, a faithful worker and a precious soul-mate. Werner Groenewald and his two beautiful children, Jean-Pierre and Rodé, were killed in a Taliban attack in Kabul on Saturday 29 November 2014. Hannelie, his wife, was not at home during the time and survived the attacked but lost everything.
Three gunmen and suicide bombers stormed the compound where Werner and his family lived in Kabul on Saturday, exchanging fire with security forces before leaving Werner and his two children dead. Six other hostages were rescued after the afternoon attack while one Afghan worker also died in the attack
The bloodshed began around 4 p.m. local time, when a grenade was lobbed at the gate of the compound, after which the militants stormed the building. The men were carrying machine guns, grenades and wearing suicide vests. A Taliban spokesman said in a statement that it was targeting "a secret Christian missionary and foreign invaders' intelligence center."
This report is not an attempt to explain another theology of martyrdom. It is simply an expression of grief and anguish and an appeal for the wider body of Christ to share in the pain of the Groenewald family, especially Hannelie and Werner’s parents.
How do we express our deepest empathy and condolences with the family members who now have to face the reality of losing a son, a brother, a husband and two children in one horrific incident of terror? What words or theology can relieve the pain?
Like Jesus at, the grave of Lazarus, we can only weep. Words are insufficient but tears can be offered on their behalf before a loving Father who understands the acts of violence against a beloved Son. Yes, we celebrate the life of three martyrs who loved Christ more than they loved life but we mourn the death of three dear servants, friends and co-workers.
Our last time of fellowship together was a month ago in Asia when we contemplated the joy set before us of serving Christ. In Werner’s last message to the international group of co-workers he spoke on “Counting the cost of following Jesus”. His words will remain in our hearts forever as he closed the session with these words: "We only die once, so it might as well be for Jesus."
Together we also listened to Bill Drake sing the song “The Martyr’s Crown” and the words rang in our hearts “It is your time to wear the crown”. We did not know that soon it would be their time. Together we worshiped, we laughed and we cried. Together we knew that the call to carry our crosses and deny ourselves is not a theology but a reality. Today we know that Werner, Jean-Pierre and Rhodé are wearing the coveted crowns set apart for an elect few.
May we appeal to you to set some time apart in your service today to pray for Hannelie and the family. Weep before God as you share in the pain of a loving wife and mother who lost everything and an extended family who lost a son, brother and grand children.
We also pray that their death would not be in vain. May the blood of the martyr truly be the seed of the Church and ignite something in the hearts of believers across the globe, especially in South Africa, to follow Christ unconditionally, whole-heartedly and faithfully. May we be inspired to be Kingdom-minded and pursue the redemptive purposes that Werner’s s family so faithfully pursued in Afghanistan. May our live be a testimony of Christ, and our deaths ultimately point to His glory
We honour these three heroes of faith who have given their lives for those who hated them. We celebrate the invisible victory that can only be seen by those who understand the cross.