Counting the Scars

25 June 2023

After surviving a brutal attack at his church, a Tanzanian Christian expresses gratitude for God’s provision.

One, two, three …” began Temistocres Ngabona, counting the deep scars on his leg. “Four, five, six, seven, eight …” he continued, moving to his right arm and then to his severed thumb and mangled fingers. As he reached the ninth scar, he buried his face in his arms, overcome with emotion while recalling the attack that nearly ended his life.

Keeping Commitments

Temistocres was a nominal Christian in 2011 when he married Deborah, a nominal Muslim, in a northern Tanzanian town that was a mixture of both faiths. One day, shortly after the couple’s marriage, a pastor came to their door and invited them to visit his church the following Sunday. Temistocres agreed.

Sunday arrived with a downpour, but Temistocres told his wife they should keep their commitment. During the service, God touched their hearts and both Temistocres and Deborah became fully devoted followers of Christ.

Several years later, during another Sunday service, their pastor gave an impassioned sermon on the need for prayer. Convicted and compelled to respond, Temistocres decided to pray every night at the church, all night long, for six months. He and other church members would meet at the church at 9 or 10pm. for a prayer service, after which a few people would remain and take turns sleeping and praying through the night.

The prayer services had been going on for about two months when a school teacher named Dioniz decided to join the group. Though a follower of Christ, Dioniz had not been very active in his faith; his father was a Christian, but his mother was a strident Muslim.

As the nightly prayers continued, Dioniz made a commitment to pray with the group. For Temistocres and his pastor, Dioniz’s attendance affirmed the power of prayer.

With a mosque less than a kilometre away from the church, the local Muslim community took notice of the Christians’ prayer meetings. Though Christians can practise their faith openly in majority-Christian Tanzania, Temistocres’s town is near the Ugandan border, and radical Muslims in the area would occasionally exert their influence in the local mosque. Tanzanian believers, especially converts from Islam, sometimes experience persecution in predominantly Muslim areas. Attacks on homes and churches are possible, and intense pressure from family members is not uncommon.

One day during a meeting at the mosque, a swarm of bees filled the building and disrupted the service. Some of the Muslims blamed the praying Christians for the insect invasion, believing the Christ followers had cursed the mosque.

Anger in the Muslim community towards the overnight prayer group was rising to the point of violence.

Attacked

On 13 October 2014, Temistocres had a troubling dream in which he entered a house filled with Christians and Muslims singing worship songs together. In the middle of the house lay a body wrapped in a sheet with a bright light shining on it.

The following evening, Temistocres told his pastor about the dream as they walked to the prayer meeting together. Surprisingly, the pastor said he had experienced a similar dream the same night.

“Perhaps some Muslims and some Christians will together participate in a funeral because it’s a new believer coming from different backgrounds,” he suggested.

Though the men shared a similar dream, neither thought much more about it.

Later that evening, Temistocres and Dioniz were left alone to pray through the night. While Temistocres was sleeping and Dioniz was praying, Temistocres thought he was having another dream, in which this time he was fighting with someone and a light was flashing in his face.

Startled from his slumber, he realised the nightmare was real; a man wearing a head torch was swinging a large machete at his head. A group of men from the mosque had come to attack whoever was at the church.

Temistocres struggled to defend himself in his half-asleep stupor as the head torch flashed in his eyes and the attacker swung the machete wildly.

“I used my arms to block the blade; that is how they cut me,” he recalled. As his eyes adjusted to the light, Temistocres was shocked that he recognised many of the attackers.

Then he sensed the Lord speaking to him. “I heard a voice say, ‘Take a stone!’” he said. “So I found a stone and threw it.” The stone hit his assailant in the head, knocking him down.

Temistocres also collapsed and could not get back up. He realised his left leg was badly injured and was nearly severed just above his ankle. Another man struck him with a large knife three more times before the attackers ran off.

At that moment, Temistocres saw his friend Dioniz alive for the last time. The attackers had struck him in the head, and he was struggling to escape in the darkness. He stumbled into a wall, then collapsed near the front of the church and died.

Surviving

Fearing the attackers might return, Temistocres slowly pulled himself, half crawling and half sliding, out the church door, across the ground, through a field and onto a path, where he hoped someone might find him. Believing he would die, he cried out to God: “God, forgive me! If there is any way I wronged You, forgive me and now receive my soul.”

At about 2:30am, a woman found him and brought him some water. She also called authorities, who eventually took him to a hospital. Temistocres’s wife, Deborah, learned later that morning that her husband was critically injured and Dioniz had been killed. When she reached the hospital, she was shocked by his appearance. “When we looked at each other, I started crying,” she said, “and he also started crying.”

Deborah was allowed to see Temistocres for only a short time, and the doctors did not give her details about his condition. But when she left his room, she heard a voice say, “Fear not; I am with you.”

Police later arrested one of the attackers that Temistocres had recognised, reportedly finding bloody clothes as evidence against him.

Shortly after the suspect was arrested, people whom Deborah didn’t know brought food and drinks to the hospital for Temistocres. As she was about to give her husband some juice that one of the strangers brought, Deborah sensed the Holy Spirit telling her not to give it to him. When she asked who had brought the juice, a man ran from the room. She learned that the man was related to one of Temistocres’s attackers, and police later confirmed that the juice bottle contained poison.

Later, someone offered to bring them money — likely a bribe to drop the charges — and another person offered food that they believed was tainted.

The man arrested for the assault and murder was released for unknown reasons, and Temistocres has seen his attackers in the city. But he still chooses to show them grace. “They are forgiven,” he said. “I know that they did something that they didn’t know, like Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’.”

Giving Thanks

After hearing of the attack, a frontline worker visited Temistocres at the hospital. VOM helped pay for his medical needs, including 10 surgeries, treatment for multiple infections and months of rehabilitation. “It’s a miracle that he is here today,” the front-line worker said.

Very early in his hospitalisation, Temistocres began to consider how he could thank God for preserving his life. While receiving treatment, he thought, “How can we thank God for all He has done for us?”

His answer was to make another significant commitment. He and Deborah decided to donate their land to the church as an offering of thanksgiving. Church members wept when they heard about the gift, but Temistocres’s family members struggled to understand why a man with such severe injuries would give away his most valuable possession. “My father told me, ‘I heard that you offered the plot to the pastor,’” Temistocres said. “I answered my father, ‘I didn’t give to the pastor. I gave my plot to the Lord.’”

Because Temistocres and Deborah continued to see the attackers in town, they decided to move to another area for their safety. Frontline workers helped Temistocres launch a small poultry business since he could not return to his job as a stonemason. And the couple soon bought a plot of land with proceeds from their successful business and built a new church on the property.

The church has 71 members and 150 children who regularly attend. “Temistocres is our true pastor,” said one of the church’s leaders during a recent visit. “What you see here is because of his love and his heart. We love him, and he loves us.”

In addition to his work at the church, Temistocres hopes to receive additional training in ministry to Muslims. He wants to show them the same kind of love that he received when a pastor first visited his home years ago.

Temistocres and Deborah are grateful for God’s provision through the body of Christ. “I thank God for them,” she said. “I ask God to bless them abundantly, because at the time I had lost hope, they came. They intervened in the situation which lifted me up again.”

During a recent worship service, Temistocres tearfully thanked God directly from the pulpit. “Asante, Yesu,” he said in Swahili. “Thank you, Jesus.”

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