Attack in South Africa turns into "transformational experience" for students

On May 9, four student participants and faculty leader Dr. Johann Buis who embarked on this summer’s “Resistance and Reconciliation in Africa” trip to South Africa were victims of an armed robbery. The attack occurred in Johannesburg while the group was en route from the airport to their lodging. According to a statement released by the college on May 13, the perpetrators stopped one of two vans carrying trip participants and robbed one male and three female students. Dr. Buis was physically assaulted during the incident, yet remained in South Africa to lead the remainder of the trip after his medical assessment and release. Of the 14 students on the trip, only the four in the van were impacted by the event and none sustained physical injury.
Following the robbery, the college’s International Emergency Response Team took action to ensure that students had access to the physical and emotional resources they needed. The team provided students who lost passports and other items with replacements, counseling was made available, and immediate arrangements were made for students who wished to return to the United States.
Prior to the group’s departure, the Office of Global and Experiential Learning (GEL) did not mark the Resistance and Reconciliation trip to South Africa as a high-risk program. Billed as a study of “culture, society, and hope,” it continued as planned and without incident after the robbery.
Dr. Laura Montgomery, Dean of Global and Experiential Learning, noted this early incidence of violence “did not define the trip.” While South Africa has seen an increase in such attacks in recent months, travel to the country is still not deemed high-risk by the college, and participants and leaders alike maintain that good came out of even this undesirable beginning.
“The encounter with the persons we met, flowing from this incident, resulted in transformational experiences,” Buis said. “People from the highest station in life to people doing menial work, all impacted our lives profoundly.”
Buis recalled a diverse cast of characters who left indelible marks on the group as a result of the incident. A Catholic nun who hosted the students in Johannesburg, acted as a mother figure of “profound compassion” and spiritual witness; a man who had fled the Rwandan genocide and worked as a watchman at their guesthouse; members of the group’s traveling security detail brought highly varied backgrounds from the Israeli Defense Force, the Pentecostal Church and studies in forensic accounting. Students in the program had the opportunity to learn from each of these individuals and more as they traveled through the country on what Buis declared a “pilgrimage of grace.”
“It would be a pity if this report is seen as a sensational incident and nothing more,” Buis said. “The incident was part of God’s providence.”
The group returned safely to Wheaton on May 25 and plans to have an open reunion conversation upon returning to campus this fall.

Leave a Reply