Posted on May 11 2019
Lessons learned from a violent home invasion while abroad.
Editor’s note: this is the story of an American pastor and his family, working in a small, peaceful African country when all hell broke loose inside their home.
(by Lad Chapman, ReadyMan, pastor, missionary and entrepreneur.)
"In retrospect, I was the one who created the opportunity for the attack.
One late summer afternoon, after a rigorous HIV prevention mission in a small African county, my family and I were due for a week of unwinding at the ocean. We were packing up, eating dinner, and getting the kids to bed (a newborn, a three-year-old and a five-year-old.)
We were renting a three bedroom house in an upscale neighborhood with a full fence, driveway gate, iron gated windows and doors, and a night guard. We stored a large number of tools in a workshop out back.
The small country offered second-world world living conditions. It wasn’t Darfur or South Sudan, by any measure—a generally peaceful country with virtually no civil unrest. It’s probably safer than any large American city. However, any time people have real need, there is a security threat, especially if you’re American.
Looking back, I realize that I had been missing a number of tools that I thought were misplaced. I should’ve noticed the losses and tightened security immediately.
That night, as I packed our bags in the Land Rover, I had uncharacteristically parked my work truck in the garage. I typically left the truck in the driveway. After stowing the truck, I went inside for dinner with my wife and boys and one of our colleagues.
I usually dead-bolted and locked the iron gate door when we entered and exited the house, especially in the evenings. That night, I shut the gate, and dummy locked it, but didn’t lock the lock because I planned to load the car a bit more.
The boys ate quickly and I took them to their bedroom for the nighttime ritual of reading books in their beanbags. We began reading one of their favorite bedtime stories, and then I heard my wife exclaim.
“Um ... Lad...”
It’s wasn’t a scream. It wasn’t a yell. It was her tone that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
I knew immediately by the tone in my wife’s voice that something was terribly wrong. I jumped up off the floor and moved toward the hallway. While I was moving, I watched my wife run with our newborn in her arms, shielding him, down the hallway towards our bedroom.
Though I had no idea who or what was chasing her, I knew when I passed through the door and hit the hallway I was going to encounter violent force. So without emotion—no anger or fear at all—in front of my terrified young boys, in defense of my wife and infant son—I dove through the doorway and met the intruder.
An African man, smaller yet scrappier than I, seemed totally caught off-guard when I tackled him. I knocked him off his feet and into the block wall and rattled him with my two-hundred and forty pound. six-foot-three inch frame. He was chasing my wife with a shovel that he had grabbed from my workshop using it like a hatchet.
The fight instantly became a battle for control of the weapon.
While I had no formal home defense training, and while I was never much of a fighter, my instinct was to subdue the man, take the weapon from him and keep him pinned.
While we grappled, thoughts spun through my head.
Why was he attacking us? Did he know I was home? Was he here to rape my wife or steal my infant son?
I found myself on top of him, pinning him with the shovel. I landed a solid punch to his mouth. He couldn’t hit me due to his shorter arms, but he kicked up on me with his knees and I lost balance. I heard myself yell “ouch.”
He scrambled off the ground and fled toward the door, the shovel in my hands now.
I gave chase and slashed the shovel at him down the hallway with every intention to destroy him. Again, I felt no anger, just the inertia of defending my family. Later I would find three large chunks bashed out of the tile and wall from my attempts to crush him with the shovel.
I chased the attacker out the door, across the garden and over the wall. He ran into darkness on well-traveled footpaths that pointed out of the community.
The entire attack was probably weeks in the planning, but only thirty seconds in execution. Standing in the field outside my home, shovel in-hand, I heaved for breath—totally gassed in just thirty seconds of struggling for our lives. It felt like I’d just completed the most intense wind sprints of my life.
My first thought: “There is no way Jason Bourne can go that hard, that long...”
As I returned barefoot through the dark, across dew-laden grass, announcing myself to my family, I finally realized that I was wounded.
When the attacker knocked me off balance, I had slipped into him and he bit me. There was a bite mark and torn flesh on the back of my bicep. Both his blood and my blood covered the wound.
The attacker left me with a potential HIV infection that took nine months to be tested and cleared. I found myself deeply grateful to God for protecting us from the attack and the possibility of HIV.
Here is what we learned:
- A potential attacker is probably already watching you. My wife recognized the attacker. She had met him at the gate and had given him some food when he “came asking for work.” Today, we understand that he had been watching and testing us for weeks.
- Patterns are both good and bad. Undoubtedly, he’d been watching me return from work, locking the house and closing up for the night. Breaking the pattern gave him the opportunity to attack. However, parking my truck in the garage may have been the pattern break that helped us, since it was unlikely he would’ve finally attacked had he known I was home.
- The event was traumatic, but I am very glad that I did not kill a man in front of my family, while serving as a missionary in a foreign land. After walking back inside and hugging each of my loved ones and thanking God, it struck me that we could’ve easily had a dead man in a pool of blood in our hallway. My children would’ve seen it. My wife would’ve seen it. The newspapers would’ve carried the story. As I examined the damage I’d done with the shovel to the walls and floor, I realized that the margin for death and even worse family trauma had been mere millimeters. As an expat in that country, we were not allowed gun permits. If we had a gun in the house, and I could’ve reached it, I would've shot him. Either way, a dead attacker bleeding out on my floor would have been far worse trauma for my boys and my wife. Many might disagree, but killing a man would’ve been ALL downside for me and my family. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.
- Immediate action is crucial. My wife’s maternal instincts were both decisive and critical in this attack. Her immediate communication of trouble, subtle but exact, alerted me. She ran and protected herself and the child she could protect. If she had delayed even one second, we could be writing about the day my wife and child were killed. "