Former freedom fighter finds Christ, becomes pastor

by Jennifer Bryant, posted Tuesday, February 26, 2002 (16 years ago)

SALT LAKE CITY (BP)--Becoming the bodyguard for the president of a freedom fighter group would probably not lead the way to Jesus for most people. But that is how Dan Mamatela, pastor of Millcreek Baptist Church of Salt Lake City, became a Christian. This church opened its doors to the Arkansas Women on Mission Team as they ministered during the Olympics.

Growing up in South Africa, Mamatela attended church and believed he was saved. In 1976, he fled to Zambia as a refugee then eventually joined a training camp in Angola. The camp trained him and many others to be freedom fighters, known by most as a terrorist group.

He was chosen to go to East Germany where he was assigned as the freedom fighter president's bodyguard. Some of his former friends, jealous of his position, framed him. They told officials Mamatela was a CIA informant.

During this time, the freedom fighters had arrested several men, beating them and killing some. They tied Mamatela's hands and feet with rope and interrogated him about 10 hours straight.

While in prison, Mamatela stated he was not really afraid until one certain night. In the middle of the night, he became terribly afraid as he imagined dirt being poured over him as if he was being buried. He got on his knees, surrounded by guards with machine guns, and prayed to God, "If you let me escape, I will serve you."

The following day during prison visitation, guards cut Mamatela loose from the ropes so he and his visitor could walk and talk privately. As his friend was leaving, Mamatela asked the guard to get his shoes, which they remove when prisoners have visitors so they do not escape.

The guard retrieved his shoes, and Mamatela began putting them on.

As Mamatela was getting up, he felt someone telling him, "Don't run, just walk." He started walking toward the gates, and he remembered Lot's wife when she turned around and was turned into a pillar of salt. So he did not look back.

He greeted guards as he walked and went right out of the gate. After walking about 100 meters, he took off running. He disappeared, and later found out the guards did not start looking for him for two hours.

After sleeping in a culvert for three days, he went to the American and British embassies, but they turned him away. Authorities were looking for him and saying he was armed and dangerous.

Then, he went to the United Nations for Refugees. There, a man decided to take him to a friend who worked at a prison. They let him in and assigned him a jail cell to hide him. For three months, they forgot about him.

"Everybody was looking for me, but nobody knew I was there," said Mamatela. The High Commissioner for Refugees came to free some other men in the prison. Mamatela told her he was with them as well. She let him out of prison and hid him with a Catholic priest. He had to stay in his room for fear the church workers would turn him in for the ransom. He stayed there until it was time to go to the United States.

When he arrived in the U.S., he found his sponsors were Christians who were active in a small church. He decided to go with them. One evening at church, he heard a man from Scotland preach.

"I remember he was talking about hell. 'There are many chances before you cross over,'" Mamatela remembers the preacher saying, "'but after, you don't have any chances.' I gave my life to Christ that night."

Mamatela said he was so emotional he does not remember walking down the aisle. Now, "I knew there was a difference" in my life. "Fear had gripped me because I had been so close to death," explained Mamatela.

Mamatela did not forget his promise to the Lord back on the prison floor, but he thought serving the Lord for him would be to clean a church or mow its yard. "I was shy. I didn't know how to speak English," he said. "I pursued engineering in Phoenix."

One day after taking part in the Bible study, Experiencing God, it became clear. Mamatela felt called to preach, but he wanted confirmation. He felt he was supposed to quit his job and school.

After staring at a blank television, he realized he was so depressed. He told God, "I think you told me to do this, but I need confirmation. This evening, if anybody asks me about studying the Bible, I will know."

That night, Mamatela and a good friend were walking to their cars after church. They were going in opposite directions across the parking lot when Mamatela heard his friend call out, "Hey, Dan, you know I think God is telling me to tell you to preach."

In 1995, Mamatela went to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and graduated. He eventually ended up in a small church in Salt Lake City.

He has learned since becoming pastor there is "a letter of the law and a spirit of the law. You can't kick someone out of the church because someone else thinks they are doing something wrong," Mamatela said. "You have to realize you are a shepherd, not the Shepherd."

He has also learned the financial challenges of ministry. "Things are breaking in the church, and sometimes you have to pay for it out of your own pocket," Mamatela stated.

Mamatela is studying the life of the church, encouraging his people to live Holy lives and take God and the Bible seriously.

"We are focusing on ourselves first before taking on the Mormons," said Mamatela in regards to his church's ministry opportunities. "God works through small groups. He focused on the disciples first, then the world."

Working in Utah provides different ministry opportunities than other states because it is the "home of the Mormons."

His church is very small and needs quite a few things. Mamatela expressed prayer is the number one need of the church. "God, send us a revival," said Mamatela. "He can send us money, but without the revival, it won't matter."

They also need helpers explained Mamatela. "We need God to send us workers. They have to have a mission-minded focus."

As do a lot of churches, Millcreek also needs money. They are not financially able to pay Mamatela, and they need sound equipment.

But they do have very loving and giving members. These members provided some food and offered their facilities to house Global Outreach volunteers. These volunteers came from all over the country to share Jesus with the world at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake.

They offered a prayer and sang a special song to the team of women from Arkansas who worshiped with them Feb. 17.


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FREEDOM FIGHTER.

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