Missionary mom recalls horror of her family’s murder in Afghanistan


By Nico Bougas

The Groenewald family serving in Afghanistan
The Groenewald family serving in Afghanistan

Three armed Taliban insurgents swept into a Kabul guesthouse on Nov. 29, 2014, murdering three South Africans and two Afghans in the compound of an international aid agency in the Afghan capital.

Werner Groenewald and his two teenage children were murdered in the guesthouse where they lived in Kabul’s western Karte Seh district, along with an Afghan employee of their small aid organization, Partnership in Academics and Development (PAD). Another Afghan man visiting the compound at the time was also shot dead.

Dr. Hannelie Groenewald, the wife and mother of the South African victims, returned home late that Saturday afternoon from her work at a medical clinic to find her family’s bullet-ridden bodies being loaded onto ambulances. They included her son Jean-Pierre (17), and daughter, Rode (15).

The attackers had set the house ablaze, leaving her with only the clothes she was wearing and destroying all the family’s documents and other possessions.

At least seven Afghans present in the compound were held hostage during the four-hour battle between the attackers and Afghan security forces. Another two persons were injured by random gun shots in the basement area. The murdered Afghan staff member of PAD, who is not named for security reasons, was married with two small children.

One surviving Afghan who reportedly managed to hide himself behind steel cabinets in the compound, said the attackers shot Groenewald in the leg when they entered the building.

The insurgents had thrown a grenade at the gate into the compound to force their way into the two-story guesthouse. They were armed and wearing police uniforms, with one militant strapped into a suicide vest.

According to what Hannelie Groenewald later told her sister Riana du Pleiss, in Pretoria, “They took people hostage, and then they went upstairs after Werner again. They shot Werner again and the children. That’s where they died.”

The Groenewald compound after the blaze
The Groenewald compound after the blaze

Meeting in Pretoria

I had the privilege to meet Hannelie in Pretoria several months after this tragic situation. I was amazed at her calm demeanor and her determination to press on with her service to God. I put several questions to her and here are her answers:

1. What were you and your husband doing in Afghanistan?

“Werner and I had a clear calling from God in 2002 on two separate visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan, to be His hands and feet to the Afghans.

Werner was National Director of PATH (Partnership in Academic Development). He was involved in offering leadership courses, Community Training courses (CDE), offering English as a second language classes (ESL) and life management training (Life Coaching. For this he used Dr. Gustav Gous’s course of “Get-a-life-in -40-days)

For me, my first responsibility was to Werner and to see to the children’s needs. This occupied most of my time. I gave the children home schooling. Jean-Pierre was in grade 11, and enrolled at the Hatfield Christian School Online in Pretoria, and Rode was in Grade 8 and a pupil of Brainline distance education. It was by far my biggest challenge to help the children with their school work and to keep them motivated.

Then I supported Werner in his ministry, and I was very involved in offering special community development courses for Afghans and orientation courses for new foreign Christian workers. Hospitality is a great service in a country where there are many foreigners each week that visited, especially the people who supported us. I was always ready with a home-prepared meal or a cup of coffee and cake for visitors.

It was a huge challenge to find the balance between my tasks at home and the huge demand there was for the services of a Western-trained doctor. I had a small office at home and had patients after the day’s school work was done. I usually gave prescriptions, and sometimes a little money with the prescription for patients who really could not afford medication. Fortunately, medications are generally very cheap in Afghanistan.

I worked 2-3 days a week in an Afghan clinic that was more focused on western patients. The salary I earned there we just used to pay our Afghan office workers. Finance remains a major headache in the field, and our case was no exception. The financial support from individuals and churches from South Africa was not enough to carry all our office and personal expenses.”

2. Your two teenage children were still of high school age. How were they completing their schooling?

“The schooling was traumatic because both children’s school took place through the Internet. There were always connectivity problems. Sometimes the Internet did not function at all or for several days. We made sure that we always had at least 3 mobile internet service providers in the house because there was almost always connectivity problems. Assignments, tests and examinations were downloaded, completed and uploaded again within a matter of a certain time. This caused increased stress levels and incredible frustration. Communication with the schools was mostly a nightmare because even a phone call to South Africa or Skype calls were not always possible.

Children love competition at school. That factor was absent, and the lack of communication with other pupils who toil through the same problems, causing self-discipline and motivation to do your best did not always exist.

But the children had a wonderful life-learning school. They were very aware of the pain and suffering and poverty in the world. They traveled extensively and were very well-adjusted, loving teenagers.

Sports activities for my daughter, Rode were non-existent. Due to the lack of free movement and exercise her muscles were underdeveloped and she struggled with scoliosis and much pain. Her brother, Jean-Pierre, was more free to move around alone and enjoyed cycling and sometimes played cricket with Afghans in the street.”

3. Did you feel safe working and living in Afghanistan?

“Because we had received a very clear call of God, we knew we had a mandate to live and work there. We knew we had chosen a dangerous land in which to live and work. People should not to go with their children to Afghanistan to live and work if they do not have a clear call from God. We had to count the cost of obedience. We had to be prepared to lay down our lives. We had to die to self and our human needs and follow Jesus. Life there was hard. It was not a holiday. There is a spirit of destruction in that country. Everything breaks. Nothing works right or for any length of time.

Because we knew we MUST be there, we did not live in fear. Our lives and safety were in the hands of God. We knew that if something would happen to us, that the Lord would have a higher purpose.

We tried to live as normally as possible. I owned my own car; even went shopping. Werner and Jean-Pierre took early morning mountain bikes and trained for cycling events due to take place in South Africa in December. Life was much more limited for me and Rode because women lead much more constrained lives in Muslim countries. For a teenage girl, life and her physical freedom was incredibly dysfunctional and caused many questions in my mind.”

4. You are busy writing a book on this sad experience. When do you expect it to be published?

“Yes, I intend to write a book. I still do not feel quite ready to put my story into words. There are still too many unanswered questions in my mind about the attack. There is too much hurt what I still need to work through. I’m afraid if I put my thoughts on paper now that I would want the content to be changed later. I feel I have a few more months to grieve and get my life and thoughts in order. Maybe I could write the book next year.”

5. This was a terrible experience which would have devastated most other people. What were the factors that enabled you to emerge with your faith intact?

“In Afghanistan, precisely because of extremely difficult living conditions, I learned to trust God without reservation. I had to learn to trust God with all my heart – (to trust) His love for us, His omnipotence and omniscience. The life there shaped me for this fiery trial. I usually do not have answers to many difficult life issues. I had 100% trust in God. He had the answers. He sees the bigger picture. I went into a very deep, personal love relationship with God which I would not trade for anything else.

My deep belief, childlike confidence and experience of God’s greatness, goodness and miraculous intervention in many situations in our lives through many years, helped me to get up from the ashes. It’s like God gave to me a little glimpse of His perspective on what happened, and (said) that I should not focus on what I see around me, but to look up to Him. He was always in control. He was never caught unaware by the attack.

My relationship with Him has deepened significantly in the past 6 months. I have experienced the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit in my life. I am experiencing Him at this time as a God who truly honors His promises. A God who provides. A God of love.”

The Groenewald funeral
The Groenewald funeral

6. Did you get any help from the Afghani police or defense force? Have any arrests been made?

“I received no help from the Afghan police. They never even told me during questioning on the night of the attack, that all the members of my family had been wiped out.

The Afghan Intelligence Service did follow my movements in the days until I had left Kabul. The South African police have opened a murder docket because the bodies were repatriated to South Africa. But after my affidavit was completed and sent. I heard no more and I think the case is closed.

No arrests have been made to date, and I doubt it very much if there will be arrests in the future.”

7. What are your plans for the future?

“God showed me that I should not return to the secular medical sector. I remain in His service. Whether it will include medical work in the future, and once again outside the borders of South Africa, He will (when the time is right for it) reveal it to me.

For now, I know that I have a witness to carry out into the world. People who have become lukewarm in their faith should to turn their hearts to God again, because there is little time. People should be prepared for the most difficult times to come, that awaits humanity.”

Please pray for Dr. Groenewald, that the terrorists be caught with justice served, as well as the salvation of the perpetrators. — ASSIST News


  1. My heart and prayers goes out to the Gronewald family and to Dr. Gronewald who has to live with the memories of her husband and children. I do pray her strength in the LORD and that He continues to use her for His glory. I would also be interested in getting her book once it is published.

  2. Dear Hannelie;
    We are very touched by your story, and grateful for your strong faith in God. We know you will remain in God’s will, and in time will join your family in heaven.
    We have only now read your brief story after seeing the VOM video sent out this month. We would appreciate learning where we can purchase your book. Please give us the name of your book and how we can obtain a copy.
    We feel others need to also hear your story. Is there any way we can be of help?
    Richard & Margaret Keeler

  3. Dear Hannalie, I have read about your heartaches multiple of times in the VOM booklets I receive here in Finland. As a South African missionary, who has traveled world wide extensively; I have ached and prayed for you. My Finnish husband and I will be coming to South Africa on a mission trip early next year, 2017, and also to catch up with family. I pray that somehow we might meet so that I can hug you and tell you personally how much loved you are by our Father God. To live for Him is Christ and victor, to die for Him is gain! Your family is safe in the arms of Jesus which your sweet testimonies prove. May He bless you and all you do abundantly! Myrt

  4. Hi, I was heartbroken to hear of your loss. I wish I can share with you some of it if it was possible. Please let me know how I can be helpful to you at all. Please use my email to contact me . My wife and I will be happy to have you at our home if life brings you to the USA. Be strong in the Lord. Let the Holy Spirit sustain you in this difficult time for you.

  5. I am heartbroken for you Hannelie. I praise God however that your faith has been strengthened through this tragedy. I will be in prayer for you and for your next calling from the Lord.

  6. If they had any understanding of islam and how it works they would not have endangered the lives of their children. These terrorists wont be caught, since it’s every muslim’s duty to kill non muslims.

    This is a extremely sad story. But it’s time for people to realize that islam is at war with the world.

  7. Hannalie-
    Praying for you. Hearing uh your call for we who believe to a sober stand for Jesus’ name.
    Thank you.
    The Lord pour His grace into you.

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