Tuesday, 16 January 2018
The Extraordinary Testimony of Michiah Lancaster
Tragedy at Newlands Dam
At 3:19pm on Sunday, 14 January 2018, American Missionary volunteer, Michiah Lancaster, drowned in Newlands Dam, Cape Town, South Africa.
21-year-old Michiah was in the country with his younger brother Isaac (18-years-old), for the Great Commission Course, after which they plan to travel through to Mozambique, to serve at a Mission there.
It was a sweltering hot day and after ministering at a church in Bellville South in the morning, Michiah, his brother Isaac and some other participants of the intensive Great Commission Course took advantage of the only free time of the packed programme of the week to head off to Newlands Dam for a swim.
Severe Water Restrictions
The level 6 water restrictions imposed by the City of Cape Town municipal authorities has effectively closed swimming pools as it is illegal to top-up ones pool water levels. Therefore the swimming pool that would on other occasions have been available at the Mission, was depleted and the local municipal swimming pool at Newlands was closed. Along with many hundreds of other Capetonians, they went for a swim in the Newlands Dam. This dam is primarily for the South African National Parks Forestry Department wild fire services, for their helicopters to refill their large canvass fire buckets slung under the helicopters for containing forest fires.
Michiah Struggles in Deep
The dam is 8 meters deep (28 feet). Shortly after arrival at the dam, Michiah swam out into the middle of the dam and was then observed to be struggling by Kyle, one of the GCC participants. Kyle immediately swam over and sought to help him, Michiah was not saying anything and it appeared that he has swallowed water. Kyle called for help and immediately, Christopher, Calvin and other GCC participants swam over to assist, but by the time they reached the middle of the dam, Michiah had disappeared beneath the surface.
Desperate Attempts to Rescue Michiah
For the next hour, they frantically dived trying to find him in the murky and deep waters. Other participants of the GCC on the bank phoned for help from local police, Fire and Rescue emergency services and to the Mission.
Congestion and Confusion
As soon as I heard of the crisis, I raced over with my daughter Daniela and was astounded by the vast amount of traffic and large crowds of people who were at Newlands Dam. They were being evacuated as we were trying to arrive. The police had ordered everyone out of the water and away from the dam, so as to not impede their search and rescue efforts.
Rescue Efforts Mobilised
The station commander of Rondebosch police station was on site and she informed me that since the closure of the Newlands swimming pool, many hundreds were coming to this dam, especially on very hot days, yet SAN Parks, whose jurisdiction the dam was, did not have any lifeguards on duty.
My son, Calvin and Brandon, another GCC participant, were still in the water, frustratingly urging police and EMS people on the banks to help. They were informed that procedure prevented them from entering the water. They had to wait for the divers’ arrival. South African Police Service divers and fire and rescue divers were enroute battling traffic to get to the dam.
Deep and Dark
As one Fire and Rescue EMS person said to me, if this was a clear swimming pool, such as at Newlands, they would plunge in, but this is an extremely deep and dark dam and their procedures required them to wait for the divers.
I found Isaac, Michiah’s younger brother, he had just completed a phone call back to his parents in Missouri. Incredibly, Isaac told me that 9 years earlier, when he was 9 years old, his elder brother, Timothy, had drowned in America.
Several of the young women on our GCC were gathered on the banks praying intensely. Our men were physically exhausted from their desperate attempts to continuously dive and find Michiah.
Shock and Frustration
By now Michiah had been beneath the surface for over an hour! Some of our girls expressed shock at callous and thoughtless comments made by bystanders. Kyle expressed great frustration that while he was struggling to keep Michiah afloat, strangers swimming nearby had just looked and done nothing. All of our GCC men had plunged in and swam with great urgency, but they could not reach him in time.
Systematic Underwater Search
At approximately 5:20pm the South African Police Service Diving Unit and Fire and Rescue services arrived on the scene and began a systematic search across the dam. By 6:40pm Michiah’s body was recovered and brought to the surface.
Prayer and Gratitude
We all prayed with Isaac and then both Isaac and I went and shook hands with each of the divers and rescue personnel involved in the operation to personally thank them for their efforts. We then prayed with some of these rescue people by the vehicles over the body of Michiah and returned after 7pm to report the sad news to all those back at the Mission base.
At this point several testified of what Michiah had said at the Bellville South Church that very Sunday morning: Michiah had testified that when he was 12 years old, his elder brother, 17-year-old Timothy, had drowned. This brought Michiah to surrender his life to Christ and he read Romans 8:28-30. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
Everyone on the course testified of Michiah’s extraordinary faith, joy, humility, servant-heart and what a blessing he had been to us all. I recalled the testimony of Faithful, in Pilgrims Progress, who after dying in the Lord was seen take up by chariots of fire, direct to the Celestial city, while Christian continued on the narrow way, rejoicing in Fithful’s life, witness and steadfastness, being faithful unto death.
When later on that evening, I spoke with Michiah’s parents, Seth and Victoria Lancaster and some of their other children, they shared John 12:24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” Our Lord in His Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, reminded us that the Lord sows His sons into the world to bear good fruit.
Parables of the Sower
Most people know the first Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:18-23, where we are the sower, the Word of God is the seed and the field is the hearts of people. However, there is a second Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:24-43). In the second parable of the Sower, God is the sower, the sons and daughters of the Kingdom are the seed and the field is the World. We must put down roots where God plants us and we must bear fruit. “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the Kingdom…” Matthew 13:37-38
On Michiah’s Application Form under his Life Purpose, he wrote: “Using every life’s breath for the glory of God. Our life is short. So we must do all that we can for His glory and nothing else.” “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15
To Glorify God and Worship Him Forever
In answer to the question: What is God's ultimate call in your life? Michiah answered: “Giving Him glory! The fear of the Lord has called me to be a missionary. I am daily waiting on Him and seeking to do all that I can for His glory.” Previously, Michiah has been involved in missions to Mexico and Mozambique.
Mission to Africa Must Continue
Michiah parents as well as Seth and Victoria Lancaster made clear to me that they wanted their son’s body to be buried in Africa and they do not want their younger son, Isaac, to cut short his mission to Africa. They want him to complete the Great Commission Course, which he is eager to do and to continue on to complete the planned mission to Mozambique. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
Accordingly we will be conducting a Memorial Service for Michiah Lancaster at St. Thomas’ Church, 61 Campground Road, Rondebosch at 10am, Thursday, 18 January in Cape Town. All friends of the Mission, or of the family, or any of those involved in Emergency services search and rescue attempts will be most welcome to participate in this memorial service where we will celebrate the life and testimony of Michiah Lancaster.
We Do Not Mourn As Those who Have No Hope
Of course, this has been a traumatic experience for all of us in the Mission and for all the participants of the Great Commission Course. However, the calm and confident faith of Isaac and his family has set the tone and no one has sought to cut short their time of missions training and outreaches with the Great Commission Course. Isaac is determined to complete the course and his mission to Mozambique and our team has been bonded together, with even greater intensity. Last night, Monday, 15 January, we climbed to the top of Lions head and held a time of prayer and hymn singing, praising God for the life of Michiah and praying for many to be brought to Salvation in Christ as a result of his testimony.
Thanks Be to God Who Gives Us the Victory
On Sunday night, we read 1 Corinthians 15:12-58. The concluding verses give us our marching orders: “…Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:54-58.
Yours for the fulfillment of the Great Commission
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa