But as suddenly as death pressed down on his life, his life took hold of his faith, and without ruckus or reason the pastor of The Church of God Southside was suddenly set free. The trip he made to help change lives from March 30 to April 12, had also changed his life and reawakened a lesson he would never forget.
As the general evangelism coordinator for The Church of God, Ammons coordinates the evangelistic outreach for their ministry with its headquarters on Tillie Road in Cleveland. He is sent out of the country once a year to a mission field with a national overseer to conduct revivals in addition to other mission trips.
“Before I went (to the Congo) I was told that they had made arrangements for my time in Kinshasa to stay in the four-star Grand Hotel. But when you read the fine print — with food, taxes and whatever — it was going to run about $300 a night for a week. I said, ‘There is no way I’m going to spend that much mission money on a place to stay.’
“So I got on the Internet and found St. Anne’s Cathedral that had a monastery. The headquarters gave me enough money to stay in the Grand Hotel but when I got there I did find St. Anne’s. Instead of spending $2,000 (for one week) it was $370 (total) for the food and lodging.
Ammons was pleased with his savings and the accommodations at St. Anne’s. He found himself surrounded by tourists from around the world. Ammons noticed how the tourists would leave each morning and walk to the market, two blocks away, without incident.
“That made me feel secure,” he said. “So I walked the two blocks also.”
But on his last day at St. Anne’s, Ammons took the quiet and empty streets of Kinshasa to be safe enough for a tourist to walk the streets alone. He was wrong.
“It was on a Sunday, about 5 in the afternoon. I thought, ‘My plane is leaving tomorrow and I haven’t seen much around town.’ So I left St. Anne’s at 5 p.m. — looking at my watch to turn around at 5:30, so I could get back before dark.”
Instead of the two blocks he’d usually walk to the market, Ammons said he walked 8 to 10 blocks on the isolated streets to look around, never realizing that Kinshasa was rated one of Africa’s most dangerous cities. Muggings, robberies, rape, kidnappings, even murder and gang violence were not uncommon.
Before he could turn around and head back to St. Anne’s, an old compact car pulled up with four “huge men” inside. The man on the passenger’s side flashed something, which was supposed to be police ID, according to Ammons.
“He asked to see my passport,” Ammons recalled. “It seemed suspicious to me — four men not in uniform and in an older car. I started feeling for my passport but I didn’t have it on me. I said, I’m sorry, sir. It’s in my room. They said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to come with us!’”
Before he could blink an eye, the two men in the back seat jumped out, pulled him inside the car and drove off.
“The man on the passenger’s side was doing all the talking in English. He kept looking back at me and talking to me. Then he pulled a gun out and put it to my head,” said Ammons.
“They searched me and found my money belt. They got my wallet, my phone and my watch. They were talking about how terrible Americans are and how bad we had done Gadhafi and Libya. I was saying, ‘Yes, there are some bad Americans. But I love Africa. I’m here as a missionary.”
Ammons admits he thought his time had come. The conversation was not getting any better and he was still staring down the barrel of a gun. They were already guilty of kidnapping and robbery and might not want to leave an eye witness to their dastardly deed.
“I really thought that they were going to kill me,” he said. “I started singing Amazing Grace and speaking in tongues. They wanted me to be quiet so I got quiet. But I told them, ‘You already have my money. Why don’t you just let me out?’”
Ammons estimates he was in his captors’ small car for approximately 40 minutes as they drove him to parts unknown, perhaps deciding his fate. Suddenly, the car stopped and Ammons was pushed out. His life was inexplicably spared.
Relieved, Ammons was now stranded in the middle of Kinshasa, where one ordeal was finally over but a new one was about to begin.
“It was getting dark and I did not know where I was,” said Ammons. “I kept trying to find someone who could speak English.”
Wandering through the street, he finally came upon a restaurant where a policeman was sitting outside. Ammons said the officer proved to be no help at all. Suddenly, a white man walked up who spoke English and French. He offered to take Ammons to the U.S. Embassy.
Although the man had alcohol on his breath and Ammons was paranoid after his robbery and kidnapping, the man assured him he could lead him to safety.
With people in plain sight and nowhere else to turn, Ammons decided to let the man escort him out of danger. But an African woman with a nurse’s ID walked up and started shouting toward Ammons.
“She didn’t speak much English but enough to let me know not to go with him,” said Ammons. “She said, ‘He’s taking you the wrong way and the Embassy is the opposite direction!’”
Saved again from another mishap, Ammons stopped his walk, ignored the unscrupulous guide who was walking away and accepted the offer of the kind African woman who offered to take him back to St. Anne’s.
When Ammons arrived at the monastery and saw nuns and priests and tourists standing around outside worried, he started crying. Everyone wanted to know what happened.
“Here I am squalling like a baby and telling my story with mixed emotions,” said Ammons. “I’m crying, weeping — but at the same time praising my God — glory Hallelujah — that I’m still alive and that God had delivered me.”
With a Catholic nun interpreting for him, Ammons thanked the African woman who escorted him back to St. Anne’s.
“I told her, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, but I’ll never forget you,’” he said. Then he prayed for her. She smiled and disappeared into the night — a night that brought a profound lesson to a man who escaped death.
“David said, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ But I was afraid,” Ammons confessed.
“Yes, I was afraid. But I did not have the kind of fear that I would have if I did not know for sure that I was ready to meet my God. We never know when, where or how our time is going to come. So it pays to be ready.”
Ammons said life is so fragile and many people take it for granted but, “I treasure every minute and I want to make the most of it,” he said with water filling his eyes.
His wife of 42 years would like for her 64-year-old husband to have more company when traveling on future missions trips. The local pastor and father of two grown sons and one grown daughter agreed, saying he learned some very practical lessons as well.
“Always have someone with you,” he said. “And stay among the crowds. That happened on a Sunday. Businesses were closed in that area. The other days — I would say there was four or five times as many people on the streets.
“That made Sunday the more dangerous day. I look forward to going on more mission trips, but out of a special respect for my family and my wife — I want somebody with me.”
On that particular day, however, Ammons is convinced that Somebody was, indeed, with him and his gratitude for his spared life will last for the rest of his life.