When I first spoke to Niel Botma in October about his role in the amazing story of the Lazarus Train which “rose from the dead” as a result of prayer, I knew I would have to interview him again later.
He told me at that time that his Holy Spirit-led action after the breakdown of a train full of Christians heading home from the It’s Time Pretoria prayer meeting was not unfamiliar territory, as he regularly ministered on trains in the Cape Town area as the Spirit led him. He also said he only had 10% vision.
I caught up with Botma again recently and this is his story.
While he was a 19-year-old national serviceman he lost most of his eyesight under rocket attack by an aircraft flying overhead. His best friend bled to death in his arms during the incident.
After studying personnel management he worked for about 10 years in the fourth-generation family farming business headed by his father. But the business crashed and in 2001 the farms were sold on auction.
Thereafter, his wife, Marisa, who had a good job, became the family breadwinner, and he became the “house father” for their two children, which he said was a great blessing. Over the next 14 years they moved about 11 times. During a stint in Gauteng he was mentored by a prophet whose ministry he served for several years.
At a meeting in the Western Cape in 2016 a prophetess told him the Lord wanted him to “go and bring in the harvest”.
Botma doubted her word because he could hardly see, couldn’t read and couldn’t write. But soon afterwards he witnessed a disabled woman intercessor leading many people to the Lord. He decided that if she could do that, so could he.
After he asked the Lord what he should do, he was directed to the trains that passed by within 500m of their home in Klapmuts, near Cape Town. He got onto his first train and the Holy Spirit told him that because he could not see, He would guide him step by step.
He said the Holy Spirit told him he should not “shotgun” — in other words, he should not go out and “try and shoot everyone” — but he should rather be like a sniper, targeting the people the Lord highlighted.
Sometimes God would tell him to get off the train at a certain place and would then direct him to sit next to somebody He wanted him to minister to. Sometimes he would travel for 20 to 30km before hearing from the Holy Spirit.
One of his first instructions from the Lord was to get some intercessors to back him up. He recruited one or two friends. The team grew and today he has a handpicked team of 50 intercessors who pray for him day and night.
Various intercessors are experienced in different areas, such as working with sangomas or New Agers, and sometimes, when he was out on the trains and not sure what to do, he was confident that his intercessors had him covered.
Botma said he usually travelled in 3rd-class carriages and from the start the Lord directed him to feed people before serving them with His Word. Because he did not have much money for the ministry at first, he would usually buy bananas to give to people the Lord pointed out to him. This inspired his intercessors to name the ministry “Bananas For Jesus”.
In the early days he would take a cellphone photo — say of a station where he alighted — and send it to his intercessors.
“One of them would get a vision from Holy Spirit, or a prompting. and tell me they see an angry person or a person in distress. And then when I started ministering the first person I would see was angry and then I could lead them out of the anger, to accept Christ and make peace with whatever it was that bothered them.”
With time, as he and his team grew more attuned to the leading of the Holy Spirit, his train ministry led him into more and more surprising God encounters. Here are a few such testimonies:
“One morning God took me to Cape Town station and I had my vetkoek and my Bibles in my backpack and I walked all the way down to Salt River, tired, blisters on feet — that happened a lot in the beginning.
When I got there, there was a person who had been without food for theee days. I nearly cried because God sent me directly to him. I ministered to him and prayed for work. The I said to the Lord: ‘I’m tired, I’m going to the station [Salt River] now, and He said: ‘No. you have to walk all the way back to Cape Town.
“I couldn’t understand why but obeyed. Exhausted when I got to Cape Town I got on the train and nodded off. But in the train compartment was me at one end and another guy at the other end, about 20m apart.
“As I woke up while slipping in and out of sleep I saw another guy get on the train and pull out a knife and try to stab the other guy and take his cell phone.
“I said to God: ‘What must I do?” He said: ‘Stand up and take your umbrella [because it was a rainy day] and put it in the air and tell him: “In the name of Jesus, leave it, go out.”
“And I said: ‘God this is not going to work’and He said: ‘Trust me.’
“And I stood up and did what He said and the next minute that guy came for me with a knife. He was running down the carriage and I said to God: ‘What now?’ and God said: ‘Do it again.’
“I did. At that moment the carriage stopped at the next station and he ran out. And the people who got on and saw it said: ‘Sir you can’t do that, that guy is under the influence of tik — he will kill you.’
“I said: ‘No, you don’t understand, I didn’t chase him out, I chased out the thing that was in him that controlled him — the demon.’
“And because of that incident, the guy he was trying to stab gave his heart to Jesus Christ.”
“One day He [The Holy Spirit] said to me at 4am: ‘Niel, put a Bible in your rucksack and go to Kommetjie.’
“I sáid: ‘Father, the train doesn’t go to Kommetjie, and what on earth must I do in Kommetjie?’
But that’s how it goes. I am just radically obedient. I got on the train and arrived in Fishhoek four hours later. I stood on the platform and said: ‘Father, how must I get to Kommetjie?’
“I stepped around the corner and a man came towards me and I asked him if there was a taxi nearby. He said: ‘Yes sir, the taxis are in the third row.’
“I stepped on, it was just a white haze to me. A black woman saw me and came up to me and asked: ‘ Sorry bhuti, where are you going?’ I said: ‘ I need to go to Kommetjie.’ She said: ‘Come, I’ll take you.’
“I said: ‘Father, is that an angel?’ She took me to the right taxi and got in a taxi with me. I asked her where she was going, she said: ‘Kommetjie.’
“We got there at about 9.30am. The driver said the next taxi was at half past five. So, I was left sitting in Kommetjie for the day. There were mostly retired folk there, mostly at home.
I walked to a beach area with rocks. A lady was sitting on rocks. I felt I couldn’t approach her and went for a walk. When I turned back after my walk, she was still sitting there.
I sat next to her and said: ‘Excuse me ma’am, do you need a Bible?’ and she said: ‘Yes sir, I’ve been prophesied over a year ago that I will go into full-time ministry and last night I sat in my shack and said: ‘Father, if this is true just show me, because I haven’t even got a Bible. Just send me a Bible so that I’ll know that your Word is true.’
“Then I began to cry.”
“One day I was walking in Kuilsrivier and a young woman with her little daughter went into a place that sells meat and the Lord said I must follow her and go in and pay for whatever they want to buy.
“I said: “Lord I can’t follow a woman and I don’t have the money — what if she wants to buy R500 worth?’
“He said: ‘Just do it.’ I didn’t obey and walked on. At that moment my cell phone went off and one of the intercessors said the following on the group: ‘God says do what I say.’
“So I said: ‘Ok God, I’ll do it.’ I turned around and went it. I couldn’t see properly because of my eyesight. I just looked for a tall one and a short one. I saw them take meat. I said: ‘How am I going to pay?’
” Then she went to the till and I followed her with nothing in my hands. When she got to the till she had a piece of polony and a small packet of meat, costing less than R100 and when she wanted to pay, I said: ‘I’ll pay for it.’
”She said: ‘Goodness sir, something like this has never happened to me, are you an angel?’ I said: ‘No, no, I’m not an angel, I’m a messenger.’
“I paid and when we got outside I said to her: ‘Listen, this morning when you were praying you said to God, “I am fed up, I am giving up, I can’t go on like this anymore. If you are real just show me that You live today, show me that You love me.”‘
“And she said to me: ‘Sir, that’s impossible, how do you know that?’
“I said: ‘Well, that’s what I do. I’m in full-time ministry. I show the love of Jesus. Is this true? Did you ask that?’
“She said: ‘Exactly.’
“I said: ‘God just answered your prayer. I was just the obedient one.’
“So that’s basically how my intercessors help me and God changes that lady’s life.”
“One morning He [The Holy Spirit] let me get off at Woltemade Station — there is basically nothing there — it’s in the middle of the huge Maitland cemetery. I asked: ‘Lord, where must I go?’ Then I followed people who went through a hole in the fence leading into the cemetery.
“I followed and in the middle of the cemetery I found a young barefoot woman sobbing.
“I said: ‘Can I help you?’ She said: ‘You can’t help me.’ I said: ‘Believe me, I didn’t come all this way for nothing.’
“She said: ‘How did you get here?’ I said I walked. She said: ”Sir, this is the most dangerous part of town — you are likely to be attacked and robbed.’
“I said: ‘No. I have 50 intercessors praying for me day and night.’
She explained that during the night her house in the Southern part of Cape Town was attacked — her whole family was attacked — they drove her out with guns. She started running. Somehow, in trains or taxis she got there and reported to a police station but because of her state they wouldn’t believe her.
“She slept on the station. People stole her clothes, shoes and all she has. I could pick up she was intelligent, shy, not the usual type on the street.
“I said: ‘I will help you. I gave her my coat and we walked to the station. I put her on a train. We went into town I bought her shoes and gave her something to eat and got in touch with her family. God helped her.
Botma said his advice to people is: “Don’t concentrate on what you don’t have. Concentrate on what you do have. If you concentrate on what God has given you, even if it is just one talent, you will be fulfilled. I am the happiest I have been in my life. Because every day I get to reflect what Jesus does. I care for the downcast, I pray for the sick, I give food to the hungry.”