Riverside Farm: From Jet-Setter to Jesus
August 30, 2010
Every now and then I do a reality check. Usually, this finds me in the kneeling position, counting my blessings and looking back in awe at how God guided me out of the depths of despair into life in Christ.
Today I’m a missionary at Riverside Farm Institute in Zambia, Africa. How I came to be here is one of those blessings I count when I’m on my knees.
I was raised in South Africa in a Christian home, where my mother instilled in me basic spiritual principles early on. My father was more interested in sports, and joined us in church only on Christmas and Easter Sundays. I grew up without want or violence, but by the time I was 16, the world was more alluring than the church.
In retrospect, I attribute my wandering to the hard rock music I was introduced to by my sister’s boyfriend. It fueled my spirit of teenage rebellion.
I eventually spent two years of compulsory service in the South African defense force, where I consumed tobacco and alcohol, experimented with narcotic drugs, and chased the life my musical heroes were living. I served during the height of Apartheid conflict, when many young men received both physical wounds and lifelong mental scars. Thankfully, I never took another human life, although I did have some close calls.
I happily returned to civilian life and set out to study marketing in the coastal city of Durban, which was a playground for the wild and reckless. Cheap alcohol, narcotics and parties abounded, and for the next three years I lived a double life—good son to my parents and party animal. Despite my bad associations, I managed to maintain good grades, although on more than one occasion I slept behind bars.
After receiving my diploma, I got a job running three holiday lodges in the tiny landlocked kingdom of Lesotho. It took me away from the city and all its influences. However, my unconverted soul soon developed all its old habits, despite my idyllic surroundings. Even though I hadn’t been in a church in years, deep down I felt a longing for something—but the time was not yet.
After two years in beautiful Lesotho, I returned to Durban to work as a sales representative. I progressed quickly and soon was handling major accounts throughout the region. This meant more money and more worldly trappings. Fortunately, my mother had taught me to be frugal, so I managed to save a substantial amount of cash, which I now recognize as God’s providence.
My business success soon took me to Johannesburg and new responsibilities in international marketing and new business development. I continued securing lucrative deals and traveling the world, feeling I had really “made it.” But my worldly success just filled my life with distractions. I got into extreme sports, always looking for that next high, and eventually moved to Cape Town where I continued partying and making money.
One night I lay awake in bed, haunted by my own demons. I thought of my brother, who had recently passed away from cancer. He was only four years older than I. That loss added to my sense of meaninglessness. I felt helpless, and nothing gave me satisfaction anymore. I decided to leave the city for the suburbs, where I took up the sport of cycling. Things came to a head during a scuba diving holiday on Zanzibar Island in Tanzania. It was the perfect setting—azure blue ocean, white beaches, good friends and unlimited partying—yet I had never been so unhappy in my life. I lay on the beach thinking life was an utter waste and there was no reason to go on.
That was the point where the Lord could really start working on me. When I returned to South Africa, my cousin listened to my woes and gave me a book that claimed life had no meaning without God. The book wasn’t perfect, but the Lord used it as a stepping stone in my life. I dropped to my knees and committed my life to Jesus. Then I resigned from my job and began immersing myself in the Bible, competitive cycling, healthy eating, exercise and good sleep. All that healthy living cleared my mind to perceive the deeper truths of God’s Word.
One of my Christian cycling friends invited me to join his Baptist church. Soon I was going on mission trips to Mozambique. Upon returning from a mission trip, a friend shared with me a set of DVDs that first introduced me to the Adventist message of Biblical truth. What I heard shook me to my core. The Lord had just brought me out of the world and into a lovely Baptist church where I’d gained new friends and a new home. Now I was being told I was in the wrong church and observing the wrong day as Sabbath. It seemed ludicrous, but I could not ignore my convictions as I studied further.
Eventually, I called the pastor at the nearest Seventh-day Adventist Church and told him I was thinking of joining. There was stunned silence on the other end of the line for a few moments. Soon he paid me a visit and started studying the Bible with me. I continued attending the Baptist church, but started challenging my Baptist pastor with the information I was learning. When he could not answer me from the Bible, the welcoming spirit at that church began to cool. Something clearly was amiss.
When I finally visited the local Adventist church for the first time, I experienced culture shock. I was used to charismatic services at a 1,000-member church, complete with four services each Sunday, a live band and many young people. When I entered the Adventist church foyer and loudly greeted the pastor, who had become my friend, the deacon on duty shushed me and pointed to a sign that said, “Enter With Reverence.” I was off to a bad start.
The church was filled with gloomy people much older than I, and a dear old lady whom I now know and love was filling in on the organ that Sabbath—and not very well, I might add. Nothing about the sermon struck me as profound, but I recall praying to the Lord and thinking there was nothing in this church to draw me other than my firm belief that this was God’s end-time movement and that the Sabbath was the day He had set aside for worship. I eventually resigned my membership from the Baptist church and was baptized as a member of my new family.
The Lord continued to place teachers and mentors in my path. I soon became involved in health ministry, attending Wildwood Institute and meeting committed workers from Outpost Centers International. Those connections eventually led me to Riverside Farm Institute, where I’m able to lend my knowledge and experience in a variety of areas, including marketing and communications.
More than ever, I’m aware of my unworthiness to be called a son of the Most High God. I praise Him for loving me and dying for me, even though I am a sinner. I’m so thankful He is still working out His beautiful plan in my life.