Though Westley Nienaber is blind the eyes of his heart were flooded with the light of the Lord at the Karoo Mighty Men Conference 2017 (KMMC 2017).
Likewise, Joseph Silva once a slave to alcohol was set free.
Now, they know and understand the hope to which God has called them.
Joseph said he has been freed, by the grace of God, to start being a positive example to his wife and children and Westley, once addicted to pornography and unfaithful to his fiancée, is focused on growing in relationship with his Holy Father and his betrothed.
Extending an invitation
Both Westley and Joseph were invited to KMMC 2017 by Hannes Janse van Rensburg, who leads a cell group in which Joseph’s wife, Eugenia, is a member, and his sister, Debbie, is engaged to Westley.
Hannes, who had attended four KMMCs and two Mighty Men Conferences at Shalom, believed that although Westley and Joseph were challenged by wayward lifestyles, they both had good hearts.
He knew it was a big expectation, given their histories, but he hoped that by attending KMMC the two would experience the presence of the Lord and be reconciled with Him through accepting Jesus as their Saviour.
Hannes believed that only in Jesus’ strength would their lives be changed for good.
Westley, who lost his sight during an operation on a cyst in the brain last year, lived on the wild side of life as a member of a biker club and although he did not drink, he frequented bars with his biker friends, went to strip clubs, and used pornography.
“Once I lost my sight I started praying to God asking why I went blind. I told Debbie that it was due to all the porn and the cheating on her.
“I said to myself that I must become free from that lifestyle.
“About a month before KMMC Hannes phoned me and invited me to join him at the conference. At that stage I wasn’t a believer, my life was quite rough, and Debbie and I fought a lot, so Hannes’ call came at the right time.
“Debbie was also eager that I attend KMMC.
“However, in the lead-up to the KMMC I started having doubts — the devil filled me with uncertainty and disbelief.
“Nevertheless, in the week before KMMC I gathered myself with Debbie’s support and was determined to attend the conference.
“While I am sitting telling you the story I am getting goosebumps, because my experience at KMMC was so amazing.”
Help and encouragement
Westley said the men that Hannes introduced him to and that helped guide him around the camp due to his blindness were a great bunch of guys always willing to help and encourage him.
He felt so comfortable that he sat with them during the first session of KMMC on the Friday night instead of at the front near the stage where Hannes had organised a seat.
“When we went to the first session I could just feel the presence of the Lord and I knew that I was where I wanted to be because the Lord had something for me.
“When Afrika Mhlophe spoke and asked all those who were there for the first time to stand, I didn’t want to stand, but all of a sudden, almost without realising it, I was standing and I felt the Lord’s presence — it was like there was a wind, a little breeze blowing among all those standing, and I felt how warm it was.
“By the time Afrika made the alter call I wanted to be saved and walked to the front. Joseph walked with me and I asked him to stay with me, because I dearly wanted to do this.
“When I started walking towards the stage I couldn’t see anything, but as I walked I started seeing movement and Afrika moving on the stage.
“I knew the Lord had something for me and after praying the sinners’ prayer I followed all those who had accepted salvation to the prayer tent.
The cross on the koppie
“On the Saturday I asked Joseph and a couple of the guys to take me to the cross on the koppie, but as we approached the koppie my legs felt numb and weak and I told the guys, ‘no let me just stay here, I’ll wait here for you’.
“But something just told me, ‘you need to go up there’. I told the guys, ‘let’s go’, but Joseph said, ‘the path is rough, it’s steep and there are rocks in the way’, but I said, ‘nothing is easy in this life, God gives us obstacles, but he won’t put something in our path that we can’t overcome’.
“When we got to the top I stood there feeling so free and I could feel that warm breeze again.
“When we sat by the cross someone asked if he could pray for me; I didn’t know him and had never seen him before, but he started to pray for me.
“While he was praying I started crying and couldn’t stop.
“When he stopped praying I opened my eyes and I could see his brown eyes and the wrinkles on his fingers around his knuckles.
“He said, ‘you must keep praying in faith, you mustn’t stop believing’.
“On the way down the koppie I could see the stones and shadows, which I couldn’t see before.
Baptism and spiritual sight
“Later in the day I was baptised by Johnny Louw and even though the water was cold it felt like the water around me was hot.
“After he baptised me Johnny said, ‘you mustn’t focus on your eyes physically, because the Holy Spirit is already seeing for you, so you must keep-on believing’.”
Westley said the entire KMMC was amazing: “I felt this warmth the whole time, the fellowship with the rest of the guys was also amazing, that was the weekend that I gave my life to the Lord”.
“I said to myself, ‘now I am going to live my life according to what He wants me to do. I feel like I have a relationship with the Lord at last.
“I am just so thankful: I can walk, I can speak, I can hear, I can feel and I know that I will see again on the Lord’s terms.”
Westley said he realised that when he had sight he was spiritually blind, but, now, even though he is physically blind he can see in the spirit: “I never realised that I could have a relationship with God; that He is my Holy Father; and that I can speak to and rely on Him.
“I used to rely on no-one but myself. I thought I knew everything and I was independent, but, now, I am in His hands and He is leading me to something new.”
A praying fiancé
Debbie said that when she entered into a relationship with Westley she thought to herself, ‘what are you doing, he’s a biker and you always seem to get involved with the bad boys’.
“However, now I can see what God had planned, because Westley has a good heart.
“When Hannes asked him to go to KMMC I was encouraging him, because he needed to realise and experience how great God is.
“When I saw the video clip of Westley among all the men accepting salvation I was crying and then when I saw the video of his baptism I was praying and thanking the Lord.
“When Westley got back from KMMC he was so excited, he just wanted to share everything with me. Every time he speaks about the KMMC experience and the Lord he gets tears in his eyes and goosebumps.
“I am so grateful for the change in Westley. We have started Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life as a 40-day programme and are doing it together.
“I am very excited, because whereas before Westley got strength from me, now I am gaining strength from him too.”
Joseph’s big hurdle
Joseph, who was also invited to KMMC by Hannes, overcame just as big a hurdle in his life at the Karoo gathering.
Although he grew up attending Church and went through the Sunday school and Youth ranks, as he grew older he followed the ways of the world.
“I started going out and partying with friends leaving behind what I had learned as a child.”
Things went from bad to worse, to the extent that Joseph would binge drink for days and weeks at a time not going home and forgetting about everything except drinking and partying, until his body couldn’t take any more and he would end up at a doctor.
“When I eventually got home it would take two or three days to recover and then everything would be fine until the next binge. This carried on intermittently for many years.”
This year Joseph was set on going to KMMC and all was well until two weeks before the conference when he went out for a drink with some old friends, which turned into a week-long bender.
“It is indescribable, once I start and I am in it, it’s like I am held there. I tried so many times when I woke up in the morning to go home to my wife and kids, but then I would have another drink and another whole day of drinking would go by.
“The next morning would be a repetition of the same vicious circle.”
To go or not to go
When Joseph finally got himself straightened out he decided not to go to KMMC, because he needed to make things right at home and at work.
“To be honest I felt like it was the end of the road, because just when things were going OK it was as if the devil attacked me with this problem that I have.
“When Hannes phoned me I said I wasn’t going to KMMC, because I had to sort a problem out, but he encouraged me to attend no matter the problem.
“I almost, almost didn’t go, but then when I decided to go I went with great expectations, because it felt like when I prayed to God to get me through this alcohol problem that was breaking me down there was no breakthrough.”
Joseph said that on the way to KMMC, while speaking to his companions, it was as though God was already softening his heart, because every time he mentioned the Lord’s name or his need for a breakthrough tears flowed down his cheeks.
“At KMMC on the first night I went forward for the alter call and when I was standing in the front among the crowd I felt as if I was really getting hot, even though it was a chilly night, and then my legs started shivering.
“After we had given our hearts to the Lord I prayed, ‘Lord, I can’t go on anymore, I’ve tried so any times, but I don’t know what to do, I’m handing it all over to you, please carry my burden for me’.
The big white prayer tent experience
“Then we went to the big white prayer tent where we received reading material and were offered to be prayed for, but I needed a special prayer and the man who prayed for me never asked me what my problem was, so afterward I stayed on just looking around.
“Another big uncle came to me and said he had been watching me standing around. I said I needed a special prayer. He asked me what was the problem and I explained that I had a drinking problem that was affecting my family, work and my every-day life.
“I said I had tried praying and going to Church, but I had no breakthrough.
“He prayed for me and I took a couple of steps backward. He stopped and said, ‘Can’t you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit’.
“I said I could feel the presence and even my legs were a bit wobbly.
“He said, ‘you are still holding back, just relax’.
“He prayed for me again and I was out for a few minutes. When I came to my senses I realised I was flat on my back on the ground. I tried to get up but I couldn’t move.
“I know myself and I have played a lot of sport, mostly rugby, so I tried to push myself up from the ground, but I couldn’t lift my upper body at all.
“I tried to move my legs and I couldn’t, then I was out again for a few seconds or a few minutes, I’m not sure how long it was.
“Afterwards Hannes came and asked if I was OK and directed me back to the tent. It was a great relief.
“When one of the guys spoke to me at the tent I immediately started crying, the tears started rolling and I told him I was unsure of what had happened.
“The next day I woke up very early and my first thought was, ‘this is the breakthrough that I really wanted’.
“I could feel that something was lifted from me. I didn’t feel the heaviness of the problem, just a desire to be baptised at our Church when I got home.”
Joseph was baptised a week ago.
He feels a change in his relationship with the Lord: “In the past I only prayed when I had a problem”.
“Now, I pray out of gratitude. I can feel that I am closer to the Lord and I am following Uncle Angus’ advice that ‘the more you pray and the more you read your Bible, the stronger you will get’.
“Even today, while sitting in a taxi on the way into town, I just thanked the Lord for keeping me safe,” said Joseph.
A praying wife
His wife, Eugenia, said that although the past couple of years have been challenging, she was happy and relieved that he went to KMMC especially after the most recent drinking spree, which shocked and hurt her.
“I told him that I really hoped that there was something at the Karoo Mighty Men for him, because of what had happened.
“I was in two minds about everything, but I prayed that God would really touch him over the weekend, heal his mind and restore him, because he is a father and a husband.
“Now, since he has been back and been baptised, God is doing amazing things in our family.
“Although it is a process of rebuilding trust, I have noticed that Joseph is praying more and he calls us together as a family to pray, which never happened in the past.
“However, it is not only relationships in our family that have to be mended, but Joseph’s relationships with his parents and siblings,” said Eugenia.
One day at a time
Joseph sees the road ahead is a one-day-at-a-time journey. Each day starting with prayer and reading his Bible. He realises his weakness and that his strength is in Jesus.
“It’s like Afrika Mhlophe said, ‘Once you are saved you can’t just go it alone, you must belong to a Church for guidance, protection, support and fellowship, to help overcome temptations and obstacles.
“I am just taking it step-by-step, praying in the morning and at night. I told my wife that it is only by the grace of God that I am here today and that my life is turned around, so that I can be a good example to my children,” said Joseph.
Hannes is grateful the two men’s experience of the last KMMC was one of salvation and reconciliation with their loved ones.
“I know both of them are good people at heart and all they needed was to be exposed to presence of the Lord and the fellowship of brothers in Christ.
“I know what changes can come about during a mighty-men camp,” added Hannes.