To see Bertus Deysel cuddling and kissing a little black child in his arms, it is hard to believe that 22 years ago he was a uniformed member of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), a far-right separatist political and paramilitary organisation.
Today, he is the loving father figure at the Emmanuel Child and Youth Care Centre (ECYCC) in the Karoo town of Middelburg with a heart for the poor, for the neglected and for children.
Bertus was not merely a member of the AWB, but part of the organisation’s “iron guard”, an elite squad that was the bodyguard of leader Eugene Terreblanche.
However, Bertus no longer sees in black and white, but in the vivid colour of his Saviour, Jesus Christ, who turned his life completely around.
By his own account, it is all due to God’s grace.
Bertus could very easily be dead today, having survived a motorcar accident in which he broke his neck and was not given a chance of recovering, instead he enjoys the love of his life – his wife Carol – and the privilege of being a father to 30 children, many of whom are orphaned and all from circumstances of severe neglect and often abuse.
“I believe God gave me a second chance after that accident, because he had work for me to do here, but he first had to soften my heart.,” says Bertus.
“I was really a hard, far-right man who believed in the separation of the races. I was negative towards black people and associated them with being the enemy and with the terrorists we fought against on the border while in the defence force.”
Bertus was arrested the day before the country’s first democratic elections in 1994 after there were bombings linked to the AWB. He had thousands of rounds of ammunition and an assortment of weapons in his possession.
Bertus spent 31 days in prison as an awaiting trial prisoner. It was in jail that God made the first big changes to his heart.
“While I was in jail I had been looking for a Bible to read, but couldn’t find one. After two weeks I found a Bible and the first thing I read about was that I should be like a child and obedient, the second thing that struck me was that one of the first people to receive Christ’s salvation and be baptised in the Holy Spirit after Jesus was crucified was an Ethiopian.
“The Spirit asked me where is Ethiopia, I answered, ‘in Africa’; and then the Spirit asked me who lives in Ethiopia, and I said, ‘OK God, I’ve got it, I was wrong”.
“Then the Spirit asked me who was on the ark with Noah when God destroyed all life on earth through the flood, and I answered, ‘his wife, sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives, together with two of every sort of animal, bird and creeping thing’.
“The Spirit then asked me who got out of the ark once the floods subsided, and I answered, ‘Noah, his wife, sons and their wives, together with two of every sort of animal, bird and creeping thing’.
“The Spirit asked me whether God had created any other people, I said, ‘no’. The Spirit said, ‘then black people are your brothers and sisters.
“All I could say was, ‘Forgive me God, I realise that I was wrong’ and the Lord turned my life around. I realised that apartheid and racism was wrong.
“I realised that I had been part of a system that had taken away peoples freedom through apartheid.”
Bertus met and married Carol about six years later and the two of them went to work in Ireland.
“But I was still not totally free of racism, although I thought I was, until one day in Church the Pastor asked that alternate rows should turn around and each person should hug the person behind them.
“The person behind me was a big, big, pitch-black Nigerian woman . . . and I said to God, ‘you are not serious’, because I couldn’t, I couldn’t, but God said, ‘you must hug her’.
“I said, ‘God, please, just not that, I can’t do that’, but when she stepped up to hug me the Spirit said, ‘It’s now or never’ and I knew that if I did not do it I would never be free and I held out my arms and we hugged and she said, ‘I love you’ and I could say, ‘I love you’.
“From that moment I was really released and was free from racism. After that we actually joined a Nigerian church, we were the only white people and the acceptance we received there was such a blessing.
“I just realised that when God sets you free there is no racism or colour distinction in you anymore.
“We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.”
While in Ireland, Bertus did missionary work in Belarus through the Church. His work mainly involved doing maintenance at a children’s home.
“I was fixing a roof at the home, when God spoke to me and said, ‘You must go back to your own country and do the same work for children’, but I didn’t really believe it would happen.
“After Belarus, I met Carol for a holiday in South Africa and while sitting near the beach she said to me, ‘I think God wants us to start a children’s home’.
“We returned to Ireland and our plan was to work hard for another three years before returning to South Africa to start a children’s home with our own finances.
“In the meantime Carol had been searching on the Internet and had volunteered to go from Ireland to do some work at the children’s home in Middelburg.
“I said, ‘do you know Middelburg, it is a small dusty town. You’ll never survive there, there are no shopping centres, the closest shopping centre is 350km away in Port Elizabeth. How are you going to survive there’?
“But within a matter of weeks she was in Middelburg and while she was at the children’s home she phoned me and said, ‘I’ve got bad news and good news’.
“I said, ‘give me the bad news first’. She said, ‘the children’s home is going to close’.
“I said, ‘and the good news’? Carol said, ‘I’m not coming back to Ireland, I am going to stay here, God wants us to open a children’s home’.
Within three months Bertus had joined Carol in Middelburg.
God the provider
Carol and Bertus relied totally on the Lord for provision of the necessities to run the children’s home. For the first five years they had no funding from government, they were in a foreign town with few friends and very little support.
However, they both firmly believe their calling has been from God who has provided.
“We never advertised or asked for money, God has provided through people. Today, the children’s home is an operational Department of Social Development (DOSD) Child and Youth Care Centre with a permanent registration,” says Bertus.
“When I look back at my life, I can just say, ‘God, I don’t deserve this, it is all your grace, it is all your love. Today, I realise that God just requires a willing and obedient servant, He doesn’t need what you have, He just needs an instrument, the rest He will provide.
“Today, I know that there are so many blessings that God wants to give us, but the reason we don’t get them is that we try to get them in our own power.
“We think we have to do everything, but God just wants us to do His will and He will provide. Today, I feel we have acted in God’s Will, because if I have to judge myself, I would fail myself, but God has never failed me, He still provides, he still uses me, because of His grace and His love,” adds Bertus.
He says although he often doubts his ability as a father to the children at ECYCC, because he was not a good father and role model to his own children, nevertheless he is grateful that the Lord sees him as good enough to give him another chance of being a father figure to children in need of one.
For more information contact Carol Deysel at Telephone: +27 49 842 4414, Mobile: +27 82 867 4028 or http://emmanuelhome.blogspot.com