Watching the close-knit camaraderie of a group of young men sitting in front of me on the last day of the Karoo Mighty Men Conference (KMMC), I was inspired to ask for an interview with the four friends about their conference experience.
A week later speaking to them by telephone I learned they had travelled from the Bread of Life Ministry House, situated 4km outside Hazyview in Mpumalanga, which offers a Biblical education programme of daily devotions, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and therapy lessons for positive life change.
Rugby career wrecked by addiction
Twenty-four-year-old Jeremy Claasens, from Potgietersrus, who saw his promising rugby career wrecked by his addiction, had never been to a Mighty Men Conference (MMC) before.
“I didn’t know what to expect at KMMC and on the journey to the Karoo I was sick. I had an ear infection, headaches and my nose was blocked, but when we arrived at the venue and an usher told us there were about 30 000 men at the conference, I forgot about my aches and pains.
“It was such a blessing for me to see so many men were there to worship God. The thing is, while I am newly reborn, I didn’t realise there were so many men who are unashamedly followers of Christ.
“It was truly a blessing for me to see so many men of faith. It was really a blessing to see tears running out of the eyes of these big ‘boertjies’, which helped me not be ashamed of showing my emotions and tears. It opened my eyes and showed me to keep faith, because God will always be there for us.
“Another message that hit home was from Uncle Angus, who said that as a man we should love and respect women, that we should treat people in the same way that we want to be treated,” says Jeremy.
He explains that his substance addiction and alcohol abuse resulted from a need for attention.
He says the drug addiction hardened his heart, made him stubborn and before he knew it he had lost his relationship with his family, lost his vehicle, lost his house, and from being a burly 105kg, had withered to 64kg.
Jeremy credits his girlfriend’s mother, Auntie Jeanette, with convincing him to enter the rehabilitation programme at Bread of Life.
“When I was on drugs I would go through periods of not sleeping for many days and then collapsing for a few days, but since I joined the Bread of Life programme the tiredness, anger and frustrations have gone.”
Jeremy attributes the changes in his life to his new relationships, with God and his brothers and sisters in Christ.
“Although I had been a member of a Church and been baptised before I came to Bread of Life, I had an anger against God, because I felt that he had taken my mother away from me (she died when Jeremy was three-years-old).
“However, since I came to Bread of Life I have learned that God has a reason for all that happens, that He is love and He will guide us in the right path, we must just have faith in Him.
“For example, I realised that although I had lost my mother, God had provided me with another mother in Auntie Jeanette, who cared for me and encouraged me to be rehabilitated through a relationship with God.
“Now that I have a relationship with God I pray three times a day, but I don’t pray to ask Him for things, although I am grateful for everything he has blessed me with, I pray to spend time with Him and have a conversation with Him.
“The Lord shows me the path I have to walk on and gives me the answers I need. If I am struggling, I pray for an answer, which He gives me through the Bible. He is the way and the truth.
“I realise that when I complete the programme and leave Bread of Life that I will be surrounded by temptations and if I don’t have God at my side I will fall again. I rely on Him; I rely on His strength to get me through times of anger and sadness.
“I have also gained three godly friends with whom I can praise the Lord for what he has done for us.
“God is faithful, He makes my heart humble,” says Jeremy.
KMMC 2016 was also a first for 18-year-old Khutso Nalane who found it far more rewarding than he expected.
It was also the first time that Khutso had camped out. Despite the fact that the four friends only had two sleeping bags between them and two of the party slept in the car while the other two slept outside in below freezing temperatures, he enjoyed it.
“Being with my friends who are like family to me made all the difference, not only at KMMC, but also travelling there and back, sharing our experiences.”
Although Khutso accepted Christ into his life two years ago, he says being at KMMC has strengthened his relationship with the Lord. The message that impacted him most from KMMC was from the lyrics of a worship song “I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God”.
Khutso says another lesson he has taken from KMMC is to focus on a better future and a better life through walking in faith in Christ.
He says he is at Bread of Life Ministry House to be rehabilitated from drug addiction.
“I’m here to be rehabilitated as a man of God. My life was not what I wanted it to be, I had let my family down and was the cause of their relationship becoming strained.
“I felt it was not the life I wanted. I want to be a better son to my parents,” says Khutso.
He has been drug-free for three months. He says it has not really been a struggle, because he has focussed on the now and what lies ahead, he has not looked back.
“My relationship with Jesus gives me the strength to carry on every day and to love my brothers. It is an every-day lesson, an every-day step for me and each day I am getting stronger,” says Khutso.
Ettiene Coetzee, 39, who comes from Witbank had reached a low point in his life before he entered Bread of Life Ministry House.
He was living on the streets and addicted to heroin.
“It was a Friday night and I couldn’t take it anymore. While walking to my mother’s house to borrow money, I prayed to God that He would take me off the streets.
“On the Saturday morning my mother brought me to Bread of Life Ministry. It is just by the grace of God that I am here. My life is getting straightened out and I am thinking straight again.”
Ettiene says before he came to Bread of Life he would only pray to God when he had problems, now he has a relationship with Him.
He says he had great expectations for KMMC, to learn more about God.
Message of love
“The whole message of love at KMMC had a big impact on me and that is what I am concentrating on now.
“We also had a lot of fun. It helped me see that there is life without alcohol and drugs.
“What is more, hearing other people’s testimonies of how they have overcome struggles through their relationship with God has inspired me.”
Ettiene says travelling with his three friends has strengthened their relationship.
“They are my brothers,” he adds.
When 25-years-old Arno Jacobs heard that KMMC was taking place he had a strong urge to attend with his three brothers in Christ from Bread of Life Ministry House.
When the four approached management at Bread of Life they were co-operative and supportive.
Very big privilege
“It was a very big privilege for each of us, just to know that they trusted us, because it is a long way to travel.
“The whole trip was wonderful. Khutso had never seen the sea, so we made a detour to the coast, which was worth every extra kilometre.
“Then arriving in Middleburg, seeing so many men in groups, and men praying for each other and ministering to each other, was awesome. I could really feel the Holy Spirit in the town even though we were not at the KMMC venue yet.
“We could just feel the love. We stopped on the side of the road and spent time speaking to youngsters. Everything felt so amazing as soon as we drove into Middleburg,” says Arno.
He says the whole event exceeded his expectations.
After sleeping outside the first night they were invited into a neighbour’s tent in the middle of the second night and were treated to breakfast the next morning.
“The message I brought back from KMMC is what Uncle Angus preached from 1 Corinthians 13 that: no matter all the good we do, without love we are nothing; that love never fails, and when all else fails, love will remain.
Rustenburg is Arno’s home town, it was there that he started experimenting with drugs form the age of 15.
He was married in 2012 and has a three-year old son. However, six months after he was married, and with his wife pregnant, his drug problem became severe and left him not caring about his marriage or the fact he would soon be a father.
For the next three years he was in and out of rehabilitation centres finally ending up living on the streets.
However, he says since being at Bread of Life his life has changed.
“At first I was still arrogant, I really found it hard to love people, but that is what makes Bread of Life so different. Unlike other facilities the ministry offers a loving, encouraging environment that has become home.
“Everything is done with love and since I have been here I have learned to love and to practice love and self-control.
Arno says before he came to Bread of Life Ministry House he knew about God, but had never felt the love that God has for him personally.
“I have changed, because now I have the love of God in my life, which makes it so much easier for me to love.
“For many addicts there is a feeling of rejection and unimportance, a feeling of being unloved, but now that I have experienced and accepted the love that God has for me it is so much easier to give love.
“At Bread of Life I also keep on growing in God’s word, which is amazing for me,” says Arno.
Invited to minister to homeless
The day after I spoke with the four brothers in Christ, Arno was travelling to Lydenburg to attend a church service to which he had been invited. He had also been invited to stay on a few days to minister to the homeless of the town, those living on the streets with substance abuse problems.
I marvelled at how this young man who had been lost and was now found was following the example of our Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ who came to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and set at liberty those who were oppressed.
I praised God for manifesting one of Arno’s favourite scriptures in both his and his friends’ lives, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:28-29).