Rugby star Jamie Jones-Buchanan has picked up a crock of medals in a glittering Super League career spanning half a lifetime — but Jesus is clearly his greatest treasure.
The second-rower with Leeds Rhinos, for whom he first played in 1999, is now in his 18th season with the Rugby League club, having played 371 games and scored 73 tries — winning six Grand Finals, three World Club Challenges, three League Leaders Shields and the Challenge Cup.
The 35-year-old has overcome many setbacks in the process, which he says has refined his character and taught him what is most important in life. And in the meantime he has also taken up journalism and acting, and become a governor at his former school.
And although he has reached the pinnacle of sporting success, also representing England and Great Britain, his Christian faith has become the focus of his life, as he shared with an audience in a Doncaster church.
He has not gone soft, however — he was under suspension with the Rugby Football League for a dangerous tackle as he spoke!
Invited to church
Everything changed in 2004 when New Zealand player and fellow second-rower Ali Lauitiiti invited him to church one day.
“I knew there was something different about him, and he wasn’t shy about his faith.
“I did not have a Christian background (although I’d always believed in God) and thought everybody would be dressed in their Sunday best, but in fact they just shared a common love for Jesus.”
He began reading Mark’s Gospel, took a Christianity Explored course and became a committed member of the City Evangelical Church where he was baptised in 2009.
Now he says: “I want Jesus to be right at the centre of everything in my life. I even have In Christ Jesus written in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) on my wedding ring.”
Jamie is married to Emma, whom he met when he was 14.
Find out truth about faith
Acknowledging that religion gets a bad press, he blames the media for giving a wrong impression of Christianity. “They’re constantly missing the point. I want to encourage people to find out the truth about faith. There’s a lot of difference between religion and the Christian faith — the former is about the process, not about the heart.
“Come and be a part of it and understand what faith is. There is no lasting value in material things like medals. Jesus is the only thing in life that is eternal. I’d encourage people to understand who the person of Jesus is and why he had to die for our sins.”
The Bible, he says, is a very practical book with much wise advice on things like diet, sleep, money and keeping your house in order.
And it’s because of his faith that he has invested in much more than his rugby career, so that he actually looks forward to retirement. The idea of coaching appeals because it is about getting people to understand their God-given gift — “I believe we’re all made in God’s image.”
He is proud of the fact that his four boys — Bane, Lore, Dacx and Kurgan (each named after science fiction characters) — are growing up in a “Jesus-focused home”. It wouldn’t bother him if they decided not to play rugby. “I just want them to work out what gift God has given them and use it for the service of other people.”
He is also proud of the fact that, though he has been on the Questions of Sport TV quiz programme only once, he has twice appeared on the BBC’s Songs of Praise.
Drawn by his faith
His outgoing personality, infectious sense of humour and gift of the gab are all attractive qualities, but friends and colleagues are no doubt also drawn by his faith — when they get a chance with him on his own, questions are asked about what the Bible has to say on various subjects.
Those who knew him before his conversion qualify anecdotal stories of the time with the tag ‘Jamie BC’, indicating how much Christ has changed him.
He has learnt that the Bible has much to say about teamwork — that little can be achieved alone whereas the support of team and family (both Christian and natural) is vital.
Although flushed with success, he attributes adversity as having done more to make him the player he has become. As a youth, he suffered a severe groin injury from which it took him nearly two years to recover. “At the time they thought my career was finished.”
But he learnt to persevere. As with the crucible for silver and the furnace for gold (Proverbs 17:3), the fierce heat of trouble gets rid of impurities, he points out. Among his favourite Bible characters is Job, a righteous man who came through the fires of severe testing in losing his entire family along with all of his great wealth, only to be doubly rewarded in the end.
He admits it’s a tough sport. “It’s fierce, but not as bad as it looks. You don’t feel the bumps and bruises until you get out of bed next day.”
Risks part of the game
But there are risks, which have been of especially great concern to his Nana (grandmother), who is so worried about him being hurt that she once ran onto the pitch to break up a fight during a youth match. More recently, when he was being stretchered off injured, she came running onto the field again in a state of panic.
Jamie jokes that though some have mistaken him for an Arab (due to his flowing beard), he’s as Yorkshire as they come; he was actually born in Bramley, Leeds, on August 1 — Yorkshire Day — in 1981.
Like most other boys, he wanted to play football, but the family just happened to move in next door to a pair of rugby league players. And he has played rugby at Elland Road, the iconic stadium of Leeds United!
A venture into journalism started with a blog on the club website and has since progressed to writing a column for Rugby League World and co-hosting a TV and radio project called Rugby AM.
He has also taken up acting, appearing in a poignant play called Leeds Lads, marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.