Sonya, 73 and Ray Joubert, 76 will celebrate 50 years of marriage later this year and have served the Lord together for all that time. They have led Bible studies together, they were missionaries in Zambia, and for 20 years Sonya was national coordinator of Renewing Love Ministries South Africa.
Sonya attributes her long marriage and fruitful life to prayer and the mercy of God — especially considering that she was a suicidal drug addict and prostitute before she encountered God in her bedroom and a few months later married Ray, a Christian man who loved her despite knowing everything about her.
“God took a hopeless, useless and unproductive life and in His great mercy He gave me ‘new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3). How about you, do you have that ‘living hope’?,” says Sonya who began sharing her testimony publicly soon after she and Ray began their married life in a caravan in Pinetown in 1965. Half a century later, blessed with two daughters and four grandchildren, she says she is still sharing her testimony because of its power as an evangelistic tool. “I have seen many people put their faith in the Lord Jesus after hearing it [her testimony],” she says.
In brief her before-Christ testimony begins when she started taking drugs as an insecure teenager in the 50s looking for acceptance. She was raped at that time and at the age of 17 left her suburban home to marry a 19 year old “rebel without a cause”. Aged 21 she walked out on her husband who used to physically abuse her. She became restless and was drawn to Hillbrow, Johannesburg, where during a six months spell she was abducted, raped twice, beaten up and abused. She tried to commit suicide. She loathed her lifestyle but did not want to give up drugs as they were the only thing she enjoyed.
During this dark season of her life she met Ray who unknown to her was a Christian who was trying to turn his back on God because of things that had gone wrong in his life. However she says: “There was still something different about him and he was the only person I ever respected or trusted.”
Later, after Ray returned to the Lord he began to pray in earnest for Sonya. He left Durban to work on an oil pipeline and her life got worse and she briefly lived with a pimp in Point Road, Durban. But God answered Ray’s prayers and put a desire in Sonya’s heart to go home to her parents in Pinetown. She had totally dropped out of their lives because of shame. She “bumped into” Ray in Pinetown and on Valentine’s Day the next year (1965) they had a picnic where he told her he loved her.
“He knew everything about me. I was everything a man doesn’t want to marry: used, abused and broken. But God loved me through Ray and you cannot fight unconditional love.
Presence of God
“A few weeks later, although I still didn’t know that Ray was a Christian, I was sitting in my bedroom alone when I became aware of the presence of God. I knew that He was there because I found myself crying out to Him for forgiveness. My life seemed to come before me; the things I had done, the people I had hurt, and the most wonderful thing was that I knew I was clean for the first time in my life. I can remember feeling that I was like a little baby again, held in my Father’s hands. I had never heard of the new birth, but I know that I experienced it at that moment.”
Ray and Sonya got married in September of that year. Sharing on her life after becoming a Christian and marrying, she says she and Ray call themselves “Gypsies for Jesus — and you will see why!”
Summarising the past 50 years she says after marrying she and Ray ran a youth group at their Durban church. After four years, by which time she was pregnant and Ray had completed his late apprenticeship as a diesel fitter, they went to the Bible Institute for two years with a view to going to Nigeria as missionaries. They were turned down as missionaries because she had been divorced. They decided to go wherever God sent them and so, with a young daughter and no money they began ministering at El Mirador hotel in Drakensberg where Ray preached and she held meetings in the lounge.
The couple’s next move was to Seven Oaks outside Greytown where Ray worked for SAPPI and they lived in a remote farm house.
“It was just before Angus Buchan moved there and the Methodist Church was the only evangelical one in the area. We started a home Bible study and saw three couples come to the Lord and one couple went to the Bible Institute the following year, trusting God for three years.”
Continuing her summary of the years that followed, up to the present, Sonya says: “1971-76 found us in Pietermaritzburg working with the Coloured Baptist Church until God opened a way for us to return to the Cape and live in Wellington. Every move we made was a miracle. We never had much money but God always gave us a house and someone to lead to the Lord or help spiritually. We went to Muizenberg in 1977 as Ray got a job at the Dockyard where he had a Bible Study group. I led another Bible study group with mothers — couples got saved and the Lakeside Baptist Church started in our home and eventually became Mountain View Baptist Church. Mitchell’s Plain also opened up so I had a Bible study out there during the time of forced removals.
“Buying our first and only house was another miracle and in 1982 we let it out and moved to Still Bay to develop a Christian Caravan Park. I became National Coordinator of Renewing Love [a women’s ministry focusing on restoring relationships] in 1981 and organised regional coordinators and interviewers in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. I could run Renewing Love wherever I lived.
Healing broken marriages
“Prior to that I gave countless testimonies at Christian Women’s Clubs, was Chairlady of the False Bay Club and led many Friendship Coffee Bible Studies. This led to counselling opportunities, healing broken marriages.”
A prayer meeting started by Renewing Love monitors in Cape Town when she and Ray went to Still Bay still meets every month 30 years later.
“There are three of us who have worked together for 30 odd years and another three who came in during the eighties. We were in our forties then; now we are in our sixties and seventies and all with very good marriages, and all just as committed.
“With women going back to work now and doing much more we don’t have so many classes but I am offering an email course to 38 people — men, women, couples and singles and we are busy adapting it to be more contemporary.”
Sonya says that after their stint in Still Bay she and Ray went to Grabouw where Ray worked at Applethwaite and preached at the new Baptist Church.
“I ran the ladies’ Bible study and once again the Lord used His testimony in my life to bring people to Himself. Four years later we were in Somerset West helping a new CESA church under Ross Anderson and I had the Ladies Bible Study and the Older Ladies Bible Study for a number of years even when we moved back to Muizenberg. Petrol wasn’t an issue then.
“Back in Muizenberg in 1989 we joined St James and I had the Ladies Evening Bible Study. I also joined Laura Haas in Khayelitsha on Sunday to do Bible Study with the teenagers and during the week with the ladies.”
She says the nineties were difficult years during which both their daughters challenged God and their parents. One went to live with her boyfriend and the other one ran away at 16 for two weeks until they traced her to East London. Two years later she was pregnant and God brought her to Himself. Sonya’s mother of 78 “finally became a Christian before going home nine years later and in 2000 we moved back to Somerset West and the following year we were finally missionaries in Zambia living in a caravan in the bush”.
They had to return from Zambia because Ray unknowingly had hypoglycaemia. They settled in Barrydale where Ray preached in a circuit of country churches. In 2010 they lived in a caravan in Welkom with their younger daughter, Kathleen, so that Sonya could homeschool her grandchildren. After another period in Barrydale they moved to Cape Town where miraculously, their eldest daughter, Sharon, at the age of 45, “realised she wasn’t a Christian and God used Luke 7:36 on her the same way He did on me”. Sharon and her son, Sam, 18, now live with Ray and Sonya in Cape Town. God also provided a job in Cape Town for Kathleen, at Frontline Fellowship, where where her daughter, Feylin, 20, now also works and lives.
Commenting on her nearly 50 years of marriage, Sonya says: “Ray and I are complete opposites and without the Lord first in both of our lives would never have built the friendship and trust that we have. We respect each other and accept our differences. We hate hurting each other emotionally and always support each other and our family. Our love for the Lord, His Word and each other has grown with each year. That’s why we are still best friends.
“Renewing Love [the ministry] taught us both to submit to each other in the Lord. We want to please God in all we do and we want to make each other happy. Ray is a quiet very deep man. I tend to make things happen as you probably guessed. Fortunately hard work has kept Ray very fit and healthy at 76 and I still feel I am in my forties physically, mentally and spiritually. I still ride my bike (best form of transport in Zambia) and traffic doesn’t faze me here. I fell off a foofie slide two years ago and had a compress fracture of my vertebrae and was in a straight-jacket corset for three months and flat on my back for two. It was a great time with the Lord and I am fit again now.
“My best advice is always keep your eyes on Jesus, saturate yourself in His Word daily, try and “be joyful always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus” — 1 Thess. 5:16-18. Seek Him first and He will take care of the rest.”