In 2013 Stuart Wragg finally had the chance to go to a Mighty Men Conference (MMC).
He had wanted to attend an MMC for years, but the opportunity had not presented itself. However, Stuart had heard from a friend that a group was planning to go to the Karoo Mighty Men Conference (KMMC) and decided to wipe his calendar clean of any appointments for the few days during which KMMC was taking place – it would be a great opportunity to spend time with his 15-year-old son Warrick, fellowship with brothers in Christ, and spend time in the Karoo in the glorious presence of the Lord.
Shortly after making the decision to go to KMMC 2013, Stuart was sitting quietly in church before the service and was thinking that he had a spare place in his vehicle. Bowing his head he opened his heart to the Lord and prayed for guidance as to who he should offer the spare seat to.
“The Lord clearly told me I should offer the seat to Justin Strydom. I looked around and saw him sitting next to his wife, but I was shocked, because I hardly knew him, and what is more, he was not a very approachable person being of quite a fierce countenance, about six feet tall, and weighing around 110-kilogrammes.”
What is more Justin seldom attended church and the only way Stuart knew him at all was to greet in passing as Justin’s wife was in Stuart’s fellowship group.
“So, I asked the Lord again and the Lord answered clearly in the affirmative,” says Stuart who was apprehensive for the rest of the service.
Remembering the incident, Justin explains that after the service he immediately slipped out of the church wanting to get home as soon as possible without being engaged by anyone in conversation.
However, out of the blue Stuart stood before him and asked if Justin wanted to join him and a group of friends on a trip to KMMC.
“I was taken by such surprise that I couldn’t think of a good excuse not to go and mumbled ‘OK’, says Justin.
“It was left at that and I didn’t hear from Stuart again for a long while. In fact, I complained to my wife that he had probably not meant what he had said and that I wouldn’t hear from him again, but with a few weeks to go to the event Stuart contacted me and we made all the final arrangements,” says Justin.
Stuart remembers the long trip from Cape Town to the Karoo well.
“Justin was sitting in the front passenger seat and I was driving. We were silent for much of the time, and then suddenly Justin blurted out that he had no intention of participating in any group activities and would be spending most of his time alone taking photographs.”
Justin explains that the only reason he was at church on the day Stuart asked him to accompany the group to KMMC was to ‘keep the peace’ with his wife, Annari, and he was regretting that he had agreed to go to the KMMC.
Angry and bitter
“You must understand, I was an angry man with a lot of bitterness, which was mostly a result of my upbringing, and when I did go to church I hardly listened to the pastor’s message.
“I did not like socialising, smoked between 40 and 60 cigarettes a day, and drank between 10 and 20 beers a day, so I could hardly think of anything worse than a weekend of Christian fellowship,” says Justin.
On arriving at the venue a day early to ensure a good camping site and settle-in, both Justin and Stuart were impressed with the setting near the foot of Renosterberg, which rises majestically out of the arid Karoo veld, as well as the seemingly limitless space, stillness, remarkable cloud formations, sunsets, and night skies bursting with stars.
Justin immediately separated himself from the group for much of the time and focused on enjoying one of his favourite pastimes, photography – it was a way he could be alone and enjoy the incredible beauty of nature.
“We hardly saw Justin who kept to himself taking photographs and walking in the surrounding koppies,” says Stuart.
‘I’ve met Jesus’
“Then on the second night after Johnny Louw’s session, while our group were chatting back at our campsite, Justin came running up to me and shouted ‘I’ve met Jesus, I’ve met Jesus!’
“I must say, I was completely taken aback, as was everybody else.
“Justin shouted, ‘what should I do?’ Shocked and surprised, I didn’t know what to say, but then I remembered that uncle Angus had said one should witness to three people of your salvation, which I suggested that Justin do.
“We still talk of the incident today, because it really was quite funny. Justin ran out of the camp across the road to a neighbouring tent where a man was sitting on a stool cooking. Justin ran up to him shouting ‘I’ve met Jesus, I’ve met Jesus’!
“The person was so surprised that he almost fell off his stool, whereupon Justin charged off to another group to tell them the good news.”
According to Justin, he had been taking pictures near a rocky outcrop quite a distance from the stage area and was only listening with half an ear to Johnny Louw, whose style of preaching he did not appreciate anyway.
“I heard Johnny say something along the line’s of, ‘God’s love is so great that if we accept His love it will flow through us to our families and we’ll even love our dogs’ . . . then inexplicably the Lord’s love just struck me like a 10 pound hammer.
“The next thing I knew I was lying on my back crying and looking up into His endless skies, it’s then that I repented and gave my life over to God and He in return, filled me with His Holy Spirit. I will never be the same.”
“I was sobbing uncontrollably, but vaguely heard that Johnny’s helpers were giving out bookmarks and I wanted to get one, because they had a 10-point “My Plan as a Man” of God on them, as well as a place to commit by signature with a witness that ‘I am a son of God”.
“I was stumbling and sobbing through the Karoo veld, aware that I would not get to the stage area in time to get a bookmark, when suddenly, standing right in front of me in the middle of the veld was a young boy saying ‘hierso Oom’, as he handed me a bookmark.
“I could not stop crying. I am not sure what the young boy must have thought of this rough looking man sobbing uncontrollably and proclaiming various promises to God. I believe that God sent him to me, like an angel to be a witness of my conversion.”
Humbled by His love
Justin says he remembers little of the rest of KMMC, except that he felt totally humbled by God’s love, which he had done nothing to deserve; and on his departure from KMMC, SMSing his wife, Annari, to tell her that a new man was coming home to her.
Today, Justin and Annari have a 17-month-old child, Mahli. He no longer smokes cigarettes or self-medicates with dope, he does not drink daily or in such quantity, although he might have one or two beers on the weekend, he is an active member of the Church’s praise and worship team, and is involved with the organising of the Western Cape Mighty Men Conference, which is set to take place in September this year.
Furthermore, his priorities have changed. Things that were important to him are now unimportant and things that were of no consequence are now the cornerstones of his life. For example, previously Friday nights were for heavy drinking; now his Friday nights are spent in the blessed company of a mature group of brothers in Christ studying God’s Word.
God has also brought amazing reconciliation into his family; the incredibly strained relationship between his father and himself is a thing of the past. Where there was constant tension and many verbal fights there is now peace and understanding for who each person is.
Justin says this past Christmas was the best family gathering he can remember for close to 20 years; as a family they spent quality time sitting around the table, chatting, laughing and connecting with each other.
“Only our God through Jesus our Saviour and the workings of the Holy Spirit can make such visible changes in people’s lives. Glory to God,” says Justin.
Stuart and Justin attended the 2014 KMMC the following year and will be attending the conference again this year bringing with them a bigger group of men.
POEMS/SONGS by JUSTIN: