Siya living out his faith authentically but don’t ‘put him on a pedestal’, says sports chaplain

Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi after the team’s historic Rugby World Cup victory against New Zealand in Paris on Saturday night

Double World-Cup-winning Springbok rugby captain Siya Kholisi’s “growth as a disciple of Jesus has been amazing,” says Bruce Nadin co-founder of Sports Chaplaincy South Africa and sports chaplain at Stellenbosch Football Club.

“It’s so easy to go out on the field, you know, and say, I give all the glory and honour to God, etc, etc, when you’re winning. But what I’d say about Siya is that he’s authentically trying to live out his faith,” said Nadin in an interview with Premier Christian News after SA clinched the World Cup for a record-breaking fourth time in Paris on Saturday night.

“The biggest impact I believe he’s having is not so much with his words, but actually, with his actions as a leader, both on the field, but I think across the nations. He is a real symbol of hope.”

“He never ceases to highlight the challenges the country faces and how far it still needs to go to become everything God wants it to be. And I think, in that sense, his faith is lived out in a very real way. He’s an incredibly humble guy,” he said. (continued below the Late Breaking News)

LATE BREAKING NEWS: “We want to be servants of this country” — Siya Kolisi

The following excerpt from a News 24 report illustrates Nadin’s observation about Siya Kolisi’s commitment to addressing SA’s challenges:

On an initially cold Thursday morning that warmed quickly at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Kolisi and his Boks had a public audience with the country’s “chief commander” – as Kolisi referred to Ramaphosa – ahead of their Rugby World Cup trophy tour.

The 32-year-old skipper used the platform to remind all present of the role they need to play in helping to bridge divisions in society.

“We come from different backgrounds with different challenges, and we see life very differently, but we share the same strength and diversity, and we work for South Africa,” Kolisi said.

“Everything that I do is focused on South Africa, which is what we also do as Springbok players, and we deliver by playing rugby.

“I believe you can use that amongst the country and everybody that you work with at parliament.

“We want to be servants of this country and we serve the country as best as we can by playing rugby.
“We hope to see this unity continuing going forward. We appreciate and we see you.”

Nadin told Pemier that Christian fans and media must be careful to avoid putting Kolisi on a pedestal. 

“A [South African] Christian magazine a couple of years ago had a headline with him on the front, and it said: ‘The hope of the nation’, and I know Siya would say he’s not. Jesus is the hope of the nation, and as a sports chaplain who mentors and disciples Christian athletes, I think we need to remember he’s still a young man, and he’s had to spend the last eight, nine years of his life with an incredible profile, incredible responsibility.

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“And largely speaking, he’s handled that really well. But to place that level of expectation on him when the job’s already been done by Jesus, I think it’s a little bit unrealistic.”

Prior to the pandemic, Nadin organised “The Locker Room”, a series of events for sports people to gather privately to worship together, hear testimonies from fellow athletes, and then have a word of encouragement from God’s Word.

Nadin said Kolisi, who attended a number of times, appreciated the rarity of being able to focus purely on Christ without distraction. 

“I think he enjoyed just coming and the focus being on Jesus. So that was the whole aim for us when we organise these events, so the high profile guys could come into the space because sadly, even in our churches here in South Africa, often the guys will go to church and they’ll get jumped on by people attending the church, having pictures taken, wanting autographs.

“To be able to create a space where they’re not the centre of attention, where they can just be themselves, was really important for us.” 

Nadin says Christians need to remember that sportspeople, however much they are celebrated, require the same prayers as all other believers. 

“We’re just ordinary, everyday pilgrims seeking to work out what it means to follow Jesus, carrying our own baggage, you know, our own defaults towards particular sins.

“And often, our athletes attempt to do this in the public spotlight. And sport, particularly contact sports, is emotional. And it doesn’t always bring the best out in us in the moment, as our characters get tested. And I think we actually have to pray for ourselves that we don’t judge too harshly. What do we do when somebody cuts us up on the road? How do we react in our cars or in other situations where things don’t go our way?

“So I’d say pray for them. Pray that they wouldn’t find their identity primarily in their performance or in what people say about them, or in their celebrity or in what they possess. But that they would find it secure in the person of Jesus.”

The victorious Springboks arrived at OR Tambo International Airport this morning to a rousing welcome from thousands of fans. On Thursday they will set out on a four-day trophy tour to covey the team’s appreciation to supporters and to showcase the trophy. They will visit Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Soweto, Pretoria and East London.

In an address to the nation on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Friday December 15 will be a special public holiday to celebrate the country’s Rugby World Cup win.

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