Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands says he once believed that God’s role was to help him perform well but “now I know that my football talent is a means by which I can make much of Christ and lead others to Him.”
Sandilands whose soccer credentials include seven appearances for South Africa including three as captain, playing for both Supersport United and Platinum Stars before joining Sundowns in December 2009, being named Mamelodi Sundowns Player of the Year in 2010/11 and Absa Premiership Goalkeeper of the Season in 2011/2012, currently leads a weekly Bible study group at Sundowns and is actively involved in South African sporting ministry initiatives.
Reflecting on how his view of God and his own identity changed, he says: “As far back as I can remember I have always felt the presence of the Lord in my life. As a child attending church I always accepted Jesus and that He died for me on the cross; so my journey has been one of maturing and growth over the years, as the Lord reveals more and more about Himself to me.
Life started to make sense
“God has used football to do a lot of that…to teach me the purpose and meaning of life and who He is and who I am not. I had always believed that God was in my life so that I could be the best at everything I did; that He was in my life to exalt me and make sure everything I do succeeds and so my identity lay in my performance and my achievements. But then He took me to Isaiah 43:7 which says that we as God’s people, we who are called by His name were created for His glory — and that rocked my world and it was only then that life started to make sense for me.
“Previously before it was all about my glory and so whenever I played badly or made a mistake or was sitting on the bench, I used to get angry, bitter, frustrated and even depressed. I used to question my value and whether God actually loved me or not. I felt worthless as my identity was in my performance instead of it being in the complete perfect work of Christ. I didn’t know who I was in and through the person of Jesus. I realised I wasn’t created to make much of myself but that of the name of Jesus. Life is God’s story and I have a part to play in His story — the story isn’t about me but is all about Him, like Jesus said in the garden, ‘Father not My will but Your will be done’.
Speaking about his role in sport ministry, Sandilands says: “Yes, at Sundowns we have a Bible study once a week, and it’s been a real blessing to be able to speak and learn about Jesus alongside my teammates.
“It’s really exciting times in the sporting ministry in South Africa, the Lord is moving and our desire is that there be a chaplain available for every professional athlete in the country. I feel that it is vital for every professional athlete to have someone who is there to walk side by side with them and to do life with. Someone who is there to love them, counsel them, shepherd them during the roller coaster which is professional sports. The world aligns an athlete’s performance with their identity and judges them on a moment by moment basis and it’s so easy for the athlete to believe this. So many athletes are destroyed, consumed, imprisoned by their sports and only Christ, the Truth can set them free.”
Commenting on sports ministry challenges, he says: “The main challenge at this point is getting the buy-in from the various clubs and club owners regarding having a chaplain at their institution. Chaplaincy is a new concept in South Africa and so to get people to understand and trust the system is the main challenge. We currently have a fully appointed chaplain at Ajax Cape Town which is encouraging and hopefully through this, other clubs will see the benefits of having such a person at the club. I love seeing players come to know and understand God and how their talent pleases Him and is there not for self gain but for the glory of His name and how their identity is not in their performance but in Himself, a child, an heir of the living God.”